Xi’an-born, Toronto-based electronic producer, conservatory-trained pianist, DJ, radio host and arts promoter Ciel – aka Cindy Li – certainly likes to keep busy. Her day-to-day professional activity is a scheduling maelstrom, vortexing around her duties as co-owner of indie electronic music label Parallel Minds, co-founder of the It’s Not U It’s Me events organization, head honcho of the women-centric Work In Progress concert series, and member of DJ collective Discwoman. And all that before she’s even played or made any music, which she does via a monthly radio show on London’s Rinse FM, and, of course, her regular DJing schedule and production work, the latter of which has so far yielded numerous solo and collaborative singles and EPs, and the well-received 2020 long-player, Trojan Horse.
Ciel’s heterogeneous, intelligent, intrinsically musical sound pivots on an essentially house-based core, integrating pacy breaks, delicate melodic elements, left-field percussion, and globally evocative harmonic structures. Within that framework, Native Instruments synths provide many of the sonic specifics, and here, she demonstrates five of her go-to presets and patches for REAKTOR, ABSYNTH, and more. “All of these are new melodies I recorded myself on the fly,” she explains. “I decided not to take anything from projects I’ve already made, to keep it fresh and show how each patch sounds when a human is just playing around with them – although a couple of them feature computer-generated arpeggios. All of them have two layers of melodies – a treble and a bass, so to speak.”
Scroll down to hear Ciel demo the patches and read about how she uses each one.
MIKRO PRISM 'Abating Emotions'
This is a new favourite of mine. I found it while working on a new remix when I was looking for patches that mimic the traditional Chinese guzheng. I especially love how earthy and rich the lower octaves sound on this.
More about MIKRO PRISM
REAKTOR (2-OSC) 'ARPBRI~1'
My first time using this preset was when I was finishing my collaborative EP with Ali Berger earlier this year. The last song on the record was done completely remotely, and also happens to be one of my favourite songs ever. This synth was a big contributor. The arp sequencing is very simple and easy to play legato, so that it’s not just a sustained arp, which I’m not a fan of. I like a little bit of choppiness in arpeggiated melodies, and this arp is my favourite for that reason.
Check out REAKTOR
SUPER8 'Antenna Felt'
I’ve used this patch in three of my tracks, including one from my forthcoming EP, which is scheduled for release in late summer. As quite an indecisive producer, I really have to micromanage my inclination to use new sounds every single time I make a new track – because using the same sounds is good! It’s good when people associate certain textures and timbres with your music. I like how this one is so mutable: it sounds totally different depending on what notes you’re playing and is as good as a bassline as it is a synth lead.
Check out SUPER 8
REAKTOR (Lazerbass) 'Abdominal Pain Sub'
Speaking of mutability, this is a wicked bass preset I use quite often, that also sounds great as an arpeggiated loop. Sometimes when I use this bass patch in a track, I’ll add an 808 sub underneath just to beef it up, but that’s not always necessary. On its own, it doesn’t occupy too much space in the lower frequency range, so it won’t muddy up your bass kick, which can be a plus depending on how bassy your kick drums are.
Check out REAKTOR
ABSYNTH 'Orbiting Flute'
I absolutely love the pads in ABSYNTH. This one has a floaty warble to it, especially in the lower range, which gives it a dreamy, psychedelic texture. I appreciate that the warble is less noticeable in the higher frequency range, which is practical from a songwriting standpoint because too much of a good thing can be chaotic. By now, you can tell I’m generally attracted to acoustic instruments that have been heavily processed and digitised. It’s hard to change that because of my early classical education, but I’m learning to embrace it in myself.
Check out ABSYNTH 5