Deceptikon morphs into Dkon — and talks to us about doing more with less. Photo courtesy the artist.

Artist Zack Wright, for a handful of followers of what we used to call IDM, will be a blast from the past. Recording as Deceptikon on labels like Merck and Daly City Records, Zack is back. His name is now Dkon, and the story is more than just him: in the absence of a Merck to release adventurous music, Dkon is helping launch a new label entitled Tokyo Ghost Island, with an EP to be followed soon by new records from Jemapur, Secret Palindromes, and an EP from Stockton & Malone, among other things.

Swimming upstream against gear fetishism, the 800 EP is proud to be cheap. The Korg Poly 800 on which the release is focused is a dirt-cheap eBay score, but as Dkon puts it, it’s also “one of the most underrated analog polysynths out there.” I’d be nervous about CDM driving up its value before I can get one – it’s been on my wish list – except that there are a lot of them. It was the first synth for many players.

With that spirit, Dkon sends along a manifesto of sorts about music making. He’s been coupling the Poly 800 with a production workflow entirely centered on Renoise, the modern tracker, for recording and sequencing. But tools aside, there’s a minimal philosophy here I think a lot will like.

Oh, and about the album: it’s raw, unaffected, with the sweet spare sounds of the Korg set to good-natured beats, as clean as your local Poly 800 in a garage sale probably isn’t. It’s not retro; it’s just … well, good. The synthesis is unabashedly front and center, everything perfectly machined in pure economy. Less is more, indeed. Have a listen: the full tracks are on SoundCloud:

Dkon – 800 EP by Dkon / Deceptikon

Grab the EP on iTunes

Facebook fan page

(I love this sound — but for a radically different side of the artist, be sure to hear some of his past work and remixes below; he’s got quite a range.)

For his part, Dkon is based in San Francisco, by way of Tokyo, Seattle, Washington, Eugene, Oregon, and Portland, Oregon, except I ran into him in Brooklyn at Percussion Lab.

Bonus points if you remember Deceptikon. And if you don’t, you know we’re not music snobs here; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover him through the new Dkon music. (See bottom for some Deceptikon music, too.)

But let’s see if you agree with Dkon’s philosophy, behind this record and DIY, economy-be-damned, do-it-on-the-cheap, make-it-great spirit. He shares those thoughts with CDM:

DKON’S TIPS FOR CREATIVE SUCCESS

1. Less is more.
If you read nothing else in this article, read this. Having more options is not good for your creativity. Learn what you have, use what you have. Having a limited set of options forces you to focus.

2. You don’t need expensive stuff.
There are a lot of people who think you need to keep improving your studio, and getting the latest, most expensive gear in order to have the ability to be able to make something good. This is nonsense. From an economic point of view, the 800 EP cost me about $125 to make. (Renoise license of about ~$75, and I bought the 800 on Craigslist for $40). I made my first several albums (*Lost Subject*, *Greater Cascadia*, and *Mythology of the Metropolis*) with very limited means and equipment. Make do with what you have. Buy gear secondhand, but only what you will actually use. Use free or cheap software. Use free or cheap plugins.

3. It doesn’t matter what software you use.
There are so many DAW options now, but they all do basically the same thing. The only real difference is workflow. Pick one that appeals to you, learn it as you go along, and you will succeed. I have been using mostly Renoise for the past few years because I like the workflow and relatively simple interface. It may look confusing if you’ve never used a tracker before, but once you get the hang of it, it’s incredibly fast to get your ideas down, which is a major advantage. When inspiration hits you, the faster you can start working, the better.

4. Work around the limitations of what you have.
If something is limited in some way, use it to your advantage. Why do you think things like the 303 and 808 are still universally adored? They are both incredibly limited instruments, but what they do, they do very well. Using a more concrete example in my case, the Poly 800. It’s horribly tedious to program, but has a great sound and a lot of character. If it was covered in knobs and sliders, I don’t think it would be as appealing in a bizarre kind of way. The limited nature of the instrument encourages creativity.

5. Treat everything as a sample.
Especially in regards to software like Renoise. Find a sound on an instrument you like. Record yourself playing a few chords or a sequence of notes. Chop it up, sequence it, and rearrange it. Usually, if I do this, the sequence that ends up being used is different than the one that I originally played. Move things around, play with the pitch, change the envelopes. Being imprecise with your editing gives it a more humanized feel, without resorting to adding “humanization” after the fact.

6. Fidelity is highly overrated.
Do you think anyone is going to care if your snares are amazingly compressed and EQ’ed if your song is terrible? No. Making your music sound “nice” should be an afterthought. Focus on content, not gloss.

7. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Making music, or art of any kind, should be fun. Treat it as play, not as work. Don’t think of what you want to make before you start – let the finished product reveal itself through your work. Dive in and explore without conscious thought.

http://www.deceptikon.net/
http://soundcloud.com/dkon
http://www.renoise.com/

Inside the Studio: Gear and Renoise Session Screenshots

Click the images for a closer look; all images courtesy the artist and used by permission.

More Music

Remixes by Dkon / Deceptikon

Mythology of the Metropolis 12″ by Dkon / Deceptikon

Artwork for the Mythology of the Metropolis album is, I think, really beautiful:

The painting is the work of Philadelphia-based Richard Bailey, aka artist proem, who also did my album cover as well as the CSS work on CDM. This isn’t some sort of cabal we’ve put together; I keep running into these lads and the connections between them by pure accident. There’s a sort of diffuse, scattered community of people who are expatriated from a forgotten IDM nation. If IDM dies, CDM lives, at least.

And for good measure, the music video for “Broken Synthesizers,” via reader mikrosopht in comments, who worked on it.

Brilliant idea – hacking YouTube timelines to make an interactive 909 – though I can’t get it to work for me at the moment.

Thanks to Dkon for all these ideas.

Care to debate – or echo – his creative tips? Sound off in comments.

  • http://nickstutorials.com Nick Maxwell

    This whole thing is just chock full of sound advice.  I co-sign all of it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/Birds_Use_Stars BirdsUseStars

    Incidentally, you can use cassette tapes to store extra Poly 800 patches. So if you "Need Pad", you can put "Pad" on cassettes! 

  • http://regend.com Regend

    i own a poly 800 and layer layer layer to create new sounds using Ableton Sampler. Co-Sign!

  • http://mikrosopht.godxiliary.com mikrosopht

    zack has always been one of the most focused and dedicated musicians i've ever met as his consistent output throughout the last decade clearly illustrates. i worked with him on the Broken Synthesizers music video&nbsp ;http://youtu.be/O2GmE_ozLZM and don't miss out on his youtube hack epitomizing point 7 above&nbsp ;http://youtu.be/oyF3BkcB0HI Interactive TR-808 Drum Machine

    dope waves for life

  • kconnor9000

    Poly-800 (mine's a II, but probably same for original) has a single filter for all four voices, which allows an interesting sound when you say, hold down one note, and just instantaneously flick another one to retrigger the envelope. Really quick flicks on a single note can set up this weird filter ring-on-and-on, like a ringing note on a violin string.

    The little sequencer on my Poly-800 is STILL my main scratchpad. The enable/disble key on back fits under my curled left hand, and there are just two buttons, note hold for tie) and rest. You can leave the left hand in place, and play with the right, left hand tapping the note/rest buttons like a little metronome. It's a beautiful design. Two buttons!!

    I WISH the OP-1 sequencer worked in the same way, but they manage to require you to bend your left hand impossibly. No easy rest position where you can hit the note/rest advance keys.

    Damn I love my Poly-800. Playing along with the little delay unit on the mkII, sounding like the Edge…

  • Human Plague

    I bro-sign this manifesto, too!

    ;)

  • ALTZ

    Limiting yourself can force yourself to think and breakthrough.

  • John Moon

    Great Article. I agree with almost everything and usually employ these perspectives myself. the only thing I find extremely subjective is:

    "Don’t think of what you want to make before you start – let the finished product reveal itself through your work. Dive in and explore without conscious thought."

    I find this approach can lead to alot of (although fun..) knob-twiddling if you're not careful. I read an article with Hudson Mohawke, where he said he barely touches the equipment w/o a basic idea/goal already in place. Like I said though, this is a very subjective methodology.

    Thanks

  • http://www.anestheticaudio.com Jesse Mejia

    I'm a member of the poly-800 as first synth club! I still love that thing. Great article.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/afrodjmac/ AfroDjMac

    Awesome.  Makes me want to jump into the studio!  @John Moon, I see your point.  I find that having an idea in mind can be a great thing to go into it with.  And, I also find that many a great things happens when there's no set idea in place. There are risks and benefits to both methods…

    I really like the simplicity aesthetic to Dkon's workflow.  I have wasted many a precious hour hunting down gear that only accumulates dust, or picking up and trying to figure out software and plugins that I never even open anymore.  

    Less is more, and I'm usually more productive with my limitations than I am with never ending possibilities.  

    "The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. " -Bruce Lee

  • kconnor9000

    Agree strongly with the general 'get over your tools' sentiment. 'treat everything like a sample' is great advice for a certain kind of music/style. But I have to disagree that music making is going to always be fun, at every stage of the process. Knob twiddling is always fun. Learning a guitar part is not always fun. Rewriting lyrics 172 times is not always fun. I don't think Lennon and McCartney were always having fun, writing and rewriting and rewriting. I think modern music, even dance music, could do with a good deal more planning, practicing, writing and editing. I love knob twiddling with the tape running as much as the next gearhead. I try not to confuse that with writing songs, though. ( I don't think dkon confuses them either. I just don't like absolute statements like 'fun always')

  • http://www.bagger288.com/goldenmaster goldenmaster

    very cool, I like this.  I think gear fetishism is way out of control and that is the reasons secondhand synths are so expensive anyway.  Don't be a collector!  Be a musician!  I have gotten even more insight into this lately because I've been spending so much time focusing on just one instrument, and getting way more out of it than fiddling with all kinds of random gear (which is fun, and I miss it, but never really gets you anywhere as a musician).

  • https://www.facebook.com/dkonmusic Dkon

    Glad my manifesto is resonating with many of you.

    When I say "music should be fun", I'm not suggesting that you should just let the tape run while you play a 15 minute keyboard solo (thought that can be fun at times).

    Sure, this is a personal point of view, but I think making music at every step – sketching out ideas, songwriting, mixing – IS fun. Sure, some parts can be tedious, but if it's not fun, why are you doing it?

  • http://noisepages.com/members/davincicode/ L DaVinci

    I have to agree with this philosophy. So many successful artist agree work with what you have. And lastly have lots of fun doing it. Rock on!

  • http://seanny.net Renzu

    Something that I've been figuring out recently, since I always like to collect sounds, instruments and plugins, is a reduction of possibilities is helpful when you're sketching out song ideas. Putting down an initial set of basslines, chord progressions, drum patterns or what have you, is where a streamlined workflow is critical. If you have to stop the music, find a plugin, set up its parameters etc. then the groove is lost.

    These days, I prototype music on a couple Korg Electribes, and after I have the core ideas down, I transfer it to the DAW, bust out the instruments & toys & plugins, and make "the snares amazingly compressed and EQ’ed". I'm just saying there's a place for that, typically after you've got the ball rolling with your familiar, streamlined sketch tools.

  • https://www.facebook.com/dkonmusic Dkon

    Yes, mixing is still important. It's just not as important as writing a good song.

  • Juno

    So are we going to stop covering new gear on this blog?

    I'm only teasing, but thinking about doing that brings attention to how hard it is for all concerned to break the acquisition cycle.

    And buying a new thing, even if it is a very old thing, can sometimes kick start a journey. Just keep it under control, like the drink…

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, I see some new gear in there, including our own MeeBlip synth. ;)

    I think what you want is intelligent acquisitions that help you make music, rather than an acquisition "cycle." And you want to be able to make smart decisions about affordable gear. I mean, we're making music with technology, so it's not as though we aren't using *any* tools. We're just making sure those tools fit our budget and needs and keep us happy, rather than becoming an end in themselves. 

  • http://noisepages.com/members/wmsound/ We Make Sound

    totally agree with this ethos. I was more productive before I had the kit I wished I had now! Been trying to limit myself for a while now and it works…kind of :)

    A similar LP in the vein of crappy synths and imagination, the brilliant Legowelt and Teac Life – free download from his site

  • http://www.distantdrummers.com Robin Koek

    Great synth indeed. Both pads in these tracks: http://soundcloud.com/robinkoek are a product of the Poly-800. Too bad it has a pretty crappy circuit/securance. We took it on the road with the band quite a lot of gigs and are starting to build a 800 mortuary slowly :( Still it's a good deal and often it's possible to fix it. And besides this gear specific I like the vision that you can make good sound with anything, it's just a matter of knowing your tools and listening with the right ears.

  • Rob

    Holst could have kept things simple and limited himself to writing the Planet Suite for ukulele but I'm kinda glad he went with the full orchestra.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Rob: It's a personal decision. Holst also could have made the Planet Suite twice as long and doubled everything. So there are always limitations somewhere.

  • http://dkstr.bandcamp.com dkstr

    What an great article. I agree with everything said, in comments too,heh.

    I made an album around one crappy synth, and by crappy I mean really crappy. Yamaha SHS-10. I sampled layers and layers of it and just used couple of drum samples and effects on Intro version of Ableton Live. On top of that, I made it as an RPM album, so it was made in 30 days. Still after 3 years I'm really proud of it and people at gigs tell me they really like some particular songs on the album.

    If anyone wanna take listen:
    http://dkstr.bandcamp.com/album/i-r

    http://dkstr.bandcamp.com/album/i-r

  • Peter Kirn

    I love that people are responding with music. it's not self-promotional at all — in fact, it's to me exactly *how* we should respond.

    So, yes, I'll be listening to this stuff! Don't always have time to comment intelligently, but I do listen!

  • http://soundcloud.com/tim-roberts-sound Tim

    For quite a while I limited myself to E, F#, G, B and C or D. So many different combinations of those notes. Then I got sidetracked onto the more gear = better music mindset, and ended up not writing anything. Things are looking up now though.

  • http://rekkerd.org ronnie

    It's liberating to get away from the excessive amount of sound sources and music production tools that are available to "help" us create our music. Whenever I focus on a limiting my playground, the outcome is always a breath of fresh air to me.

    +1 on all 7

  • http://www.quikphix.org xonox

    Limited tools ?

    Shameless plug :

    Atelier series by Antonio Bandpass and New Dust From Old Ghosts by 68k were made with Schism Tracker. A clone of a DOS-based tracker. (check out quikphix.org for the music).

    No plugins, you create echo by copying and manually delaying melodies, playing them at a lower volume.

    I think what matters for any music making is that feeling inside you that drives you to create. Be it on a low-cost laptop with free software or a warehouse full of exotic gear.

  • Peter Kirn

    I'm kind of thinking that repeating some of these ideas can be, for some people, a sort of self-affirmation!

  • http://wootangent.net/ pneuman

    Those points all resonate very strongly with me, too. I don't have a tonne of equipment, and I use free and open-source tools for almost everything I do, but I definitely have a tendency to spend hours finessing tiny mix details that I could better spend expanding on the musical ideas (or just working on other tracks!).

    One of my best tracks came about through imposing restrictions — a hard deadline, and samples of household items for all of the drums and instruments: http://pneuman.bandcamp.com/track/frozen-summer

  • http://twitter.com/cymatics cymatics

    Brilliant! N'thing the power sense of identification I had when reading this. Am clearing out my studio.

  • Bynar

    I like "fidelity is highly overrated"  philosophy. Maybe I shouldn't feel so bad about not mixing down my recordings in the traditional sense. Just hitting record should be enough. If it's music it's music after all. 

    I find it ironic that all Daws go through their share of criticism when it comes to "sound quality". Just a few years ago I remember people freaking out when you told them that you use only Ableton to produce tracks. Today people are kind of writing off open source software or programs developed by smaller teams of developers like Renoise. What's important though is that all of this software produces interesting results. 

  • Jonah

    What's the name of that type of video glitching? I read it a while ago, but it got lost among the million bookmarks I have.

    The points are good, just some general thoughts….1 Defining less is a sticky subject. For example, 10 kaoss pads and a kurzweil mangler, is both less AND more than Renoise and most other DAWS. Or if you used just Logic Studio or Live and m4l you have more possibilities/options than if you spent 10x on hardware.

    2 Can it be simplified to say look for hidden possibilities and creative means to get the most out of what you have? Sure, don't worry about using free or cheap plugins, but a lot of brilliant software/hardware/instruments take a lot of time and education to create and there is nothing wrong with these people being financially rewarded. 

    3. Finding (or making) software with good ergonomics that lets you get into a flow state is what matters. I personally can't get along with patterns, especially non-concurrent ones for composing a whole song.

    4, 5, 6, 7…. Some can be combined and some is personal, so it'd be stupid to argue about. I'll say that one thing that I was incredibly lucky to learn at a young age is to embrace my "mistakes" and to push them to the extreme or to be like Kraftwerk and build/use tools that don't let you make mistakes. :)

    I'm also curious as to how "tedious" in point 4 and "fun" in point 7 are related for the author. I'm thinking it's more that with the limited, slower way of working you can get into the groove more easily because there aren't 500 choices of what to do next at every step. That's how it is for me at least…I still like to spend hours chopping things up in an audio editor from time to time. :)

  • gismo

    I agree with some of the creative tips , but i really don't think this music is original in some way, there's lot's of people on the internet doing stuff like this.

  • http://www.bagger288.com/goldenmaster goldenmaster

    yeah, I didn't comment on the "fidelity is overrated" thing but I think there is really something to that.  I guess It is almost cliche to say that I like electronic music from the 90's more than the "modern" stuff, but I think that the modern workflow of doing everything/most everything in a daw and editing/polishing stuff to death has really lead to a lack of soul in the music.  My style has been do do things "quick and dirty" for a long time now, and while I don't get as polished of a sound than lots of music, I feel like my tracks definitely make up for it in vibes.

  • http://www.souncloud.com/tentaclesband Mcpepe

    Definitely, limitations are a good thing, but is very difficult not getting amused with music technology, with new products. I am always saying to me: you don't need more gear!, but I cannot stop thinking: if I would buy xxx I could do xxx…Not a good thing.

    I had to put a paper in my studio with big letters saying: don't buy anything more, don't even think about more gear, write! Be creative!

    Thinking a lot about this lately, and this post helps me.

  • Mark

    not to sound argumentative or nitpicky, but I think there were a lot of costs that dkon failed to add into his economic breakdown: his computer for one, and an interface to capture the audio from the poly800, not to mention it looks like he has some studio monitors. overall, it could easily be 2 grand before he even starts talking about the daw or the synth itself.

  • kid versus chemical

    My poly800 crapped out on me last year, I accidentky left it on for like a week and now oscillator 1 makes no sound except white noise : (

    As a gear fiend I agree with all this, all the gear collecting has not helped my music really, my best stuff was done with limited resources.  Plus I put myself in a decent amount of credit card debt.  But I buy new gear a lot of time just because I get bored and want a new toy to play with like a kid.  I think I need to put a bunch of stuff up on eBay and narrow it down to what I really use (except my op1, that sucker is staying with me)

  • MegaTonne

    lulz

    this is gear fetishist central, a solid third of the posts are intentionally published to promote sales.

  • TheLoneRoger

    Here's one for all you Poly 800 fans…

    I built a Poly 800 II emulation with MaxMSP/Pluggo a while back, which I recently updated for Max 5. It's a Mac only standalone app and I've added a couple of extra bells & whistles that weren't strictly on the old box, but it's free and you can find it at:
    http://www.wildfrontear.co.uk/PolyV.1a.app.zip

    I remember the Hartnoll bros from Orbital citing the Poly 800 II as one of the unsung heroes of the synth world way back in Home & Studio Recording mag, or some such.

    Still got mine, of course!

  • http://zeroreference.blogspot.com zeroreference

    Amen for minimalism. Not because it is necessarily always the best thing, but because as someone else said, 'the acquisition cycle is so hard to break.' What we're really talking about is the right tool for the job (cue zen/japanese samurai lifestyle reference) and no more. Like how an emphasis on healthy food is important because the Market (define it as however you wish) continuously presses us with unhealthy crap.

    And I'm digging the EP.

  • http://zeroreference.blogspot.com zeroreference
  • Rutger

    Highly inspiring article.

    I started my ‘musical career’ with a CS1x and a MC-303 and made some great tracks. Then I got lost on all of the possibiliteis, finding myself back 15 years (and three kids) later with FL Studio, one or two sofstsynths and a bunch of freeware effects, And making some real music again. Like you said: “Focus on content, not gloss.”

  • Polygon Cube

    Hi, i read this post and i must say, i thouroughly enjoyed everything! but what got me most was your list of things for makig music, and i agree with all of it…although i feel some of the things work different for me slightly, allow me to explain if i may:

    1. I agree, having way too may things can ba a hassle, but having a moderat amount of things (that one knows VERY well) can alos add some more flexibility.
    2. True, expensive stuff is not needed…but what about want? do i really need to minimoog rack if i already have the little phatty? no not really, but i might want AFTER i have learned to use the little phatty to its fullest…no shame in having a few more options ;D
    3. No debate this one, all DAW software does the same thing…only slight difference between them
    4. Also agree, although as i stated in point 2, id like to rather takie one piece of hardware, learn the hell out of it and then consider if i want something else…
    5. Hands down hell yeah for this one :D
    6. Also agree 1000%, id rather master my own songs…so they have a weakness? whats wrong with that? im a human, therefore i am bound to have weaknesses…
    7. THE most important adivce…make music for you and your friends and have fun doing so…otherwise whats the point?
    cheers mate!! :D

  • Scott Wozniak

    Scoring a Poly 800 for $40 is unbelievably good luck. It was also my first synth.