Montreal Pop

Synthetic and acoustic collide on WhiteRoom's CD.
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WhiteRoom/Dray and Silva (left and right, respectively) in their studio.

At the core of the band WhiteRoom is the duo of Alex Dray and Eddy Silva, who started playing together during high school in Montreal, Canada. The pair drifted in and out of bands on the Montreal scene, trying out various musical directions and influences. Five years later, they “gave up natural light and hunkered down in a claustrophobic basement bunker,” says Dray. “To call it a studio at that time would have been delusional, since it was essentially a bare room with a computer running Steinberg Cubase 5, a sound card, and two pairs of $20 headphones.”

Dray and Silva invited in musicians, including horn and string players and a classical guitarist. They blended those instruments and a range of inventive synthetic textures and sound design into more rock-oriented rhythm tracks. The result? A sound that they call “neoromantic pop,” which is described on the band's Web site as indie rock that drifts “fluidly between Latin jazz, urban beats, haunting trip-hop, and romantic cinema soundscapes.”

The band's debut CD, WhiteRoom (Freeworld Records, 2006), was recorded on a Dell Pentium III computer with an Event Gina 16-bit sound card running Cubase 5. Dray and Silva consider themselves “children of the digital domain” and therefore had no inclination to track to analog tape. “We disagree fundamentally with audiophiles who swear that tape-based systems, tube compressors, and vinyl recordings have a ‘soul’ that is lacking in digital setups,” Dray says. “Of course, we have some beautiful pieces of analog gear: a Roland Juno 60, a Roland JX-3P, and a Korg MS-20 are prized possessions. We used the Roland Space Echo RE-201 lavishly and with great affection. For sampling we used an Akai S6000, which has its own particular D/A A/D coloration and warmth.”

All the instruments were tracked with a stereo pair of Shure SM81s and an AKG 414 BULS — in a room with low ceilings and very little acoustic treatment. “We had to close-mic everything to reduce the effect of flutter tones, flanging and phasing, and just about every other nasty room noise that you can imagine,” Dray says. Vocals were captured primarily with an M-Audio Luna mic.

Once the songs entered the production phase, they often went in unforeseen directions. “On the song ‘Ender,’ Shen Qi was invited to improvise on erhu [a 2-stringed Chinese instrument that's bowed like a violin]. We were left with about an hour of material from which we created a one-minute solo. The solo itself contains over 100 different samples from the original improvisation, edited together to make a fluid musical line,” Dray says.

Live drums were generally tracked last. Dray and Silva upgraded to the 8-input, 20-bit Layla card and borrowed some mics, including an AKG D112, a few more SM81s, and some SM57s. “Almost every song was recorded and produced initially to sequenced drums,” Dray says. “Although it made performance difficult and adjustments were [often] made after tracking was finished (but with no Beat Detective-type editing, thank you very much), there are many instances when we chose to double-layer the original sequencing with live drums over the top.”

Dray sums it up: “In retrospect, we'd like to think that that was our goal for the whole album — to move casually in and out of electronic, synthetic, and acoustic instrumentation without ever making statements like ‘This is the electronica bit!’ and ‘This is the acoustic bit!’”

RIFFS

WhiteRoom

Home base: Montreal Canada

Sequencer of choice: Steinberg Cubase 5

Primary vocal mic: M-Audio Luna

Web site: www.whiteroom.ca