November 22, 2011

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