Although not the birthplace of techno, New York City is not without its contributions to the history of the genre or the early rave scene in America. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, DJ/producers like Frankie Bones, Lenny Dee, and Joey Beltram were bringing back what they heard across the pond and making a huge impact there with their own productions.
One of the lesser known heroes of the New York scene is Mundo Muzique who – in collaboration with Beltram as Second Phase – made the classic track “Mentasm” which featured a lead synth sound that was to be sampled countless times. (It later became known as the “hoover” sound.) The hoover was essentially a patch from the Roland Alpha Juno 1 called “What The,” tweaked and sequenced by Muzique. This is the first time he tells the story of this classic track.
Where were you born and raised?
I’m born and raised in Queens, New York City. My family is from the Dominican Republic.
Did you grow up playing music, DJing, etc? How’d you start producing electronic music? What got you into it?
I grew up with a piano and an electric guitar in my house. They belonged to my older brother and sister. They listened to different types of music around me, so as a little kid I grew up absorbing sounds from different genres. Rock, metal, New Wave, disco, merengue, etc. It was an interesting mix. I played all sorts of vinyl on my dad’s old turntable. During the ’80s I started scratching and eventually got my own turntables and then started DJing some electro, freestyle, and house music. Then mostly acid house, which became my favorite.
Which studio was “Mentasm” created in?
It began in my studio and ended in Joey’s studio. I recorded the demo version of the track in my studio, to cassette. Everyone that heard it knew this was “something else.” Producer friends Joey and How & Little heard it the day of the Brooklyn Beats compilation photo shoot. Joey suggested that we join forces to produce it clean and to really make it pop, using all of our gear together in his studio. It was a good idea, but our schedules didn’t allow that to happen right away. I went to R&S Records Belgium and played the sequenced sound pattern for Renaat straight from my Mac and Juno, but he didn’t quite get the sequence/riff at the moment. He said it was “interesting.” So I ended up recording “Acid Pandemonium” while I was there instead. (It could’ve been the B-side.) Joey and I finally joined forces a couple of months later in New York and got this track done as Second Phase. R&S loved it. They were so happy with “Mentasm” they released “Acid Pandemonium” soon after.
What was the setup?
In my studio at that time it was an Apple Macintosh SE, MidiMan Syncman, Roland Alpha Juno 1, Korg DDD1, Alesis HR-16B, Alesis effects, Boss foot pedal effects and Boss/Roland Mixer. In Joey’s Studio we used an Akai MPC60 drum machine, Casio FZ-1 sampler, Alesis effects, Mackie 32-8 Mixer, and Tascam DAT recorder. We both had more gear than that, but those were the important pieces for the “Mentasm” project.
We realized there was no point in complicating things by daisy chaining a bunch of drum machines together when we had the absolute best drum sampler of that time.
How was it sequenced/performed/recorded? Live or in pieces?
I recorded the “Mentasm” sound sequence (riff) live with my Macintosh using the Roland Juno 1. It’s a straight MIDI sequence looping. In Joey’s studio we couldn’t get the Mac and MPC60 to sync up right, so we ended up sampling the whole “Mentasm” loop into the Casio FZ-1. This solved the MIDI sync problem because we didn’t need to sync the Mac (which was controlling the Juno) to the MPC60 anymore. Once we got it into the Casio FZ we started cleaning up the sound quality and added the filters. Cleaned it up very well there.
Can you talk a little more about how the Apple sequencer shaped the “What The” patch? What sequencer program were you using?
There was some pitch bending involved to create the sequence. I used Master Tracks Pro to do it.
So, all the drums were on the MPC60? I hear an 808 cowbell, snare etc.
Yes. All the drums were done on the MPC60. The MPC60 is all we needed. We realized there was no point in complicating things by daisy chaining a bunch of drum machines together when we had the absolute best drum sampler of that time, and Joey had the MPC60 down.
Can you talk about the Casio FZ-1, and what you did with it?
The FZ-1 had some of the absolute best sounding filters built into it. We modified the LFO and DCF during the recording using the slider. You can hear the “Mentasm” riff buzzing and snarling at you as the filter parameters changed. The slap delay on the changing frequency also made the filters stand out even more. The monster low pass frequency you hear during the drop in “Mentasm” was also the FZ-1 cutoff filter. Its capabilities fit this project perfectly. Awesome sampler.
I got the impression that many people didn’t understand why Roland would include such a “stupid” sound on such a great synth.
What music inspired “Mentasm”?
It wasn’t so much music that inspired it as it was the obsession with the “What The” sound itself. I was determined to make use of what was once known to be a totally useless sound on a Roland synthesizer. I got the impression that many people didn’t understand why Roland would include such a “stupid” sound on such a great synth. I was fascinated by the sound and played with it all the time. I wanted to use it effectively on one of my projects. It was just a matter of figuring out how to skillfully control it with a MIDI sequencer so it would make some kind of sense and impress. I have to give thanks to Apple because as far as I’m concerned, that cutting edge sequence would not exist without the Mac.
Why do you think “Mentasm” works so well in the techno genre, and why is it timeless enough to still get played?
It works in the techno scene, because techno is the genre that’s the most open and accepting to experimental ideas (at that time at least). It’s timeless because it’s a perfect balance of chaos and dancefloor-friendly beats. It’s powerful and pretty hard, yet danceable. We made the drums/patterns familiar to offset the madness. We knew what we were doing.
What have you been doing lately? Are you still in the studio?
Lately I’ve been spending time with family, friends and pursuing other interests. I do have my recording studio.