Creative Technology? – Tom Dicicco Talks
While the idea of “box ticking” in music can sound like anathema, the boxes that Tom Dicicco ticks are not to be sniffed at. Forward thinking techno, with warmth, emotion, and exquisite production values are what sets the Northampton producer apart from the rest. With a string of releases on labels such as Delsin, Off Minor and more recently Dred, Tom has quietly plugged away and become a firm favorite of many techno connoisseurs. As he’s set to play the excellent Field Maneuvers festival on the 1st September, this seemed like the perfect moment to catch up with him and really dig into how the technology he uses shapes his creative process.
What is your relationship with your studio? Do you have an emotional attachment to the gear and the space or is it just a tool to allow you to express your ideas?
I suppose there is a bit of an emotional attachment as I spend so much time there but I like to keep things fresh with gear so I'm always buying and selling bits. There are times when I'm sat there and after two hours of coming up with nothing I'm thinking to myself 'what am I doing here' and think of all the other things I could be doing but as soon as I leave I have an urge to go back in again!
How and when did you first encounter music technology? Was it love at first sight or did it take time for the passion to develop.
I first encountered music technology around 2005, I'd been playing records for a while but I didn't really have a clue how they were made. I heard about Ableton and bought a copy (version 5) and started messing around with it mainly doing edits of existing tracks. I found an instant urge to start creating more and more but found it frustrating as I didn't really have a clue what I was doing. I went to college and enrolled on a music technology course and then went to university to study music production, I didn't learn a great deal but it gave me a lot of time to work on music at home and meet friends I would go on to work with in the future so I'm happy I did it.
Talk me through your creative process. How do you approach starting a track? What are your processes that enable you to finish a track off?
I start tracks in a number of ways. Sometimes I've got a very clear melody in my head I want to play so that'll come first and I'll build around it or sometimes it'll be a certain drum pattern or other times I'll sample a sound and start processing it and that will create new ideas to layer on top. Another good one for coming up with ideas is whilst learning a new technique, there's been a lot of times I've been learning something from a tutorial and there will be a eureka moment off the back of it. I like to try and leave tracks once their nearly finished for as long as I can to the point where I forget about them and come back with completely fresh ears. So many times I've listened back the next day and thought it sounded good but in hindsight I would have changed a lot of things but this is all part of the learning process and you could say nothing is ever really finished, it's a matter of opinion.
Describe the space where your studio is. Is it an Armageddon of wires and mess, or a haven of peace and tranquillity?
My studio space is in a converted cellar in my house. It's a great space but is a battle at times as I have a humming fridge and ticking gas meter to contend with so I sometimes have to wait for the hum to stop so I can listen closely to a track but I'm used to it now. It's very tidy due to having pretty bad OCD, I've tried to mess it up a bit but it's too painful haha! I have a synth rack on one side, my computer, mixer and monitors just next to that then opposite I have my decks and records so everything is together in the same room.
What do you feel that you still have to learn about the way in which you use technology to create music?
I feel like I have a long way to go until I'm happy with my music and feel like I'm still learning really obvious things everyday. I want to learn more about outboard mixing and it's benefits and also gain a deeper understanding of synthesis to create the sounds I want to create a lot easier. I'm not a hardware snob, I will use any plug in, I think it's more important to know about what your using and to have a good understanding of its capabilities rather than using a certain bit of equipment and it's presets just for the sake of it without actually knowing what it is capable of.
What is your worst habit in the studio?
Comparing my music to other records and getting depressed. I don't do it so much anymore and it's a stupid thing to do but there is the odd occasion it still happens.
Do you have any pieces of kit that you have a particularly love/hate relationship with?
That used to be the Octatrack until I sold it. That was definitely a love/hate relationship. Even though I pretty much knew the machine inside out it would always find ways of frustrating me but I suppose that's the beauty of it, it's such a flexible machine and there are so many ways of using it, it's a great learning curve for anyone and the eureka moments with that are the best moments. I sold it not long before they announced the MK2 and bought an Analog Rytm. Having the experience with the Octatrack made getting up and running with the Rytm very easy.
What do you feel are the major areas that music technology will develop in? Or put another way – is there anything you feel with your gear or software that you feel frustrated by, and would like to see new solutions/functions added in the future
I'm still at a point where I'm still discovering a lot of things that have been around for years so I'm not really frustrated. I'm enjoying all the new hardware being released and re-released as it makes for a more competitive market and gives everyone a lot of options. I love applications like Henrik Schwarz's 'Schwarzonator' as it gives people like myself the possibility to express themselves more in a musical way using different chord structures and progressions I never knew about. I wonder how these kinds of applications will develop and expand in time and as technology progresses further.