These days, artists often do much more than just make music. Some are involved in other areas in the music industry that you might find very surprising. Take Steve Darko for example: not only does he make great music, but he's also a full-time software engineer for iZotope. Taken from his forthcoming LP Midnight Swim on Dirtybird, his recently released Descending EP gives a clear picture of the unique and forward-thinking thought process behind the album, and as such, we caught up with him to better understand his process and what went into the EP.
Words and photos by Steve Darko
Sequential Prophet 6
This synth has been an absolute workhorse for me since I bought it a few years ago. It is incredibly versatile and it sounds amazing no matter what it’s being used for—leads, arps, bass, pads, blips & blops, drones, etc. I used the Prophet for the ascending/descending lead line in “Descending” and it’s really the heart and soul of the track. I wrote the sequence in Ableton’s piano roll and sent MIDI out to the Prophet, which is typically how I work with it. This allowed me to gradually increase the LPF cutoff while tweaking the amp decay and “Slop” (aka voice detune) while recording. Just before the beat drops, the lead line descends down into deep bass territory and eventually repeats a short sequence that transforms into the bassline of the track.
Moog Sub 37
The Sub 37 is another favorite of mine. I used this synth to record the sub-bass tracks for both “Descending” and “Red”. For sub bass patches, I typically keep the big lowpass filter knob around 80 Hz or so, have the resonance fairly low, and jack up the Multidrive knob to overdrive the signal which brings out upper harmonics and adds somebody. Increasing the internal mixer feedback control can also add lots of character to the sound. I use a triangle wave as the “base” oscillator which makes for a nice, clean subtone, but often mix in a square or sawtooth wave from Osc 2 on top of it. Pumping all of this thru the Moog ladder filter results in a super-rich, full sub-bass that will shake a club, but also comes thru on phone and laptop speakers since the low mids are still present.
Roland TB-303 Virtual Bassline Software Synthesizer
This 303 emulation sounds great! I’d say it sounds just like the original, but I don’t have one to compare it to. Either way, it delivers that iconic acid house sound, which is what I was after for “Red”. The 303 sequence I programmed loops for almost the entire track, but it constantly evolves sonically. This was done by automating the filter cutoff, resonance, envelope amount, and envelope decay throughout the track, plus a boatload of post-processing and more parameter automation happening in iZotope Trash 2 & Soundtoys EchoBoy Jr.
iZotope Trash 2
Most of my sessions are absolutely covered in Trash. I typically use it subtly to add some extra character and beef to individual tracks with the distortion/waveshaper module. I do this all over the place on “Descending” and “Red” including on the leads, bass, Nala’s vocal, sub, white noise, kicks, percussion. I’m very partial to the “Blues Driver” distortion algorithm and find myself using it frequently, but there are dozens of different algorithms to choose from in Trash and they each have a unique character.
I also utilize Trash’s Convolve module on the 303 track in “Red”, where it is used to convolve the 303 signal with a vowel impulse response. This vaguely simulates what a 303 would sound like if it were playing out of a speaker implanted inside of a person’s mouth while they were saying “ou” - who wouldn’t want to hear that... (I’m thinking of getting the implant myself). Anyways, I automate the width and mix parameters for the Convolve module to accentuate this vowel effect and increase the stereo width of the sound during various sections of the track. The effect is most prominent during the last breakdown.
Native Instruments TRK 01
TRK 01 has been my go-to tool for making kicks in the box, which is what I did for both “Descending” and “Red”. This Reaktor instrument allows you to layer an 808-esque sine generator with a sample, filter them both, and adjust envelopes for pitch, filter cutoffs, etc. Nothing too novel, but it works well. What really makes this plug-in is the Bass & Booster master effects. These add some low-end boost, overdrive/saturation, and some sort of multiband compression/processing that really glue together the two kick layers nicely and produce a massive, but well-balanced kick sound.
Pre-order your copy of Midnight Swim here.