Martin O’Leary


Martin O'Leary

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Martin O'Leary! I live in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in the north-east of England, where I make art on the internet, and I design exhibitions for Life Science Centre. I used to be an academic, studying glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, but I don't do that so much any more.

I have a Twitter, a Patreon, and a web shop.

What hardware do you use?

I live and breathe through my 2017 13" MacBook Pro (the cheaper model without the Touch Bar). I've been using Macs since around 2005, and I don't think I could switch away. At work I have to use a Windows machine, and using it feels like trying to type while wearing oven gloves. I also have a 2011 MacBook Air, which I use as a secondary machine for art installations, long-running tasks, etc, and a box of Raspberry Pis and miscellaneous Arduinos.

My phone is an iPhone 6, but the battery life has become abysmal so I'm looking to upgrade. I recently bought a second-hand Samsung Galaxy A8 for an art piece, which is a really nice piece of hardware, but I'm too tied into the Apple ecosystem to switch to it full-time.

My "studio" is one side of our guest bedroom, where I've got an IKEA NORDEN table, which is sturdy and nice to look at, but not so nice that I feel bad about dropping a soldering iron on it. It's currently playing host to the beginnings of a homebrewed modular synthesizer, and an EleksDraw pen plotter. The EleksDraw is a temperamental beast, and a testament to my willingness to spend time fixing things rather than spend money on something which actually works.

When I'm thinking, I produce a lot of "write-only" notes, usually on whatever scrap printer paper I have lying around. For more permanent notes, I carry around a lime green Leichtturm1917 A6 Pocket notebook for art notes and a black hardcover Moleskine Classic Pocket for work stuff, to-do lists, etc. I like Uni-ball Signo Gel RT pens, but I keep losing them. For actually producing artwork, I use Sakura Pigma Micron pens on Daler-Rowney Smooth Cartridge paper.

I carry everything around in a blue Osprey Quantum backpack, which I've had for nearly a decade. It's been everywhere with me, from fishing boats in East Greenland to fancy-pants art galleries. They don't make this design any more, and I'll be gutted when it eventually gives up.

Some other objects in my life that I'd recommend without hesitation: the Nintendo Switch, the Le Creuset cast iron casserole, my old Berghaus hiking boots.

And what software?

I live in the terminal, using tmux and oh-my-zsh to make things slightly more friendly. I have Vim reflexes burned into my fingers, but I actually do most of my text editing in VS Code these days.

Python is my first-choice programming language for most things (the one major exception is that I do all my daily generative sketches in Clojure). I use a lot of Jupyter notebooks, but I'm a terrible person, so they're all called something like "Untitled94.ipynb".

I go through phases of using note-taking and productivity apps, and phases of completely freestyling my garbage fire of a life. Right now I'm using nvALT as a note-taking app (I'm typing this interview into it), which at least has the advantage that when I eventually give up on it, all my data will still be in easily accessible text files. My office calendar and email live in Outlook, and my home stuff in Google Calendar and Gmail – I can't say I like either very much, but they do the job.

Dropbox, 1Password, Chrome: these feel more like basic infrastructure than "software" that I "use". I use Keynote for presentations, and it's fine, I guess? I feel like there's a market for better presentation software. I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for a lot of stuff, and they're both great, exactly what you want out of expensive commercial software.

On my phone, I pay far too much attention to Twitter and Slack. Recently I've been using Mastodon a lot, but I haven't settled on a client I like, so I've been bouncing between Amaroq, Tootdon, Toot! and the web interface. The main drain on my battery life is probably Marvel Puzzle Quest, which is my block-matching zone-out game of choice.

What would be your dream setup?

Infinite storage, both digital and physical. Someone who comes by once a week, and discreetly files away all my discarded projects, so they disappear from my sight, but I can find them again later. A nice big window with a view of a tree and the ocean. A cold breeze and a warm fire.

If you mean, like, actual computery stuff, then one of my colleagues has a reMarkable tablet and I kind of want to steal it, but that would probably get me fired from my job.



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Aleks Krotoski


Aleks Krotoski

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Dr Aleks Krotoski. I'm a psychologist and journalist, though I make my money from the latter. I present and produce radio programmes for broadcasters around the world, including BBC Radio 4 (the long-running Digital Human series) and BBC World Service.

What hardware do you use?

I'm a laptop lady, though my house is full of robots and automated thingies.

When I say thingies, I mean the lights, the heat, the door, the audio system. All of it is voice activated. Most of the names I can't remember or are changed when I'm not looking, so I can't do any of these things. I also have a Loomo and other redundant AI bots kicking around too. This happens when you live with a futurist!

And what software?

I'm pretty vanilla – the most exciting software I use is probably SelfControl, an oldie but a goodie. It stops me from being distracted by the usual web culprits when I'm trying to write a book in Scrivener.

What would be your dream setup?

Desert island, soft breezes, lots of cultural institutions a short walk away.. and probably what I have now in terms of double monitor, fast Mac and a big room to work in. Also, a standing desk. Very important.



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Hot Dad


Hot Dad

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Hot Dad/Erik Helwig. I make and release music and comedy and comedy music on the internet, the majority of it released initially through my modestly successful YouTube channel. My work is Patreon-supported. I've often described what I do as emotionally-charged comedy music. I'm responsible for that video with the Hedgehog image that a lot of people really, really, really like.

I always enjoyed making funny things, but it wasn't until I tried to make it in serious music (i.e. self-funded a pro album by my initial moniker, Girls Who Care, and couldn't find any record label interest; I, in my inexperience/naivety, took this as a "major defeat" and didn't release that album for 3 more years) that I realized comedy music offered me more creative freedom (which is where that whole "emotionally-charged" bit comes in) and less overall competition. And YouTube exists, so that gives me a place to post videos and stuff. My terrific video editor/graphic designer is Peter Bjorndal.

What hardware do you use?

I do almost everything "in the box" right now, for both creative and limited financial resources reasons. In terms of hardware, I use a UAD Apollo Quad FireWire audio interface, a Shure KSM32 microphone for vocals, KRK Rokit RP8 G1s as my studio monitors, Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones, a Fender Telecaster + Squire Stratocaster + Squire Mustang bass, a Yamaha PSS-470 (not circuit bent), a Novation Launchkey 49 MIDI controller, and a Novation Launchpad Mini. I don't do anything all that crazy or interesting with anything – I tend to work in little flourishes of excitement + inspiration, so I'm just trying to capture ideas as quickly as possible and build, build, build from there. My current computer is one I built myself with an i7-3770k at its core(s). I will be building a new machine soon. My video camera is a Canon T5i.

I have plenty of equipment for live shows too (I haven't been doing many of those; I hope to soon, though!), but I don't use any of it in my current recordings. I just bought a Roland JC-77. I will say that my live backing tracks are run from a 2011 MacBook Pro with a MOTU Ultralite MK1 FireWire interface. It's an older interface that is "road-tested" and was recommended via internet forums for its reliability/stability.

And what software?

I record exclusively in Ableton Live 10. When I was first learning to compose music back in 2010ish, I realized that Live's session view was the most natural for me since my brain worked best when I just looped a section and built on that until I had something I was happy with. It allows me to work in manageable chunks instead of the vast expanse of a full song (scary!). I normally record gibberish vocals for each section as well, and figure out the words later. I then take what I've built in session view, and record it into arrangement view, one section at a time until I've got a song. It just feels right! Sure, I still need to record vocals and make plenty o' tweaks after that, but this method allows me to very rapidly create a pretty meaty skeleton, and, like the rest of us, once I have a skeleton, I feel much more confident.

As far as softsynths go, I primarily use the TAL-U-NO-LX/TAL-Noisemaker and Sylenth1. I use a lot of UAD plugins. I tend to use a lot of the same plugins over and over again until I arbitrarily read an interview with someone far more talented than me who has some other plugin they really like, in which case, I give it a shot and potentially make it a new habit. I use a lot of the 1176/LA-2A compressors, the SSL E Channel Strip, Pultec EQs, EMT 140 and 250 reverbs, the Ampex ATR-102, Neve 1073s, the Fender '55 Tweed Deluxe and Chandler GAV19T for guitars, and the list goes on. I also use some Izotope, Soundtoys, and Waves plugins sometimes as well. Superior Drummer 2 is what I normally use for drums, along with some of the Ableton Live Suite kits/sounds. I learned everything I know about mixing/mastering from the brilliant Andrew Maury (who produced/mixed/mastered my Girls Who Care record along with a handful of my other things), so often I end up using presets and tips he's taught me that have worked great in the past.

What would be your dream setup?

Doing what I do the way I do it, I wear a LOT of hats (some I like, others not so much), and that can get really exhausting. It's nice to have all of the control (and it definitely helps to not have to split up my streaming royalties between multiple performers/songwriters), but the knowledge that others are highly specialized and adroit in their respective fields weighs on me and it's true, I could be releasing even better (imho) stuff if it was all being professionally mixed/mastered, in the same way that my videos became so much better after Peter began editing instead of me (visual art is definitely not my strength). And that would subsequently free me up to work on writing something new instead of tweaking the mix all day (although I think I've definitely gotten better/more particular about what I like in that realm, and have grown to enjoy certain aspects of the process).

A dream setup for me would involve the option of delegating tasks like mixing/mastering to outside professionals when it felt right/necessary. Higher budgets would make that possible. As far as upgrades, I don't have any specific ones, but I have plenty of nebulous ones. I'd love some analog synths to play with, new and vintage, cheap and fancy, along with the capability to easily record a drum kit (I own a DW drum kit, but I never use it on my recordings because it's not convenient to record at the moment). Another set of studio monitors for A/B'ing mixes, and more microphones generally. More software plugins, naturally. And all of these expansions would need to be within reasonable limits since I don't want to end up with analysis paralysis regarding which random device I want to use when trying to get started on a fleeting idea. I think it's most important to just do it, even if it's not totally perfect (you can't edit/improve something that doesn't exist!), and without this philosophy, let's just say I never would have have finished much of anything. Sure, I have plenty of details I get neurotic about in every track, but that doesn't change the fact that it's totally fine that a lot of the time I just grab a preset and start quickly building those melodies while they're fresh in my mind. Maybe tweak them later, maybe not. Who knows!



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