Interview with Roland Kuit

Written by Enrico Cosimi on . Posted in Events

Waiting for the full workshop on unconventional programming with virtual modular synthesizer, we talk with Roland Kuit, one of the most accredited masters of programming that uses the NMG2 – and beyond – have long since learned to appreciate ... Reading offers more than one food for thought.

by Enrico Cosimi


  Roland, you are an accomplished synth programmer; can you tell us something about your studies? Where and when and how did you learned how to master synthesizer(s)?

It all started with my background where music played an important role. My grand mother played the piano and sang. My grand father played the violin and double bass.
My mother had artistic skills. My father was more technical. My twin brother Arie Kuit started with clarinet and saxophone and is a famous musician and iBook developer. The older 2 brothers played the piano/organ and guitar. In our childhood we were surrounded by instruments. I played the recorder at the age of six. At that time I was also offered the change to play with a tape recorder (Telefunken). It did not take a long time before I was very skilled at using it. I became conscious of sound and explored all kinds of sounds by recording everything that came across: Surrounding sounds, conversations, and instruments. This really opened up my ears. Often I deconstructed the piano and made sounds to record.
I was eleven when I switched to play the flute. Within half a year later I played Bach. It all came naturally. A year later I was admitted to the Royal Conservatory, The Hague. My first teacher was Mirjan Nastasi followed by Marijke Bakker. I became very interested in contemporary flute music. Hindemith, Escher, Fukushima and Van Dijk. I loved to explore the boundaries of my instruments by studying the extended techniques. It was in my spare time that Pop-music cought my interest. As a keyboard player the synthesizer came on my path. Here the genes of grand parents and my father came together: musical talent and technical insight. I started with a Kawai S-100 which is small yet very useful to learn the basics. I was enthusiastic and lucky to get hold on an ARP2600.

In between I studied at the Vrije Academie, The Hague. Painting and Art. When I heard of the Instituut voor Sonologie in Utrecht, I immediately applied. Historical pieces of electronic music where constructed here. The institute was founded in 1960 at the University Utrecht. It had the same importance in electronic music as the studios in Köln and Milaan. I studied analogue- and digital studio techiques. Whereby modular sound design and composition by Jaap Vink and Frits Weiland had my preferance. VOSIM/MIDIM by Werner Kaegi and Fortran V music by Gottfried M. Koenig and Stan Tempelaars. Here I learned most about the ground principles about additive and subtractive synthesis. Later, this and extended techniques formed the basics of research for my books. After the institute I followed interactive composition and acoustics at the IRCAM in Paris by Kaija Saariaho and Philippe Manoury.

Do you have worked at Utrecht University Institute of Sonology? Can you tell us something about the structure and the technical issues? What is the "function generator" ?

We had 2 analogue Philips studio's and 2 digital studio's and recorded at 2 and 4 track Stüder tape machines. So I got familiar with all kinds of splicing and recording techniques. After a year I was asked by Jaap Vink to teach analoque studio techniques as a substitute. Among our tools were oscillators, filters, shapers, EG's, Ring modulator, Sample&Hold, a big matrix patchbay etc. and all kinds of tape-loop devices. In the garden was our plate reverb situated. To damp it, a blanket was used.

The famous Function Generator was developed on this Institute. It was a Sequencer. Clocked at a high speed it could be used as a waveform generator An other lovely piece of equipement was an enormous filterbank(thirds filter). Feeding it with white noise, all kind of harmonies where formed by adjusting the faders.

Composing electronic music in this studio setup was intensive. Patches couldn't be saved at this equipment. Drawing patch architectures was very normal in that time and I still recommend this to everyone who's into modular synthesis.

In your patches for Clavia Nord Modular G2, it seems you prefer a low-level programming approach instead of using commonly available high level modules from Clavia's library:

what is your feeling about the NMG2 philosophy?

In contradiction to digital prefab modules, where everybody sounds the same when using the same patch, in analogue equipement the same type of synthesizer will sound always a bit different due to minor electronica deformations. It’s the imperfection that gives the personal touch. I like all modules of Clavia, but getting my finger behind the available modules gives new oppertunities. Constructing modules yourself is much rewarding, for example wacko oscillators and filters. Constructing modules the NMG2 is missing, for example a feed-forward filter. The NMG2 is one of the best modular synthesizers for those who want invest time and research in it. Speaking for myself, I still squeese new concepts out of it: Adding coloured reverbs, matrix controlled delay stacks for spectral effects, vocoders with modal Resonanting neurons and analog feedback and several methods to generate matrix glitches and shifts of any kind. Just to name a few.

Do you feel in some way limited or frustrating the (more or less) closed architecture of NMG2?

It depends on the personal approach. Generally spoken limitation may challenge creativity to a certain point. Speaking for myself it is challenging to work with the few limitations of this synthesizer. I consider the limitation to be a starting point to define and create a modular space. The outcome is a patch and a cosmos of its own. Shortage of DSP however is indeed frustrating.

Today, after years and years of programming on NMG2, do you feel interest in some peculiar software platform or hardware instrument?

Yes Enrico, Sonic Core and Reaktor offer room to develop new things. Interesting.

Here in Italy, we are suffering a general decline of the arts and government policies to support the arts, e.g. no money for nothing, no opportunity to play, nothing at all; do is the same in your country?

Unfortunately the climate in The Netherlands is not much different. Art is reduced to merchandise and a piece of art is declined to a product. There is no philosophy behind it any longer. Most artists are forced to sell their work and lose sincerity to themselves. But society needs ‘out-of-the-box thinkers’ and visionaries and we will surely experience the consequences in all fields where innovation is needed. Research is the basis for change and innovation. This should be recognized and awarded.

  Are you ever be tempted to work with analog modular hardware?

Yes Enrico. I worked a lot with analogue hardware. The ARP2600, MS-20 and the Philips Studio's. It’s still a joy to work with.

Do you ever be tempted to work with "pure" software like MAX/Msp or Reaktor or SuperCollider?

Spending time in learning new software is not only big fun but also necessary. I know SuperCollider when it was modular! MAX/Msp is a realy great tool and I love Reaktor. The main fields of interest for me are composing, research and writing. These fields need to be fed constantly. Paying attention to one field may affect the other and here I profit from the synergy.

  In a live performing situation, what is your preferred setup?

Just my NM's and NMG2's rig with a midi controller.

Do you use controllers or do you prefer to "leave alone the synth structure" in a more auto-generative mood?

Depending on the situation I use different controllers. Behringer BCR 2000 knob controller and the Korg Nanocontrol2 as lecture/performance setup. In performances and audio expositions I make use of the I-cube with all kinds of sensors.

At this point, it remains waiting for the 9 January 2013 ... Thanks, Roland!




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