The Process: Fran Hartnett on music and machines

Fran Hartnett playing live.

To many Fran Hartnett first hit the techno scene with his appearance on Surgeon’s Fabric 53 mix and his corresponding 2011 Audio Assault EP: ‘It Was Written In Vapour’. But mention his name to any techno fan in Ireland and you’ll undoubtedly get a glowing review of their favourite Fran Hartnett set at a festival, club, rave or after party – he’s actually been gigging solidly since 1997.

Belgian Plector Records boss Sam Silva has just released Fran’s ‘Crystal Phase’ EP with Charlton and Sleeparchive on remix duties. It was a pleasure to master, so I was keen to hear a bit about Fran’s side of things and his process.

How quickly did you write and record the EP? 

The two original tracks of mine on that EP were part of about 7 tracks that were quickly recorded as rough improvised jams in one evening from favourite parts in my live sets of the past 9 months or so. I was actually just about to move out of the studio where I had been working and felt like if I didn't get a few things recorded that evening I didn't know how long it would be until I would have a setup like that again! (It was an acoustically treated room and I had the luxury of being able to be as loud as I wanted). I probably spent about two months after that going through those tracks, editing and adjusting the sequences. I think I binned two of the recordings and ended up with 5 finished tracks.

What kind of studio setup/gear do you have? 

I'm using three Elektron machines at the core of my setup. Machinedrum UW MkII, Monomachine MkI, and Octatrack. I write pretty much everything on those machines and record through a MOTU Ultralite and Macbook Pro into Ableton Live 9 for editing. 

I also have a cool little add-on for the Machinedrum called a Minicommand by Ruin & Wesen. It's a box with four knobs and four buttons that lets you simultaneously control multiple parameters on the Machinedrum that would otherwise be impossible to reach at the same time. It also lets you play samples in the Machinedrum via external keyboard, with correctly tuned mapping to the keys. Beyond that it has a euclidean pattern generator which allows for complex rhythms and melodies using just one sample. Pretty amazing little box! It can also be customized to your exact demands by programming it using an computer based Arduino programming editor, but I've not had time to get into that. I'm just using the factory templates or other templates from the online user database for now.

I've got a Yamaha Rm1x which I usually run through a DBX 1066 Compresspor/Limiter, a Roland VM3100 mixer, one Technics 1210MK2 and one 1200MK2 (they work the same as far as I can tell!) and a crap Korg KM401 mixer… the weakest link in my setup. I'm monitoring on Adam A7s, AKG K701s, and Sony MDR-V700s. 

My latest investment is in a modular synth. Well, at the moment it's just a flight case that I built myself, housing 2 pairs of 84HP rack rails and a Tiptop Audio uZues power supply. I'm saving for the first module now… it'll probably take a while to get to it being a monster synth but I'm in no rush. Rome wasn't built in a day as they say!

What's your usual process in turning an idea into a finished track?

I sometimes make plans for tracks, like a theme or process that's going to be the main focus of the track, but often I find it just ends up with me experimenting and improvising until some sound or rhythm grabs me. When it does, I might delete all the other sounds, or at least anything that's not essential to the new idea that's formed, and then build back onto that central structure, be it a rhythm, or a synth line, or some sample phrase, whatever.

The machines also dictate a certain style of thought process to some extent, which I find helpful. I tend to work in fours. 4 Machinedrum patterns in a 'song'. 4 Monomachine patterns in a 'song', 4 Octatrack patterns in a 'Part'. In plain english that means 4 drum loop variations, 4 synth lead variations (x2 synth parts), and 4 sample based loop variations. That's the maximum (I can't get my head around how many combinations that means… 4x4x4 is it?! Hmmm perhaps more?!!). I could use less than that in a track, but never more. I like the kind of restraints that machines necessitate – I find it makes me work more efficiently.

I seem to have adapted a way of working that's geared towards playing live as much as completing a finished track, because I've often been working on new material for upcoming live gigs at the same time as wanting to record tracks for release. That means setting up the machines to be playable (for example turning the LFOs on the Monomachine into switches for the most tweakable parameters of that sound), which means that they're ready to play live, but just as ready to start jamming on and record the results for editing into a finished track. When it comes to recording I'm always working towards doing as little editing as possible. Ideally I'd like to be making two or three cuts at most after I record myself jamming from the patterns on the machines for 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes that means practicing for a bit before recording, or else the recording goes on for ages and only the last 5 minutes really nails it! I did way too much editing on my last releases. I've got some new tracks on the go now which, at present, are just a bunch of patterns for upcoming live shows. I'm hoping that this time I can turn them into finished tracks a lot quicker. That's the plan anyway!


Crystal Phase EP is out now on Plector Records.

Buy it on 12" vinyl:
Phonica UK
Juno UK
Triple Vision EU

Buy digital download:
Juno Download

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