Welcome to Reasonistas Interviews, episode 2. In this episode we caught up and chatted with Thodoris “Theo” Evangelatos of Quadelectra. Theo launched Quadelectra in November 2003 to develop desktop and web applications for the B2B market. In 2012, he launched the Quadelectra Audioworx project marking his passage to the audio applications market for professional musicians. With attention to his design principles like stability, ease of use, aesthetic superiority and a great deal of ambition, Theo designs and develops high-demanding audio software such as Rack Extensions and stand-alone applications, for the music producer, sound engineer or the audio specialist.
Noel González of Reasonistas
Interviewee: Thodoris “Theo” Evangelatos of Quadelectra
Producer, Engineer, Musician, Song Writer, Rack Extension Developer.
At the time of our interview, Theo had released 14 Rack Extensions. Kicking it all off was his CV Suite, a set of five simple Rack Extensions that enable Propellerhead Reason users to manipulate the Control Voltage signals of the application like never before. Theo then released several other unique Rack Extensions: 3Plex, Beatchop, Mercury, Stereo Splitter, System 9 and the Jackbox classic drum machine series (all linked below). Note: Blog post updated to show all 17 Quadelectra devices as of November 13, 2017.
We began our interview by asking Theo where he was born, where he grew up and how this shaped his music career and influenced his Rack Extension development.
Theo: I was born and raised in Athens / Greece since 1975. I've spent my childhood and most of my years in the region of Neos Kosmos – which translates to “New World”. Very ironic since the neighborhood was and still is a devalued region, close to down-town Athens, a working-class suburb full of car repair shops.
I don't know if this influenced my music, but there was a time here, where new apartments were built all the time. I was around six then. It looked so amazing to me, to see people creating entire blocks of flats out of nowhere, that the first job I wanted to do was a construction worker! Of course life goals changed since then, but developer-wise I always loved to consider myself a builder, and taking proud of it!
Anyway, despite the problems we have today, you can still get the vibe of an old neighborhood from the friendliness and the kindness of the people there.
Question 2 Noel: At what age did you discover an interest in music?
Theo: One way or another I always had an interest in music. I was born in a home where music was part of my everyday life, since my father has always been involved as a student at first and as a teacher and a conductor afterwards. It was inevitable to follow his footsteps since he always had a way to motivate me, and intrigue me on being involved into music too.
But, to further answer to your question. It was not until 1989-1990 with the rave explosion and all these new genres from techno to new beat, and from hardcore to break beats, when I realized that music was what I wanted to do with my life. Of course my other big love was -and still is- programming.
Noel: What role has music played in your life?
Theo: Huge of course! I can't really imagine my life without music.
Noel: Do you have any traditional music training?
Theo: Yes, I studied 6 years of piano, and I have a degree in counter composition. Unfortunately I've forgot a lot of stuff, since I was not practicing regularly, but the knowledge and the experience are still present and usable. This is what counts after all!
Noel: Note to reader: Check out Theo's music on YouTube under the moniker "psychowsky". For example here is a remix he did entirely inside the Reason box: "Coldplay - Midnight (V.S.O. aka psychowsky Remix)"
Noel: And, programming? When did you start with that?
Theo: It was exactly the time when my father bought his first “music computer”. It was a Yamaha CX5MII/128 MSX Computer, with a 4 operator x 8 voice FM engine! It was both a computer with Microsoft Extended Basic, and a “DAW” by that era standards, with a sequencer and even a notator software too!!! I started programming in Basic and even Z80 assembly later on. I was always very curious to understand how computers worked, and since MSX computers did not have a large catalog of games imported in Greece, I wanted to learn how to program my own!
Noel: Do you remember your first music related application?
Theo: Actually I do! It was an editor / librarian for a Yamaha PSR OPL synth I had. You could do some basic editing and store your sounds to the 5 available memories on-board, but the real fun started when you used SYSEX MIDI messages, with the help of which you had total access over all editing parameters.
And that was what that application did. It had a full screen UI to edit all sound parameters and you could store each sound to the synth, or save it to disc. I've used it for a while, but now if you ask me I can't even remember where I've saved it! (laughing) It ran on Atari ST and GFA Basic!!!
Noel: How did you learn about Reason and what was your first version?
Theo: Ah, It was -I think- early 2001 when I saw version 1.0. Before that I remember reading the announcement about Reason a few months earlier and thinking to myself “Wow! Are these guys for real? They can't possibly make that! It can't be done!”, (laughing). You must understand that it was the era where you'd load one or two plugins in a PC and your VST DAW would start to crackle! Things were very disappointing.
So a friend of mine showed it to me working on both a Power Mac and a PC and I couldn't believe my eyes! I was flabbergasted! I don't know how this sounds to today's younger generation, but for me, someone who had spent the entire 90's pinching pennies just to buy a synth or an effect (sometimes even an obsolete one), Reason – a program emulating an actual studio with unlimited devices (even theoretically), with cable patching, and DSP load next to nothing was a.. gift from god. It was a dream come true!
Anyway I finally got version 2.0 right after it was released, locked all my hardware in the closet, and never looked back again (laughing).
Noel: What are your top three favorite Reason features?
1) The Rack Paradigm: This is BY FAR the best feature ever incorporated to a DAW. Propellerhead managed to emulate perfectly a tried and tested UX approach, with which most people were already familiar. Even if you have connected a simple synth to a mixer you know how reason works! And that's innovation!
2) Comping: I was a bit skeptic when I first saw the concept in Record. But once I started working with vocals and instruments I realized that comping is a life & time saver. Reason most of the time is my go-to application for vocal / instrument processing.
3) The Automation since v4.0: You can't possibly understand how important feature this is, until you try to work with a DAW that does not work under these principles: A constant / default automation value for each parameter and then the obligatory grouping in clips of all automation events, overlapping. That's exactly how things should work!
Noel: What are the top 3 features you wish Propellerhead would add to Reason?
Theo: Hmmm.... Let's see...
1) I think it's time for a new Combinator! You can do fantastic things with this device, but the limitation of 4 knobs and 4 buttons is such a bottleneck! I did overcome this limitation with Parametrix a couple of years back, which does the trick, but an all-new official solution would be … a solution instead of a fix.
2) Track Folders: No need to explain the importance of those I guess!
3) A more in-depth time stretching / pitch shifting system for comps: Meaning more algorithms and pitch shift (transpose) automation.
Noel: What made you decide to develop Rack Extensions?
Theo: A lot of reasons actually! On one hand it was the recession. At the spring of 2012 Greek market was already heavily battered for 2 years. I was a freelancer without job for a long time, so I had my ears and eyes open for just about ANYTHING that would change my situation. Plugins, Rack Extensions and DSP programming was whole lot more than I could ever ask for as a job objective, and they came just about the right moment!
Another reason, was my previous job itself. Web development was not as challenging as it used to be. Your work can be easily crippled aesthetically and technically by the marketing executives, contractors, other programmers, the continuously changing browser / web trends. Even the guy who runs the server you host your pages can upgrade the PHP language module and crash your sites to the depths of hell!
Rack Extensions on the other hand were a new fresh concept in an area that I was VERY interested. The SDK is controlled by a single vendor, has specific tools, tasks, features and design principles. All you have to do is focus on the creative part of the development process - which is the most enjoyable after all.
And of course you get to actually create software for REASON! Is there anything more to ask as a musician who uses it (laughs)?
Noel: What is unique about your background that defines the Rack Extensions that you develop?
Theo: I think it's my substance as a musician. Especially a musician who uses Reason. For example I mentioned Parametrix earlier which was a very simple Rack Extension to develop. When I presented it to the beta testers, they all thought it was a great idea and kept wondering how come and nobody didn't thought of this earlier?
That's because I saw the need of such device as a musician that uses Reason! The same applies f.e. with BeatChop which I always thought it as a Beat Repeater with the musician -instead of the DJ- in mind. And generally this defines most of the devices I develop.
You know, Quadelectra motto is “Our Visions, Your Tools!” and this is not some marketing catch-phrase. I have strong faith in the things I envision.
Noel: What was the genesis of your first Rack Extension?
Theo: Actually I've never said this before, but the first Rack Extension I ever made was a prime version of BeatChop. Here's what it looked like:
It actually works pretty much, but before I finished it, I had already enough ideas to build the second prototype (the one you know), so I set it aside and tried to work on a more straightforward project as my first Rack Extension, which were of course the two CV Suite devices.
Noel: How do you go about creating the GUI of your devices? Do you have a process that you go through?
Theo: I always start with a mockup of what I want to do. I arrange the controls, and determine stuff like the height of the device or the correct arrangement of the sections and the controls in these sections. The UI should be as close as it can be, a visual representation of the logical structure of your controls & parameters.
Although there are some graphic hints on the colors, the logo or the design -let's say footnotes about the idea- the actual styling of the device takes place in the formal hi-res design.
Noel: What studio gear and hardware synthesizers would you like to see in the Reason Rack and why?
Theo: You know, one great thing to see in the Rack would be the Roland Boutique Synths. They are so … cute with their little faders, knobs and buttons (laughing). I generally have a thing for everything that Roland makes so pardon my enthusiasm!
Noel: Are you able to give us a sneak peek into your next Rack Extension or future Re plans?
Theo: A sneak peak? Hmmm.... I can tell you that they are the last 2 Drum Modules from Jackbox series. Each pair I released had a little special feature. The first pair – 7x7's had the Modbox, the second pair – x0x's had a blend of synthesis and samples to produce their sound, the last two will have a technology called ASIC! Its an acronym :)
Noel: Any words of advice for people interested in kickstarting their own Rack Extension company?
Theo: This took me a long time to think. My advise is to always have a strategy / a policy. For everything! Even if you have to invent one the last minute. Take a deep breath, make calm decisions, invent your strategy and stick to it. You don't have to be a robot. Just work with a plan!
This is also very useful for public relations. Especially with undesired people or situations. And you're gonna meet them all: trolls, haters, freeloaders, impolite people. You'll have to know yourself and your limits, and be prepared accordingly.
Being prepared ensures that you won’t drawn in a spoon of water, if things get ugly!
Noel: Anything else you would like readers to know about you or your products?
Theo: Yes indeed... I want to say a big “Thank You” to everyone who has supported this effort. My life's rule is to never take the appreciation and the kindness I receive from others for-granted. So either if you are a client, a beta-tester, an artist, or just somebody who put a good word, thank you very much! I see it as a personal duty, to try hard not to let you down.
The best is yet to come! We're just warming up!
Noel: Theo, thank you for this interview. It was great to learn more about you and your journey to developing Rack Extensions. Also, thanks for showing us your initial version of Beatchop as a window into your design process. I'm personally excited to learn about the 2 additional devices being added to the Jackbox classic drum machine series and the technology called ASIC . I wish you continued success with your company and future developments.
Theo: You're welcome and thank you too Noel.
Alright fellow Reasonistas there you have it! Another insightful interview with Theo of Quadelectra. As always, feel free to comment below if you have any questions for me or Theo. You can find out more about Quadelectra at the following:
Quadelectra’s Device Rack
@Propellerhead Software AB
Until next time, happy music making and keep it Reason-able!