So…….here at Rubadub we’re known to like strange things and we also have a long standing affinity with France (“the auld alliance”) so when OTO machines came out with a strange step-sequencing 8 Bit weirdo FX box with proper Analogue filters AND we found out they were French…..we couldn’t have been happier. Formidable!
We spoke to the very affable Dennis from OTO Machines and asked him some questions – here’s the results:
1 – To come out of nowhere with an innovative product like the OTO Biscuit is very unusual – had you worked for other music companies before starting up your own?
Not really, even if I worked for Fairlight from 1995 to 1999. At that time, they didn’t produce musical instruments anymore, but Digital Audio Workstations and mixing desks for broadcast studios (TV, Radio,…).
I was a maintenance tech and a trainer for the sound engineers, and I was not involved in their products’ design.
It was very high-tech for me (32-bits microprocessors, DSP, FPGA, SCSI interface,…), very far from my interests for analog audio products.
After Fairlight, I worked as a music sound engineer and maintenance tech in a vintage studio near Paris. The studio was equipped with a Neve desk built in 1972 for Barclay’s recording studio (with 36 x 1081 and 12 x 1073 modules), a Fairchild 670, UA 176, 2 x Pultec, Telefunken V76, 5 x U67 mics….
It was more inspiring for me as you can guess !
During a session, I met my future partner in OTO, Stéphane “Alf” Briat (sound engineer and producer for Air, Phoenix and many french artists).
Stéphane convinced me to set the OTO company after seeing a strange bitcrusher I’ve made in my kitchen during a week-end. It was the very first prototype of Biscuit, everything started from there !
2 – The design of the OTO Biscuit and your website is very clean and attractive – is this something you have a keen interest in?
Yes, we want to build attractive products. We think that a nice looking product can help to make good music. Just before starting OTO, Stéphane introduced me to Ludovic Houplain, from the H5 design & graphic agency.
They work for a lot of artists (Röyksopp, Goldfrapp, Alex Gopher, Etienne de Crecy, …) and companies (Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Cartier, Wolkswagen, Audi…) and they won an Oscar last year for their movie “Logorama”.
They designed our logo, our custom knobs, the silkscreen drawing, the user manual and the packaging. We are very lucky to have these guys involved in the design of our products.
3 – Many other developers make interesting products but put them in an ugly box or have a really dated look about them – what’s your favourite instrument from another manufacturer (either modern or classic) and what’s your least favourite?
In my opinion, and if we don’t speak about sound quality, a good design for an electronic musical instrument is a balance between aesthetic and playability. It’s far better to have a simple black box with only the right controls on the front panel than a nice looking but “hard to use" machine.
The switches and knobs response is also very important. They must be strong and smooth, with a nice feeling when you touch them.
I appreciate most of the vintage synths (SCI, Moog, Korg, Roland…) because all the controls are on the front panel. These controls are also displaying the signal path (Oscillators, mixer, VCF, VCA,…) that helps to understand the basics of synthesis.
I love the aesthetics of the Buchla synths, specially the Music Easel. It’s half fun, half professional. I could also mention the ARP 2500, the Roland Jupiter 8, the OSCar and the Emulator One and Two.
I really don’t like modern workstations (the term itself is not fun!) with thousands of possibilities and a big touch-screen. It makes you feel you’re using a PDA !
4 – Although the OTO Biscuit seems to have found a home with more experimental music producers, you also have some more "chart” oriented producers using it too – did you expect such an unusual product to appeal to such a wide variety of people when you were designing it?
No, I didn’t expect that. At first I thought it would interest only people involved in the chip tune, lo-fi or 8-bit music scene. But Biscuit is more than a bitcrusher, it’s an hybrid processor. The sound is really organic and vivid, mainly thanks to its analog filter. You can use it in a lot of ways: from adding depth to cheap keyboards or virtual sounds, to create radical digital distortions.
Biscuit users are producers, sound engineers, musicians, DJs from very different music styles: electronic, noise, metal, indie rock, pop,…
5 – On the subject of music, what sort of material and artists do prefer to listen to? Anything that helped inspire your work on the OTO?
I listen to several kind of music, it depends on the daily mood: Electronic music of course, but also Classical, Rock, Soul, Jazz, Blues, Folk…
As a matter of fact, my work on the OTO products is not directly inspired by a particular music style or artist. I can work on a distortion effect and listen an Etta James song at the same time! When I design a FX, I simply try to create something musical, warm and inspiring. I love imperfections, distortions, defects and I want to include them in my products.
6 – In other conversations we’ve had, you have expressed a keen desire to visit Islay to “drink the island dry” of whiskey. Dan Lurinsky, the manager of the Rubadub store, has this question which he says if you can answer it without using Google, he will buy you a bottle of 20 year old Single Malt
“Name all 7 Distileries on Islay”
Well (without any help, I promise!), I would say: Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Ardberg, Lagavullin, Laphroaig.
I don’t remember or don’t know the 2 others (maybe the Bowmore but I’m not sure). Game Over !
By the way, there’s a new distillery in Islay called Kilchoman. I have tasted their new “Inaugural 100%” Islay", it’s fantastic. I really love Single Malt Scotch Whiskies, and particularly the Islays. Coming from a country well knowned for its good alcohols, I would say that they are the best and more complex alcohols on the planet !
Good work Dennis – very well done – you didn’t quite hit the target so we’ll have to send you a bottle of 12 year old instead 🙂
7 – You have added a lot of value to the OTO Biscuit since it’s launch including new Effects and now the opportunity to use it as a Step Sequencer and Mono Synth – what was your idea behind this?
The idea is to make the most of the existing hardware.
The first upgrade (rev 1.2 released in october 2010) added 4 new FXs and improvements to the Step Filter.
Our last upgrade “Der OTO” (rev 2 released in november 2011) turns Biscuit into a 2 oscillators monosynth with a 16 step sequencer.
As far as I know, no FX box had the opportunity to be upgraded like that before.
The idea behind “Der OTO” came from the first Biscuit prototype, in 2006.
At that time, I was interested in the PPG synths technology (8-bits oscillators with analog filters), so I modified the Biscuit assembly code to simulate oscillators using the 8-bit converters.
This synth was very simple: 2 oscillators with 2 waveforms (square and sawtooth), a digital VCA, an ADS envelope generator to control the filter and the VCA.
I was impressed by the sound, but I had too many things to do with Biscuit, so I gave up. But the idea that Biscuit could become a synth stayed in my head.
Last summer, I decided to take a break in the development of the next OTO product and started to write the “Der OTO” firmware. It took me 4 months to accomplish that !
I worked with Olivier Gillet, creator of the Shruthi synthesizer (http://mutable-instruments.net/). Olivier gave me a lot of advices and some of the “secrets” of the Shruthi, like waveforms tables, FM synthesis, pitch modulation,…
I’m very happy with this little Der OTO, the sound is really unique.
All of our upgrades are for free, it’s like a gift to our customers!
What a nice guy and what a great instrument/processor he has created – we look forward to whatever his crazy brain is cooking up next. In the meantime you definitely owe it to yourself to check out the Biscuit – check the link below for much OTO madness on You Tube: