With the help of five friends, Caroline Lufkin produced a bubbling electronic winterland, rife with swirling synths and understated beats, resting sturdily upon layers of organic accompaniment. It's a far cry from the way the suited executives in her native Japan were trying to tailor-fit her sound.
“I was getting really tired of everything,” says Caroline of her former management. “I went to music school, and I felt I went there for a reason. I just wanted to get out and try everything by myself instead of having all these business people around me.”
While she was a songwriting major at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Caroline ran into producer Andreas Bjørck in her apartment building, and things started falling into place for her album. She was trying her hand at demos using a Yamaha QY100 sequencer and playing small school gigs when Bjørck heard “Where's My Love” and headed back to his boss' studio to craft a delicate tapestry of Wurlitzer, acoustic piano and Minimoog around her soaring, birdsong vocals. It's the only track that Caroline didn't co-produce on Murmurs (Temporary Residence, Ltd., 2006), but Bjørck did ask for her to lend a hand after the vocals were laid down.
“Apart from the singing, I also had Caroline play bar chimes and bubble wrap, both of which she performed with great expertise, I might add. She really knows how to make the bubble wrap pop,” he jokes.
Brooklyn's Temporary Residence label head Jeremy DeVine heard Caroline's demo via her Myspace page and signed her, which may confirm that in between stalker e-mails and lousy unsolicited MP3s, the site's facilities actually offer something worthwhile. The makeshift business relationship yielded last year's “Where's My Love” single and this year's Murmurs LP. Caroline's friends and college chums supplied her with the relaxed orchestration she needed for Murmurs, and she was able to ditch the suits back in Tokyo. She shared dorm space with now film-score composer Jason Greenberg, who contributed to a couple of album tracks, and labored over the digital bubbling sounds in “All I Need” before loading them into Logic's Ultrabeat drum sampler.
“I sliced up several short percussive hits from audio samples and processed them with some of Logic's EQs, compression and modulation plug-ins, such as the phaser, and then imported those samples into Ultrabeat and mapped them to the keyboard for triggering,” Greenberg says of the track's rumbling beats. After working with Ultrabeat's envelope and filter controls, Greenberg spaced apart the samples. “I set all my pan settings into the mappings of these samples, so they would each be located in a different pan position, which helped to create a nice spatial spread.”
Andreas Bjørck's pre — Pro Tools route for Caroline's vocals on the preceding single sounds just as convoluted as Greenberg's beat trickery. Before finishing the edits and comps on his PowerBook while vacationing in his birthplace of Norway, Bjørck's intricate vocal takes (using a Neumann U 87 mic with a Focusrite ISA 115HD mic pre and “just barely hitting” an 1176 compressor into Apogee converters) were critical for the track's mild percussive undercurrent.
“As I was editing her vocals,” says Bjørck, “I would save all the little sounds you would normally just get rid of when editing, like breaths and lip noises, or the sound of her shuffling her lyric sheet on the music stand, the headphone cord hitting the mic stand, shuffling/moving her feet, walking around the recording room, etc. I then processed those sounds; filtering, distorting, stretching and pitch-shifting them; and then built kits out of them that I could play in [Native Instruments] Battery.”
Though they weren't the keg-standing, publicly urinating college types, Caroline's Berklee confidants supported her in a more productive way, graciously offering innovation and the rich, textured backdrops for the compositions on Murmurs. Maybe that's better than just having drinking buddies. Maybe.