It seems like everyone is doing it old-school. From T Bone Burnett recording drums with a single RX44 microphone to the Foo Fighters recording direct to tape sans computer, analog is making a comeback. Even in electronic “dance” music, once thought to be digitally sacrosanct, sample jockeys are turning to analog consoles, outboard effects, even damaged keyboards. Just ask Guillermo Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73, who used a melted Novation for his latest album, The Only She Chapters (Warp).
“My old Novation keyboard sat on top of an electric heater until its circuit boards melted,” Herren says. “When it cooled off, I started using it. It sounded like the most insane guitar feedback ever. I didn''t have to do anything nerdy or scientific to create this, I just had to cook my keyboard. It morphed itself into My Bloody Valentine in a box.”
Recording female vocals, bass, drums, keyboards, and guitar through a series of an A.P.I. 7800 Master Modules and Pro Tools, Brown also relied on a handful of outboard/plug-in processors (EL Distressors, UBK Fatso, SPL Transient Designer, Morevox Retroverb Plate Reverb) and drum machines (Sequential Circuits Drum Tracks, MPC 2000XL, Elektron Machine Drum). But the bulk of his effects were created by experimenting with mic placement, often resulting in a blurring effect, like melodies captured in water flowing through the speakers.
“I did it the dirty old-school way, just using really random miking techniques,” Herren says. “Probably the most unprofessional route you could go: Miking any hollow-body instrument with a contact mic, then capturing it again with a nice mic at a different space in the room. Then I combined those two and created an interesting vibration out of them.”
Herren also adapted delay times, and used meter as a counterpoint device. “I wanted to create multiple delay points and different delay times, but using the same source material to create a textural blur that feels like the wind is blowing against you.” He attempts to explain: “I set up mics at different points in echo chambers to take advantage of delay times. If the delay time was 10 or 15 or 20, then if the sections of the song were in 4/4, then 3/4, then I let those delays and sections compete against each other. You build and build and it creates that blurring effect; juxtaposing the delay times.”
Currently collaborating with the Flaming Lips for their next album (Jimmy Page and Neon Indian are other collaborators), Brown says the workload was more intense on The Only She Chapters, but ultimately more fun.
“This was about trying to capture vibrations and going complete crazy old-school electro acoustic,” he laughs. “Like the old BBC engineers wearing white gloves and lab coats.”