_Drew Neumann scored Aeon Flux animation series for Liquid Television in the 90s. I once purchased the box set for a now ex-girlfriend who eventually got an Aeon Flux tattoo! Needless to say the series was very influential to many. To recently find out that Drew used a Serge Modular on the score drove me absolutely nuts & I just had to interview him about it.-dmitri-
Drew: Thanks for the kind words! It’s hard to believe it’s already been 24 years since the first shorts, and this Summer is the 20th anniversary of the half hour show.
Dmitri: How did you do it ? Multi tracking ? Midi to CV ?
Drew: I used a Kenton Pro 4 for some of it, but I also just fired up the Serge and noodled sounds off to DAT tapes. Some of those sounds were edited and made into Samplecell sounds, others were just edited and dropped in using audio tracks in Studio Vision Pro.
_Generally, I set up everything to be “live to mix” rather than multi tracking. In animation, you have to keep all the parts flexible until the last minute because you may find that picture has been re-cut. So, I used a brute force method of just having a shitload of gear turned on all the time. The wild stuff from the Serge was usually rhythmic loops, noise bursts or feedback drones. The Wilson Analog Delay and Frequency shifter combination in a feedback loop is a lot of fun and very surreal to listen to.
Dmitri: Can you please explain a typical patch that would have been used in Eye Spy?
Drew: Most of the score for Aeon Flux (which is what Eye Spy is) is sample based. Some of it is field recordings, some of it is messing around with odd instruments and noisemakers in the studio, like cardboard tubes, duster cans, steel chunks, and table lamp springs. The synths were used to glue it all together and make it musical. The lovely thing about any mono synth is that you can get nice legato phrasing out of it, which is hard to do with samples. The fact that it’s an analog machine also adds a layer of chaos, mild drift, de-tuning and warmth that makes the music flow better and more naturally. On the flip side of that, being able to load sampled Serge into the Samplecells made for reliable repeatability for those sounds, and freed up the system to do other things.
A typical Serge patch would be set up to play 3 voices, with pitchbend, vibrato and velocity control coming from the Kenton. I could probably get 4-5 “voices” out of my system, but it would be a stretch. It’s really short on VCAs.
Dmitri: What else have you scored using the Serge?
Drew: The Serge was used on the titles and a lot of the underscore for Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, a recent episode of Bravest Warriors, several episodes of The Wild Thornberrys (that show was more ethnic and orchestral, but there were occasional scenes that needed something otherworldly) and on a recent composer test for Disney. I also used it for the opening to the Animation Celebration back in the mid 90′s. It will probably be used on the rest of season 3 of Bravest Warriors, depending on where the stories wander.
Dmitri: Will you play for us at The Church Of The Super Serge someday ?
Drew: Probably not, at least not with the Serge or Modcan. I am not much of a “live” guy. I am more of a studio rat.
_I would love to make it up to one of your events (the builds are truly intriguing and I wish we had something like that here), but my schedule is often too unpredictable, and I am fairly far away in SoCal. I have to also admit that hauling around $$$$ worth of irreplaceable and fragile gear that I use frequently makes me nervous.
_The other issue is that I usually have to set up the modulars at the start of a new show season and leave them set like that for the entire season for continuity’s sake. Certain signature sounds may evolve during a run of shows, but it’s hard to change patches much under the deadline crunches. It took about 3 days just to set up the Serge and Modcan for the first episode of Bravest Warriors Season 3, and ate all of my banana cables. It’s a rat’s nest…
_It was impressive to see all the systems that made it up there for the 40th anniversary show. I really, really wish I had been able to make it up there for that event. Many of those performers and system owners are old friends of mine.
Dmitri: Is there anything at all that you would like to say to people reading this ?
Drew: I had wanted a Serge ever since arriving at Cal Arts, which is where Serge Tcherepnin started the whole thing. I got there as Serge was transitioning from being “the affordable, people’s synth” (where group builds went on at school) to a real actual company down in North Hollywood. There were catalogs of kits floating around school, and we all knew that the Buchla 100s and 200s were beyond affordability of mere mortals. I actually preferred the Serge to the Buchlas they had at CalArts–it could track volts per octave, and didn’t have the limitation of separating CV and audio path connections. The Serge was also a bit more flexible in that it didn’t dictate or imply a specific musical style. Only a few folks ever tried to do tonal music on a Buchla (Barry Schrader was one of the most successful at it, doing tightly tuned compositions). As it turned out, I couldn’t even afford the Serge kits, so I bought Emu evaluation boards and Paia EKX (Curtis Chip) boards, bought surplus military parts and built a 6 VCO synth.
_I got my first Serge system years later during the mid 90′s, and added on to it as I was able to afford it. Around the same time, I bought a couple of Doepfer A100s. The precision and quality difference was shocking–you could do things on the Serge that really pushed the electronics to the edge, where every module was a multi function Swiss army knife. The Doepfer was a bit more limited in range that way. Euro modular gear has come a long way since the mid 90′s and dominates the market, but the Serge really holds up well against all of it. It’s extremely well-built stuff.
Eye Spy: Declassified, Freedom Of Information Act can be purchased as a download via Drew’s website & includes A full-sized, high resolution, unedited copy of the original and intended cover art by Peter Chung.
More Serge related stuff to listen to from Drew:
Live noodling on video: (which is also available as a free download at droomusic.com)