Gear talk: Dive deep into the sonic arsenal of Nocturnal Tapes

Nocturnal Tapes are craftsmen.

Their new EP Visions IV is a melange of electronic delights, full of spacious and grinding synths, pummelling dance floor beats, atmospheric vocals and lashes of guitars.

From the upbeat euphoria of Wake Up to the relentless heave of Is It Too Late, there is so much to take in and enjoy throughout the five tracks. And despite the eclecticism and complexity within, there’s a cohesiveness that draws you in right away.

Chatting about the writing and recording process behind the EP, frontman Harry Suttor explains, “We spent the winter at our Yamba home studio writing and recording Visions IV. The songs subtly discuss how we are forced by reality to live along the arrow of time.

Through the record’s themes, there is an underlying yearning for the fourth dimension, where we could move through time in a linear fashion and explore the possibilities of life without the pressure of deadline and regret.”

We wanted to find out a little more though, particularly about their gear, technical processes and live setup, so we reached out to the boys with a few questions. Dive deep into the sonic arsenal of Nocturnal Tapes below.

Nocturnal Tapes Gear
Photo: Courtyard Party

Dive into an extensive chat with Yamba-based electronic duo Nocturnal Tapes about their sonic ethos, live setup and the magic of hardware synths.

HAPPY: Hey! Can you guys us a quick rundown of your live setup at the moment?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: Keyboards – Sequential Prophet 6 poly synth; Moog Voyager Mono Synth; Eventide H9 FX unit, Roland TR-8 Drum Machine; Ableton Push and Live; 2 x SPD-SX Samplers; Strymon Timeline, Mobius, Bluesky, Flint; Boss Blues Driver, wah pedal.

HAPPY: Since you don’t have a bassist, where do you go to when trying to fill out your bottom end end?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: Basslines tend to come from many different sources: playing them in on the hardware synths, programmed soft synths, pitched tom drums, 808 kicks as well as chopped samples anything we can find with a nice low end (such as the main bass in All I Need).

HAPPY: How does the guitar fit into your live set?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: The guitar is one of the key instruments in the live show as it is played in every song. From what I’ve seen most electronic acts using live guitar these days are running their guitars through their computer so they can get the exact produced sound that they have on their recordings. We are using the guitar more like a traditional band would, running though a elaborate pedal set up and into an amp which to me just seems to have a bit more energy to it live. We also record guitars through an amp, which is a bit more old school these days, as a lot of people are using amp emulators. But it works for us.

HAPPY: How do you approach vocals effects live?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: I have custom made pre-sets, which I have organised into a set on my Boss VE-20. I just basically keep tapping up through the banks as we play the set. On top of all the sounds needed per song, I often include an extra type of delay throw so I can go with what I’m feeling on the night.

HAPPY: Is there a company or maker you feel like you gel with best?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: We have found ourselves using a lot of Roland gear for its immediacy when playing live. We feel from a performance perspective the gear has the features you need and little you don’t which is extremely important on a dark stage. Everything made by Strymon is incredible for their quality of sound, build and functionality.

HAPPY: How heavily do you use presets, or lightly modded presets? Has that changed over time?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: Sound design has always been massively important to us. Countless hours have been spent making unique sounds. Being inspired by a sound, recreating it and then tweaking it further to make it fit with a song helps understand that sound and where you can take it. On the flip side of this, the Prophet 6 has banks and banks of amazing sounds that sound lush and more times than not cut through nicely in a mix. Some of these sounds we will slightly mod and you will hear in our tracks. At the end of the day if something is just really working and you love the sound there is no point messing with that as its always what sounds the best that makes the cut.

HAPPY: Why do you think more and more bands are combining live and electronic drumming?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: One of the reasons I love electronic drums and electronic music in general is because the sonic possibilities are endless! You could record a pair of goats charging at each other then spend 2 hours completely reshaping the sound with you favourite plugs and boom you have the phattest and most unique snare you’ve ever made!! Until the next one of course…

Combining, you can go even further and layer these sounds to make even phatter, thicker and wider sounds than that of an acoustic kit. Live drumming has always been one of the most exciting thing to watch and for us to perform so we think the combination of these things just makes sense.

HAPPY: Drum samples: where do you find them? Dare I ask how many you have saved up at this point?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: Yes we do have a huge amount of drum samples on hard drives but more recently we have been using an online subscription based sample library called ‘Splice’. Its awesome to search for a particular sound you need or just to browse by category, genre, etc. or even a keyword like ‘industrial’ or ‘glass’. Sharing samples with producer friends any chance we get is also a great way to get quality samples over quantity, which is much more important in our opinion.

HAPPY: What was the first synth you bought? If you’re not still using it, why?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: The Korg MS2000B which is the ‘knob per function’ version of the famous Microkorg. The best thing about owning this synth was getting hands-on with all the parameters of a subtractive synthesiser early in my producer life. Although this synth is a light and powerful workhorse of a synth, we favoured the Voyager for its Moog filter and build quality and the 6 voice (6 keys at once) Prophet for it’s lush and rich analog sound.

HAPPY: When patching, do you have a go-to starting point or are you a ‘left to right’ patcher (OSC1 then OSC2 then filters then LFOs etc)?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: With a certain sound in mind I find its always efficient to start with OSCILLATOR 1 and build from there. I’m always surprised by the how many different sounds I can get from a simple waveform like a saw.

HAPPY: What are your thoughts on the software/hardware synth debate? Looks like you use a bit of both, is there a preference?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: For live performances you can’t beat having a hardware synth with glowing lights surrounding knobs, sliders, pitch and mod wheels and connectivity to other pieces of gear. We also tend to gravitate towards hardware when writing as well as its more intuitive and helps the creative flow as its all hands on. But in saying this each piece of hardware has its limits where software can do almost anything you need so we will always just go with what a song needs. We aren’t analogue purists we always do what’s best for the song. It’s always been about the end product not the process or the equipment you used to get it.

HAPPY: What are a few plugins you’re loving right now?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: We particularly love all the Soundtoys stuff, it just sounds great with little work. They are a go to tool to get the job done. We regularly use the MICROSHIFT and the ECHOBOY for width and depth as well as others for creative purposes. UNIVERSAL AUDIO stuff is also a standout and we love the character of the AMPEX ATR-102 tape machine plug in on busses.
We’ve also recently discovered The Granulator II in MAX for live which together with the stock Ableton arpeggiator you can get some interesting textures and sounds you wouldn’t expect which is really nice. And lets not forget the trusty aAbleton stock EQ8.

HAPPY: What’s the cheapest piece of gear you feel like you’ve gotten the best value out of?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: KORG Minilogue no doubt.

HAPPY: Is there a chord, sequence type, effect etc. you find yourself always falling into when starting an arpeggiator or sequencer up?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: Not really, writing a part with the Arp or sequencer seems to be one of those things where you don’t think to much and just play around until your loving it! It’s almost like the part writes itself.

HAPPY: If you could copy/paste one feature from another piece of gear onto your main synth to make it perfect, what would you do?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: Having a one knob ducking effect on the Prophet would come in handy. We run the Voyager into the TR-8 side-chain feature, however we lose a certain amount of mixing flexibility when we do this, so this would be super handy.

HAPPY: If you had to grab a new piece of gear, what would it be right now?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: The new MPC Live. Being standalone is a huge selling point for this piece of gear. It looks super powerful for running hardware gear, triggering samples and using the touch screen for performance

HAPPY: Lastly – do you have any gear heroes?

NOCTURNAL TAPES: We once visited a synth repairer in Sydney and his workshop was a synth cave that dreams are made of. He had the top of cables exposed and Blade Runner patch all fired up and ready to play on his Yamaha CS-80, sitting pride of place amongst the other vintage weapons that lined his walls. To this day we’ve seen nothing like this.

You can catch Nocturnal Tapes supporting Luke Million on the dates below.