Inside the Matrix Reloaded

Recording and Mixing a Blockbuster
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Recording and Mixing a Blockbuster

Star Wars, Star Trek — now The Matrix is on its way to becoming the next great sci-fi film franchise. The new Matrix Reloaded sequel is packing theaters around the world, and for good reason. It’s a full-scale, epic thriller that reunites the same celebrated cast and crew from the groundbreaking original. And, sooner than fans can say “white rabbit,” a third Matrix is due to hit theaters in November: The Matrix Revolutions. If that isn’t enough, a series of licensed products are appearing as well: The Enter the Matrix video game, a series of comic books, and nine animated Animatrix shorts, due out on DVD.

When press releases started to appear that touted the composers, producers, and engineers hard at work on the new Matrix projects, the EQ machine sprang into action. In all, we were able to meet up with four key figures from the Matrix musical camp: chief composer Don Davis, co-composer/ electronica specialist Ben Watkins, engineer Larry Mah, and musician/producer Chris Vrenna. We probed into their home studios, and discovered the inspiring details of how they helped bring this landmark extravaganza to life.

Don Davis
Talk about a batting average, Don Davis came straight out of the UCLA music program and started hitting Hollywood home runs. As an orchestrator, he lent his pen to The Incredible Hulk, Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, Pleasantville, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story, and the Oscar-winning Titanic. As a composer, he secured his place in Tinseltown history with Beauty and the Beast (TV series), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bound, Behind Enemy Lines, Jurassic Park 3, The Matrix, and now The Matrix Reloaded (to name just a few). As deeply rooted in tradition as Davis is, he has made the leap to cutting-edge computer-based writing, scoring, and recording. In his home studio, his sheet music is often digital, and his orchestra is a wall of samplers and Gigastudio-equipped PCs under the control of MOTU Digital Performer.

Davis scored the Matrix Reloaded in the Southern California home studio you see pictured on page 22, decked out with four brand new Yamaha 02R96s. It was there where he mocked up the massive Matrix orchestrations in 5.1 surround. Along the way he collaborated with electronica guru Ben Watkins on several key action sequences (see page 22), and ultimately conducted and recorded live orchestra and choir at the legendary 20th Century Fox soundstage.

Davis’s success on the original Matrix put him firmly in the composer’s seat for the subsequent thrillers. “The Wachowski brothers had conceived The Matrix as a trilogy from the very beginning,” he tells us. “I knew they had the intention of doing screenings in the future of all three films together, so they wanted to have continuity between the three pictures that was palpable. So you might say I approached Reloaded as the second movement of a 3-movement symphony.”

Before a note of music was recorded with live orchestra, Davis sequenced realistic mock-ups at home with his virtual orchestra. “Having orchestral mockups is essential to the brothers,” says Don, “so they can be part of the collaboration as well.” The orchestra consists of two Gigastudios along with banks of Roland S-760s, “which I still use extensively, and still sound great.” Don is quick to point out, however, that his transition to the digital world was a bit rough at first. “It took me quite a while to come to terms with it, to be honest. It wasn’t until the first Matrix that I got it going, and it was something of a baptism by fire at that. But I’ve determined that the best way to write is at the sequencer, and pop it in there as I would on a piece of paper. Then I work to get it to sound as convincing as possible.”

There are certain elements that Don chooses not to labor over, however. “Some samples don’t sound that well or function the same as a live instrument — woodwind ensemble writing, for example. In a big tutti orchestral situation, I’ll lay down the brass and the strings and percussion, but the woodwinds, when they’re sampled, don’t quite function the same way. They don’t really support the way real woodwinds do in an acoustical space. It’s a subtle thing, but if you have a big tutti, and the woodwinds are filling in a thick sound in the middle, you don’t quite hear it, but if it were gone you’d miss it. So to mock it up is kind of a waste of time.”

To start each cue, Don opens a template in Digital Performer, which houses hundreds of empty tracks for his banks of sampled instruments. “There are probably over 300 tracks,” laughs Don. “The reason there are so many is that I don’t like to go scrambling around for things as I’m writing. If a sound proves useful, I try to keep it around all the time.” The Digital Performer screenshot below shows a condensed version of Don’s sequence for the “Burly Brawl” scene. Note the instrument and device names along the left vertical strip, and the video window, which displays the 30-frame Quicktime movie. (For more on how Don and Ben started each writing session in Digital Performer, see the “How To")

To create his Reloaded orchestral mockups, Don used samples from a variety of sources, both custom and commercial. “I have the Kirk Hunter library, which I’ve found quite useful. And I’m still using some things from the Miroslav Vitous and Peter Siedlaczek libraries. I even use some of the early Prosonus libraries. There are certain things in that collection that nobody else has done better.” Such as . . . “The high violin harmonics are very, very useful, and I haven’t seen that in other libraries. Also, there are a number of string effects I find useful. Whoever was doing those samples just knew what to go for. The ‘firebird harmonic’ effects in the strings and random pizzicato things work nicely. They also have samples of all the strings playing glissandos up and glissandos down, and something they call ‘high string effects,’ which is all the strings playing their highest possible notes. That has become something of a new music cliché ever since Penderecki did it in his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, but it’s something that works very well in a lot of different film situations.”

Don’s right-hand man, ace engineer Larry Mah, staged some creative sampling sessions for Reloaded. Don explains: “Larry, along with Mark Zimoski, who’s one of my percussionists, made some very interesting recordings using dry ice on metallic instruments. We got the idea from Dane Davis, the sound-effects designer for The Matrix. He would get aluminum boats, and put dry ice on them. The ice would excite the metal, and he would record that and pitch it down. So when he told me about it, I thought, ‘Why not try that with tam-tams, cymbals, the inside of a piano?’”

“Anything metal was fair game,” adds Larry, “and Mark has a lot of percussion instruments. One of the most interesting sounds was when we scraped the ice slowly across the strings of the piano, a 7-foot grand. It would melt the ice as we scraped, causing the string to excite and vibrate in interesting ways. We tried scraping every metal object we could find, even furniture.” Don says his goal was to get “strange ambiences and creepy, scary sounds that weren’t part of someone else’s library.” You can hear the ice effects in Reloaded, most often when a villain is onscreen. “It’s happening almost always under Agent Smith,” Don reveals. “Also, Smith imbues his personality into a character named Bain, and after that happens you hear it often under Bain. It became part of the villain motif.”

Unlike the original Matrix, where Davis’s orchestral cues were interspersed with licensed tracks, Reloaded married the two styles. “Larry and Andy were very interested in having a fusion of orchestral music and electronica,” says Don, “and that’s what led to my collaboration with Ben Watkins on the two key action sequences: the ‘Freeway Chase’ and the ‘Burly Brawl,’ which is the big confrontation between Neo and the replicated Smiths. When I was first presented with that situation, I was scratching my head as to how it would work, and I think Ben was as well. But we evolved pretty quickly into a good working situation, and it turned out remarkably well. The end result was that we got the best of both worlds. Ben’s proficiency on electronica is second to none, and so we could rely on that when the picture needed that kind of rhythmic intensity. And my forte of course is the orchestra, so we were able to let that take over when it needed that kind of energy.”

Helping ease the Davis/Watkins collaboration was the fact that both used MOTU Digital Performer. As a result, they were able to exchange files with the greatest of ease. “For the ‘Burly Brawl’ sequence,” says Don, “Ben took the orchestral cue I had written and kind of broke it up, used parts of it, compressed it, and actually treated it as a sampled element. Then the files came back to me, and I scored some additional orchestral elements to what he had done.” At one point during the sequence the tempo races to over 200 bpm, and then accelerates from 200 to over 300 (!) within four bars. “The brothers asked me if the orchestra could handle it, and I said no,” laughs Don, “ unless we record the orchestra at the original tempo and then have Ben manipulate it in Digital Performer, which is what we did.”

As smooth as the collaboration between Davis and Watkins was, there were a few wrinkles to iron out. “I had to adapt Ben’s conductor tracks to my way of working, so I could give the orchestra a steady click. His ideas of what a click can do are rather fluid, and there are certain things he would do with the clicks that I knew I couldn’t throw at an orchestra — that kind of rapid shifting in tempo.” The solution? “I ended up breaking the pieces into sections, so when there was a new tempo, I’d have a new start for the orchestra. I’d end up taking fragments of his conductor tracks, and also taking the audio tracks and pasting fragments of them into a new file.”

With the sample tracks sequenced, approved, and orchestrated, it was time to replace the mockups with the living, breathing orchestra at Fox. As Don conducted, Armin Steiner performed a 5.1 mix in real time. “Armin is so experienced,” says Larry. “He knows what’s going to work in the theater, and he nails it right there live.” “His real gift is being able to read a room when he hears it,” adds Don, “and knowing where to place the instruments and microphones. Once he has it set up, there really isn’t much more he has to do.”

As Steiner hovered over the console, Larry captured the 6-channel surround mix in Pro Tools. In addition, a 16-track mix was recorded for backup purposes. “Those were submixes of violins 1, violins 2, basses, cellos, etc,” says Larry. “Armin has more than 16 mics out there, but he busses them to 16 channels. So, in addition to the 6-track surround mix, you get another 16, which are really only for emergency. I think we only had to access those split-outs once, for the ‘Burly Brawl.’”

As expected, the recorded results were explosive. “20th Century Fox is a very ambient space,” Larry enthuses. “It has a very nice room sound. Armin did enhance it with a bit of echo — an old Roland box [Dimension-D]. So the material had a good full quality, but it didn’t drip.”

Additional tone-sculpting after the fact wasn’t necessary, as Larry was able to run the surround mix as-is. “The reason I like working with Armin,” says Don “is because he hears the orchestra the way I hear it. I don’t think he ever does much in the way of EQing or anything like that. So I’m confident when I’m out there conducting that once I balance the orchestra the way I want it, that’s the way it’s going to get recorded.

“When it comes to orchestra,” Don continues, “I’m a big believer in that organic, natural sound, and I don’t go for a lot of manipulation of that sound. If you have an orchestra, it should sound like an orchestra. And if I want to support it with some synthesizer sounds or manipulated elements, then that exists within its realm. I really dislike the sound of orchestras that are doubled with synthesizers. I use samples and synths to mock up orchestral parts for demo purposes, but anything too far beyond that is just mimicry and not innovation. It’s really the worst way to utilize that technology. I think the real innovation with electronic music is not in mimicry but in discovering new worlds.”

Having said that, Davis did use a few instances of sampled horns and strings to help punctuate key phrases. “I typically don’t like to do that, but there were some situations where it helped bring things out front in the mix: staccato trumpets, for example. The live parts were perfectly fine, but the way they were sitting in the back of the room, the ambience, it was necessary to push them out front in the mix a few times, and supplementing the live with the sampled trumpets was the best way to do it. And every once in a while, when a string line got buried, Larry and I brought in the sampled strings just to help them penetrate the mix a little bit.” There were also ambient and processed sample tracks in addition to the orchestra tracks that were added to a number of cues. “Those were often big slams and pile-driver effects — Larry would mix them so the sounds would originate in the center speaker, and then they would spread around to the surrounds.”

At the dubbing sessions, Larry and Don supplied three layers of digital audio. “We gave them stems for the orchestra, choir, and the synths,” says Don, “so they had the three elements there, which, if they put up straight-line, would be our mix of it. But then the directors could have the option to raise or lower the various elements as the need may arise.”

With Reloaded now in theaters, Don reflects on what he’s accomplished with the project. “This is the pinnacle of what I’ve done so far,” he says, “and the great thing about it is the fact that there are three of these — I think all of us realized that it probably isn’t going to be better than this, ever, no matter what we do. So luckily we get to enjoy this three times over.” Don is set to start working on the third, Matrix Revolutions, by the time you read this. Will there be more orchestral meets electronica in store? “That’s up to the directors, but I’m looking forward to whatever challenges they throw my way.”

BEN WATKINS (a.k.a. Juno Reactor)
For over a decade, Juno Reactor has been at the forefront of cutting-edge electronic music. Juno mastermind Ben Watkins was putting the finishing touches on an 11-song retrospective collection called Odyssey when his phone rang. “‘Do you fancy coming over for a chat, having a look at some [Matrix Reloaded] footage, and seeing if you want to write something for it?’ You could say it was one of those magical nail-your-boots-to-the-floor moments to keep from flying away. So I met up with the team, saw the ‘Freeway Chase,’ and it all started from there.” Turns out that four Juno Reactor tracks had been used in the temp score for that long, dramatic chase scene, so it made perfect sense to go right to the source. “When I first met the Wachowski brothers,” says Ben, “what they really wanted was someone who could come in and work with Don [Davis] — someone to bring hard electronica and orchestra together, and to make the two worlds feel like they were meant to live in the same space. They were very specific about what they wanted, what they were looking for.”

The initial meeting between Davis and Watkins went well. “I met up with Don,” says Ben, “and it felt really easy, despite the fact that we came from two very different worlds musically. I knew he had his reservations about working with a ‘knob twiddler’ [laughs]. But luckily I think I have a slightly deeper knowledge than your average electronica producer.”

Ben’s first order of business was to create a demo for aforementioned chase scene, “which, in its entirety, is about 15 minutes long. The section I was writing for is about ten and a half minutes long. When they played me the temp, it had four Juno Reactor tracks in it. I thought, ‘Bollocks, those four tunes are some of the best we’ve ever done, and they took ages to put together!’“ Ages was something Ben didn’t have. Days was more like it.

“I did a lot of research on the types of classical things I wanted,” says Ben. He devoured his classical music collection, scoured CD shops for additional material, and eventually selected a few pre-recorded passages for demo purposes, knowing that original orchestral music would be written and recorded by Davis. Ben then sampled the classical clips into MOTU Digital Performer, time-compressed and pitch-shifted them to fit his song template, and created a hybrid demo to play for Davis and the brothers. “My demo had my electronic ideas mixed with orchestral samples in much the same way their temp had Don’s orchestral work mixed with my [Juno] tracks.”

The scene shifted in January when Ben packed up a container-load of gear from his studio (“my computer, my favorite analog keyboards and effects”) and flew out to Los Angeles. Working side by side with Davis, Ben found that some of his original demo material was perfect, but a fair amount was stripped out or replaced. “I don’t think I changed much during the first two and a half minutes, but the brothers would often suggest certain things. ‘Take this out, ‘cause it will interfere with the sound effects,’ and so on. With Juno Reactor music, whenever I write an album, I always think of it as a little story or film in itself, so it has lots of atmospheric noises and effects sounds, and I found that I had to take all of those out, which was weird for me. Suddenly you’re left with what they really want, which is down to the bone and muscle. They want only the elements that really make the track work, and they aren’t interested in all the other stuff that we put on albums because the [Foley and sound design] effects go in, and they’re really loud, so what you put in has to be the essential raw material.”

With tracks stripped to the bone, Ben describes his mental state at the time as “a bemused sheep in the headlights. The music had a shape, but I wasn’t quite getting it at the time. So, with everything stripped down, I started adding some analog synth.” Ben brought his beloved Alesis Andromeda, Sequential Pro-One, and Korg MonoPoly. “The MonoPoly is my favorite analog synth, because it has this twang quality like a guitar.” When recording “I generally go for a flat, clean sound. No compression, no EQ. The board I use in England, and brought to America as well, is an Amek Media 5.1 board, which is a brilliant analog 5.1 console. All processing generally happens after everything is recorded in Digital Performer.”

Ben can program drums with the best of them, but “after having done years of drum programming, I now prefer to get in a real drummer and have them bash away. When I listen to electronic drums now, they sound dead and boring, although I still have to use them for effect. But in all honesty, I think I much prefer the sound of a real percussionist or drummer sweating over a drum kit.” When Ben is called upon to program percussion, his “machine” of choice is Native Instruments’ Reaktor, “which I think is capable of some of the most mad sounds out there.”

During the Matrix sessions, Ben tried to bring a percussion ensemble over from Capetown. “I’d worked with them as Juno Reactor, and really wanted to get them over here. But we kept running into problems, mainly that the main percussionist had gone missing [laughs]. So we couldn’t get him on it, which was a real shame, but actually he ended being on it because I had some previous material that I just had to time-stretch a bit.”

TASCAM Gigastudios and Roland samplers were used to add orchestral elements to the demos. I’d grab some horns and various samples,” says Ben, “and Don would say, ‘Good, let’s use these as temp ideas, run with them, take them as influences, and see where they lead us.’ Then he’d fill in all of the sections that didn’t have my parts. We did many revisions for the brothers, and before we knew it, our orchestra dates were in front of us.”

Those sessions would produce the source material that replaced all mock-ups on the demos. “We recorded the orchestra,” says Ben, “then went about going through all the takes, picking out which ones were good. On rare occasions we’d cut up bits here and there to make them fit, but not too often. Then we went in and recorded an 80-piece choir, and by this time you realize you’re getting very close to the final deadline to deliver everything in 5.1.”

With layers of pounding electronica tracks, walls of percussion, 80-piece choirs, and huge symphonic mixes to sift through, the task of final editing and mixing was daunting to say the least. “What we did at that point was make stems and pass data back and forth. I’d make stereo tracks of the drums, synths, and everything from my session files, and give them to Don along with the conductor track. I’d then go back to my studio with submixed tracks of the orchestra and his conductor track.”

Once the orchestral and electronic tracks were approved, all material was shuttled to O’Henry in Burbank, “where they have the most amazing 5.1 room,” says Ben, “although I’m not a fan of SSL boards. But it’s a great room, and we did the mixes there. In all we ran over 88 channels through that SSL board. At times we’d have three, four, or five 5.1 stems. We’d split the orchestra up. . . . For some of the takes, Don would separate the strings and brass, for example, so each could be manipulated.”

The end result, as you’ll hear in the film, is an ultra-dramatic cue that occurs about 70 minutes into the film. “The cue is sort of split up into two sections,” says Ben. “The first part is slower and groovier, which I call ‘Dante.’ That has more of a rock/dub-vibe to it, running at about 78 bpm. That’s the two and a half minutes before the chase itself. Then, as soon as you kick onto the freeway, bang, you’re at 137 bpm. For the next eight minutes or so you have stops, where the electronica drops out and Don’s thing is going. Meanwhile, you’re seeing these cars mashing up and flying and doing things you’ve never seen before, then the electronica kicks back in during the most important punctuation points.” Clearly this collaboration has made an impression on Watkins. “The music is all over the place. It’s like a journey, not one of these boring DJ tracks or electronica pieces made for the morons. It’s electronica and orchestra that travels.”

Another Davis/Watkins collaboration appears 50 minutes into the film. It’s referred to as the “Burly Brawl” sequence, and Ben equates the music to a “weird Frank Zappa tune. Where the orchestra is running at 150 bpm, my tracks are running [in tandem] at 175. Then, at one point, I go up to around 200 bpm, and he’s still running at 150. And then in the space of four or five bars, I speed up from 200 to 250, then there’s a little break, and everything goes to 304 bpm. We got the choir to do things, which we later chopped up into little tiny bits. So in the same way that the film presents things that are impossible to do, so too does our music. I think ‘Burly Brawl’ is interesting in that sense, and I feel it reflects what the brothers were really pushing us to get.”

If you haven’t delved into music-for-picture, don’t be intimidated. Even Watkins struggled early on in this project. “I was really a novice at this, but luckily I had a music editor, Zig Gr¨n, who was an enormous help. He would show me things, how to read the film, how to get a better idea of what the brothers were looking for, etc. I was doing everything by eye, and only later did I learn there are programs specifically for this task, like [Opcode] Cue. All the same, everything worked well doing it the way we did.

“It was an immense honor to come over and work on this film,” Ben concludes. “And just to survive it, and be able to turn out something that the guys were happy with, was the icing on the cake.”

Survival is right. It’s no secret that the Wachowski brothers are a demanding duo to work for. “They just keep pushing the envelope,” says Ben. “It seemed like everyone I was working with kept telling me, ‘Look, don’t think anyone else is like this in L.A. These guys are unusual in how incredibly focused they are. After two months, I was completely knackered by this level of focus. And you think about what they’re doing — looking after everything from the visual effects, the music, the editing, the film as a whole, plus the games, the Animatrix, the next film. . . . You think, ‘My God how do they keep their brains together?’ I don’t know.”

The Reloaded soundtrack will be available on CD (Warner Brothers) by the time you read this.

The Matrix story doesn’t end in movie theaters. The Animatrix series and Enter The Matrix videogame are much more than mere add-ons. Enter The Matrix is a “story-within-the-story,” which weaves in and out with the movie’s storyline. “Developed under the creative direction of Matrix filmmakers Larry and Andy Wachowski,” say Warner Brothers, “the game features insane car stunts and gravity-defying martial arts that bend the rules of the Matrix. This game isn’t just set in the Matrix universe — it’s an integral part of the entire Matrix experience.”

The Wachowski brothers have a reputation for hiring great music, so it’s no surprise that Grammy-winner Chris Vrenna was commissioned to write and record one of the game’s key action tracks. Chris was a founding member of Nine Inch Nails, and has since worked with an impressive list of artists, including Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Hole, Wallflowers, Green Day, POD, and more.

When Vrenna got the call from the Matrix game liaison at Shiny Entertainment, he dropped everything to take the project. “They were looking for some original electro-rock pieces for the game,” says Chris. “They wanted something fast and hard, no vocals and breakdowns. It was pure action, which made it challenging because I’m used to doing songs. I’m used to leaving space for a vocal, a chorus, kicking things up for a bridge, and none of that was going on here. It needed to be one continuous piece that could play from beginning to end, but each section had to sound logical when looped. I believe they were planning to break every song up into 2-, 4-, or 8-bar pieces. When you triggered every piece consecutively, the song would play as written. But, depending on what the game action was doing, they could stop at a section and loop it, and then eventually move on.”

Because of this, Chris had to be cautious of where sustained material was placed in the song. “As long as it didn’t go over a logical bar break, then it was cool. But I avoided doing things like a [cymbal] crash on an upbeat before a major change to a downbeat.” As he was mixing, Chris would select sections in his Pro Tools files and activate loop-playback, “just to make sure everything would work when looped in the game.”

The turnaround time for the project was “less than a week. My guitar player Clint [from Chris’s band Tweaker] came in to play guitar, and that was it. We had to crank that puppy out fast.”

Here’s how “Take the Pill” came together:
“The whole thing started with the guitar riff,” Chris explains, “a big heavy metal-sounding thing. We basically got a click going, then we recorded the riff. I like tube gear, so I use a Mesa/Boogie TriAxis for the big sounds, and also a Marshall JMP-1 [both rack modules]. They’re the best sounding and most natural recording boxes I’ve found for guitar. I use a Line 6 Pod too, but more for the clean stuff.” For this track, the guitar was recorded through the TriAxis into a Neve mic pre, into a Yamaha 02R, and onto the Apogee Rosetta AD en route to Pro Tools. “I tend to use the Neve channel for guitars,” says Chris, “the APIs for drums, and the Summit TD-100s and GMLs for synths.”

The guitar riff on “Take the Pill” is locked airtight to the track, but Chris doesn’t edit his live-played parts too heavily. “I go for performance takes usually, because lately, in the last year and a half or so, I’ve heard so many records that are chopped to the point of no soul. I’m trying to get away from that.

So I’ll have Clint play a pass or two until we get one, rather than chopping every 16th-note. Then, we’ll solo it, and double to the solo.”

If you examine the Pro Tools file for this song, you’ll notice several guitar layers, labeled Mesa, Mesa-Dbl, Mesa-Paul, Paul, and Paul Dbl.

“We always do the first main guitar take until we get it perfect,” says Chris, “then we go back and do a double of it for that super-wide stereo effect. You really can’t get that sound any other way than by double-playing the part and panning them hard right and left. Then I’ll add a new track in the middle. I tend to layer things by frequency. In this case my Mesas were providing the big lower tone, and I filled in the middle with a mid-tone. If you’re going for a super metal scooped sound, you can put your scoop sound on the outside [hard right and left] and a nice midrange track in the middle.”

Chris is famous for his hard-hitting drumming in Nine Inch Nails, so it’s not surprising to hear the pile-driving grooves in “Take the Pill.” “Even though I’m a drummer, I often do drums last,” Chris admits, “because it’s more about the melodic content first and foremost.” The drumming on this song consisted of “Spectrasonics Stylus through a BombFactory 1176 plug-in, which I was hitting pretty hard. I love that the loops in Stylus are Groove Controlled, so I can put them up, find a cool bank of sounds, and make my own beats out of them. It’s like having everything pre-ReCycled.” Chris also used IK Multimedia’s SampleTank for additional drum and percussion layers.

Metric Halo Channel Strip was used to make what Chris describes as “a baby guitar.” It’s what starts the song. “It’s my favorite effect. I love that plug-in. It does ‘radio EQ’ better than anything else.”

The spooky synth pad was created with Spectrasonics Atmosphere — Chris’s favorite soft synth. The percolating synth line was sequenced with an Access Virus plug-in, which you’ll see in the VS Arp MIDI track below.

There are non-synth pulsing effects in the song as well. “The chopped guitar effects parts you hear started out as straight, sustained guitar chords through an Electrix Filter Factory. Then I put up a 32nd-note grid in Pro Tools, started chopping out slices, and added a small 3ms fade at the head and tail of each piece. It’s the best way to get super-tight tremolo-type patterns.” The song features two such sliced guitar parts: One is a straight 16th-note pattern, the other is the syncopated riff shown here:

For mixing, Chris relied on his trusty Yamaha 02R. “I like to keep a one-to-one output from Pro Tools to the console,” he explains. “I have three [Digidesign] 888s going digitally into the 02R, so everything is submixed down to 24 outs into the 02R. I do my automation moves in Pro Tools, otherwise I try to leave all my Pro Tools faders at zero, and I set levels on the 02R. When I need to recall a mix, I can just recall the scene on the 02R, put the Pro Tools session back up, and there I go.”

Once the song was tracked and tweaked, Chris pumped the mix from the 02R’s analog stereo outs through a rented SSL bus compressor, into a [Apogee] Rosetta AD, and into an awaiting stereo track in Pro Tools. “Since there are two AESs [on the Rosetta], I usually send one pair to Pro Tools and another to CD as a backup.”

Even though Chris plans to upgrade his 02R soon, he has some fond parting words for the old workhorse. “I’ve owned a lot of gear, but only two pieces of gear have done a consistently perfect job for me, and those are my Mac 9600 and the 02R. Both have been the most stable, solid, and efficient gear I’ve owned, so I’m pretty committed to the 02 format. I’ve listened to the 02R96, and it sounds pretty good. I like the new feature set, and I like that they’ve included a Pro Tools HUI-emulation layer.”

And about that old Mac, “I ran that 9600 for five years before I finally upgraded. Up until recently, before people started making RTAS stuff, your processor didn’t really matter that much because it was all on the [Digidesign DSP] cards. But then I got my first native software synth, got it going, and [makes screeching noise] . . . it brought the 9600 to its knees. ‘If I’m gonna go into this software synth world, it’s time to upgrade my machine,’” which he did to a G4 933.

For more, visit Chris online at And to get a closer look at the game, go to