Behind every creative project are the objects that helped turn them from concept to reality. What’s a pianist without a perfectly tuned piano, or fabricator without high-quality materials? Every artist has a particular method to their madness, equipped with an arsenal of tools and objects that stir inspiration.

Kadenze isn’t just full of people passionate about arts and creative tech education. They’re also talented artists who come from all backgrounds and disciplines, from web developers to video editors to graphic designers. In this series we’ll talk to a different artist about their favorite tools and get a glimpse into their creative process.

First we spoke to Kadenze co-founder and sound artist Owen Vallis, who also serves as instructor for the courses Sound Synthesis Using Reaktor and The Modern Music Technologist. He explains the stories behind the essential items in his studio that he can’t work without.

Probably the most important piece of gear I have is my laptop. I use my laptop in some way for almost everything I create, from writing music and building Reaktor instruments, to programming for art and work. When making music I use a number of different software programs depending on what I’m doing. For example, I’ll use Ableton and Reaktor if I’m making my own music because it makes it easy to manipulate sound, but I’ll use Logic if I’m tracking vocals or live instruments because it provides a better way to organize multiple audio takes.

While those programs work well for creating music on a timeline, programs like Chuck and Reaktor are what I use when I need to make a musical system with a less traditional setup that doesn’t follow a single timeline. For example, I worked with several friends to build a custom system that allowed 100 people to play a set of virtual instruments using massive touch enabled walls. These kinds of projects require a flexible set of musical tools that allow me to define not only the sounds, but how I’ll generate and interact with the sounds.

In addition to my laptop, I also always carry a notebook. I find that it always helps to sketch out ideas in my notebook. The sketches can be actual drawings of Reaktor instruments, graphical scores, or even short notes to help me remember ideas later on. I’m always surprised how much clearer an idea becomes once I scribble it down.

I also own a Moog Mother-32. The Mother-32 is a monophonic single voice semi-modular synth. This means that it normally functions like a subtractive synth, but also supports some flexible options for modulation patching. Working with a hardware synthesizer feels very different than working with virtual instruments within the computer.

One simple example is the access to the control knobs. Having a physical control available for a synth parameter means I end up playing with the sound more during recording and relying less on automation. It’s not that I prefer one approach over the other, but rather that I get very different sounds from both.

Lastly, the Mother-32 doesn’t have any presets or a way to automatically recall patches. I’ve actually come to enjoy this constraint, as I’ll find myself printing more of a performance of the sound and then working with that recording as source material to be resampled and manipulated later. This is very different from how I work with virtual instruments, where I can save the sound and continually change or edit it over time. Again, I don’t prefer one over the other, but rather enjoy working with the different approaches and the challenges that they bring.

My final piece of gear is the Ableton Push 2. I’ve spent a lot of time building and developing musical interfaces over the years, and the Push 2 provides many of the things that I have always wanted in a controller. For example, I feel that good musical controllers for computers should be able to change their functionality depending on the software context. However, the interfaces shouldn’t feel overly complex and should present a coherent and streamlined workflow.

I think Ableton have really achieved this with the Push, and I often find myself making music without looking at or touching the computer itself. I wish that the interface provided more support for working with the arrangement, but I find it indispensable when working with the Ableton clip view. I often find myself wishing the the Push 2 worked the same way for other programs as well, but to Ableton’s credit, they have open-sourced the code for the display screen and all we need is for people to port support to other DAWs.

Owen Vallis is a co-founder at Kadenze, as well as the instructor for the following two courses:

music course Sound Production Using Reaktor

Sound Synthesis Using Reaktor

California Institute of the Arts


The Modern Music Technologist

California Institute of the Arts