Name: Stefan Goldmann
Occupation: Producer, composer, DJ, label head at Macro
Current Release: Stefan Goldmann's Vector Rituals is out via Macro.
Tool of Creation: Waldorf Microwave
Designed by: Waldorf Electronics GmbH
Country of origin: Germany
Became available in: 1989 (Microwave I), 1997 (Microwave II)
Stefan Goldmann uses the Waldorf Microwave on: His track "Sleepy Hollow", among others. See more about that piece further down the interview.
If you enjoyed this interview with Stefan Goldmann about the Waldorf Microwave series and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud.
We also conducted an earlier Stefan Goldmann interview in which he expands on a wider range of topics.
For more information on the Waldorf Microwave series, visit the archives on the Waldorf homepage.
What was your first encounter with the Waldorf Microwave series?
Some time around 2001 I had saved up some money to buy a synth and the Microwave II was on sale at some mail order store at a heavily discounted price – around 700 Euros or DM. I'm not sure which currency that was in.
Anyway. It was multitimbral, i.e. it could produce several different sounds simultaneously, so that made it very attractive. I didn't know much else about it at the time and I certainly didn't understand wavetable synthesis. I went to the local synth shop and asked them if they'd be up to match the mail order price and they were like 'yeah sure.'
So I counted out those 700 in cash and grabbed the synth and then I asked them 'Btw. what was your price?' and they went 'Well, 600' and high-fived each other.
Just like any other piece of equipment, the Waldorf Microwave series 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?
The way I got into it, I was clueless about what others had done with it – or with most other synthesisers or forms of synthesis for that matter. In a way that was very helpful since I tried to emulate sounds which now I know where made with analog subtractive synths or FM synths and so on. It can do some of those things, but the Microwave II's digital filter really doesn't sound like a hefty analog filter along the lines of a Moog ladder or Curtis filter design. So just trying to get to a point which it can't actually reach makes you discover a lot of other interesting things it can do, but which aren't very obvious. Over the years I've heard a lot about people having employed all sorts of wavetable synths to great effect, from the PPG to the Waldorf Wave to the Microwave – but few of these records sound to me like the sounds I enjoy the most from my own research. And that's quite nice actually.
I guess if you spend enough time with any complex instrument you'll be able to make it your own to some degree. The kind of iconic sounds you associate with certain instruments inevitably belong to instruments that either aren't very complex – or so complex that there are severe obstacles to do anything else but go through the presets – think DX7 or NI Massive.
What interests you about the Waldorf Microwave series in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals? What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?
It offers some sideways capabilities of signal flow which I would be hard-pressed to recreate with other means.
With subtractive synths usually you have a waveform, passing through a filter and then envelopes shape the dynamic movements of these. With wavetable synthesis you have these too, but in addition one can also transform the waveform itself before any filters get involved. That transformation can take on pretty much any form, from smooth to entirely abrupt. At the same time it is much more accessible than FM for instance with which you can do anything, but which is extremely annoying to program.
Then also, the Microwave 1 does have a hefty analog filter, and its digital oscillators sound quite gritty, so that's like the MWII but with a different colour and vibe. Having the capabilities of wavetables hooked to regular synth functions such as envelopes and LFOs and sync is nice. In this sense it's a 'hybrid instrument.'
Tell me a bit about the interface of the Waldorf Microwaves – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?
The Microwave I and II have a somewhat lame interface where you have to click through menus to reach certain parameters. This makes it impossible to do a lot of realtime dynamic tweaking and invites programming liberal amounts of automation through the modulation matrix (or connect to MIDI controllers).
Later I got hold of the Microwave xT, which is a II with a proper interface and dedicated controllers for most parameters. However, having worked with the limited interface of the II, I already had a lot of sounds ready that I wouldn't have thought of had I had instant access to all those parameters.
Also, the Microwave II has a randomizer function which comes up with sounds you can't even imagine. So it overrides the programming routes the interface lays out to you. That's priceless too.
How would you describe the sonic potential of the Waldorf Microwave series? In which way does the Waldorf Microwave series influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?
The II and xT versions don't offer recourse to a rich primary waveform or a high octane filter. That's something you'd find on an Oberheim SEM for instance. So you switch that one on and it's already entirely delicious even without any modulation going on. That's not even the case with the MW1 which does have an analog filter.
With the Microwaves you have to set up some motion or otherwise it's pretty dead to begin with. In order to do this, usually the modulation matrix will have to be visited, programming some movements through the wavetable and enacting some other modulation just so it sounds bearable. It forces you to program timbral dynamics changes and thus I find it tends to produce 'livelier' sounds than a lot of other synthesisers just by forcing you to modulate more.
I've found it very rewarding for fluid, cyclical sounds, that is, loop-based things that have a lot of internal motion in a very short time frame. The other strength of course is in evolving sounds that fold out over longer stretches of time. Oddly, it is also very good at creating noise with a lot of variation – I've found it to be a supreme source of hi-hats that sound entirely artificial and yet very dynamic, almost like an acoustic instrument.
Could you describe working with the Waldorf Microwave on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
There's this track 'Sleepy Hollow' from 2006 and all the high frequency percussion in there comes from MWII patches – the hi-hat, those clicks ... That's quite characteristic stuff.
More recently, the recording of my concert at the Philharmonie Berlin, which in terms of content is akin to a retrospective of a lot of the things I've done so far, has several Microwave xT-centered compositions. The first few minutes, called 'Onset Trajectory', have one oscillator synched to the other in some off-kilter way which produces these oddly shifting pitches in the lower voice. The rest of the motion in the sounds is achieved by traversing the actual wavetable. Thus movement along different dimensions can be created within one such sound, making it some sort of shape-shifting virtual object.
'Neodym' in there is based on a fluid rhythmic patch which I first developed many years ago for a track named 'Turret' from the 'Voices of the Dead' album (2008). The long tones on top as well as those drive-by doppler-type sounds are other Microwave patches. The main patch is heard again with some adaptions in 'Polymer'. Microwave patches are all over that recording since for so many years this was the only kind of synthesizer I owned. In order to get this listening experience of going through many years of music I've done in the past on stage I just had to revisit a lot of those programming ideas which I mostly developed around 2002 to 2006.
How does the Waldorf Microwave interact / complement / conflict with some of the other tools in your studio?
The earliest direct link I created was with the TC Electronic Fireworx which is a 'modular' digital multieffects unit. Modular here means that you can assemble different algorithms within the unit in any way you like – serially, in parallel, with feedback loops ... and then you can modulate pretty much anything with anything else.
It can extract basic parameters from the signal you feed it with, so that you can use pitch detection to increase or decrease distortion or any other effect in relation to the pitches of a melody you feed it with. Or an envelope follower can be set to change the magnitude of some effect parameter by the dynamics of whatever you send its way. What this does is create interactive instruments that have highly nonlinear responses and thus yield some emergent sonic identity which can be very distinctive. This is something I've done a lot.
The odd part is that these two processes – wavetable synthesis and complex effects – tend to encounter some saturation point in summing. That is, the more movement you program into your synthesis the less you need in added effects and vice versa. I've found the Fireworx to be most powerful on the most static signals. But of course there's some middle ground where these two can be set to collaborate towards some common output that's very meaningful to me.
Are there other artists working with the Waldorf Microwave series whose work you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?
There must be but I'm not aware of that many. I tend to hear more about people being big time into the PPG or the Wave, which are predecessors or more opulent instruments, respectively. I'm not really aware of anyone who's had a Microwave at the centre of their work recently. But that's probably just ignorance on my end.