Mirror polished aluminum panels. Available as an upgrade on any MU ac module!
L-R: Nicholas Millhiser, Alexander Frankel. Photo: Ruvan Wijesooriya.
Holy Ghost! is me, Nicholas Millhiser, and my partner Alexander Frankel.
Well we’ve been together since we were like 8 or so and we’ve been playing music together since our early teens. Holy Ghost! specifically, however, started in the wake of our old band Automato which broke up around 2005. He and I kept working on stuff together and eventually it became it’s own thing. Hard to put an exact date on it but I just checked on Discogs which says our first single, “Hold On” came out in 2007. So lets say since 2007.
There was always music in my house growing up and my parents both have good taste. My dad plays the piano very well but neither were really encouraged to pursue music as kids and as a result I think they were determined to have musical children from the outset and my sister and I both started taking drum lessons from a family friend at a very early age. I started playing in bands around the sixth grade and growing up in New York in the 90s there were plenty of all ages venues – you could be 12 years old and have a band and play “real” shows. So, very early on, I sort of assumed that I could play music professionally, which in retrospects is obviously nuts.
As far as influences, there are lots over the years. My teenage years were dominated by hip hop and trying to master the MPC so Premier, Dilla, Pete Rock, RZA, Hi Tek, etc were hugely important. Man, so many. Here’s a random list…Talking Heads, James Murphy, Tim Goldsworthy, Gavin Russom, Giorgio Moroder, Gino Soccio, Patrick Cowley, Klaus Schultze, Tangerine Dream, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, New Order, Martin Hannett, Pixies, Dj Shadow, Beastie Boys, Laurie Speigle, Depeche Mode, Daniel Miller, Radiohead, Portishead, Nigel Godrich, Sylvester, Nile Rogers, Tony Thomspon, Bernard Edwards (Chic)…and on and on and on
Probably around 2007/2008 or so. There were a few records I was listening to a lot of at the time and when I’d inquire about how they got this sound or that sound to more technically inclined friends of mine the answer always seemed to be “modular synth.” At the time I really didn’t know anything about them, and I certainly didn’t have any first hand experience with them so it was intimidating to take the first step as there weren’t too many people I knew who I could seek for council if I couldn’t figure out how to make them work. Like I was really into “Days of Mars” by Gavin Russom and Delia Cruz, and I knew Gavin, but his modular was all homemade and it lived at the DFA studio where, in theory I could have used it, but it was an intimidating unlabeled wall of knobs on very utilitarian looking brushed aluminum panels. But I took the plunge with the module of the month plan with synthesizers.com and haven’t looked back since.
Why do I like them? Well, they sound awesome for one. And the modular form factor—of anything really—has always appealed to me. I like that you as the consumer are sort of in charge of adding exactly what you need and ignoring what you don’t. Whenever I play a consumer synth there inevitably comes a moment where I think “this is awesome, but I really wish I could make it do…” and with modulars you can always do whatever that is. There’s always a solution for your nerdiest desires.
Well, namely because of the size really. I spend enough time at the computer so whenever I’m buying hardware I look for things that as objects in and of themselves are sort of fun and engaging to play with and the smaller form factor seemed a little precious and delicate to me. I don’t want to squint or get really close to panels when I’m playing it. Likewise, when I was starting, all of the boutique manufactures and esoteric names of modules offered in eurorack intimidated me. Synthesizers.com/5U seemed much more utilitarian which I liked. There’s an oscillator, a filter, an amp, an envelope…that’s it, which seemed like a less intimidating place to start. Fewer options can be a good thing.
A Matrix Mixer! Either simple four in/four out like we use or something bigger like old Moogs with EQ would be cool. Simple, effects units, even DSP based like the strymon stuff – a nice reverb, more delays, chorus/flangers with CV i/o. Arpeggiators! Why hasn’t anyone basically made a clone of the SH101 arp/sequencer section?!!?! A simple 5U synth voice, almost like a Moog Taurus or Minitaur. A simple drum machine. More sequencers that pick up on what Moon is doing that offer some form of memory/recall. Lots and lots and lots.
We use it for anything and everything from basslines to lead lines, to making drums sounds, to filtering/effecting external synths, as an eq, as an insert on our console. Anything. Since I got my first few modules there is not a single track or remix we haven’t used it on since.
Well they are such a critical part of playing the show that if something goes wrong with one, or one doesn’t make it we are pretty fucked. We travel with 4, packaged as pairs so if the TSA looses one it’s kind of a show stopper as they are all important, and each is unique to the station they occupy on stage. I’m actually redesigning them now to be 4 identical units so if one or two goes missing, every modular is essentially a backup for the other. So, long winded answer but the risk is really in how dependent we are on them. I can only think of two shows where a pair didn’t show up at baggage claim and in both cases they showed up to the venue just in time but I would say it’s the equivalent to a guitar player in a shoegaze band losing his pedalboard. The modulars kind of ARE the show.
The reward is that they are incredibly fun and, for us, practical to use live. The sheer amount of stuff we are asking our gear to do on stage is pretty nuts which is the result of the sheer amount of gear we use to make records. And the more records you make, the more songs you have to play live and the pallet of sounds you need on stage becomes immense. Though they are large, the amount of stuff we can do with each is pretty amazing. For example, with one modular we can send any four synths to reverb, delay, and/or a filter voice which can be modulated by a trigger sequencer. We could do all of this without the modular but it would either require a large mixer, or basically a dedicated line of effects and filters for every synth on stage which would insane.
All are clocked together and locked into the click the drummer plays to. It also allows us to use analog clock for all of our syncing which is immensely more reliable than Midi clock. It can run long distances with a basic guitar cable, requires no menu diving, you plug it in and it works. Midi clock is the bane of my existence. As anyone who has ever tried to figure out how to sync an arpeggiator on a modern synth to a DAW without lag can tell you, Midi clock is a pain in the balls.
Yeah for sure. People ask about them all the time. I’m not sure what the perception of them is, but part of the idea behind using them isn’t dissimilar to having a bunch of Marshall stacks. Playing keyboard based music live is very difficult to make engaging. I believe it was Elton John who said “It’s impossible to get laid from behind a Piano” or something to that effect. Keyboards aren’t sexy. When we started playing live—albeit with a much simpler setup—Erik’s rig was built into a flat mixer case. And while it was very neat and efficient in it’s own way, one day while we were on tour with Chromeo, P was like “It’s a shame you cant see everything Erik is doing because he’s doing so much. As far as the audience is concerned he might as well be looking at a laptop.” So the idea is, if we’re going to go through all the trouble of playing this stuff live and NOT using a laptop, we want that to be obvious.
So part of the idea behind the modulars is visual – to get the noodling which is such a big part of the set off of the horizontal plane so people can see what’s happening. I doubt most people have any idea about the specifics of what’s going on, but having some visual correspondence between a sound and the physical movement of having to reach for something vertically is more engaging. Certainly more so than just looking down at a table top. If you look at Chromeo, P sort of does the same thing with all his synths set up perpendicular to the crowd and sort of purposefully far apart and high so the act of playing them demands that he jump around a little more.
In the live rig, most are DIY — either by me or analog craftsman — or converted and modded Eurorack modules which I do because they don’t exist elsewhere – or don’t exist exactly how I want them elsewhere. I like doing DIY stuff, but I’d be much happier to spend the money to buy something off the rack if I could.
Yeah, that makes sense. I think of Moog/East Coast—and I would add Berlin in there—as being more “musical” in the traditional sense, but also very stoney. Dudes listening to an unchanging sequence for hours on end and being totally content which is definitely right ‘up my strasse’ as well. West Coast is definitely more avant garde and antagonistic for sure. Both have their place, but I’m east coast born and raised and though I don’t smoke weed I’ve always gravitated towards stoney stuff.
Well, they are expensive. But in this day and age EVERYTHING is expensive relative to the $0 you have to spend to use soft synths and plug ins. So I get how it’s hard to rationalize and afford for some people. But as my partner Alex is fond of saying, there’s an inherent value in spending money on yourself and investing in your talent. Aside from the fact that they sound awesome and better than any soft synth, look beautiful, and are just incredibly rewarding instruments to play, the act of BUYING something and being literally invested in it makes one more prone to learn it very well and develop a “sound.”
So, money well spent for sure, but, yeah, still expensive. That said, there are certainly more affordable options available now than there were even a few years ago, especially in DIY. Likewise, the resources available to DIYers is pretty incredible. God bless the internet. There are so many cool, fun and GOOD little kits with great instructions out there these days. So maybe start with something simple for DIY like an LFO, and then add little bits and pieces as you can afford it. That’s the fun of modular too – you don’t need to buy it all at once. You CAN’T.
It depends on what you want to do. For me, half the fun of using modulars is using them to process external stuff. So as much as we use VCOs in our system much of the time we are running other synths through it. So maybe starting with something that would work with the thing you already do/the pieces of gear you already have is good. Like if you’re a guitar play, make something you might want to play guitar through. Build a nice filter with an envelope. Now clock the gates of the envelope to MIDI and play guitar through it. If you make beats on an MPC or Ableton, build a filter and an envelope follower.
I think that’s true, but for sure there’s room for more interesting stuff in large format. I like a lot of the Eurorack stuff but the size drives me nuts. I’d love to see more people making weirder stuff for large format. I guess CotK is starting too which is cool. But, yeah, the more the merrier.
Nicholas Millhiser in his studio.
Hard to choose. If I could really only have one and that’s it? A Stratocaster I think. Boring I know. Maybe a piano?
Well I’ve just been messing around with the new VCOs which are awesome. The soft sync/wide range tuning knob is lots of fun. But we couldn’t live without the Matrix Mixers ac built for our live rig. Not sure why nobody’s made one in 5U yet but they’re super practical. Not particularly sexy or crazy but they save us a ton of space in our modular allowing us to route different parts of the rig to a few common modules which is pretty huge and it acts like a mini studio console which is very fun because you can do throws and stabs like you would with aux sends. Indispensable. We have four.
Vince: Mecanikill? is the harsh experimental industrial project from Raleigh and Charlotte N.C. that uses all sorts of unconventional noises from everyday life sampling, arranging and then turning the sounds into music. We are also very heavily into using visuals that Kat creates to go along with the music and dig deep into the minds of the audience while playing live as I feel they both go hand in hand.
Vince: I started the band with my wife Kat about 6 years ago. Doc Hollow from Headstone Hollow has been involved with Mecanikill? in numerous aspects for about 5 years and now plays guitar full time in the band, Ben Davis joined up with us about 2 years ago and now Arnold Schumacher from Wretched Martyr has been with us for about a year.
Vince: I was originally going to call the project Mechanikill and Kat said “Why not do a strange wordplay with the name where people question how it is pronounced?” so we came up with the spelling of it as Mecanikill?. There is nothing else that I have yet ran across that is spelled like that and it really sticks out and is remembered when seen so we went with that name for our band.
Vince: I have been into music since a very early age. My childhood consisted of many nights sitting around playing piano and the organ with my Grandparents and without them I doubt I would have the love and appreciation for music that I do now. Even later in life I would still go over and jam out with my Grandfather on a regular basis. When I was in High School I started singing and playing bass in punk and death metal bands but always wanted to do something different but yet still retained the heavy and aggressive sound aspects that I still enjoy listening to. I was introduced to My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Aphex Twin, Nine Inch Nails,Throbbing Gristle, Bile, Ministry, Skinny Puppy and a slew of other industrial acts that really opened up my eyes and ears to the world of electronic music that was happening around me and sounded so much different from anything else that was going on at the moment. I instantly knew that was the direction I would move towards someday.
Ben: I started playing guitar when I was 10. I really got into electronic music after hearing Warp artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Squarepusher.
Vince: About 5 years back I started getting into modular gear. I always loved the sound of vintage synths and was fascinated by c.v. and would ask all the musicians I knew about it but very few knew anything about it at the time. I started picking up some Metasonix gear along with a Kenton midi to c.v. converter and experimenting with that and one thing led to another. Now I have a wall full of modular gear that can be integrated with all my digital synthesizers and drum machines by using the A.C. Instrument Interface module. I really enjoy being able to use my existing digital gear along with my analog system to breathe new life into it. It really opens up so many more sonic possibilities by being able to process anything even samples of everyday noises into my modular rig.
Ben: I started my first modular system in 2009 which was a synthesizers.com entry system. In 2010 I fully switched over to Eurorack. I like modular synths because of the infinite possibilities. You learn something new every day you use them and there are always new sounds to be discovered.
Vince: I usually start off trying to patch up some beastly sounding leads to play but a lot the times I will end up for hours on end just making and tweaking insane noises then sampling them into my Korg ESX, sift through them to find just the right noise I am looking for and work that into our songs from there. Using a modular synthesizer has endless possibilities and that is one of the things I love about it, there are no boundaries or constraints of being locked into a grid of how you can create sounds. Being able to patch things up in unconventional ways leads to creating noises that you would not be able to do on a digital synthesizer.
Ben: I use it a lot as an effect with my drum machines, synths and line out from my audio interface. I rarely play it as a keyboard synth. I’ll normally get a patch to a certain point then sample it and cut/arrange it further from there.
Vince: Probably my Korg Electribe. I use it to sample and sequence so much stuff. It has an immediacy about it and provides me to have a fast and easy to use canvas for what I am hearing in my head and enables me to easily get things done with a quickness before I forget the melody of what I was going for.
Ben: My Doepfer A-101-3. It’s a 12 stage vactrol phaser. Other than being an amazing phaser it’s one of the best distortions I’ve ever heard. It’s a very versatile and unique sounding module with lots of patch points.
Vince: That’s a hard one…I would have to say that the Arcade is one of if not the best hands on utility module I have ever used. I love it so much I bought 2! I enjoy the ability to control my gear in a nontraditional way and that is exactly what it does and is great for controlling gear in a live setting with three independent trigger buttons and a joystick. As for non utility modules it would be a very hard choice between the Arp filter and the Polivoks filter. The sound of the Arp filter is so lush, juicy and perfect for when I need just a touch of filtering done to a sound but still have the option to get crazy and create some wild resonance with the Q opened up and the Polivoks filter is just plain destruction in a module with a filthy sound all of its own. I also really like the Polivoks Mixer module too as it adds some great harmonics to whatever you run through it. I would have a hard time to choose just one between them as I love them all and can’t imagine my system without them. Everyone needs one of these in their systems as they have their own unique flavor!
Ben: My favorite A.C. module is the Arcade. It’s perfect for triggering and controlling multiple modules. Great for live use!
Vince: I think anything a person gets into can be expensive it’s just a matter of self control and researching the items you want before you buy. If you look at how much a Moog Voyager costs and do a comparison to getting a 5U system in my opinion you will find that you would get a lot more bang for the buck out of a 5U modular than the Voyager for the same price. You can also tailor build your setup to have the exact sound of what you are going for with a modular and do it one piece at a time so you don’t have to spend thousands just to get going. You could easily start off with a oscillator or filter and get right down to making noise then and there. It’s a lot cheaper to add a module to your system and you don’t have to cough up thousands at one time. If you have a income and save anyone can afford it just maybe not all at once! Another great thing is that the prices on modules do not lose their value like when you buy the newest big name synthesizer and it is easy to trade modules with other people as they are small and easy to ship. My suggestion would be to start bare bones with a oscillator, e.g., amp, l.f.o. and filter. It costs the about the same price for those as a new MicroKorg and then add more as you figure out exactly the sound you are going for. It’s like a big puzzle that you can create you own image with when you put together your own setup.
Vince: The forum Muff Wiggler (http://www.muffwiggler.com/forum) is a great place to start. Read all you can to get a basic understanding about how modular synthesizers work first and then start to experiment with patching up modules and routing them in ways that a normal synth will not allow to be used. For me the choice of 5U was an easy one I love the ascetics, build quality, bigger knobs and enjoy the whole aspect of not having to convert my cables from 1/4″ to 1/8″ so that I can just plug in my existing gear and go at it. Plus I think it looks really kool having a giant Death Star wall to use for making music!
Ben: I would recommend building your system one module at a time so you have a better understanding of how each thing works. Start with things like oscillators and filters so you can start making sound right away, then add VCAs and modulation modules later on.
Vince: Everything is cyclical in this world and I am very happy to see the current resurgence of people making music the old school way with c.v. and modular synths again. Many thanks go out to Tony for breathing new life into rare and expensive vintage designs making them attainable again for the normal person to afford and pushing forward by building such interesting, new and unique modules for musicians to use. We are living in one of the greatest times to create music having the best of both worlds (digital and analog gear) that allows us to open up the doors of our creativity with no limitations of what can be achieved. If your mind can imagine it you can create it!
Ben Davis Soundcloud
Voltergeist – Modular PSUs & Accessories
Exit Music – Modular Synthesizer News & Reviews
In addition to our acVOKS filter, we’re offering a mixer with its own unique Polivoks flavor. View the new module here.
Random looping sequencer, quad A/R EG, analog drums and voltage controlled noise!
We’ve been working on a fun little sequencer with expansion module—mostly just so we could whip out the orange LEDs.
Remember a time before the DX series? We certainly do, and have been working on a tribute to the rich, analog CS series. This Dual CS VCO module is a 4MU beast — each oscillator has 3 waveforms with PWM & FM adjustments.
And no, there’s nothing wrong with owning a DX-7.
We’ve been working on a companion to our ac2600 filter. Based on the Odyssey, the acODY VCO touts an adjustable sawtooth & square with FM & PWM.