Jon Atkinson

Jon is a drummer, drum programmer and composer based in London, UK. He has been a fixture on the London session scene for over 20 years, and you can hear his work on movies like Paddington 2, Johnny English Strikes Again, Eddie The Eagle and TV shows like Doctor Who and Inside Number Nine. As a touring drummer he is known as an electronic drums/sampling/triggering expert (or know it all..), and has toured worldwide with over 50 artists.

He now divides his time equally between touring, drum and programming recording sessions (particularly film and TV), writing, producing, and also creative sound design.

Most recently Jon composed the soundtrack to Sony’s PS4/PSVR game “Jupiter & Mars,” which heavily features the Tempest in its predominantly analog synth-driven score – now available on iTunes/Apple & Spotify.

We chatted with Jon about how he’s using the Tempest in his music

What made you choose the Tempest?

“I had been using an AKAI MPC60, which I loved, for several years, and it had become a major part of my programming workflow.

When the MPC eventually died of old age, I had to quickly find a replacement as I was in the middle of programming drums for a weekly live TV show.

After trying a couple of different virtual instrument/hardware MPC-style options over the next few months, I realised that I was continually doing the same thing: spending ages trawling through hundreds of samples looking for the right sound. Wouldn’t it be better for me to sculpt the sound from scratch to be exactly what was needed for the track?

I also needed a poly synth for the studio, so the Tempest seemed like it might be the perfect fit for me. It quickly became the centre of my studio, not just for drums but also for creative synth-based sound-design.”

How are you using it?

“What you hear in the score for the PS4 game “Jupiter & Mars” is about 60% Tempest. For this game score, the director wanted a heavily analog synth sound as well as predominantly analog drums, so the basis of what you hear is Tempest drums, synths and pads with Moog Sub37 bass underneath (and some other randomness including live percussion, granulated vocals, and bowed metalwork).

A couple of the tracks in the score were played live (Vangelis style!) with the Moog played with the left hand, and the Tempest played with the right. It’s such a tactile hands-on synth it’s a joy to play like that. It can make absolutely stellar pads and leads. Check out the tracks “A Mother’s Child,” and “Cities.” It’s really quick to go from warm, lush, and beautiful, to crazy, screaming weirdness (Check out “Descending Into Dreams”). Love that Amp Feedback!

For drum tracks I tend to try and create a great kick sound first, which has the right weight and tuning for the song, then I play that into Pro Tools live with the Tempest pads.  I’ll then move on to snare and claps. I’ll record a few passes and chop out the best bits.

This workflow makes the most of two of the Tempest’s best attributes — namely the playability of the pads and also its analog oscillators, which give slight natural variations to the sound. So for instance, each backbeat might be subtly different from the last.

This all then gets a healthy amount of Beat Detective in Pro Tools to get it to sit how I want on the grid.

I’ll also set up a few modulation options assigned to the ribbon controllers. This is a great way to add life to drum tracks. For instance on the track “We Are (Shooting Stars).” which is the main song from “Jupiter & Mars,” and very much in a pop style, I modulated the Decay envelope of the noise part of the second verse clap sound. You can hear how the length of the clap decay is different on each beat of a four bar pattern, and makes the backbeat come alive.

The Tempest is very much an “instrument” in this respect. It’s at its best when it’s played I think, so I treat it as I would do any other instrument: Press record on Pro Tools and just play!”

What’s one of your favorite things about it?

“Probably my favourite part of the Tempest, and what sets it apart from perhaps any other analog synth, is the amount of control you can have over each of the five envelopes. For drums especially that is an absolute godsend, and puts it way above anything else on the market. Being able to forensically shape each envelope is amazing — particularly bending the Decay part of the envelope. That’s such a  cool feature. Thanks to Adam Schneider for that tip! His Tempest tutorials are super helpful when you’re first getting to grips with it.

I also love the “Random” option in the modulation matrix. I use this a great deal, with perhaps all eight different mod paths having different assignments, each set to a small amount of randomness. It’s a great way to come up with something new. If you’re fed up with boring 808-style snare sounds, use this to create something you might not otherwise find.

It’s also incredible for adding life to synth sounds. The modulation matrix is such a powerful tool, and it’s definitely worth spending time playing with it. I’m always discovering something new by just fiddling with it. Check out the track “Cities And Consequences” for extreme use of randomisation.”

Any interesting Tempest tricks or techniques you’d like to share?

“I have two tricks which I use quite a bit. One is to assign the Roll function to one of the ribbon controllers. The speed of the roll is controlled by the finger position on the ribbon. You can get pretty out-there. Instant Trap hi hats. But, shhh, don’t tell anyone.

The other trick I use a lot is to have Noise as a modulation source in the mod matrix. Just a small amount can yield some really interesting results, especially with envelopes on percussive sounds.

For the job that I do, both as a composer and also a drum programmer, the Tempest is the most powerful tool I can imagine. It’s insanely creative, and I love feeling that I’ve made the sounds myself from scratch, rather than trawling through the lists of samples which everyone else has. I still get surprised by the sounds it can make, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the digital oscillators.

I can make the sound I want much faster than I can find an appropriate sample. Often I have to work really fast, so this is a huge plus. As a sound designer, I think it’s a dream, with the power equal to a modular setup, but with the speed of a fixed architecture.

I feel a real emotional attachment to my Tempest that I never had with any other modern drum machines. As a result it’s become a huge part of my sound. Love it.”

You can hear the full “Jupiter & Mars” score here:


Jupiter & Mars PS4 game