There is a romanticism attached to Brooklyn, N.Y. That may be a strange way to put it, but think about it: the number of call-outs in hip-hop tracks, the number of Triple Five Soul hoodies, the number of novels set in Brooklyn. More recently, the number of bands, sprouting from what is more of a suburb than a borough of Manhattan, is booming. This is where longtime music personality DB and DJ/producer Stakka (aka Shaun Morris) make their respective expatriate homes — both are from the UK — and where they gave birth to Ror-Shak.
Located in a room in Stakka's apartment in the Cobble Hill district, Ror-Shak's studio has only basic acoustic treatments on the walls, which means the guys trust the mixing phase on headphones rather than monitors. But Ror-Shak spent money where they felt it counted most. They record on a PC running Cubase SX3 with an RME soundcard and Lavry Blue Series A/D converters. The main bits of outboard gear include an SSL Stereo Bus Compressor, Neve 1073 EQ and Electro-Harmonix and Boss pedals.
Both DB and Stakka come from drum 'n' bass backgrounds. That makes the mellow, song-oriented and vocal-driven nature (featuring Lisa Shaw, Julee Cruise and other guests) of the duo's debut full-length, Deep (Koch, 2007), a pleasant surprise. Minimally drum 'n' bass, Deep is about tactile, moody vibes and emotional stirrings. The most noticeable thing is the immense amount of space between elements, particularly the voices, which have plenty of room to exist unfettered — an anomaly in drum 'n' bass.
“There's something to be said for the way the bus system in Cubase works when you group and send stuff within the internal mixer,” Stakka explains. “The actual summing of the bus mix within Cubase is slightly warmer and has got its own sound. A lot of the plug-ins we got are from [Universal Audio] UAD-1, which is a DSP card. A lot of those are based on vintage analog gear, and they've got it pretty accurate. They tend to sound warm and chunky. We worked on making sure sounds aren't fighting for the same space in the mix.”
To avoid repetition and create space, Ror-Shak merges together sounds playing the same riff to create one big sound rather than panning them separately into individual sounds. Conversely, for the string sounds, which are taken from the EastWest Symphonic Orchestra VSTi, a violin, for instance, is created pitching five different tracks away from each other to emulate the sound of five people playing the instrument.
This method of layering is also used on vocals, which are dealt with more in postproduction than during recording. “We take one vocal track and get an EQ of it sounding nice, make sure it's bright enough, that there's enough air on the top and that the bottom end is taken out of it to make the vocal stand out in the mix,” Stakka says. “Then, we set up a bus system in Cubase and run about four or five vocal tracks on top of each other, experimenting with different compressors on different tracks to give a layered sound. On some I might hit the compressors harder than others, then take that whole group mix and send it to a reverb. Maybe on one of the stacks, I'll put on a chorus and blend all of those to suit how I want the vocal to be in certain places on the track.”
Stakka and DB also put a microscope on song-section transitions to ensure that the song would shift powerfully, yet seamlessly. “A lot of the attention to detail came with how things would come into and leave the mix,” he says. “If the guitars were going over the chorus part that [a vocalist] was singing over, I would do some kind of dub delay on one particular word and use that as an effect that went into the next verse.”
Meanwhile, on Ror-Shak's cover of The Cure's “A Forest,” sung by Morningwood's Chantal Claret, effects were generated by sounds already recorded in the track. “If you make an effect out of the tail of a vocal, which you then reverse into the vocal, it all sounds like it's part of the track,” Stakka says. “It doesn't sound like you've just thrown in an effect from some random source.”