Complex arrangements and hyperactive improvisations
ROCKING ON like such progressive pundits as Tool and King Crimson, Oregon’s Empty Space Orchestra creates complex instrumental ensembles, sun-streaked solos, and hyperactive improvisations on their self-titled debut. To this mix, guitarist Shane Thomas adds psychedelic sounds with his humble equipment, basically a Fender American Deluxe Telecaster, Mesa Boogie amps, and some greatly abused stompboxes.
“We recorded everything live at The Hangar in Sacramento,” Thomas says. “We ran my Mesa Boogie Nomad 45 out to a cabinet in this immense kitchen. I played loud enough to kill a small rodent. I like the way the tube amp breaks up once it’s really loud. It’s in a different room, so it won’t bleed.”
“I used three mics on Shane’s cabinet,” reports engineer Robert Cheek. “A Royer 121 and a Strasser M17 about five inches from the speaker, and an AKG414 in the omni pattern as a room mic, about 12 feet away. For louder, ‘rock’ guitars, I like using the Royer/Strasser combo because they compliment each other well. The ribbon has tons of body and low end and the dynamic can handle tones of SPL and cut through the mix. I ran all of the mics through the ’70s Neve console at The Hangar. It’s one of the smaller 16-channel broadcast boards with the 34128 channels in it.”
Empty Space Orchestra recalls Black Sabbath on “Brainjar,” The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”’ seagull symphony on “Intergalactic Battle Cruiser,” and Radiohead-worthy samples on “El Viento.” Thomas takes credit for the band’s cathartic colors.
“That wobbly drone on ‘Brainjar’ is the clean channel on the Nomad; no real effects,” Thomas says. “The progression starts on the clean tone, then it gets heavy. I used the Boss RV-5 Reverb there; it has this modulated reverb tone that’s humongous.”
The frenetic solo in “Intergalactic Battle Cruiser” sounds like a flock of furious gulls, before disintegrating into a rumbling whirr, all distortion and noise.“I used an Electro- Harmonix Memory Boy Deluxe there,” Thomas explains. “It’s a new delay pedal inspired by the original Memory Man. It has an effects loop, so you can run other effects from the delay. I put an MXR Phase 90 with a really long phase sound through it. That creates a big, swooping psychedelic wall of noise. I also overdubbed a clean version from a Big Muff. We mixed them together to get that seagull sound. Live, we just put a shitton of reverb on it and delay, and nobody really knows the difference!”
Empty Space Orchestra ramps down the aggro factor on “El Viento,” a warm bath of flanged textures that massage the proverbial sweet spot (your ears).
“That’s all bowed guitar in the beginning, overdubbed,” says Thomas. “Then I used a Line 6 DL-4. It’s got a swell patch; you hit the chord and it swells up. The Boss RV-5 also has this sweet warp function. You just hold the pedal down and mess with the delay to get all types of psychedelic wash effects. We try to write material that we can improvise on and capture a mood, then we arrange it and it turns into songs. Strictly speaking, I don’t overplay—I’m a slave to the song.”