Modular Mayhem (Minus)

Minus is a fixture in the Pacific Northwest's improvisational music scene. Based in Corvallis, Oregon, Minus comprises Mark France on guitar and vocals,

Minus is a fixture in the Pacific Northwest's improvisational music scene. Based in Corvallis, Oregon, Minus comprises Mark France on guitar and vocals, Dave Trenkel on bass and keyboards, and Henry Franzoni on drums. France and Trenkel produced the band's second album, Dark Lit, which combines elements of metal, psychedelic rock, jazz, dub, funk, and the avant-garde.

“We wanted to make a big-sounding rock record as cheaply as possible,” Trenkel says. “I wanted to keep the feel of a power trio playing in a room.” The band booked time in a studio for recording basic tracks. “It was good to turn part of it over to somebody else whom I completely trusted and just concentrate on playing,” Trenkel says. “When the basic tracks were done, I could go into geek mode and tweak things. When I try to engineer myself, I'm not satisfied with the results on either end of it.”

Minus recorded 18 tracks in four days at Tucker Martine's Flora Avenue Studio in Seattle. “Almost everything was done in one or two takes,” Trenkel says. Martine recorded the trio onto two-inch analog tape with an MCI JH-16, 16-track reel-to-reel machine. “On the last day, we rented a pair of ADATs and transferred everything to ADAT,” says Trenkel. Back home, he borrowed an ADAT deck and transferred eight tracks at a time into his Power Mac 8500 (with a G3/300 MHz processor) through a Korg DRS SoundLink 1212 I/O PCI card. “I did all the transfers to [BIAS's] Deck, but about two-thirds of the way through the project, I switched to [Emagic's] Logic Audio,” Trenkel says.

The band continued tracking in Trenkel's home studio, the Blinky Room, located in a spare bedroom and outfitted with an A.R.T. Dual MP tube preamp, an FMR Audio RNC1773 compressor, a Joemeek C2 compressor, and a Frontier Design Group Zulu analog-to-digital converter. France and Trenkel overdubbed guitar, synths, and vocals. Guest musicians Dave Storrs and DJ Scratch 'n' Sniff provided percussion and turntable parts, respectively.

Trenkel is a self-described “analog synth fiend” and used his Synthesis Technology MOTM modular-synth system to process instruments, vocals, and effects on several of the songs. “You can get these terrific cutting sounds that work well against big guitar sounds and big drums,” Trenkel says. For example, “on the first tune, ‘Melvohol,’ the ring modulator adds this gritty effect. The bass part is run through a pair of MOTM-420 [voltage-controlled] filters being swept by two low-frequency oscillators [LFOs] that are not synchronized to each other, so you hear the bass wander from one speaker to the other.”

The Mac played a central role in the recording. “All of the mixing was done in the computer,” he says. “I think that this project pushed the limits of what you could do on an 8500. One tune, ‘Blum Blum Shub,’ had 34 tracks in the final mix, but it worked.” However, Trenkel notes that live-trio tracks such as “3 Bad Brothers” and “Baby Steps” were mixed only with EQ and compression.

Trenkel also mastered Dark Lit at home. “Even if you have the capability of doing mastering yourself, it's a good idea to take it to someone else just to get another perspective on it,” he says. “I took the mixes around to a number of my friends. I also made friends with the guy who runs the local high-end audio store.

“We are working on a remix version of the CD,” Trenkel adds. “I've handed out tracks to friends of ours who are working on them right now. I want to be surprised by the results.”

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