Yves De Mey is a Belgian sound designer based in Antwerp. He’s risen up through the ashes of breakbeat and drum & bass to find himself as one of the foremost producers in experimental dance music. His singular style of production is a refined multitude of caustic, bent out of shape sounds, which fizz, crackle, and electrify anything they touch. He’s an avid hardware guy and big on digital production, or rather, sound manipulation. “Software to the rescue” De Mey says, as he opens up his conversation.
De Mey operates at the limits of sound design, and the music he has released skirts the outer regions of techno and ambient. Spectrum Spools released his Drawn With Shadow Pens LP last year, while more recently, local Antwerp label Entr’acte put out the Late Night Patching EP. His music has made its way onto the likes of Semantica, Sandwell District and Opal Tapes labels, as well as Archives Intérieures, which he runs with close friend and Sendai collaborator Peter Van Hoesen.
Looking for sound
“I’m not musically trained or anything so I will never have writer’s block,” he says, “because for me it’s just like…” De Mey makes claws with his hands and motions as if he’s hovering over a giant control panel of knobs and faders. In De Mey’s growing discography, he’s proven a penchant for creating explosive, multidimensional music, in large by limiting the infinite possibilities he’s presented with. “Everything I do is based on sound,” De Mey says. When looking for a part of the sonic spectrum to use, whether it be due to lack of inspiration, fatigue or mood change, he cites PRISM and RAZOR as the two specific instruments that not only power his productivity, but have opened the gates for inspiration to seep into his creative process.
Everything I do is based on sound
Prism, De Mey explains, “simulates acoustic impulses and it’s a pseudo-acoustic environment,” while the RAZOR synth, designed by Erik Wiegand, a.k.a. Errorsmith, offers up all manner of oscillators, weird modulation possibilities, and effects. “I don’t use presets,” De Mey says, but he admits, will very often, “hack into the existing snapshots or ensemble itself to make it a bit more my own, or make it into something I’d really like to have.”
The way in which De Mey creates music means that sound can stem from anywhere at any moment, and it’s something he attributes to the “surprises” hidden within production. De Mey calls this “fiddling” for sound: “all of a sudden you hear something and it’s like, ‘this is something I could have never thought of myself,’ and it just happens because you are fiddling with the software and using tools you already know.” De Mey equates processes like this to something of an ‘automated epiphany.’ “There’s no rules, you can do whatever you want,” he says. “I can have a sound from a library, the human breath or something, put it in Kontakt and play it two octaves lower, put a bunch of filters on it, then great, you have a sound no one else has. It’s not rocket science,” De Mey says. “It’s just that you need to know how to use those tools.”
His Late Night Patching EP, De Mey tells Native Instruments, was made solely with REAKTOR Blocks. “I just started messing with it, gave it a multi-out to Ableton Live and did 10 or 11 tracks with it in one month’s time. I can say I’m going to work with just Reaktor Blocks, and I could push this further and say I’m only going to use eight Blocks – which is totally pointless of course – but I could totally do it.”
De Mey has been a Native Instruments user for more than 15 years, citing REAKTOR 2.0 as a strong basis for his production chops. This probably explains how De Mey has found himself in the midst of developing an album based solely around something as niche as acoustic modelling. “I’ll pick my own limitations,” he says. “It’s probably a bit too poetic, but the endless amount of limitations you can put on yourself is also very inspiring,” he says. “People can be totally immobilised by the sheer amount of possibilities.”
So with a mass of technology at De Mey’s fingertips, what happens when he starts producing a track? “It can become a paradox because the creative block, or more like a practical block actually, comes from using the tools, which is kind of weird because often it’s like: I don’t know which tool to use,” he says. De Mey states that in the past he may have looked to just his physical modular synth for spawning production processes – such as in his Drawn With Shadow Pens LP. However, he suggests his later shift towards the computer was not so much about giving up on the hardware idea, but giving in to the software idea.
It’s about energy, not about being academically difficult
“The thing is, when I started using the Eurorack, quite some time ago, I was very snobbish about it in a way; taking pride in doing it just with that,” De Mey remembers. “I mean, I love working within certain limitations, but if those limitations come from some kind of snobby attitude there’s no importance, there’s no artistic value.” Working with software is “a totally different way of thinking and a totally different way of operating,” he adds, but beyond this, “it’s about energy, not about being academically difficult, not at all: don’t care!” Although analogue machinery and physical patching play an important part in De Mey’s work, he states that a “new kind of poison” will always help resolve any creative block. “That’s the thing with Reaktor,” he says. “There’s always an ensemble or a combination of elements you haven’t heard before.”
Beating the block
“It’s hard to tell when you feel the block is lifted, because if you make something that comes out of a creative block it’s no longer a creative block,” De Mey says. “It’s actually the source of the birth of something new.” Mood is energy, De Mey feels. “If you don’t feel like working, regardless of that, you start working, and you find yourself working within an environment that is very comfortable. If I’ve been working on something for a very long time, and I have a feeling that I’ve tried everything I want to try, then it’s like… I wish there was something more that I could do,” he says, “and that’s, for instance, when Reaktor Blocks comes into play again.”
Ideas from the Belgian’s personal production have begun to cross over into his film and television sound design work, and vice-versa. “Last year I got the Komplete bundle, and I got hold of extra sound libraries that I use for commercial work,” he tells me. “Right now I’m doing a psychological horror-thriller type thing, so I need a lot of moody sound design, or impact stuff… I can’t see myself doing sound design without Reaktor, or Kontakt for that matter.”
“The thing with Kontakt is that there are so many libraries you can still tune to your own taste, so at least you know there is something that will sound great.” De Mey mentions Melted Sounds’ REAKTOR instrument, WHOOSH. “That’s what it does, it makes whooshes,” De Mey explains, grinning. “In contemporary sound design a whoosh is a very essential element, and with this one you can throw in your own sounds and tweak it… that’s the kind of stuff you need to know.”
De Mey considers himself someone that knows his tools well, thus allowing him to be precise, but amongst the total freedom of being able to do what he wants when making music, it’s the aforementioned surprises that lie within the production process that creates the sparks. “When something unexpected happens, that’s the easiest way for me to overcome creative blocks.”
Live photo credits: Joeri Thiry
Final photo credit: Mark Rietveld
Check out the Yves De Mey contribution to Komplete Sketches here.