With a professional background in the maintenance, engineering and manufacturing of audio equipment, it comes as no surprise that Abby Echiverri has an impressive collection of her own hardware. Classically trained in violin, piano, vocals, and flute, as well as an experienced DJ, VJ and sound engineer, her knowledge of the technicalities of music is extensive.
After moving to New York to study recording engineering and perform in post-punk bands, Echiverri quickly became a regular at local party institutions Wierd and The Bunker. As well as being an accomplished DJ, she’ll often play live, composing new pieces for each event.
Taking all this into account, it’s surprising that Echiverri has only just put her first release out. The ‘Ab Initio’ EP released on The Bunker is a testament to her mature and polished approach, despite her years. We requested an invite to her studio for a closer look at her key pieces of kit.
1. The Basis
My core setup is designed for both live and recording use, which means I play live with a good amount of gear. My aim is to be able to recreate what happens in the studio for a live audience rather than solely playing back audio clips. To this day, every live show has been almost entirely new material composed for that event. There are some tradeoffs I have to make in order to easily switch between live and studio contexts, but I enjoy the challenge.
My synths and drum machines, which vary from Elektron boxes to modular to keyboard synths, all run into the computer where they’re mixed. I have a 16 in / 16 out interface that makes this possible. Everything is synced and triggerable from Ableton, so I can quickly play out ideas on the MIDI keyboard and record the MIDI clips, and I can print ideas before repatching if needed.
CV and MIDI modulation are the keys to making a repetitive synth line more interesting, or to introduce spontaneity into the mix. My eurorack modular makes this easy, but I find it equally important to apply this practice over MIDI to synths that don’t have patch points as well as in the box for panning and plugins.
In CV world, modulation gets more experimental. An easy go-to is using an app in the Ornaments + Crimes module which offers two modulation function generators. Some more advanced things I like to do include putting a clocked 16-step sequence on an effects send.
Sequencers offer an incredibly easy way of introducing an improvisational element to the live show. It takes practice to make this not sound fatiguing or frustratingly out of tune. I use the Monome Grid, the Intellijel Metropolis, the Octatrack, and Ableton plugins as sequencers – each with its own feature set that I love. And then when you start sequencing your sequencers or adding random triggers, things get really interesting. The Grid is undoubtedly the conversation starter due to its esoteric design, and makes it to my live performances as a sequencer more than the menu-intensive Octatrack. It reminds me of my early days with a Tenori-on when I could only absorb instruments with tactile feedback. Although some days its functional limitations can be frustrating, setting limitations can be the easiest way to finish compositions. And when I’m playing live and my brain is jumping around a million things at once, I can play this interface with very little mental effort.
4. Digital textures
Whether we are talking synthesis or mixing platforms, I find the analog/digital debate boring, and often too complex to take a meaningful stance. I use digital and analog oscillators, digital and analog effects, etc. I can’t afford a lot of analog synths or outboard gear, but when I’m really dying to use something, I’ll call up a friend and spend a little time running a sound through their plate reverb or tube compressor or whatever it is. The truth is that I’m rarely motivated enough to go that far.
What’s more important to me is developing an ear for sound quality and creating a unique sonic palette and finding ways to make what I have work. I use iPad apps and softsynths and borrow synths from friends. I pitch shift samples in the box using cheap plugins and experiment with granular synth apps. Right now I’m borrowing an EX5R, which combines physical modeling with wavetables to synthesize acoustic instruments, and I like programming it to be as messed up as possible.
5. The Bench
My bench, where I do most of my work in engineering/ maintaining/ manufacturing audio equipment, is right next to my table full of studio gear. This allows me to jump over and do modifications to my synths. I’ll also often hop back and forth between working in electronics and noodling around on synths to keep my ADD at some kind of stasis. I use a Syncussion clone that I built, various eurorack module kits, a borrowed MiniMoog that I’ve been servicing, and a MiniKorg 700s which I added CV/gate to. I cobble together bits and pieces whenever the studio calls for something, such as a makeshift headphone amp or buffered mults or switching systems. I’ve never really had that much money set aside for spendy synths or outboard gear, because I’ve always had the attitude that I could build, barter, or borrow, and accumulate slowly.
Ab Initio is out now on The Bunker.
Get it here.
Featured Image: Joshua Chang