Group Dynamics

Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) is one of the hardest-working improvisational bands in show business. Founded in Atlanta in 1997, STS9 quickly gained a loyal

Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9) is one of the hardest-working improvisational bands in show business. Founded in Atlanta in 1997, STS9 quickly gained a loyal national following because of its energetic, spontaneous, interactive, three-hour long live shows. The band consists of Hunter Brown (guitar), David Murphy (bass), David Phipps (keyboards), Jeffree Lerner (percussion), and Zach Velmer (drums).

STS9's music — an eclectic stew of electro-acoustic pop, funk, drum 'n' bass, hip-hop, ambient, dub, and more — integrates rhythm-section instruments with samplers, drum machines, and soft synths. Each band member uses an array of electronic instruments, and four of the five band members tote Mac G4s in their touring rigs, all of which are loaded with Ableton Live and Digidesign Pro Tools LE. In addition, Brown, Phipps, and Lerner use Propellerhead Reason and Native Instruments Reaktor.

Artifact (1320 Records, 2005) is STS9's fifth release and the product of intense collaboration and revision. “We worked for a year and a half,” Brown says. “We started by passing Reason files back and forth.” Phipps adds, “We would create a sequence, bring it into Pro Tools, and let the drummer play [along] to it with slight inflections at the end of 16 bars or 32 bars. Then we'd edit the drums and loops, and add acoustic instruments and sound effects.

“Most of the music I create becomes a whole new song in the hands of another band member,” Phipps says. “I'd make recordings at home on the piano. Hunter could find the most perfect eight bars, loop them, put a drumbeat underneath them, and it's beautiful. I never feel like I'm the lone bedroom producer.”

While on tour, the band tracked its ideas into Pro Tools LE on Phipps's PowerBook G4 through an Mbox audio interface. “We did all of the sound effects, most of the percussion, and a lot of guitar and bass parts in the moment,” Brown says. “What we sacrificed was preamps and compressors.” Most of Artifact was tracked in band members' homes and rehearsal spaces. “All the overdubs happened between our different houses,” Brown says. “We have a 32-channel Midas console and a Digi 002. We were constantly moving our gear back and forth, and it wore us thin.”

Compositionally, band members let the music guide them. “On a couple of songs, the overdubs became the essence, and we stripped away the foundation,” Brown says. “‘Trinocular’ and ‘Vibyl’ are both examples of that. The original foundation came from experimenting with different rhythms using pieces of sounds from field recordings and a sample off a cassette tape. Once we started recording to that, the song started to go in a different direction. The counter rhythm became the feel of the track.”

STS9 sometimes overwhelmed its DAW with its overdubs. “The final track count for ‘Tokyo’ was 101, and LE stops at 32,” Phipps says. “We bounced whole sections of the song, almost by frequency range. The drums were bounced to two tracks, all the high-pitched synth effects to one track, and all of the Rhodes stuff to one track. After what we've learned, we could do a similar album in half the time.”

“We won't stick to a certain process just for comfort,” Brown says. “We always have to change something. We're not so eager to be portable.” Phipps elaborates: “One idea is to strip back down to our original five instruments, record for a few days in someplace tropical, and then bring that stuff back here to edit and add new sounds, but [this time] knowing Pro Tools.”

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