San Francisco-based songwriter, vocalist, and electronica artist Artemis gained widespread notoriety with her 2001 debut album, Undone. Her follow-up effort is Gravity (Magnatune, 2004), which further refines her approach to producing lush, intricate trip-hop and electro-pop. For Gravity, Artemis collaborated with longtime bandmates Keith Crusher and David Earl, among others. “We use sampled sounds and live instrumentation,” she says of their production process.
Artemis began composing songs for Gravity in 2002. “Everything starts from software synths and loops,” she says. “But I don't have one formula. In the summer of 2003, I rented a flat in northern Scotland to focus on the album. I brought my PowerBook G4, a Novation Remote 25 keyboard controller, an SE Electronics Z5600 [condenser mic], and a hard drive.” While in Scotland, Artemis exchanged ideas with musicians Kolin Fraser of Scotland and Michael Jordan of Germany.
In 2004, production moved into Earl's home in Oakland, California. Earl's project studio has a dual-processor Mac G4/867 MHz machine running Apple Computer's Logic Pro 6, a MOTU 828 mkII audio interface, a Mackie Universal Control control surface, a Roland SH-101 synth, and an M-Audio Keystation Pro 88 keyboard controller. “I use virtual instruments such as Native Instruments Komplete 2, Propellerhead Reason, GMedia M-Tron, and Apple EXS24,” Earl adds. “I use Spectrasonics Liquid Grooves a lot, Logic's native plug-ins, and Waves' Gold Native Bundle.”
For Gravity, Earl needed to bring certain sessions from 2001 into the present. “In 2001, I started converting songs to stems, or submixes,” Earl says. “Now I can open [those] sessions.” In addition, Artemis says, “We all migrated from OS 9 to OS X during this [production]. In the transition, we lost some plug-ins. Some songs turned out differently — and much better, I think. But it took a leap of faith.” Earl adds, “Sometimes I had to manually reassign plug-in settings and instruments.”
Good file management was critically important. “File transfers aren't a problem,” Earl says. “We all work in Logic. I have files on my hard drive of the original sessions, the stem mixes, and the final mixes. All our songs have version numbers that are created every time there's a major change.”
The music on Gravity is heavily reliant on sound design. “In ‘Prayer,’ we have rattlesnakes, wolves, wind chimes, campfires, and more,” Earl says. “For ‘Sync or Swim,’ we recorded an old Parker Brothers Merlin [computer] game from 1978,” Earl says. “I used strip silence in Logic to create regions for the bloops and bleeps. I imported them into the EXS24 and used them for a melody. ‘Beautiful Life’ has clocks, crickets, birds, machine shops, and other sounds. The intro to ‘Inception’ [includes] the conning tower of an aircraft carrier, some ham radio noise, and jets. There are atomic bombs, M16s, marching [soldiers], sirens, grenades, and other devices.”
The group recorded cello, guitar, kora, and vocal tracks at Pyramind, a school for music and media production where Earl teaches Logic courses. “Controlled environments are still needed when recording some instruments,” Earl says. They felt that the Z5600 mic was especially well suited for Artemis's voice. “My voice has a bump in it around 500 Hz,” Artemis says. “It's tricky finding a mic that adds presence without losing that warmth.”
Earl and Crusher mixed the album in Logic at Pyramind. “I brought in my CPU, my 828, and my Mackie control surface,” he says. “The room is tuned really well. Also, Pyramind has a Genelec 5.1 system, and using a subwoofer makes all the difference in the world.”