We speak to DecadeBridge, the Cheshire based experimental synth builder who makes handmade drone synths and tape instruments. We talk about their Bora drone machine and others…
Thanks a lot for speaking to us,
Can you tell us about yourself and how long have you been making instruments?
My name is Steven Stones, I’m from Cheshire in the North West of England. I’ve been making instruments for around 4-5 years but first started making VST software under the name Saltine. I always found that I never really focused on one thing and seemed to flit back and to between hardware and software ideas. After developing a few synths and effects in software I decided to have a look at Arduino and it was really from there, extending Arduino ideas and being introduced to different integrated circuits, that I then started to look at making little instruments that weren’t based on microcontrollers.
What made you want to make drone synths?
I think, like most people that start to make their own instruments, it was really to use them in my own music. Most of the one off instruments that I made for myself were more geared towards noise and rhythmic noise to start with. I seemed to gravitate more towards introducing sustained notes and dissonant chords within that too. I would find that I would be using desktop synths, the Volcas for example, for tones and my noise synths for little rhythms and oddities. I suppose I was looking to replace those synths with something I could build to make tones and drones myself instead.
Can you tell us more about Bora?
Bora is a super simple synth which was always my main focus. I wanted something that would allow me to quite quickly dial a drone in and wouldn’t require much tweaking to move the sound in different
directions. It is probably as basic as I could have made it but I realised I could spend a lot of time just sitting and bringing the 6 oscillators in and out of tune with each other. It really is focused on finding a drone or simple chord quickly and stacking oscillators with as little fuss as possible. Sounds can be built up quite easily by either turning different oscillators on and off or simply bringing them in and out with the individual volumes. The oscillators also have a slightly different pitch range which enables you to create quite thick and full sounds.
And the Cadence?
Cadence is a 4 oscillator drone synth that started out as a different project. The name actually comes from a Eurorack module I was developing that was based on several gates that would interrupt each other to create strange rhythms and timings that would then trigger other modules. I decided the Eurorack idea wasn’t really bringing enough to the table and ended up fusing two half ideas together. The four oscillators are routed/cascaded through several logic gates so that they instantly interact with and rely on each other to determine when a sound is output. This can get interesting when running some oscillators at audio rate and others at low frequency which can create pseudo sequences and rhythms. Running them at low frequency and, routing oscillators to their own outputs, also allows you to use them as gates/triggers, square wave LFOs or clocks to control other equipment. It has a slight random/generative but strangely in time feeling to it. I’ve had some users refer to it as having a ‘test equipment’ type vibe.
How does the Bora work, how is the sound routed?
Bora’s layout, routing and operation is extremely simple. Oscillators can be switched on and off. There are individual pots for controlling the pitch and volume for each oscillator. The first 4 oscillators can be cascade synced to each other which allows you to create some interesting ‘filtered’ style sounds. The frequency of the last two oscillators are hard wired to the first two oscillators. This introduces a little frequency modulation that is determined by the lowest oscillators’ pitch when they are on. Bora also has a single CV input to control the pitch of the oscillators. This can also be switched on and off, individually, for each oscillator. Oscillators are not tuned to a volt per octave standard so adding this was really to have the ability to create slightly odd sounds and sequences. The resulting sound is then sent to the output, the overall volume of which can also be controlled using a CV signal. This can also be switched in and out to change from a constant drone to modulating the volume.
What tips would you give someone just starting out with Bora to get the best out of it?
It is really quick to get sounds going with Bora due to its simplistic nature so you will be able to get some nice drones going by just spending a few minutes with Bora on it’s own, straight out of the box. I often like to set the pitches and volumes of the 6 oscillators to random positions before turning the main volume up to create odd drones as a starting point. Using a fast gate or envelope generator connected to the output VCA can produce some nice rhythmic sounds especially if oscillators are set to a more dissonant sound. With all oscillators on and tuned to a drone you like, use the buttons to bring them in and out. The purpose of the buttons was to provide a way to change things quickly instead of patching/un-patching cables. Drone synths love some reverb and delay, running Bora through guitar pedals or effects in your DAW can really add to the sound. You can create some nice chip tune sounding drum hits by patching fast decaying envelopes into the VCA and CV-pitch inputs. Quicker modulation sources can also create interesting results.
Have you got any other synths planned for the future?
I currently have a few ideas in the pipeline some of which I’m hoping to release this year. I’m finishing the designs for two hardware releases that are very basic drone synths to provide a more cost effective choice for users that would like to get into that type of thing, whilst still offering a wide range of sounds. I also have another hardware drone synth that again doubles up as a utility to perform two different functions that is turning out to be quite an interesting instrument. On the software side I am also working on a couple of instrument plugins. I have more ideas than time will allow so it’s really been about trying to prioritise what I think users would like to see and what I am most excited about myself.
Will you be selling the Warpman?
I will possibly be making more of these if I am able to get hold of the cassette players. I manage to get a few of these up on my Etsy on occasion depending on stock. There are quite a few decent options out there now by other makers too which are really nice. I generally try to make these available when people ask about them.
Anything else you want to mention?
I receive overwhelming support and kind words from the community and users which is extremely humbling. I think the industry and community that supports indie developers and smaller, lesser known instrument makers is unlike any other in its enthusiasm. I love talking to people that get in touch and am always happy to answer any questions if people wish to reach out. I post regular snippets and videos of other things I’m working on and prototyping on my social media for anyone that is interested.