For a few years now, Manchester-based club experimentalist Aya Sinclair has been releasing a steady stream of warped electronic tracks that variously connect the dots between drum and bass, footwork, grime, and – as she explains further down the page – metalcore. The recently defunct Tri Angle released AYA’s shape-shifting debut EP and departt from mono games in 2019 under her previous alias, LOFT. Said alias was retired soon after with 24-track retrospective are eye pea ell oh eff tea that you can still grab for free over on BandCamp.
We recently got in touch to ask AYA if she’d lend her synthesis talents to our Patch and Play series, providing an exclusive preset for MASSIVE X. The result, 2020 coldest champion, is a masterclass in efficient patching, turning just a handful of well-chosen modulations into a dramatically morphing patch that flip-flops between plastic-sounding plucks and lush, detuned brass pads without ever becoming too unruly.
Listen to AYA demo the patch below, download it for yourself, then read on to find out how it was made and take an exclusive look into her sound design process.
Let’s start with the patch itself – what did you set out to achieve with it?
The thing I really like about Massive X is that it has ridiculous amounts of cross modulation capability – you can generate some really wild, chaotic elements with that. So with this patch, I was really trying to use that to break apart the transients a little bit and create something that’s not super static. I like to be able to hit a key and know that it’s going to do something that’s within the range of what I’m expecting, but not 100% the same sound each time. It’s chaotic, without being too chaotic, you know?
A lot of my music is focused around fairly consonant melodies, so that unpredictability is one way for me to get away with writing pop melodies and to feel okay with that for a minute.
What kind of modulations have you used in this case?
One of the main things is just using LFOs to scan across the two wavetables. I really like the way that the Chrome wavetable evolves across its spread of waveforms. But actually, I’ve found that I can, kind of, switch it out for any of the tables in the remastered folder and there’s always something really interesting there. The other wavetable is just providing a slightly more consonant low oscillator, to sit underneath that and give it a bit of body.
Something I have in pretty much all my tunes is modulated reverb. I’m really obsessed with collapsing space – the idea of sitting in one acoustic environment and then, all of a sudden, you’re in a different one. I really like the disorientation that results from that.
I’ve also routed some other modulation and then turned it off. That’s just a suggestion – turn it up and see if you like what it does.
You’re using one LFO to manipulate several parameters of the reverb at once, right?
Yes – it goes to the mix, the pre-delay, everything. And it’s the same random LFO that’s modulating the first wavetable. As the sound becomes more “glistening,” it sits further in the distance. Different tones are tied to different spaces, I look at it as a way of looking at the same object through a bunch of different lenses.
Is that a typical approach for you – syncing various modulations with one LFO?
Yes, I do that quite a lot, and also with the Max for Live LFO. I just think it gives a nice sense of cohesion. In a lot of experimental club music, you’ll hear several things happening at the same time – they’re happening in the same space but not really co-existing. I try to tie everything together as much as I can – that’s been super important in my production.
People often over-dress a very simple idea and, actually, if they just removed a bunch of the layers, that kick, snare, and one synth would bang so hard.
I think something else that sets your music apart from a lot of other experimental club music is the absence of heavy layering. All the elements seem very deliberate. Would it be fair to say that your productions are fairly stripped back?
Yes, that’s definitely my approach. I really want to believe that less is more. I like to try and keep things as simple as possible and make my point in as few steps as possible. Making music is, in itself, simple, and I try to keep the arrangement as simple as possible for maximum impact. People often over-dress a very simple idea and, actually, if they just removed a bunch of the layers, that kick, snare, and one synth would bang so hard.
Those sounds have to be right though – if I’m not completely obsessed with a sound in my tunes, it doesn’t go in. It’s not a conscious rule or whatever, that’s just the way that I work. I need to be like, “Oh my God, this clap is so perfect,” you know? I have to really believe in everything that’s in there, purely to satisfy myself. I don’t try to hide anything behind anything.
Does your process typically begin with getting the right sound, or does the composition come first?
I think it’s an emergent thing, to be honest. I’ll open up a synth, start pottering around, and the melody will evolve over time to suit the tone of whatever it is that I’m working on. I have this really annoying hand-me-down thing of never working from presets. It’s a bullshit thing, but designing all of the sounds fresh allows me to create melodies that are really tied to a specific sound – though that can be a good thing and a bad thing. It means that I often tend towards a particular type of sound simply because my tonality is a particular way – I have to be really intentional to step outside of one particular mode.
How would you describe that tonality?
I have a background in composition, so I guess that’s the way that I’m going to look at it, but then my tonality is actually very simple. I listen to a lot of metalcore stuff. So bands like Misery Signals and Between the Buried and Me. When they get into proper miserable mode, I feel like that’s the world I sit in sometimes. Or, at least, that’s my default. Lots of minor sixths, lots of minor seconds – that’s very much my language. And I think it also owes a lot to pentatonic grime. Both of those things are very wired into me.