A Festival Of Underground, Experimental & International Music
April 2021
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Ela Orleans at EMS, Stockholm – Days 1, 2, 3 and 4



First day with Buchla - the Holy Grail of synthesizers

First day with Buchla – the Holy Grail of synthesizers

Since 1964, EMS Elektronmusikstudion is the centre for Swedish electroacoustic music and sound-art. EMS is run as an independent part of Musikverket (Swedish Performing Arts Agency).
Until the very last minute I assumed my project is not getting any financial support. But enormous generosity of EMS providing extraordinary amount of time and technical support in their state of the art studios, made me confident that even if I have to eat ketchup soup after my month in Stockholm, it is worth every effort. Luckily, Alasdair Campbell, who has been very supportive of my collaborative projects with Maja Borg in the past, offered me a residency grand which was truly a life saver, as my costs of traveling and living in Stockholm where starting to look a little bit scary. Here I would like to thank Alasdair and AC Projects for this big-hearted gesture, thanks to which the whole experience at EMS is stress free. Financial struggle can be a vicious killer of creativity, so the grant from Counterflows and AC Projects feels like a golden ticket from the Chocolate Factory.

So here is the short introduction to the project I am going to be concentrating on during my month residency in Stockholm’s Elektronmusikstudion: after the success of our first smaller collaboration ‘We The Others’ {2014, Dazed Digital) – a fuller opportunity to allow me to dictate the image with my sound, is about to be realized. Two years ago, Maja Borg started a project called ‘MAN’, that explores concepts of identity during pregnancy. The images were filmed during her own pregnancy and now after her maternity leave, she will in the coming months finish the film. I have been involved conceptually as a composer from the beginning but we are taking this role to the next level and creating a unique collaborative work. We are hoping to compose and edit simultaneously during four weeks of my residency at EMS. The process is one of ‘echo and inspire’. I will create a sound or a piece of music, send it to Maja and  consequently Maja will send me an image or a silent sequence. In the next step, I will respond to the image and create the first draft of a score.


I arrived to Stockholm on the cold night on the 1st of October. I got picked up from the airport by Maja Borg. We briefly discussed the schedule of our work on “MAN” and next morning, we drove to the EMS headquarters.


Here I was greeted by the staff and promptly introduced to the coffee machine (which is a very important appliance in the life of the resident composer at EMS). I received the letter of invitation and the electronic key with the unique code, and then I had a quick introduction into each studio I am assigned to every day from the 2nd – 30th of October. Seven studios in total.

  • Studio 1: Has ProTools 11 HDX and 6 channel Genelec sound system with additional Meyer and Genelec near field stereo speakers.
  • Studio 2: Has ProTools 11 HDX and 8 channel Genelec sound system with 5 additional Genelec speakers installed in the ceiling, as well as a quadraphonic Meyer system.
  • Studio 3: Has ProTools 11 HDX and 2 channel Ino Audio sound system.
  • Studio 4: Has ProTools 11 HDX and an 8 channel Ino Audio sound system, with 2 main speakers and 6 small surround speakers. The studio is home to the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer.
  • Studio 5: Recording room shared between studios 1 & 4. Has 8 outputs to Studio 1, and 4 outputs to Studio 4.
  • Studio 6: ProTools 11, Avid Omni interface and 2 channel Ino Audio sound system. Has a Serge modular synthesizer.
  • Film studio: Has Final Cut 6 & 10 and ProTools 11 with  an M-Audio Firewire 410 audio interface.

Composers can connect their own hardware through firewire/USB or directly to the sound systems in all studios. Main softwares are ProTools, Ableton Live, Reaper, SuperCollider, Max/MSP and Waves, Izotope, Ircam and GRM plugins.


My first session was going to start in three hours, during which Maja drove me and my heavy bags full of cables and electronic toys to the place of my accommodation – Koloniområde Orhem – the eco housing by the lake in the forest, in the Skarpnäcks district.

My first session was an absolute, jaw dropping experience. I had seven hours with Buchla system. For all interested, I highly recommend reading the  history of it HERE.  My very ignorant ideas that everything electronic can be done on a laptop these days, deteriorated within fifteen minutes of working with this monster. The adventure of exploring it, the learning process, the overwhelming view of all possibilities, the contact, and last but not least tiny electric shocks,  made me realize how limited my understanding of synthesizers was before meeting my new object of utter admiration.

Don Buchla has taken his electronic instrument design approach far beyond sound generation into the world of unique performance controllers. Thunder, a tactile, infinitely-programmable control surface, and lightning, a gesture controller that generates performance data based on the user’s spatial  movements, are but two of his incredibly advanced, mold-breaking—and mind-boggling—designs. One might think, based on the seemingly esoteric nature of Buchla’s designs, that the use of his  instruments is limited to experimental, electronic, or computer-based music. But in fact, Don’s  inventions are in widespread use by film composers, performance artists, jazz musicians, pop and rock musicians, and improvisational ensembles—in short, an array of creative individuals looking for advanced, expressive, inspiring instruments.

Just look at it…

Buchla system at EMS

For the next four days I have been learning and experimenting with this beautiful machine, recorded a few hours worth material and  I am looking forward to be back in the studio in my last week of the residency.


I came back home to Orhem, with the fever, poured myself a big glass of whiskey (straight from my suitcase), went into veranda and saw the view which made me feel that life is rather wonderful and although the whole experience (traveling, lack of sleep, learning, commuting) is overwhelming, I feel like I am in the right place, which is opening the door for the amount of knowledge, I can’t possibly fully absorb, but it’s all there, laid out for me to discover and take advantage of.


It is still all a bit utopian and a bit abstract, but I am slowly landing on earth and starting to calculate my time more carefully and enjoying a little bit of social life. I am getting my head around the city, my commuting skills are getting pretty good and all I have to improve, are my eating and sleeping patterns which are a bit… rubbish. One day at the time.