Name: Milo Smee aka Bintus
Recent release: The latest Bintus EP Rag It! is out via Power Vacuum.
Tool of Creation: Simmons SDE
Type of Tool: Drum Expander
Designed by: Simmons
Country of origin: Britain
Became available in: 1986
If you enjoyed this interview with Bintus about the Simmons SDE and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit him on Facebook, and Soundcloud.
What was your first encounter with the Simmons SDE?
I think in 1996 at the Music and Video Exchange instrument shop in Notting Hill Gate. Like most people alive in the 80s I was aware of their drums but didn't know they had been really innovative with some other bits as well.
When I asked to get this rigged up for a listen it blew my balls off. It was just what I didn't know I was looking for, sounds-wise.
Just like any other piece of equipment, the Simmons SDE has a rich history. Are you interested in it? And if so, what are some of the key points from this history for you personally?
Yes, it's more just being fascinated with all the Simmons products up until the Silicon Mallet.
Dave Simmons was so innovative and influential - those great sounds triggered from the famous hexagonal pads - it was an injection of futurism on steroids in the 80s and to this day arguably.
What, to you, are some of the most interesting recordings made with the Simmons SDE?
The only other people I know who use one (or three) is Autechre and their use of it is undoubtedly interesting. They may have mangled it beyond redemption making it hard to recognize it in the mix - although having said that, I know Rob Brown is also a fan and they may have just let it sing out au naturale in the track.
The SDE is so distinctive, if you've used one you could pinpoint it a mile off. I can't tell you which of their tracks it features on because that means I would need to start delving in to their discography and I've only got half an hour before the kids are back.
What interests you about the Simmons SDE in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals?
It contributes massively to one of my 'creative ideals', in that it sounds ruff as f***.
What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?
It sounds like almost nothing else, it's got six tiny knobs on it for instant tweaking and you can do loads more clever stuff on which I'll never get round to understanding.
Prior to using it for the first time, how did you acquaint yourself with the Simmons SDE? Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device – and what was that like for the Simmons SDE?
Just seeing it in a shop and being intrigued, having a play and it was love at first listen.
Tell me a bit about the interface of the Simmons SDE – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?
Simmons gear has its own kind of logic and layout, certainly the arcane I refer to above would apply here.
It takes seconds to get completely different sounds from the one your currently on via the parameter knobs. Two big red LED windows for programming is cool of course.
So much of it is still a mystery to me which adds to the excitement.
How would you describe the sonic potential of the Simmons SDE?
Clangerous FM, rough, bell-like, circular saw-tooth or a clan of badgers who are absolutely fuming.
In which way does the Simmons SDE influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?
The tracks I've made with the SDE are loosely of the techno / electro variety. It tends to encourage twangy, otherwordly, Detroit-ish style bass lines.
More generally, how do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?
It's a two way thing. The instruments you use including things like mixing desks, compressors and so on all influence the process and results.
In my studio I was always trying different ways of routing the audio in the quest of finding the 'ultimate set up' which I now realize didn't exist. People who had studios next to me thought I spent more time re arranging the studio than I did actually making music but they were wrong, it was more like 50/50.
But anyway it was fun trying because I'd always get things I didn't expect coming out the speakers.
How does the Simmons SDE interact / complement / conflict with some of the other tools in your studio?
It's greedy, taking up a lot of space in the frequency spectrum so usually goes down early and I fit stuff around it. It sits well with industrial sounds, but you can also soften it up for a more confused / plaintive vibe. It interacts with MIDI which is the main thing.
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
With electronic music my thoughts have oscillated over the years with the old equipment vs. creativity ratio. If you reduce it to: which is more important - creativity or equipment, it would be hard to argue against creativity.
However, (from a hardware enthusiast’s perspective) because some equipment is quite arcane to program or sounds a certain way or even looks a certain way, it has varying degrees of influence on the end result. Some equipment is so limited in its capabilities that you couldn’t do much else apart from what it tells you to do, if you know what I mean, so in that case it's probably the equipment that's running things.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Sorry, my brain doesn't quite compute this question but I'll do my best.
I pick my tools because of things like how they sound, if it's something I'm curious about and want to explore, if it does the job i need it to do or if its a bargain etc.
It doesn't make sense to pit 'originality and innovation against perfection and timelessness' in my mind, none of those things are mutually exclusive - they're all positives to strive towards in a track. The only thing that might be mutually exclusive in this paragraph are perfection and music as it's all so subjective!
Music of the future is always an interesting thing to ponder and the idea is probably never that far away when starting a fresh track, even if it's 2:34 mins into the future which is the length of 'You Can't Do That' by The Beatles which I would define as a perfect (pop) track.
I think the only time I consciously thought about continuing a tradition, is by paying my respects to acid house with the first few Bintus releases. Though I suppose you could be continuing a tradition with just about anything you put out - like when you say: "oh, that sounds like that".
Are there other artists working with the Simmons SDE whose work you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?
I really don't know of anyone else using them apart from Autechre. I don't think that many were made and most people would probably think they sound horrible