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electronic MUSICIAN

Amon Tobin

By Richard Thomas | April 29, 2007

EQ: Your field recordings are the cornerstone of this album. What did you go with, in terms of mics, to capture your sources?

Amon Tobin: Earthworks M50 high-definition mics. The choice to go with them was based on a few things: One was that I could actually hold them in my hand without any handling noise, which was really important because I wanted to do a lot of moving around with headphones on and hear exactly what I was getting. Also, the frequency response is very broad and the noise floor is very forgiving. I could record very quiet things or very loud things with the same mics and the response was always very neutral. What they’re famous for is for not coloring the sound at all. The whole idea with the recordings was to try and get as neutral as possible a sound so that afterwards I could apply environments or effects.

EQ: Why go with a quarter-inch Nagra IV-S instead of a more portable DAT?

AT: I’m not one of these purists that are all about that tape sound or anything, but I knew I wanted to do extreme pitching with a lot of the recordings. When you slow things down a few octaves with hi-res digital recording, you start to hear the gaps between the samples and you get that digital alias thing. I wanted the flexibility to be able to slow the tape almost to a halt and still have a smooth signal. The second reason is that the Nagra has very nice built-in pres. It would have been really difficult to have lugged around microphones, pres, the tape machine, and then have the converters as well.

EQ: The samples are incredibly lucid. What A/D converter did you use?

AT: I used an Apogee Rosetta 800. It was a big decision at the time because I’d never really worked with analog tape before, so I wanted to make sure the chain was as clean as possible.

EQ: Talk to me about the drum programming on “Ever Falling.” There’s a lot of interesting processing going into the high end of the spectrum.

AT: I put the drums through a DeNoiser, but the particular one I used has a feature on it where you can listen to just the sounds that were extracted. So I took those artifacts and put them through a GRM multi-band resonant EQ. There are about 30 or 40 bands of EQ on sliders, and when you move them they don’t just take out the band, they also leave a harmonic resonance that you can make little melodies with. It provided this real sheen that was leftover from the drums. Then I’d re-transpose them onto the drums themselves.

EQ: Do you still program all your drums in MIDI?

AT: For sure. All the drums on this record were edited inside Kontakt and then programmed in MIDI. It’s programmed in MIDI first, then bounced to audio. It’s really flexible and I find it’s a really nice way to work with drums. I definitely didn’t use any drum machines or synths, but I did use a lot of outboard effects. There’s a Chandler TG1 compressor and an API 2500 compressor that I used a lot. I’ve also grown to love the Manley Massive Passive EQ. But the biggest change for me was getting rid of my Mackie D8B and instead using the mixer inside Cubase. I just put everything through a Chandler Summing Mixer, which I found worked a lot better for what I needed as far as giving some depth to the overall mix instead of bouncing and summing everything within the computer. I can do all my levels on the DAW mix. I don’t really need an outboard mixer to set my faders, and my EQs are all outboard anyways. Really, what the hell do I need a mixing desk for?

EQ: Your production has always been very consistent and trademarked, but there’s much more of a noticeable theme running through Foley Room. Certain sonic threads will appear on multiple tracks, but in slightly different forms.

AT: You’ve hit it on the head. The thread throughout the whole album is to try and get sounds that share common ground, even if they come from very different places. We mixed the wasps with surf guitar that was run through a spring reverb, and the motorbike recordings have qualities to them that reminded me of certain synth-based sounds. Some drum ’n’ bass records have what they call a re-space — a sub-bass sound that’s very synthy as well. Those top frequencies are the nice ones, and when you high-pass those sounds you get these really nice crunchy parts on the high end that flutter a bit. I’ve always tried to find that, and I looked to motorbikes for that for this record. There are lots of people doing field recordings — there have been for decades. I’m much more into what happens when you transform them. It’s always been about the transformation for me.

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