Get to know how the thrum of a looped beat and the hum of flowing synth form Modulogeek’s atmospheric sound.
I’ve always loved music that can gently fill up space, creating an auditory backdrop that enlivens without overwhelming. Modulogeek’s ambient, subtle creations rank highly on the list of songs that can do that.
The California-based Filipino electronic musician has been setting his style of technical expertise to music across several albums and Soundcloud releases. Fans and avid gamers may have noticed an interesting career highlight as well: his 2012 track “Around” appears in the video game Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, a shooter famous for both its ultraviolence and its appropriately intense soundtrack.
I won’t spoil why Modulogeek’s music is in a game like that: you’ll have to play it to find out. (If you want the backstory of its inclusion, though, I won’t disappoint you either; keep reading.)
Four years after the release of Fragile Humans and well into the process of producing his next EP, I check in with Modulogeek and ask about the themes and the tech that have shaped his music and his career.
Please tell us about your journey as a musician, from your beginning interest in music to becoming Modulogeek.
I picked up the guitar when I was twelve, learned a few other instruments along the way. In my late twenties I moved to Hong Kong and missed making music and playing with friends. It was then that I turned to electronic music. I did not have prior experience with the genre before this.
Why “Modulogeek”? Is there a story behind the name?
I was taking a cryptography class at the time and recently learned the ubiquity and importance of modulo operations in modern crypto. (Don’t be impressed – I’ve never really fully understood the math behind it!) And the modulo in itself is a reference to how my interests in different things wax and wane cyclically. It’s kinda lame but that’s what it is.
What sort of tech has helped you along the way to becoming Modulogeek?
I’ve gone through a lot (and I really mean A LOT) of controllers and keyboards, but the core has always been a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) called Ableton Live running on my computer.
Can you mention examples of the controllers and keyboards you’ve worked with?
My first ever was this console packed with knobs, sliders, buttons and pads, called the Novation Remote Zero SL. I then sold that for a drum pad, the Korg padKONTROL. It was all downhill from there, haha. I don’t remember some of them anymore, but I eventually got the monome and settled on that for a long time.
What constitutes an effective DAW?
For me, an effective DAW has to be intuitive and very easy to create loops in. For my music in particular, loops are one of the fundamental building blocks.
Next, nearly all (if not all) aspects of it must be controllable by… anything, really. External MIDI controllers, code, a qwerty keyboard. This is key in performance, and for speeding up the creative workflow.
Last but not least, it must allow for flexible routing of audio and command signals (MIDI and whatnot). For example, routing a track’s audio into a bus that has certain effects, which in turn gets routed to another bus that has a different set of effects.
How would you describe your music, and your most recent contemporary sound?
I’d like to think of my music as film score or soundtrack, something that plays in the background while something important (or even better, nothing at all) is going on, even though a lot of times it does not end up sounding that way.
More recently, I’ve been into hardware synthesizers, and moved away from using a DAW except for recording and mixing. The shift changed my approach to making music, focusing more on sound design and texture than arrangement or progression. Eventually, I hope to strike a good balance between the old and new approaches.
Could you give examples of the hardware synthesizers you’ve been working with?
I currently have a rack of Eurorack modular synths – two rows of it (this is my modular rig at the moment). The modules tend to change, but I’ve slowed down recently because I am at the point where I really like what I have, and also do not have as much time playing with it as I want to.
I also have a desktop polyphonic synth called the Audiothingies MicroMonsta, and it’s one of my favorite synths ever – such great sounds in a small package.
How do you feel your particular kind of music relates to your peers in your specific musical genre? Are you very distinct, or are there others whom you feel, in a sense, “sound like you”?
The more recent stuff probably sounds similar to some ambient/modular artists out there, but I am not sure with the older stuff when electronic music was quite new to me. I felt then that I was just mashing things together while being almost entirely ignorant of the genre. I only had soundtracks and pop/rock music to get inspiration from, and at that time I didn’t think anybody else was doing that.
How do live performances go for you? How much of your gear do you have to bring with you and set up?
Oh, my live rig has changed too many times I lost count. It has been (and I guess, still is) an evolving organism. The laptop and monome were the only constant components. The last iteration, this was some 3 years ago, I also used a MIDI controller with pads and knobs (Akai LPD8), a hardware effects processor (Korg Kaoss Pad Quad), and an audio interface with lots of ins and outs (MOTU Audio Express).
Now that I’m not gigging at all I’ve sold most of it already (haha), but still a conceptual live rig is still very much in my mind.
What are the common misconceptions that people have about your music and your gear?
That I used the monome a lot. I’ve always had it live, yes, but I seldom grabbed it when making music.
What are your current musical plans?
I’m very slowly working toward having enough material to release as an EP. This would probably be many months into the future. I am also contemplating playing live again, if I can come up with a new workflow and find venues to play on here.
If you were to compile a playlist of your music that best captures the evolution of your gear use, which tracks would be on there, and why?
I think the albums and EPs, each taken as a whole, provide good insight on my approaches.
Transition (2011) was mostly sample-based and vastly diverse as I fumbled my way around the genre.
Pipes and Palindromes (2012) was more purposeful, with an underlying musical theme. It was around the time when I started to become comfortable with recording my own synths and samples and making my own beats.
With Modulogeek (2014), I went all-in with what I’ve learned through the years, to the point of density. It was filled with samples, synths, guitars, kitchen utensils, you name it. I’m a big fan of Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise, and I was sort of aiming for the “fill the songs with lots of sounds” vibe in that album.
Fragile Humans (2014) was me starting to really get into synthesizers and sound design. The focus was less on arrangement and more on evolving sounds and textures.
From then on to the present, my tracks on Soundcloud are mostly made with the modular synth, continuing with and evolving the approach that started in Fragile Humans.
Interested in more of Modulogeek’s music? You can also check out some of his tracks on Soundcloud:
Dante is the features editor of Mantle Magazine, a copy editor for Tech in Asia, and a communications consultant with Puzzled Owl. He also produces a quirky little pub quiz called GeekFight Trivia Night.