Christopher Bono is a polymath composer, instrumentalist and producer who has created acclaimed works and projects across genres, including orchestral, chamber and choral modern classical pieces, post-rock, jazz, experimental and electronic albums. Bono is also the founder of Our Silent Canvas Records, a non-profit label he founded in 2010 as a vehicle for his own compositions and for collaborations with unique performers and friends. Christopher’s recording projects include Ghost Against Ghost, NOUS, Tsyphur Zalan, Nous Alpha, Gabbarein and more yet to be announced.
We chatted with Christopher on how he uses Sequential instruments in his music:
What made you choose Sequential?
I’ve been using Sequential/DSI instruments for about fifteen years, ever since I first picked up a Poly Evolver as a young NYC based singer songwriter. In the early days of learning to produce records I was looking to expand my palette of sounds and settled on this brand new awesome looking synth. I was a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd and space rock, and I knew the historical importance of the early Sequential Circuits instruments, but I wanted something modern, with easy MIDI and DAW implementation, so instead of purchasing a used vintage unit I went with the Poly Evolver. I used it here and there on some tracks, but as I transitioned (after years of study) to becoming a ‘composer’ in the classical sense, I became primarily focused on acoustic ensemble compositions. This lasted for a period of 7 years until I booted back up Ghost Against Ghost in 2014, the ambient chamber-rock project I began in 2008. Through all that study and experimentation in acoustic orchestration over the course of 3 albums, I became very interested in exploring “classical” arrangements using synthesizers. This was the primary orchestral focus of the 2017 Ghost Against Ghost conceptual album, ‘still love’. I had recently purchased a Prophet 12 with the devoted intention of using it as the main instrument on that album. The Prophet 12 absolutely blew my mind. I used it on multiple tracks over every song, utilizing complex layering of patches to really push the boundaries of what sounds I could conjure from the unit.
I still find it to be the most extraordinary keyboard synth I’ve come into contact with. I also used it for the first NOUS project, of which we’ve released 3 albums, with the fourth coming out this fall, a very special collaboration with new age/ambient music legend Laraaji. It was also one of my primary instruments on that project, and can be heard very specifically on such tracks such as Look Again at that Dot amongst others. With the depth of inspiration I’ve received from DSI/Sequential instruments, when it came time to work on the second Nous Alpha record, the duo I do with my brother in arms Gareth Jones, I again wanted to have an instrument that was the primary focus. Gareth and I have started out our projects brainstorming across the ocean and typing notes into our journals, one of the intentions I set from the beginning was to explore the new Prophet XL which had just been released and I was very excited to explore over the two week sessions.
How are you using them?
Each project lends a different approach to using Sequential gear. On Ghost Against Ghost, I tend to score everything either by hand or in Sibelius and then I tweak the MIDI in Ableton and Pro Tools, so it’s very much driven by a complex MIDI tracks and is very much through composed. NOUS is all about improvisation, so the use of the Prophet 12 in NOUS Is primarily improvisational. During those sessions and performances I’d setup a patch list like a live performance and I switch between the patches ad hoc depending on what I’m feeling. However, in the 2014 version of NOUS I did have some tracks where the improvisation ideas for the ensemble were started by MIDI Clips in Ableton that then drove the Prophet 12 or a Moog, so I actually was triggering program changes within each song, and then the improvisation came from triggering a variety of clips in Ableton via a Push and live processing the sound on the Prophet 12 alongside external processors (space echo, Moogerfoogers, pedals etc.)
On the new Nous Alpha album A Walk in the Woods, the intention was set from the beginning that my primary instrument would be the Prophet XL. All of the tracks used the Prophet XL, often for the main lead melody lines and bass lines. The synth was always used in a performative sense, meaning that the patch would be tinkered with, and we’d be jamming over ideas, tracking them and then editing what was essentially improvisational bits into structured arrangements.
What are some of your favorite things about the Prophet X and Prophet XL?
On A Walk in the Woods I really dove into the synthesis and sample blending techniques of the Prophet XL. I love this functionality, and the ease of setting up and using. It definitely allows for an incredible organic performance approach to electronic music making which was perfect for this album where all the sample material was derived from a journey into the woods Gareth (Jones) and I took on our first day of the sessions.
The Prophet and the Prophet XL have “that sound”…analog, thick, present, tangible, deep…that special something that software synths, as AMAZING as they are, don’t quite get. Of course in the world of modular synths now synthesis is literally endless, but DSI makes an extremely accessible, portable synth that is a brilliant instrument unto itself with also what seems endless possibilities. It wasn’t until I matured in age that I realized the extraordinary contributions that instrument makers make to the manifestation of music . It’s obvious when its pointed out to us, but we often socially attribute all the accomplishment and genius to the musicians only. However, the brilliance of the instrument inventors is as integral a part to the conditioning of a composition as the composer himself, you can’t have one without the other. A Stradivarius, A Fazioli, and a Dave Smith are as integral to music making as Mozart, Vivaldi and Trent Reznor etc.
Any interesting production or sound design tricks or techniques you would like to share?
Though I understand the basic functionality of synthesis, I’m not really a synth expert in the way some of of my friends are. In the past I would often start with a factory patch and modify it to taste. Over the past 5+ years though my preferential way of starting is to reset all parameters to default and sculpt a sound to the musical moment. However, I have enough experience in making music now to know that every day and every track is different, and the answer to what is the best method for anything in the studio is…. “whatever works”.
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