Studio Talk with Fran Hartnett

When I purchased the Elektron Octatrack the first person I contacted was Fran Hartnett. It was his live show that made me look towards that machine as an alternative to what I was doing at that time with laptops, drum machines, controllers and sound cards. Apart from being a master user of Elektron machines such as the Octatrack and the Machinedrum, he is one of Ireland’s most progressive & technically gifted live performers.

I caught up with him ahead of his Live show with DiVISION & Vision Collector this Saturday to talk studio, machines and live performance.

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How did you first get into the technical side of music production and where/how did you learn your craft?

I had been DJing since my teenage years, and after quite a few years of buying records I had become quite particular about what kind of sound I was looking for so that got me thinking I should try and make my own tracks. I had a residency at a techno night called Genius in The Kitchen nightclub in Dublin city center at that time and that’s where I met Warren Kiernan, who told me if I just got a PC he could get me some software and show me the basics.

That’s how I got started. Some years later I studied a Masters in Music and Media Technologies at Trinity College, which attracted me because I heard they were teaching Max/MSP, and I knew that one of my favourite electronic acts, Autechre, used this for their music. I learned a lot there. By the end of two years there I had put together an immersive audio-visual environment as part of my thesis, which still influences the work I do with audio-visual performance today.

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What would you say were the biggest challenges you faced when you started making music?

I would say, although I did learn so much about synthesis and music production basics, in the first couple of years making music almost entirely on a PC, I never got things sounding like they did on the records I was buying until I switched to making my beats with hardware.

Maybe it was the limitations of the software at that time, or maybe it was the limitlessness of options on a software based setup, but it wasn’t until I got my first proper drum machine – a Yamaha Rm1x – that I really thought “that sounds right”.

What was your first studio set up?

PC running Cubase, Soundforge, Fruityloops, Reason. Passive Tannoy Reveal monitors.

What is your current studio set up?

Elektron Octatrack, Machinedrum, Analog Heat, Roland TR-09, Modular with modules by Makenoise, Intelligel, Mutable Instruments, Noise Engineering, LZX Industries and Pittsburg. Adam A7 monitors, A8 Sub, Technics 1200, 1210, Allen and Heath Xone 92.

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What drew you to Elektron Equipment? Do you think it’s influenced your sound?

The flexibility and logic of the Elektron interface really grew on me as I got familiar with my first Elektron, which was the Machinedrum. I had the non-UW version for a few years then I upgraded to the sampling one. I had a Monomachine for a few years too, but as the Modular grew I seemed to be using it less, and in the end I sold it to get more modules!

Of course, any hardware comes with its own unique features, and also with it’s limitations, which I actually find is a good thing. So the Elektron devices have certain features which set them apart, and naturally these things will influence how you make music. At the same

time they are so flexible, and there is so many different ways to use them, that it feels like complete freedom when making music with them. Like I said, the limitations (for example only 8 tracks on a sampler, instead of the limitless amount you have on a computer) actually push you to make music in a more carefully considered way. Once you get used to those kind of limits, it doesn’t feel like you’re constrained at all.

What is your DAW of choice?

Ableton Live.

What are your favorite plugins?

To be honest, I don’t really use plugins. I try to get things sounding right in the machines, and then I just use Ableton as a basic multitrack recorder.

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What is your approach to sound design/sampling?

I probably spend more time with the sound design side of things than with sampling, although the two things certainly feed into each other. The Octatrack, which is my main sampler, contains samples from recent sampling sessions (often from movies or interviews that I have chosen for sampling interesting vocals or atmospheric environmental sound) as well as folders of samples that I have been using for years (libraries of analog synths or foley recordings made in college). I use these libraries all the time, and really just choose a sample that seems like it would be useful for the part in a track that I’m trying to make. Once a sample is loaded, I guess the next step takes you into the sound design stage – filtering, EQ, spatial effects, scrubbing through the sample start point until a sweet spot arrives… just fucking about until something inspirational happens I suppose. Experimentation is what it’s all about for me. It’s always been like that.

What advice would you give to the modern electronic musician?

I’m not sure I have any real words of wisdom but one of our teachers, Roger Doyle, in MMT at Trinity had a cool bit of advice that I’m sure he won’t mind me passing on, I always remembered it as sound advice, even if I often forget to actually do it myself! He said something like – when you’re making music and have an idea that seems a bit crazy, like a sound that you like but you’re afraid to use it – that’s when you need to forget everything else, and just zone in on that sound, and really go for it! I thought that was a great way to approach real experimentation.

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What is your current live/club set up?

Elektron Octatrack, Machinedrum, Roland TR-09, Analog Heat, Modular Skiff.

What have been your highlights of the past 12 months?

Seeing Autechre at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Circles festival run by Subject events at District 8, also in Dublin. Upgrading my Modular so that it can now process analog video (new live A/V show coming very soon!) Getting to hang out with my wife and kids for two sunny weeks in Portugal. Settling into my new home at the foot of the Dublin mountains (and doing some gardening!)

What are your upcoming releases?

Next release on User Experience (UX009), which will be a 4 track EP featuring a remix by label boss Joe Farr. I have an old track called ‘Mission IHS’ that will feature on the next 12″ EP on Subsist Records, set to be a selection of back catalog from the label, previously only available digitally.

Fran Hartnett performs live this Saturday night with Vision Collector & DiVISION at Pygmalion Dublin. More info here , keep up with him on facebook & instagram

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Photo by Kristian Glenn

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