Since many years back I’ve had this strange obsession with only using a single synth/sound source for making entire tracks, either via multitracking or completely self-contained if it is more of a groovebox piece of kit.
As with many of my particularities when making music, I suspect this could stem from my first musical foray was with an old school Nintendo Game Boy running Little Sound DJ. It features four tracks (2x Pulse, 1x 4-bit wave buffer, 1x noise), each very clearly within the exact same ‘world’ of sound.
And for me, I think it’s that last notion I am a bit obsessed with. It’s of course nice to mix and match different timbres and instruments, but there is just something about a somewhat homogenous sonic palette that is very appealing to me. Perhaps chip music is again to blame, but I really like when it all fits together perfectly.
And on the flip side, I think in some way we are seeing a similar methodology or dogmatic approach in contemporary electronic music and its scene. Many opt for a modular-only setup today, not necessarily because it’s the best means to an end, but because the concept in itself is appealing.
There are a few artists that have done similar things (and you could of course draw historical parallels with solo piano pieces and such, but I think that’s maybe a bit besides the point), here are some neat examples:
SND - Atavism
FS1R for every synth sound, and highly stylized samples for the drums.
Errorsmith - Superlative Fatigue
Made entirely with NI Razor, which he designed for Native Instruments.
Eliane Radigue - works from 1971-2001
Radigue worked exclusively with an ARP 2500 during this period.
Autechre - Elseq
A bit of an edge case, but they state that they work with solely their own software designed in Max since a few years back, which is a similar dogmatic approach.
Aurechre - We R Are Why / Are Y Are We?
Autechre has a penchant for dogmatic ways of working I think, this particular release is made with only (maybe) a Yamaha RY30 as sound source.
Hizmi - New Power
Hizmi has only used a Sharp X68000 home computer for his amazingly detailed FM-only productions. We were lucky enough to have him design some presets for the Digitone actually!
Known for hoarding 303’s, his music does feature a mix of Roland boxes, but some are almost exclusively done with a small army of silvery transistor basslines, or something of that ilk.
System Impossible - works
Exclusively used a Roland System 100
Surachai - Ritual
All done with a Cwejman S1
And so on …
I guess my point being, working in this manner is to me so much fun and inspiring. The (in most cases) extreme limitations of using only one sound source (in whichever manner you prefer) leads to a lot of experimenting with what the outer limits of the sound source is, and how you can use that or its faults to your advantage.
The end result I find very appealing, a gesamtkunstwerk which inhabits a very singular and balanced world of sound.
Or - does it just sound boring and flat? Maybe I am wrong. There is that risk too, without variation or a broad palette of sounds the end result will be sterile. How do you combat that? SND offset their clinical sound with intricate rhythms, TM404 treated his Rolands with a small village of effect units. Does that ruin the integrity of the singular source and/or make the process pointless? (I don’t think so, I would argue the opposite)
Right now I’m working solely with a Roland MC-202 (cue whole Elektron office rolling their eyes due to how much I talk about this synth) to make some pretty intricate techno tracks. Making a bassdrum can take a few hours in search of perfection, but for me the end result is really satisfying. It’s just as much about the result as the process, which is pretty interesting.
Sure, the listener doesn’t care, but that argument is weird. Surely, the one who makes the music should care about what they are doing and how?
Anyway, discuss! Do any of you work like this as well? What are some of your favorite pieces of music that relied on only one sound source?