Chris Corner, previously of Sneaker Pimps fame and currently the figure behind IAMX, is making an effort to learn German. The multi-instrumentalist/producer/vocalist has been living in Berlin for the past year. Coming to the city for work, Corner was drawn to the weightiness of the city's history and the darkness of its past — which he feels might be projection on his part — and he wound up getting an apartment there.
His studio, previously in London, England, is still half-housed there. But the main pieces Corner uses are in his new place in Berlin. With real-estate prices being a lot more reasonable in Germany, Corner is able to have a much larger working space. That fact has allowed him to expand his setup to include live instruments, most of which he had in storage for years. “[I'm working less virtually] than I was a couple of years ago,” Corner says. “It becomes limited with virtual stuff. People get sick of hearing the same sounds.”
Corner's expanse of instruments is used in conjunction with a Mac G5 running Logic Pro 7 (for editing) and Propellerhead Reason 3.0 (for sketching). He tends to shy away from Logic's wealth of virtual instruments, opting instead for synthesizers, guitars, drums and old vinyl for sound sources. “It takes twice as long to get the same sound [with vinyl],” he says, “but I feel more comfortable doing that.”
Corner's latest album as IAMX, The Alternative (Acute, 2006), is infinitely more personal lyrically than anything he did with the Sneaker Pimps. Heavier, dirtier and more sinister than the Sneaker Pimps' listener-friendly sounds, The Alternative is almost industrial without the excessive noise. Taking the buzzes from that genre and mixing them with electro elements, orchestral washes and Corner's dangerous delivery makes for a tempting mix.
Despite the lack of soft synths, Corner balances live with programmed. Even when recording live, Corner tends to make it sound like it isn't, taking the “liveness” out, disconnecting it and making it alien to its origins. A few years ago, Corner embarked on a two-month sampling holiday. He is still using material from that time. “There are so many permutations you can have that I haven't needed much else,” Corner says. “Combining that with live stuff, you can make something unique.
“The beauty of [Propellerhead] ReCycle is that you can take an old sample and make it sound like yours,” he continues. “That's a really good tool for me. I chuck a sample into ReCycle, chop it up, slap it into Reason, beef it up, detune it, restructure it so everything is in a different order, then maybe loop it, record some drums on top of it and record a bass line to it. It's important to me to have no essence of the original sample there.”
At various points on The Alternative, Corner sings in a nonsense language, what he refers to as “demo-vocal language.” This language is what Corner uses as a placeholder for lyrics he hasn't thought of yet. “You know what rhythm you want, but you don't know what words will make that rhythm,” he explains. “Sometimes when you're writing, it has to be a certain way. If a rhythm is there, you come up with words you wouldn't have come up with.”
“Bring Me Back a Dog” is one of the tracks on The Alternative that uses this method. Starting with a malfunctioning microphone that Corner is convinced he can make work, said microphone started making a bizarre squeaky sound that can be heard at the beginning of the song and throughout on the vocals, making up the core of “Dog.” Originally recorded at double speed (150 bpm), “Dog” was sounding like a manic dance-punk number that Corner couldn't get comfortable with. Once he decided to half-speed it, add some grinding guitars and a clean raspy bass line using a Yamaha CS-5 keyboard, his nonsense language started to make sense.
“I'm a very brutal producer,” admits Corner. “I have a disrespect for the way you're supposed to do things because I have little patience with it. I go in at the deep end and see what sounds good. It's quite a seedy way to do it.”