Plugin Design: The Cabin In The Woods

Way back in January, I wrote about desert island tools. One of my goals was to set up a toolset that would work for me on a “desert island.” My secret goal was to create a portable electronic music setup so that when things opened back up, I could go out to the woods and make some music. I had a little fantasy about being in a log cabin in the mountains, overlooking trees and a river, and letting the scenic natural beauty inspire me to great heights of creativity.

Lake Wenatchee
Something like this would do nicely…

A Minimal Electronic Music Setup

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when we spent the weekend in a cabin in the Lake Wenatchee area of Washington State. I decided to bring a small electronic music setup with me, to work on some tunes. I left my Intellijel Palette 101 at home, as I wanted to have something lighter weight. My setup for the trip:

After a few hours, we arrived at the cabin. It was PERFECT: a log cabin in the mountains, overlooking pine trees and the Wenatchee River. I brought in my bag of music gear.

And then didn’t touch it for the entire weekend.

What happened? Where did my “desert island music” dreams go? 

Quite frankly, once I was in the woods, I wanted to BE IN THE WOODS. I’ve been shut indoors, surrounded by synthesizers and computers, since March 2020. I’ve had plenty of synthesizer time. Now that I could leave the house, I wanted to focus on being outside the house. I wanted to be out in nature. I wanted to go for a hike. I wanted to sit on the porch, drink a Paloma, and stare at the swiftly flowing river. This trip didn’t inspire me to sit down and make music. It just inspired me, period.

A Paloma next to a river

Inspiration Back Home

We got back home Sunday evening. The next day, I found myself playing around with the Intellijel Palette 101, the synth I had put together back in January for the purpose of “mobile music.” I created a patch that used voltage-controlled wave folding to simulate through-zero FM. This is a tweaky academic concept, but it sounded cool. I added ValhallaDelay for looping and other stuff. At some point, I decided just to hit record. 20 minutes of playing and mixing later, and I had my first piece of music in a few months.

Moral of the Story

The moral of this story is? Getting outdoors can be truly inspiring. But inspiration can happen on a macro scale, not just in that specific moment. When I was out in the woods, I didn’t want to touch my computer or synths – I just wanted to soak in nature and recharge my batteries. Once I got back home, I was able to approach music with a new perspective. I realized that taking care of myself helped me with my long-term creativity, even if I wasn’t actively making art in the moment.

Comments (6)

  • Zack Steinkamp

    Great story! Been there similarly, but for me the pressure of “ok buddy, now you’re here and the clock is ticking so you better make some great noises before you have to go home!” is as stifling as nature is energizing. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reinhold Heil


    you’re obviously a healthy person who doesn’t have to make his living on YouTube.
    Good on ya, mate!

  • Michael Miller

    Awesome. It’s all about balance. Cars can’t run on an empty tank. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

  • Marcel Moraes Almeida

    Great! Balance in life is what counts at the end!

  • Eric

    Good book in photo background–“What it Is” by Lynda Barry. The “Folding Engine” track has a lot of depth; two thumbs up.

    • Sean Costello

      I’ve been a Lynda Barry fan since the mid-80s, when her cartoons ran in The Rocket (our local free music mag at the time). Love her stuff!

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