Having worked with such diverse artists as George Harrison, Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, L7, Sugar Ray, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Vandals, B.B. King, Zakk Wylde, Ike Turner, Stray Cats, Dwight Yoakam and Masters of Reality, you'd think producer/engineer/experimental electronic musician Barry Conley would be way into music from this planet. But his obsession with the desert and his eclectic musical mothership, The Aliens, has taken experimentation to new heights. Armed with The OutofControl-atron, an insane, other-worldly instrument of his own design, and a couple of Danelectro baritone guitars, he's been converting quite a few earthlings into devout believers of way out music beyond this planet.
So how did you get into building your own electronic instruments?
Well, I worked with a circuit designer, Tom Doty over at Paramount Recording. I came up with the name first, "The OutofControl-atron." Once I came up with the name, I said, "I'm gonna build this thing." Then I thought to myself, "I'll never build this thing..." The beginning happened at a Cypress Hill session — they showed up about six hours late. While waiting I drew up the initial plan. After I sketched out the OutofControl-atron, all the modules and the layout for it, I talked to Tom Doty about the electrical design. He's really into modular synthesizers and really knows circuit design. He gave me a book on circuit designs. I read the book, and then read a couple of other electronics books just to get a taste for it... but I'm still not that great at it. I laid out the front panel in TurboCAD, then hand drilled it. It took a hundred hours just to design and drill the whole front panel.
Dear God! How long did it take to wire it all up?
The oscillator boards themselves took at least 40 hours. I had to design the entire layout, then solder it all together.
Overall how long did it take to build?
I'm thinking maybe a thousand hours and probably less than a thousand dollars in parts. This OutofControl- atron is worth about 20 grand if you were paying someone to build it. Down the line when I build these, I'll have the circuit boards printed and just drop in the components. I want to have the whole exterior in chrome. The whole thing, chrome knobs, like a mirror, nothing labeled — really pristine and shiny.
You'd have to be a real expert to use it with no markings...
Not really, once you have a little roadmap and get familiar with it. There's the oscillator, there's the filter, there's the output levels, there's the mixer — it's really easy from that point.
Sure it is... Tell me about some of your other creations?
I have another one called "The OverTheTop-alator" and it has a sequencer and spring reverb. It's got a whole bunch of cool shit on it.
Who'd benefit most from The OutofControl-atron?
Really, engineer/producers — I built it for them so they could record through it. There's a nice set of mic pres on it. Put vocals through it, then if you wanna fuck up them up you could always put them through a filter and have the filter modulated by an oscillator. It's a processing unit. Mix your drums, vocals, guitar or bass through it — whatever — for mixing. It's also a performance unit for playing live. So it's basically a tool for engineer/producers — their secret weapon. Pull out the OutofControl-atron and do some really crazy processing!
How does it work?
This particular unit has photo-optical control. It's joystick and light operated. I plug in one oscillator that's modulating the other oscillator. Then the main oscillator is controlled by the joystick on the X side. The other oscillator frequency, modulating the first oscillator, is on the Y side of the joystick. The output of that modulated oscillator is going through a filter. The filter is controlled by a flashlight — "photo optical". [Barry breaks out a Maglite and proceeds to make some bubbling, chirping noises fly out of the built-in speakers]
What if you used a laser?
I'm not sure about lasers. You could get strange variations depending upon the light and the gradation between "on" and "off." These little Maglites have a donut in the middle, so that does weird things. You can also shine the light through the forest of patch cables and get all sorts of crazy filter variations. [Barry shines the light through the cables and gets some insane stuttering filter sounds.]
That's crazy! What if you used a cheese grater???
Exactly. [laughs] These buttons turn on the envelope, a noise generator and a fixed filter inspired by Buchla. There are two mic pres with 48 volts. It's got six inputs good for guitar, vocal, television and whatever else if someone wants to play along. That's...