Scott Monteith Deadbeat / Crackhaus

Scott Monteith keeps his studio tucked at the back of his Montreal apartment, in a room not much bigger than a broom closet. Determined to make the most of his limited space, he’s stacked every surface with esoteric machinery riddled with knobs, sliders and keys.

He’s made good use of it, too. Since 2001, Monteith has released four internationally renowned albums as ambient-dub producer Deadbeat and two albums with Crackhaus, the sample-happy microhouse duo he formed with fellow Montreal producer Stephen Beaupré. Monteith has proven himself to be the most prolific, if not the most consistently recognisable name in a bustling community. And yet, to the untrained eye, his studio looks like the stock room of a pawnshop. Fortunately, Monteith knows what to look for and how each machine comes to life.

"I don’t have any hardware synthesisers or any hardware effects processors,” he says. "Everything’s done inside the computer. As a result, it’s important for me to have as much hands-on control as possible. Every knob and slider on any of these boxes can be attributed to an onscreen control of the software. Right now, I have two MIDI keyboards, this MIDI knobs-and-slider controller, and I’ve been checking out the M-Audio Project Mix, which is a motorised fader, multiple controller sound card monstrosity.”

The Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), a communications capability that allows for the exchange of data between hands-on hardware devices (like keyboards) and computers, plays a major role in making Monteith’s studio more spontaneous. The ability to move his ideas into action as quickly as his thoughts will allow is key to his creative process.

His studio arrangement goes a long way toward debunking the myth that laptop artists spend hours staring at their computer screens methodically calculating musical arrangements over a bed of software presets. The irony of building this environment for spontaneity is that it helps to have a grasp of the music software that brings it together.

This is where Monteith excels. He spent the early years of his musical career working for Applied Acoustics Systems, one of the music software industry’s most revered boutique companies. To be sure, knowing how his software is built gives Monteith an advantage with what he can do with it. Much of what he ends up producing sound-wise with his MIDI gear depends on the configurations he initially arranges with the software.

"For the last five years, the software I always use to get initial ideas going is FL Studio, which used to be called Frooty Loops. It started off as a very simple 808/909-style drum machine, and it’s mushroomed now into this giant modular rhythm production environment. If I’m going to start with percussive elements, then it’ll get going in FL Studio. If I’m thinking ambient elements or processing field recordings, then I usually go to another program called AudioMulch.”

Judging from the crisp percussions of the dancehall-influenced tracks that make up Monteith’s most recent productions, chances are he’s been using FL Studios more than AudioMulch these days. In his studio, he seems refreshed, excited to talk about his new work. The music emanating from his studio arrangement is an inspired sea change from the heavily atmospheric, presumably AudioMulch-produced cornerstones of his last two albums, 2005’s New World Observer and 2004’s Something Borrowed, Something Blue.

Monteith steadfastly believes his best work is ahead of him. The decision of how to bring it to life is a matter of coupling the software with the sounds in his head. The software’s modular environment allows its user to build the machine they want to use before they begin using it. One of the more comprehensive programs on the market that Monteith would recommend to budding producers is Applied Acoustics’ TaskMan. "TaskMan has a modular environment that lets you build practically anything that you want. With environments like this, it’s very easy to string anything together and see what happens, and nine times out of ten you’re going to end up with something that’s useable.”

For Monteith, figuring out how to make the creative process more visceral is all in a day’s work. It’s what keeps a growing number of international listeners attuned to the sounds coming out of this small room in the back of his apartment.