Name: Jeffrey Peñalva aka Trooko
Current Release: Trooko's "Siempre" is out via Orianna.
Software I would definitely recommend: Output Arcade or really anything from Output. Many times I get tons of inspiration from just browsing and playing with their software.
Jacen Joshua's The God Particle is a great production tool that really helps get better sounding mixes as you start producing them.
Hardware: I love the Fusion if you are considering getting into analog gear or starting a hybrid setup I'd say that's the best first piece to get after a good interface and decent monitors.
Native instruments Maschine - if you like to program drums as a performer it really helps you get ideas fast and gives you tons of control for molding and editing your sounds.
If you enjoyed this interview with Trooko and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
My first official studio was chaotic but fun. My actual first studio would be my dad's computer in his study. I had Sound Forge installed there, so I did a lot of weird loops and cool sounds. I somehow got the first version of Fruity Loops for free from mp3.com, and that really got me going.
Later I moved to the back house on our property. It was completely abandoned and I built my first studio there – I learned so much in that space. I had a Yamaha DJX, a Korg Em - 1 one Pc, an Alienware laptop, a drum kit, and digi 002.
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
After studying audio engineering at SAE LA, I worked on getting better at my music and mixes. Since then, I’ve tried to get pieces of gear that help me become faster and more productive.
One important piece of gear would be my Ollo Headphones SX4. I've gotten really used to their sound and can work in almost any room with them.
I have some outboard gear that really add character and warmth to my mixes. I sum all my stems to the SSL Big Six miox levels and add a touch of the onboard E Series EQ. For inserts, I use the Heritage Audio Successor Compressor going into the SSL Fusion with Audioscape Golden 58 Tube Preamp in the Fusion Insert then back to the big six.
I also use the Audioscape Opto Compressor on a channel bus mainly for vocals and bass and then I have a few distortion and delay pedals as inserts that I move with a patchbay.
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?
I’ve adapted to working in the box on a laptop and I can finish records like that. Though, I prefer using hardware synths and samplers. I feel more creative by browsing patches and then tweaking them to get my own sound. That usually inspires melodies and I start songs like that!
I started Residente & Bad Bunny's "Bellacoso" on a beach in Miami with my Akai MPC Live. I started sampling ocean and bird sounds and did a layout of the entire beat there. Because the sampler didn't need to be plugged into a computer, I think it really allowed me to be creative remotely.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I prefer a bigger and more complex studio with lots of outboard gear, walls of synths, and all sorts of percussion. In reality, I have a few synths, some outboard gear and a couple delay and distortion pedals, and I have a timbale set I got from Bret Kramer (Half Alive’s drummer).
I don't use everything all the time but there are specific moments where having that gear really sparks creativity.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
I use the NI Maschine +, Softube Console 1, SSL UF8 & UC. I have the softube console 1 plug-in and the SSL channel plug-ins loaded in every channel inside logic. I love using those controllers because I barely have to see the screen and I just turn knobs and go with what sounds good.
I love the SSL Big Six as a tiny Board, summing mixer and interface. It gives me that SSL sound I am looking for and the role it plays in my studio is the perfect connection between in the box and outboard gear.
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”?
A little of both worlds.
I like to go back and learn how things were done and recorded in the past. I try to understand more about percussion and rhythms from different countries like Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Africa. I try to make sure I'm not stealing or destroying any legacy from where I tend to get rhythmic ideas, I try to do something that respects and adds value to the culture.
But I'm also very much for new sounds and ways of mixing genres or even doing something like Latin Jazz or Cumbia that has modern sounds, techniques but that still carries the legacy of the genre.
Most would regard recording tools like microphones and mixing desks as different in kind from instruments like keyboards, guitars, drums and samplers. Where do you stand on this?
I definitely think even the entire recording studio could be one big instrument. I love getting creative with preamps, compressors or mixing boards because you can really shape sound and movement with saturation and distortion.
Lately I've been focusing a lot on performance, capturing instruments and sounds in a more creative way.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
For me they both play really well together.
A good example would be my track "Embuste" with Alvaro Diaz.
I built that beat using Maschine but then I also threw some of the drum patterns I made and Alvaro's vocals into the Akai MPC and chopped everything in realtime as I was sampling it. Then I got creative rearranging some of those patterns and vocal chops.
I did the same for “Immigrants” on the Hamilton mixtape with Snow Tha Product Voice and created a bridge from a vocal chop.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
Sometimes when I feel stuck or with a creative block, I go back to old hard drives and listen to old demos from like 15 years ago. In some cases I end up sampling myself and using bits from those old demos in new productions.
How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
I get excited with each new song I work for different artists. I work around the main elements like vocals or any key instruments to the song.
With my own stuff, or if I start from scratch, I tend to find something special to build around or add later but it needs to have something to get me excited to develop the full track.
I see this as: if it gets me excited, chances are it will work for the listeners, too.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
Sometimes I dream of a melody or pattern that either I have to get out of bed to work on, or work on it the next morning. Other times I can be watching a show or movie and that inspires me in mood or feeling I try to chase.
And many times I sit in front of my computer and hope for the best!
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Native instruments Maschine, it felt like they made it thinking of me! I Can perform my ideas really fast mold sounds then drag into Logic and build entire songs within minutes sometimes.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I see it as totally possible, but not entirely sure how I feel about it. I still struggle with autocorrect when it thinks it knows what I want to say but is way off sometimes.
Something like that in the music creating process could become really annoying real fast.