Abstract Data

By Audio Pervert - 6/13/2021

Last time we looked into the modular and Euro-rack landscape (2019), it was packed and somewhat passive, in terms of brands and breakthrough ideas. Yet we were wrong! As usual, the independent and edgy have been busy at work, developing new modules, effects and synths - consequently adding new ideas and tools to the craft (or call it art) of electronic sound creation. The story of Abstract Data - Machines For Humans is about pushing the envelope, discovering new possibilities, and remaining independent (small) in structure. Based in the U.K. Abstract Data is a boutique enterprise offering modular synths, effects, desktop and euro-rack modules for musicians and sound artists. Abstract Data also presents a range of drone and experimental music, along with concept based articles surrounding electronic music and sound. "I started building my own little tinker toys, I sold one, and I built another one and I sold that. I did a run where I built three of them and then I did a run of 100... " says founder of Abstract Data, Justin Owens. We spoke to Justin Owen, about the last ten years since the formation of Abstract Data, the challenges, drone based music and new ideas on the horizon.

How and why was AD founded?
Abstract Data has been designing and manufacturing electronic music hardware since 2008 and releasing Eurorack modules since 2010. I started because I wanted some small, basic analogue synths for sequenced Lead and Bassline sounds, for my own music but at the time there wasn't much available without spending big money on highly sought after builds like Roland's X0X series or bigger workstation style synths - so I decided to build one myself. I'm completely self-taught, I had no previous electronics experience when I started and I'm still learning and trying to work it all out 10 years later.

Tell us about the modular music 'scene' in the UK?  
I don't really think in terms of 'scenes' and I certainly don't consider myself to be part of a 'scene'. Here in the UK the sort of people that are using modular synths in their music cover just about everything from dance floor styles like Techno to various forms of Electronica and Ambient through to more experimental styles and while there might be some correlation on the types of gear that is used - I would say the backgrounds and musical influences of those people are potentially very different. There is definitely a scene around some of the local synth meets - groups of similar, like-minded people who like to get together to hang out and talk shop and that's great and certainly the sort of people using modulars often tends towards people who like the nerdier, techier side of gear - so even outside of the context of some sort of a scene I guess there is some correlation in the types of people involved. UK artists to name-check would be a very long list but to touch on a few key names that are worth checking out - I'd say Surgeon for the harder end of Techno - although he has recently been doing some more Drone-based pieces as well, Ian Boddy who runs the fantastic DiN label for more Electronica, Ambient, Berlin-school styles and as a complete outlier - Steve Davis who most people would probably know from his career as a snooker player but who also has a long and very interesting association with music.

The 'EVENT BOSS Module' looks very interesting. What is it? 
The ADE-33 Event Boss is my attempt at taking all the major algorithms that have ever been used for making electronic music and putting them into a single module. It's basically a pattern and rhythm modulation multi-tool for modular. It has 36 algorithms across 6 different sets that cover Variables, Multiples and Division, Probability and Chance, Logic, Phase shifting and Gate manipulation. It can be used to perform specific functions - for example it can do standard clock division or multiplication across a range of dividers and multipliers - but it's at its most creative when used as a real-time pattern generator for creating musically useful rhythms and patterns. 

What are the challenges and downside of being an independent manufacturer?  
Running any small business is challenging, working in manufacturing is challenging, working in and around the music and creative industries is challenging - and certainly the last couple of years have been very challenging - so yeah - it's challenging! Getting an original, innovative piece of music hardware from initial concept to release can take years and thousands in investment, there's a significant risk to small and single operator businesses like mine in committing the time and resources for projects like that. But, for me personally, running my own business is also very rewarding. I like being my own boss, I like setting my own course... help bring music into people's lives and be a part of their creative journey - that really means a lot to me. It's also been amazing seeing Eurorack and modular go from a very small, niche market to becoming almost mainstream over the last 5 years. So far the major music manufacturers have only really just dipped their toe into Eurorack and mostly that has been a little half-hearted and maybe a little clumsy. Roland did a series of modules a few years back that never really gained much attention, Behringer have done a few low-priced budget clones and some of the other bigger names have done one-offs but I definitely don't feel like I'm competing with the majors for space.

What's new? past the 2020 pandemic?
The last 12 months, with Brexit and the pandemic, that's affected pretty much every part of running the business - and life in general - so this hasn't been a normal year. There are new products in development though - the next will be the ADE-34 Logic Boss MK2 which is the follow up to our debut Logic module the ADE-31 Logic Boss. The first pre-production prototypes of that are starting to head out to beta testers now so it is close to being ready but we're happy to take our time on getting that right before launch. 
And your own music?
The upside of lockdown for me personally, has been getting to spend more time making music - which is still an incredibly important part of my life. I produce Techno as Licit ... and I do some live, improvised Drone as Rotator and both these projects help to keep me relatively sane and stable in increasingly insane and unstable times...

M u s i c  b y  A b s t r a c t  D a t a

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