Antenes: Studio talk

Lori Napoleon has been an integral part of the Brooklyn DIY scene since moving from Chicago over ten years ago. A resident DJ at countless warehouse parties across the city, her performances are an exploration of acid-laced techno, shimmering electro and gloomy atmospheres. 

Stepping into production under the alias of Antenes, Lori has released music on both Ron Morelli’s LIES imprint and Silent Season, with her most recent effort in the form of three-track EP Antemeridian for New York party-turned-label The Bunker, a project designed to showcase her more “melodic synthesizer compositions”.

Lori’s studio obsessions run further that most, as her twisted techno and tough-edged dancefloor experiments are constructed by rebuilding vintage telephone equipment and old machinery into modular synthesisers and sequencers. 

A talent that has seen her invited to create an installation for Moogfest and one she regularly teaches at workshops to young teenage children, we kindly requested access inside Lori’s laboratory, where she details some of her approaches and techniques to her imaginative instruments.

1. Electronics / microcontrollers

I’ve found that personalizing how you control your synth can uncover sounds inside of it that you never thought of before. With some basic electronics around (breadboards, wire, sensors) and microcontrollers such as the Arduino and Teensy pictured here, you can make practically anything become a sequencer or controller. In this photo I am turning a Morse code telegraph key into a control input that will re-route and affect the data coming through it in different ways – a Morse code 7-way intersection in development.

2. Customization – Imagery

My background is in painting, sculpture and holography, so naturally I’m affected by the appearance and layout of the lab. You could say only sounds matter, but my inclination to personalize the aesthetics of my gear is in congruence rather than opposition to that notion – custom colors and cohesive imagery create a little creative oasis that helps me get to that place of physical medium giving way to sounds, in the same way that some may want a particular lighting, plants in their studio or whatever else helps them settle in to the space. So, if there’s ever an option to customize, I do this. Pictured here in my MPC1000 – previously used live but now mainly in the studio. JJOS allows you to make your own Splash screen (so the machine says hello to you!) and it’s pretty easy to change the LED colors.

3. Random Discarded Stuff

I have been exploring electro-acoustic sound sources and the notion of obsolete or extinct sounds, so discarded and obsolete parts offer several layers of inspiration for recording and processing. Pictured here is an old speaker, some wires and a discarded 1940’s telephone Bell procured from the archives of Bell Labs. I may record them with my worn out but still working perfectly Olympus LS-10 recorder (pictured in the expression controller pic) or a contact mic.

4. Customization – Mods

Modification tutorials available on web sites such as DinSync.info (a long time resource for me) have enabled me to add a lot more functions to gear I already had such as a borrowed Roland MC-202 and a TR-606, the first piece of gear I ever owned. These mods range from individual outs and the addition of a triangle wave on the 202 (available in the CEM chip but not on the synth’s control panel as it is) and additional trigger outs on the 606. I have a pretty broad definition of modular; these modded machines interact with the modular synths I have made, meaning I could maximize what I already have instead of having to buy more gear.

5. Analog Sequencers (more than one)

Analog sequencers are very important for me – I use them in to make longer passages that fall between melodic and percussive, and to make a my own short drum sounds and loops. Coming back to my visual arts background, I find the layout of most analog sequencers, with a light and knob per step, to be very conducive to creating patterns and spaces in real time, and then the great joy is to let several sequencers just go in different lengths, while they affect the parameters of different synths (or each other) – at the same time adjusting knobs and working with the nuances of sounds in the space between the notes or hits. Pictured here is a Music From Outer Space 10 step sequencer nestled inside a telephone switchboard, in the dark. I made two of them. There’s also a photo of one of my notebooks as a bonus, the layout of my Music From Outer Space sequencer.

6. DIY Expression Controller – photo by Zaira Arslan of Red Bull Music Academy

I built a little piece of kit that contains four expression pedal controller sliders out of a junked Radio Shack microphone mixer and an additional joystick from an old Dragon 32 video game system bought at a ham radio fair / garage sale at the New York Hall of Science. I didn’t find anything quite like it already in existence to buy and I felt I needed something like it for making rhythms and drones out of multiple delays and such – this was one of the least expensive and simplest to make devices I’ve done, and also one that has the most impact of how performative pedals can be in a tabletop setting – nudging sliders versus turning knobs makes a difference to me and I prefer to use hands over feet when making music. A joystick is also just very enjoyable to use, and I like this one because it does not jump back to center when you release it.

Antemeridian is out now on The Bunker.

Order it here.

Featured Image: Cameron Kelly

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