Music Without Borders

Balkan Beat Box mixes styles and studio methods.

The music on Balkan Beat Box's (BBB) latest CD, Nu Med (JDub, 2007), is an original blend of Middle Eastern folk influences and electronica. The band describes its mix of organic and electronic elements as “musical nomadism.” BBB cofounder and saxophonist Ori Kaplan says the new CD is a musical vision of what the music from the Mediterranean would sound like if borders were removed. “Musical connections are made by BBB that politics often keep separate,” Kaplan says. Kaplan and Tamir Muskat anchor the BBB lineup, which also includes vocalist Tomer Yosef and a host of guest artists.

Balkan Beat Box (from left): Ori Kaplan, Tomer Yosef, Tamir Muskat.

Nomadic is also an apt description of the recording process for Nu Med. Although BBB usually works at its own studio, called Vibromonk, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, much of this CD was recorded with friends over the last two years as the band toured through places like Israel and Morocco as well as European destinations such as Bulgaria. “We traveled to record our favorite guitar player in Israel in a friend's living room, for example,” says Kaplan. “Some vocals came from London via the Internet, and some vocals were recorded in the Middle East.”

No formula exists for how BBB puts a song together, says Muskat. “The song ‘Habibi Min Zaman’ started as a drum beat with nothing on it. Then Itamar Ziegler came to Vibromonk, dropped this great bass line and cool guitar hook, and that was it. Later we played the song to our friend, Damascus' Dunia, who normally sings in traditional Egyptian style. He loved the beat. Then we sat down in the room and the song came together in a few hours.”

“Joro Boro” evolved in the opposite way. Dessislava Stefanova, of the London Bulgarian Choir, recorded the vocals a cappella and emailed his track from London. “Everything else was built around those vocals,” Muskat explains.

The CD features an interesting collection of instruments and sounds. “We used tones from electronic machines, such as old Korg and Univox drum machines, Moog synthesizers, and 1980s electronic drum pads,” says Muskat. “We also used a lot of samples I collected from old recordings, or loops I prepared during the year.”

When the band works on a song, they make a lot of mixing decisions as they go. This time “since we were traveling and recording anything we wanted without a board, we mixed the whole album on the computer first with plug-ins and analog stuff on the inserts that were recorded back to the computer. When we were done mixing, we were super happy with how the album sounded. I never thought I'd be able to sonically enjoy an all-in-the-computer mix,” says Muskat. Still, he couldn't rest without mixing everything again through the board with all the “good analog gear” at Vibromonk.

“The second time, we kept the balance between the tracks, the EQs, and the effects the same as the first mix, but just went through the analog chain, preamp, compressors, etc. Those mixes took first place, no question about it; they were much larger and warmer,” Muskat says.

For mixing, BBB used an MCI analog board and outboard compressors from Daking and Empirical Labs (the Distressor). The band also loves using analog effects such as plate reverbs and old Mica-Tone and Farfisa effects.

Muskat says the band won't change its freestyle method of recording. “It keeps our minds open, and you won't believe how many beautiful surprises we run into because we work this way.”


Balkan Beat Box

Home base: Brooklyn, NY

Console used: MCI analog board

Dynamic duo: Empirical Labs and Daking compressors

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