The world of modular synthesis is a world of infinite possibilities.
To build your own personalized instrument with the ability to switch out each and every part as you go along you can truly craft your own sound which others will be hard-pressed to replicate.
While modular synthesis might summon either images of what looks like a telephone operator board or endless loops of ambient bleep bloops there is more to the art, something darker and more aggressive.
One of the first such modular artist I came across was TL3SS.
With black and white videos accompanied by the doom and gloom of a voltage controlled apocalypse TL3SS is the antithesis to everything people seem to imagine when they hear the term “Modular”.
I`ve been in touch with him sporadically over the past few months and as I await a cassette version of his debut EP to arrive from the U.S I approached him for an interview.
Let the ritual commence:
Who are you and what do you do?
-I’m TL3SS, and I make dark electronic music with mostly modular synthesizers.
What is TL3SS and how are we meant to pronounce it?
-TL3SS is kind of an accident. I returned to making music after a long hiatus, and a friend suggested I set up a SoundCloud account so he could listen to a track I was talking about. When I went to set up the account, all the names I tried to pick were taken, so I picked this as kind of a joke. At the time I had no idea that people would end up wanting to hear more of my music. Now I’m kind of stuck with it. There really isn’t a right way to pronounce it, but I personally pronounce it like the letter “T” and then the word “Less”.
How long have you been working with modular synths and what about the modular initially caught your interest?
-I’ve been working with Modular synths for a little over 3 years now. I started making music again about 4 years ago, and a Moog Sub-37 was the first synth I picked up. When I stopped making music years ago, everything was software based, and there were hardly any hardware based synths that I found compelling. I’m not a huge fan of sitting in front of a computer screen with a mouse trying to make music, so that was part of the reason I quit. For the next few years I completely ignored anything music production or synthesizer related, and honestly hardly listened to music at all – as I felt the majority of music that I had been hearing before I quit was uninspired and mostly sounded the same – probably due to the prevalence of VST instruments and endless amounts of presets. There were some gems here and there, but I was mostly disillusioned with the state of music styles that I usually listened to. Imagine my delight when I started feeling the urge again, and realized that there was a literal golden age of synthesis happening. There were so many options, and advancements, and they were more accessible than ever before. I have always been fascinated by modular synths, but back when I was looking at them they were completely unobtainable for me. As I got back into synthesis, I naturally explored what was available with eurorack and immediately fell deeply in love and fell down the rabbit hole. I think I watched at least a thousand hours of tutorials for various semi-modular synths and different modules before I made my first purchase.
Your sound is quite different from the usual ambient leaning bleeps and bloops most modular artists produce. Who are your influences and how did you begin to develop this sound?
-I like all kinds of music, but I’ve always been drawn to dark, sad or angry music. When I first started music a long time ago, I was really heavily into all kinds of Industrial music, as well as some IDM here and there. For specific artists I’d probably say Leæther Strip, Pain Station, Nine Inch Nails, Front Line Assembly, Scorn, Cabaret Voltaire, Dead Voices on Air, Numb, Gridlock, Dive, Ministry, Klinik, Nurse With Wound, Coil, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre. I also really enjoy listening to post-punk and goth music as well. I think my sound naturally developed as an extension of wanting to make what I wanted to hear.
You`ve done some demos for Noise Engineering in the past, what`s your relationship with the NE team and what about their modules specifically do you find so attractive?
-I haven’t actually done any official demos for Noise Engineering – I did do a guest post for their blog, however. It was about how much I love various types of distortion and some of the techniques I use. It’s just a friendly relationship – I really love the instruments they make, and they seem to appreciate the nasty sounds I make with them. I’ve gotten to know them a little bit and they’re really great people, and I want them to continue to be successful and keep making awesome modules for me to use. I was initially attracted to their modules for a variety of reasons – basically everything. I loved the company name immediately, and as I dug deeper into what they had to offer I found that I loved the sound of their oscillator modules, and their approach to utility modules. I also really connected to the visual aesthetic they use, and really enjoyed the naming conventions they use as well.
Modular synthesis allows for quite a vast amount of experimentation, improvisation and just stumbling across greatness on the road to who knows where. Would you say you have a technique for approaching the instrument or do you just kinda go with the flow and let it carry you away?
-It depends, sometimes I set out with a specific goal in mind (which usually ends up sounding NOTHING like I had in mind), and other times I’ll be away from my modular and realize “you know, I haven’t ever tried plugging X into Y – I need to try that when I get home”. Other times I get a craving to hear a particular module and so will just start patching with it and see where things end up.
I believe I saw you say somewhere you wouldn’t be too comfortable with the idea of live performances due to shyness. How does this affect you now as you`re starting to gain some traction and people in the community know your work?
-It’s a question I get asked more and more frequently. Part of it is that I am a perfectionist when it comes to performance, and I feel that modular by default is not a perfect performance tool. Trying to recreate something you have patched up at home is difficult to do at home, let alone performing. We will see what the future holds, I’m not ruling it out – but for now I’m content to focus on recording as opposed to preparing for live performances.
What would you recommend to someone looking to get started in modular as far as gear and just general advice?
-Use the resources that are available to you. There is a wealth of knowledge out there on various forums and youtube channels. Educate yourself before you jump in and spend tons of money. The way I approached it was learning about the various semi-modular synths that were available and picking one based on what I felt sounded the best to me. From there you’ll experiment and some of the concepts will begin to click, and you’ll hit a point where you feel limited with just the semi-modular and you’ll want to expand to do something that’s impossible currently.
You`ve released three EP`s thus far. Are we gonna be seeing a fourth one anytime soon or perhaps a full album?
-I have a single with some remixes releasing later this month on Errorgrid Records. I plan to release another EP later this year. I’ve thought about doing a full album, but for the moment I’m enjoying the EP approach.
The space below is yours to use for whatever you desire, promote anything or anyone you can think of or just leave a quote for the readers to ponder on.
I’m really thrilled to be a part of the Errorgrid roster. I think there’s going to be some amazing music coming out in the next few months. It’s very exciting.
Keep up with TL3SS at the following sites:
TL3SS @ Instagram
ErrorGrid @ Instagram