The project came together three
years ago when the producers flew
out to Havana over a ten-day period.
There, they were given the run of the
place in terms of talent and studios.
The only direction given was to avoid
getting so authentic with the Cuban
sound that the tracks sounded dated.
Armed with a drive of programmed
ideas, DeVries and engineer Jason
Bushoff set up at Egrem Studios,
one of the older recording spaces in
Havana where Buena Vista Social Club
recorded. Egrem has a Pro Tools rig,
but all the other gear was antique,
with plenty of crackles and fuzz.
Poet and his engineer AGDM had a
similar experience in Abdala Studios,
where there’s also a Pro Tools rig, but
everything else is “dusty, but dusty
cool,” Poet says. The guys showed up
with basic skeletons of ideas laden with
percussion and brass, using a combination
of Pro Tools, Live, and Reason.
On “Dark House Love,” Notion
music-notation software played a part
in the preproduction process. The
software uses a sample library
recorded by the London Symphony
Orchestra at Abbey Road, but a
Cuban orchestra gave the material a
more local vibe.
“Once all the string parts were
lined up, I soloed tracks, chopped out,
cut, pasted, and layered in Pro Tools,”
Poet says. “At the same time, I went
through crazy outboard Eventide
effects and blended them with a lot of
my synthesizer sounds. The musicians
added the organic feel.”
“We wanted to use a significant
amount of the sonic vocabulary generated
in Cuba by Cuban musicians to
give it that texture,” adds DeVries.
Even though the production techniques
and programming have that
contemporary feel, what it’s made out
of has that old world-y, otherworld-y
vintage Cuban flavor that gives them
a particular spin.”
For “Guantanamero,” DeVries
recorded vocals with Oktava mics
through an AMEK Mozart console.
Horns, percussion, guitars, and tres
were recorded with Neumann U 89 i
and Sennheiser MD 441 U microphones.
“We put the musicians in a crescent
shape at the other end of the
room, grouping the specific horns
together in pairs, and slightly facing
each other because we were limited
to what we had,” Bushoff remembers.
“There was the raucousness of having
them all play together, as well. As
much as we tried to tell them what to
do, someone was always doing something
DeVries and Bushoff were also
asked by the house engineer not to
change any of the routine switches on
the desk, as they would be too difficult
to reset. Because of this, they
added lots of inputs in Pro Tools,
which meant an enormous amount of
audio to deal with. On top of that, the
musicians were so eager to show
what they could do, it was hard to get
comes in. You’ve got a visual reference
onscreen, and you’re listening to
where things fit in the groove and you
start shifting audio forward or backward
in time so that it starts to lock
within what was done.”
In contrast, Poet was not quite so
limited—specifically in his choice of
live rooms. There was the above mentioned
wood room and another that
was all mirrors, which he used to
record the horns. He miked the mirrors
and also miked the players at a
90-degree angle to the mirrors, which
he says gave him added ambience
without resorting to a plug-in.
“There is one part where we made
a tent for our kick drum, because I
love to experiment with miking techniques,”
Poet says. “We used chairs
to connect this long tube, and we
miked the end of the tube, which created
an 808-type sound. Then, we
played an actual Roland TR-808 and
made the drummer play on top of
that. They’re so ninja, they knocked it
out in one take.”
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