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A picture of Joseph X. Burke

Joseph X. Burke

Designer, Musician (Obfusc)

in designer, mac, musician

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hello! I'm Joseph X. Burke, but you can call me Joe. I work predominately as a graphic/visual designer but also create music under the name Obfusc; you might've heard my work in conjunction with the games Neo Cab or Monument Valley. I love to tinker, break things, solve tedious problems which may or may not be of my own creation, and am generally at my happiest when I'm lost in some sort of process, creative or otherwise. I'm also a parent of two, a partner of one, a vegan, a southpaw, and a bunch of other things.

What hardware do you use?

I grew up surrounded by a bevy of PCs ("Please Ask Me About My BBSes & MS-DOS Childhood"), but have been a Mac user since getting into design, way back when. My current studio computer ("Hologram") is a Hackintosh build -- my second, since the one I built in 2015. I've got a pair of 24" aluminum Apple Cinema HD displays I grabbed on eBay for cheap a handful of years back. Specs-wise, it's an Intel i9-9900K (8-Core/3.6GHz), 32GB RAM, about 12TB of storage (split between NVME SSDs and mechanical disks for data with everything backed-up nightly, naturally), all housed in an ATX mid-tower case.

I'm often drawn to antiquated but functional tech that I was too broke to afford at the time, didn't need, or whatever; it's a real nostalgic tech lust, let's say. To this end, I have a 2006 Mac Mini -- our household Minecraft server -- humming, vibrating along, within arm's reach: its CPU upgraded, RAM maxed (3GB lol), and an SSD installed, running Ubuntu Linux. There are guides on how to approach this level of 64-bit functionality that perhaps give a glimpse at the strange charm I find this lil 15-year-old machine to have -- but I digress!

Despite my appreciation for mechanical keyboard builds, I'm a simple fellow and use a current-gen Logitech MX Master wireless keyboard & mouse, which are pretty nice and get me to and fro. If I'm working in Photoshop a lot, I'll likely bust out a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet, the medium size.

After being a laptop person for over a decade, I've learned I am, without question, a desktop person. Naturally, I'm typing this condemnation of mobility on a 2019 MacBook Pro 15" (it's not mine), which is handily the worst computer I've ever used. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

My music setup is as always, for me pretty spartan. I record live instrumentation and live audio through a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 USB interface (have always loved this lil guy); my MIDI controller is a Nektar Impact GX49 (super affordable and recommended, if you like something minimal). As far as instruments go, my primary go-to is a Gibson Les Paul Studio electric guitar (mahogany). I also play a Fender 6-string acoustic, a 5-string Sterling/Music Man electric bass (also mahogany), and a smattering of random instruments including a kalimba (featured on a few tracks from the Neo Cab soundtrack but not mahogany), a Hohner melodica, and percussive odds-and-ends. I was introduced to multitrack recording as a teenager on the Tascam Portastudio 424 cassette recorder, so naturally I still own (and occasionally use) that, too. That's really worth saying, too: I don't like collecting gear. If I have it, I use it, and if I don't, I sell it or give it to someone who will. It started as a space limitation thing when I lived in New York, but now continues as just a removal of clutter, no matter how cool said clutter may be.

Historically, I've used a fair amount of self-made field recordings in my music, ranging from antiquated, eBay-acquired Sony MiniDisc Recorders in the mid-00's to a mostly broken, CF-based Edirol R-1, to my current less romantic, extremely portable iPhone-based solution, a Shure MV88 condenser microphone.

When mixing or recording, I am 99% of the time wearing a pair of Sony MDR-7506 reference headphones. They most certainly aren't the most accurate headphones, but I've used them for long enough that they feel most natural, as a starting point. In the last few years, I do more 'polished' (please note the quotes) mixes through a pair of KVR ROKIT 8" monitors (3rd generation), but still love working primarily with headphones.

Alright, I can't neglect the desk -- I work in my basement (it's finished, but like, "old man finished") -- so getting a proper desk felt priority to increase comfort. The Output Platform (in birch, with keyboard tray) has been really awesome. The chair I got for free. I hate the chair, need to treat myself right (I know), but can't bring myself to prioritize it. Maybe in 2022.

And what software?

For graphic and visual work, the Adobe stuff (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere Pro), Sketch. I've been learning and working more in 3D this past while, so Cinema 4D and Keyshot, in that space.

For audio, my time is almost exclusively spent in Logic Pro X, which handles everything I've ever personally needed from a DAW. In addition to its amazing core library of virtual synthesis and effects, I'm a faithful user of a handful of AU plug-ins: iZotope Ozone mastering, polishing and Native Instruments Battery drum sampling, to name a couple. The effects from Baby Audio are recent favorites, also (Super VHS, Smooth Operator, Parallel Aggressor).

My miscellaneous staple applications and utility software, for the true heads: Transmit, FontExplorer X Pro, Hyper, iA Writer, 1Password, Plex Media Server, Little Snitch, pi-hole, xACT, Handbrake, Carbon Copy Cloner, etc., etc.

I built my lil personal site with Kirby CMS. It runs on a DigitalOcean Ubuntu droplet. I need to update it more often.

What would be your dream setup?

You know, I'm pretty happy with what I've got! I'd love to continue to evolve my little space to even better facilitate creative exploration, but beyond acquiring outlandishly opulent gear like "windows that open" or "an easily regulated temperature/humidity level," I'd say my needs are pretty adequately met.

The cornerstone of the real dream setup, though, is time. Having more of it. Or at least being able to spread out more, conceptually, within what we've got, maybe. To get lost, forget everything outside the moment, and just create. That's what I really want the most.