Jared (left) and Mike Bell
If you saw Mike and Jared Bell at a party, you could easily tell them apart. Mike has shaggy hair and is the techno whiz. He's an “Ableton master,” raised on Radiohead and Boards of Canada, who records spoons clanking on metal bowls just for fun. Jared is the “creative master” and songwriter with close-cropped hair who devises the song structures.
Together they form Lymbyc Systym, an instrumental rock band that incorporates electronic elements and production methods. While the band's latest work — Shutter Release (Mush Records, 2009) — is a Vulcan mind-meld between siblings, it was birthed while the Bells were living in separate states.
“I would write a rough melodic framework, not always sure where it would go,” says Jared, explaining their remote production approach. “I would decide where I wanted harmonies or ideas, but nothing really ended up where it started. Then Mike would take the idea and chop them up into bits.”
During this recording process, Jared says, the brothers exchanged demos and samples at least 20 times, improving on each others' loops and beats, getting them ready for the final recording sessions at Uniform Recording in Philadelphia. Interestingly, while this process was often random and chaotic, it all came together at Uniform in late 2009 when they recorded guitars and live drums.
“I can tell you everything on every song — even the mechanics of it, which sound machine we used, which sample we used,” Mike says. “The original fragments that became the demos that became the album were basically rhythmic skeletons. My brother would make melodic fragments with kick and snare or electronic drum patterns, and then we'd build and build. It was crazy because the programming had evolved so much over the last two years, I cannot even find the original fragments.”
Mike says this recording was like the Madlib process often used on hip-hop albums and named after the oft-imitated artist for adding layers of sounds in a mishmash pattern. On “Bedroom Anthem,” for example, there's a grinding, oscillating sound that Mike created using a Roland Juno-106 patched through an old preamp that barely worked (see Web Clip 1). On several loops, he used the bit-reduction feature in Native Instruments Reaktor to create a more organic tone, crunching the digital bits until they sounded like airplane noise or a broken police alarm. On the fantastic “Contemporary Art,” there's another chaotic, droning alarm sound — an otherworldly buzz (see Web Clip 2). For most tracks, he would make adjustments to filters on the fly.
Mike says the most common problem with modern instrumental music is that artists will try to emulate what they think is cool — a loop from Four Tet, for example. The artist accomplishes the goal, but the music ends up sounding too imitative and dull. Jared helped keep the band's sound original by employing a diverse group of instruments, including a Wurlitzer 200A, a Hohner Clavinet D6, a Korg microKorg synth (to “add texture”), an old banjo and even a nylon-stringed guitar.
The brothers are definitely eclectic. They formed Lymbyc Systym (named after the emotional center of the brain and also because it looked cool) in 2001, and every project — Shutter Release is their second full-length album and fourth including EPs — has been entirely instrumental, save for a few playground screams (on “Teddy”) and a droning spoken word or two. Jared says they may try vocal recording at some point, and think they might use a remote process similar to the one they used on this album, although they now both live in New York and even occasionally make loops in the same room.
Home base: New York
Sequencer of choice: Ableton Live 6
Go-to keyboards: Wurlitzer 200A and Hohner Clavinet D6