Interview with VST wizard De La Mancha

The chances are that if you’re using VST instruments and effects, you’ve come across the name De La Mancha. DLM (or Steve as his Mum calls him) has been producing some of the most usefully oddball VST instruments and effects for some time now. He is also a little known Fwonker – the very first Fwonk* release by 3timesnothing is one of his many sideprojects. But we recently had a little chat to Steve about his work making those fantastic little instruments and effects.

How and why did you get started making VST?
A combination of looking for a plugin that didn’t exist and my geeky tendency to find out how to do stuff. I wanted a midi triggered mute/unmute effect, something you could assign a keyboard key to. As I couldn’t find one, I thought I’d try and make my own. I ended up making my first plugin “moot” and then the addiction kicked in and I made some more effects and instruments. After that, I got hooked and it’s both fun to make whatever I feel like and a challenge to turn it into a functioning plugin.

What software have you used / do you used to make them?
I use SynthEdit as the platform for making the VST plugin itself, and a combination of graphic programs for different uses. Knobman is a brilliant tool for animated knobs, and I’ve used Photoshop, Corel Draw and PaintShop Pro for vector and raster art.

Is there a process you follow? Where do the ideas come from?
The ideas come from various sources, but have been often from my own experience of making music and turning a technique I use or want into a VST. Many ideas have come from other people (including Mr Radiophonic himself) as anything from lengthy concepts and sketches to one liners. Othertimes it has been setting myself a purely technical challenge, for example learning the inner workings of a compressor and turning it into software.

There are lots of (for instance) vintage style compressors out there. What do you do to give your a distinctive edge?
Haha, you want to know my secret special sauce recipe? For the GTO/GTX compressors, I specifically wanted to make what are often known as “character” compressors, ie not transparent but adding something to the sound. I also wanted to make them easy to use, so not as technical as my others such as sidearm or bathtub. The “vintage” style seemed to fit this simple interface / dirty sound concept, so the GUI was one of my first that looked like a hardware unit. For the sound, I did a couple of things “under the hood” that are not shown on the interface. First is a filter system in the signal path before the detection circuit, which prevents really low frequency peaks from triggering the compressor and causing mushy noise. There’s also a hidden gentle frequency boost in there, plus a little low level noise, a smidge of saturation and some additional harmonics. It’s all relatively subtle, but I think it really adds something. The audio equivalent to garlic if you like.

Are there any of your VSTs that you are particularly proud of? What is it about that plugin that you like?
Pick a favourite from all my children? I love ’em all equally, although if I had to pick one, I’d say dirty harry is one I use often myself. The sound is pretty unique in that it use samples from two of my DIY hardware synth (Atari Punk Console and BugBrand WOM) and the fx and modulation in the synth can really mess things up.

What can we expect from you in the future? What mad things will emerge from the DLM cookbook next?
Funny you should ask, I’m posing the same question to myself. I’d been saying to myself for a while that I should take a break from plugins. I slowly wound down from doing 4 or 5 plugins concurrently to finishing off basic 65 and taking some time to recharge my creative batteries. Since September I’ve not actively done any plugin development (although ideas keep floating around). Instead I’ve been getting in playing guitar, photography and reading. Meanwhile I can feel the calling, so probably next year I’ll start a new plugin project, but right now I have no idea which of the ideas on the evergrowing list to attack. I’ve got a feeling it will probably be an effect, will involve modulation, randomisation and dirt.

De La Mancha plugins

Going Straight: Week 4 – Going Native

FM8, Massive, Absynth, Spektral Delay, Reaktor, Guitar Rig, Battery.

Native Instruments (NI) have probably the best line up of software of all the big players in my own humble opinion and all of them (via the joys of Pirate Bay) have graced my hard drive at some point.

It’s so easy when stuff is free though to overlook what you have in your possession. There is a reason why these thing cost what they cost. They work flawlessly (at least in my own experience), they look good, it usually fairly obvious what does what in the UIs and by God they sound great!

The trap that one can fall into however is that you just preset browse away and don’t really try and get to know your softsynth. Too much choice, too easily gained breeds laziness.

I’d love to have the time to make spending £150 on one synth a sensible proposition because I could spend a few hours a day for weeks getting to know it intimately but that’s not the life I find myself living. There must be an argument that really all you need is one synth if you know it well enough to know how to make that sound you are thinking of. Diversity is a nice thing and how diverse you want your ‘sonic palette’ to be is very much down to the individual, but it isn’t an absolute must to make good music I don’t think.

This said, we all want more toys, more new shiny things to fiddle with. And because of that there are the vast array of choices that we find available to us today.

With all this I mind I wanted to make things right between me and the peeps at NI, I’ve used their stuff for ages and it was about time they saw some return for it. Again the ‘try before you buy’ ethos (partially) working.

I say ‘partially’ because all of their leading synths come in at roughly £150 and I don’t really have that to spend on one synth so the first thing I nabbed from them was the Komplete Elements package.

At about 40 quid this really is a steal. You get the Reaktor, Kontakt and Guitar Rig player in it (which are also all freely downloadable from the site)

But you also get some goodies above and beyond the standard freebie stuff which has all kept me entertained for well over a week now. The Kontakt player especially is awesome, “Lookameeee! Ima 50 strong string section of an orchestra!!” much fun and beautiful sounding. Oh and Reaktor.. wow.

Just wow.

On top of all this, you also get a £20 voucher against you next NI purchase.

So tempted as I was by all this loveliness and my previous dabblings with their stuff, yet with this enthusiasm tempered by lack of a lottery win I went back to our old friend eBay. I have heard said that NI are particularly good with their licence transfers and all second hand stuff should be good to go, hot to trot etc. The results are a mixed bag… and still ongoing…

Before I picked up ‘Elements’ I had gotten Guitar Rig 3 XE for £16 which is I suspect largely redundant because of the content of the ‘Elements’ package.

I got a copy of Absynth 3 for £50 and subsequently an upgrade box from version three to version four for £2.50. Yep.. £2.50!! However after 10 days of waiting it turns out the Absyth 3 guy actually double listed the item. Twit. So I am back in the bidding for A3 (once he returns my money of course). The more (but still not totally) successful purchase is a real find: Kore Electronic Experience. £59 + postage so not the cheapest but:

“Native Instruments KORE Electronic Experience consists of KORE PLAYER and seven KORE SOUNDPACKS. The library contains a vast arsenal of synthesizer and drum sounds generated by the integrated REAKTOR, MASSIVE, ABSYNTH, FM8 and KONTAKT sound engines as well as an unconventional effects pack for drastic sonic transformation of any kind of audio signal.”

Original value £170 but now discontinued. Only thing is, he is having trouble unregistering it because blah blah blah… should only be a delay not a deal breaker though so fingers crossed.

The fourth of my NI items is a possibly grey area but I think I’ll allow it withing my going straight ‘rules’: Spektral Delay, I’ve loved this for years, a really unique delay that split up the signal to many many eq bands (I think) and then messes with the bands in different ways. I used to run it ‘cracked’ or whatever but I’m now running it in demo mode which introduced noise into the signal after half an hour. I rarely spend half and hour on one single element so hurrah. The NI Service Centre doesn’t seem to have a problem with it running as a demo so… (I did still have to get the demo from PirateBay mind you, because the product is discontinued now.

So all in all, second hand software? Be prepared for some frustration but also be prepared I think to find some bargains and as long as you don’t mind a dented product box then the products itself is always going to be ‘as new’.

Going Straight: Week 3 – The Dream and the Fulfilment

Balham, a little while before the turn of The Millenium.

This was the first time I had moved out of home and my life is a haze of Northern Lights and Squishy Black. Doves, Mitzubishi and Red Bulls cost 15 quid a pop, I go clubbing at Heaven, Tennents Super actually tastes nice and “music is my life man!” The music I am obsessing over is The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Nine Inch Nails and I’ve Just heard Aphex Twin’s Come To Daddy for the first time. My band mates have all buggered off to Uni and I can’t be arsed to find new ones so it is at this point I think Dance Music is the way forward. Guitar and Peavy amp mothballed in Ma n Pa’s attic, I trundle into the nearest WH Smiths and pick up the latest Music Tech Magazine (or it might have been Future Music.. not sure).

Adorning the front in glorious red and blue are KORG’s EA-1 and ER-1 Electribes. I fall in love with the look before I even know what they do, the CD given away with the mag has some samples and they sound just so.. so good! This surely is the heart, the squeal and chainsaw buzz of the music I love! (at this point I had no idea what a 303 was).

I then read the price tag: £350. So not gonna happen. I only just maxed out my first credit card on an N64 and Turok two years ago and really can’t do that again.

Upon further investigation it looks like you also kinda need a PC to do all this Dance Music malarkey and I don’t have one of them either. So I buy the mags for a while, read the articles and looks at all the pretty pictures (keep hold of the cover discs just in case, for later) but slowly the plan dies and I get distracted. The glowing and flashing KORGs get forgotten.

Fast forward a decade, three kids, a wife, a mortgage and a beer gut or so and we find ourselves on eBay again staring at this blue thing with buttons on it. And a wheel. And some pads that look suspiciously like they may glow in the dark… a quick internet search later and my heart leaps! Flashback!

This is the lead/acid synth I was looking for!

There are a steady flow of these going throught eBay it seems and they tend to be on Buy It Now for about £150. Some patience however can (as ever) reap dividends. After a fortnight of looking I found one on a 99p start that ended on a Tuesday morning(!?!) and snapped it up for 70 quid. 70 quid!!

It’s pretty knackered to be honest, scratched and dented to fuckery and some of the pots are a bits sticky but by God does it sound special. My first two hours were spent just playing with the cut off and res on all the pre-sets grining stupidly to myself. “Lookameee! Josh Winks!”

I’m just waiting for the wife and kids (and maybe neighbours) to all be out so I can run it through my Boss ‘Metal Zone’ distortion pedal. Hehehe, hehehehheeee.

NEXT WEEK: Second Hand Software.

Going Straight: Week 2 – The Plan and The Purchase

..and so it was that having decided to rid myself and my HDD of this illegal filth I thought I’d get all James May on the task and try and go about replacing all my bits and bobs in a sensible, logical and cost effective manner.

As discussed briefly before, it looked like Reaper is going to be the way forward as far as a DAW was concerned and to that end I have set aside some PayPal balance for it to be purchased later this month after my 30 trial runs out.

I though the best way to organise my shopping list was to look at my most commonly used bits of kits and find specific replacements. I’ve been flogging stuff on eBay over the last month and had gotten together a bit under 300 quid so had a half decent budget I reckoned.

While I have nothing against freeware I had my heart set on owning a couple of ‘big brand’ bits if I could and so it was back onto eBay and checking out what second hand stuff their might be. Turns out there’s a steady flow of it if you are patient. Of course they joy of ‘second hand’ software is that (barring scratched discs and registration problems) there is nothing second hand about it! As long as you are happy with a slightly battered box (fnarr) then there really is no point in buying it brand new… is there?

I was also in a mind to buy some of the stuff from the people I had previously not given any money to. If you know what I mean. The whole ‘try before you buy’ ethos perhaps actually ringing true.

With this in mind I started my search for the first thing on my list:

Primary lead/acid and bass syth.

I have used Rob Papen’s Albino 2 and 3 on probably every track I have ever made. Simple layout, obvious controls, easy to learn and the best arpeggiator I have ever used.

Sadly there was no second hand Albino software that I found and brand new it costs a hundred quid or more and I didn’t want to spend that. What I did find on my search was an LE edition of Blue! I had tried Blue a while back and I didn’t remember it being particularly ‘lead synth’ material but that it had some great pads and really intricate and delicate stuff on it. It’s an FM synth and so not directly comparable to Albino but I like Papen’s stuff so well worth a punt at £35 (+ £6 p&p….).

Anyway having used Albino, SubBoomBass and the awesomely evil Predator for a while nowI though maybe I owed him some of my 300 squid!


So first purchased made: Rob Pappen’s Blue LE.

The LE edition looks pretty much like this but has fewer presets and also fewer editable parameters.


NEXT WEEK: Primary Lead Synth yearnings still not utterly sated.. Hardware!!


Geek Box VST

Fwonk*s very own Styli has recently unveiled the fourth version of his free Geek Box VST. It’s like an LFO filter but with high frequencies used to modulate the cutoff. A lite version is included, and this does the same thing but without the sequencers.

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You can hear the lite version in use on the above Styli track “In Boxes With Toys”.

download (zip)

Going Straight: Week 1 – Intervention

So stealing is easy and 99% of my three thousand pound studio is warez.

Last week this was true, this week it is not.

Gone is the (nearly) entire Native Instruments back catalogue, gone is Fabfilters entire range, gone is the lovely, lovely ‘Vintage Warmer 2’, gone is CamelPhat and CamelSpace and gone too is Sonnox’s powerful ‘Inflater’.

Perhaps most importantly though, gone is Ableton Live, the DAW I have been using exclusively for the last three or four years.

It’s probably worth me pointing out at this point that this isn’t a moral crusade that I’m trying to push. I’m not telling you WAREZ IS EVIL, purely that for me, I’m wanting to leave it behind. The main reason being that my kids are getting older and I’m thinking at some point they are gonna ask me where all this fun stuff on the PC comes from and I like to be able to tell them that I worked hard and saved for it and bought it. Not that I nicked it. I’m a lead-by-example kinda guy. But as I say, this is just me on my own personal mission, no preachy, preachy here, move along now!

Before I abandoned Live entirely I spent a week or so searching eBay for second hand copies of old versions, I was perfectly happy to use version 5 or 6, I don’t use half the clever stuff anyway, basic is good. It seems however that once you fork out for Ableton then you are sold for life, upgrade all the way baby so no second hand to be found.

So it was that the cry of ‘help’ went out to the Fwonk* forum and Cockos Reaper was suggested. It’s an affordable, fully fledged audio sequencer, with all the routing options of the big boys, only with none of the gigabytes worth of sample libraries. I’ve been playing with it for a little while no and all indications are good. Utterly different.. but good. I am gonna have another week with it before I give you a more complete opinion so watch this space.

Mondays’ Going Straight then is going to be me trying to replace all my nice shiny stolen goods with honest to goodness cheap or free stuff, hopefully this will be interesting and informative. Fingers crossed eh?