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August 1, 2003

These days, you don't always know if the music you buy is live or Memorex. Is it a complete performance recorded in real time, or did the producer-engineer-musician incorporate live performances with samples and sequences?

“We want the dynamics and excitement of a live performance,” Broadcast vocalist and keyboardist Trish Keenan says regarding the band's latest, HaHa Sound (Warp, 2003). “The drums were complete performances this time whereas, before, they've been a combination of takes. You can see a song live and think, ‘Wow, that was so much better than the recording.’ A great performance can make you love a song.”

For HaHa Sound and recently released The Pendulum EP (Warp, 2003), Broadcast created its trademark retro pop-and-distortion classicism by unusual means. First up, Keenan recorded vocals from within a large cardboard box placed over her head. “It gives it that kind of closeness and deadness that makes it sit in the mix a bit nicer,” she explains.

Next, the band recorded jazz drummer Neil Bullock in a neighborhood church and then dumped the ADAT performance into Emagic Logic, overdubbed individual parts and occasionally added fuzzy guitar distortion to the drum parts. Broadcast was fussy with other instruments, as well. “The [electric] guitar, a 1960s Italian EKO Edsel, is miked,” says guitarist Tim Felton. “We don't like to DI. And many of the instruments [vibraphone, timpani, clarinets and organ] were recorded, then fed through a speaker again to rerecord them with a microphone.” The band's studio also boasts a MOTU 2408 hard-disk recording system, an Apple Mac G4, a Fender Rhodes, a Vox Continental and a Korg MS-20. But the most prized possessions are Neve mic preamps and a collection of ancient coil echo units.

“We like the AKG BX-15 coil echo,” says bassist Steven Perkins. “It's a big box with two springs that look like drainpipes. We also have a Fostex rackmount '80s coil reverb and an Acutronics tray that we pulled out of a Fender amp. It has more of that squirty dub sound to it; the AKG is more big-sounding, like a plate reverb. They're all the sound of a signal going through wire — there is no digital emulation.”

“But we were using a lot of software-synth sounds this time,” Keenan adds, “like the reFX QuadraSid emulator and Native Instruments Reaktor. The QuadraSid is great for those biting organ sounds on ‘Minim’ and ‘Pendulum.’”

But whether using an analog or digital process, the band tries not to go overboard with parts and effects. “You know when it feels overworked,” Keenan says. “We used more of a minimalist approach on this album: There has been less emphasis on decoration and more on repetitive parts that go through the tracks. They are not the focus for your ear, but they are the foundation. Like with ‘Oh How I Miss You,’ the essence for that track is one loop that gets more and more distorted as it progresses.”

“You can burden yourself always trying to write great song structures all the time,” Felton continues. “You might listen to the Beach Boys and think you have to do something as good. You are only killing yourself.”

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