Photo: Courtesy Backspin Promotions
Adrian Michna is a split personality when it comes to exercising his two crafts of producing and DJing. While spinning in clubs as DJ Egg Foo Young, the Brooklyn resident is very much at the mercy of his discerning audiences in New York City and abroad. Thus on a typical night behind the decks, he keeps his selections in the 125 to 135 bpm range, bouncing between electro, house, dance-rock and fast-rap. When recording as Michna, however, his goals are considerably more selfish.
With his headphone-friendly instrumental debut, Magic Monday (Ghostly International, 2008), Michna's initial intent was solely to satisfy himself. “As dumb as it sounds, I wanted to make music that I really like to hear,” Michna says of recording the album.
That's not to say he doesn't favor the uptempo tunes that he uses to move dancefloors. In fact, Magic Monday does include a handful of pulsing IDM, including the futuristic “Redline Flights.” But in its entirety, Michna fires a scattered shot of sounds, resulting in a vast yet cohesive collage.
The lead single, “Triple Chrome Dipped,” is perhaps one of the best representations of his all-encompassing style with glitch, house and hip-hop elements intertwined. “You wanna be a little bit nerdy,” Michna says of the headphone quality of the track. “It's weird to hear some DJs playing it out — part of me feels like it's not appropriate.”
Michna does plan to release alternate, dancefloor versions of the singles — ones that aren't “too weird” — that he can pass along to DJs. But for Magic Monday, he had no intended audience in mind other than himself while recording at his own Camp 180 Studio in Brooklyn. Working mostly in solitude, with occasional oversight from A&R/executive producer Sam Valenti, Michna relied heavily on his standby setup of the E-mu SP-1200 sampling drum machine, the Korg MS-20 synth and Logic 4.8 via his Apple G3 computer.
Two things Michna purposely avoided in the recording process were traditional sampling and using too many trance-sounding synths. To keep his sample palette fresh, he opted to not lift any full loops from a record; instead, he did needle drops — quick snippets of random recordings, whether it's from a voice mail or a rare discount record.
As he explains of the process, “You just needle drop on the dollar-bin records, and then it's like a blip or scroll through the FM dial on your radio, and you get a little [piece] of a voice. I figure that's pretty sample free. [Laughs].”
Michna jokes that this technique allows him to potentially sample something as popular as a Madonna single, with no recognition of where the blip derived from. You can hear this trick put to use on the funky downtempo track “Skunk Walk,” where little stuttering vocal segments add a rhythmic, beatbox element to the song. To give the needle drops texture, he pulls them into his SP-1200.
“If I sample some voice mails off cassettes or something, then I'll try to put it in the SP — whatever I can, really,” he says. “I have some songs that are actually too much SP and then were just too crunchy. So I tried to balance it between crunch and non.”
To help break up the lo-fi crunchy resonance of this album, Michna used the more modern Novation Xio synth, but he did so only with the aid of obscure plug-ins.
“I'll just use little pieces of [the Xio] and chop it up in audio,” he explains. “Because I have Logic 4.8, there are some plug-ins that were new at the time. One is called Ganymede; it seems like an FM synth plug-in, and I like the tone of it. It's kind of got an MS-20, warm feel.”
While Magic Monday let Michna unleash his inner studio nerd, his know-how as a DJ wasn't entirely pushed aside. He explains that the idea of keeping the tempo of a song moving along and implementing what he calls “one-off changes” to keep a track stimulating is the ultimate goal. Still, he admits that the push and pull between producer and DJ is often prevalent.
“There are times when I feel like if you're in a groove, like one or two of the electro songs, just keep it going,” he says. “Sometimes it's a hard balance.”