Dance and electronic music have always held the capacity to free the imagination and kick-start the soul. And while the all-important beat is typically revered, certain bold souls have expressed a more visual, even cinematic component in their music. In the '90s, Hollywood films such as The Jackal and City of Industry latched on to drum ‘n'' bass and trip-hop, using experimental textures to create mood music for sinister story lines. In the wake of Trainspotting, Ohm+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music and even the barmy It's All Gone Pete Tong, there exists an even larger audience for music that mixes the lush textures of soundtrack composers — like John Barry and Nino Rota — with a four-to-the-floor groove. A seemingly impenetrable wall has always existed, until now.
“Where we come from sonically and what we try to do musically — the two are fairly linked,” Hybrid's Mike Truman says from a session at L.A.'s Wavecrest Studios. “One of our great passions is spending hours with Reaktor and MetaSynth creating an atmosphere that can kick off an idea for a track. The music we love goes from noise and orchestral arrangements to the soundtracks of Lalo Schifrin and John Williams and anything in between, whether it is really lush and tranquil or something glitchy and 22nd century. So the title I Choose Noise just stuck.”
C'MON FEEL THE NOISE
Referring to Hybrid's third album, I Choose Noise (Distinctive, 2006), Truman and partner Chris Healings surpass the lush textures/breakbeat rhythms of their debut, Wide Angle (Kinetic/Distinctive, 2000), and the darker follow-up, Morning Sci-Fi (Distinctive, 2003). Credit for the Welsh duo's musical maturation is due to the copious soundtrack work it has landed of late (including Domino, The Chronicles of Narnia, Man on Fire and Kingdom of Heaven), as well as collaborations with esteemed conductors and orchestras. But it also has something to do with the duo's ambition to move beyond done-to-death beats and preset sounds.
“I Choose Noise is definitely a product of our recent working methods,” Truman confirms. “We don't do as many singles and remixes now because we like tracks that you can't play out. In the dance-music industry, that is seen as a waste of time. So the only way we could make music like that is by creating an album that works cohesively from start to finish; that is the next dimension.”
“We don't only make dance music,” Healings adds. “So much of the music we listen to, everything from Arvo Pärt to Toru Takemitsu, doesn't have a beat behind it, and it stands up happily on its own. What we draw on is more wide ranging than club bangers.”
Hybrid claims an envious remix catalog that includes tracks by Radiohead, R.E.M., Moby, Future Sound of London, Jean Michel Jarre, UNKLE, the Crystal Method and BT, but the group's current workload is devoted to creating soundtracks for Hollywood blockbusters (next up: Catacombs, and director Tony Scott's Déjà Vu) and most recently, collaborating with Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell for his new band Satellite Party's album coming out on Columbia in 2007. Hybrid still DJs at various residencies, but recording soundtracks with some of the best orchestras in the world gets them more excited than remixing 12-inch singles for club kids.
“Musically, we have pushed further into sound design and mood and texture,” Truman states, “making I Choose Noise more cinematic and sweeping. When we worked on Catacombs [which stars singer Pink and actress Shannyn Sossamon], we had to do 76 minutes worth of music in four weeks. It is a bizarre album: part Aphex Twin, part glitch. Our work methods have become much more efficient because of film work.”
Produced by Hybrid and featuring the vocals from Perry Farrell, Judy Tzuke, John “Quiver” Graham and Kirsty Hawkshaw; guitars from Farrell cohort Peter DiStefano; and the 36-piece Seattle Session Orchestra conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams, I Choose Noise challenges accepted notions of dance music. If anything, the album distances Hybrid even further from their dance-music base, with some tracks only briefly alluding to groove and bpm. This is a concept album, from the ethereal opening track “Secret Circles” and the 007-meets-big-beat grandeur of “Dogstar” to the breakbeat-infused title track and blissed-out closer “Just for Today.”
SUPERSTRINGS, RADICAL REAKTIONS
Although the album was conceived at Hybrid's Electrotek Studios in the Welsh countryside in Swansea, between a bird preserve and a wooded valley, I Choose Noise was recorded at several locations: the Seattle Session Orchestra at Seattle's Bastyr University Chapel, the drums in Swansea and the vocals and guitars at Wavecrest in Venice Beach. Eighty percent of the album is composed of acoustic instruments recorded on site, then digitally warped/assembled at Electrotek. Reaktor ruled in “making new noises.”
“There is never a moment when one computer doesn't have Reaktor running,” Truman says. “Reaktor is designed so you can add your own unusual presets, programs and ideas. It is a very open architecture for anything from synths to granular synthesis, sample transforming, beat slicing — it is a one-stop shop. A lot of the presets that people make for the community you can download on the Native Instruments Website. Some of it is genius; it may do only one thing well, but it might do that incredibly well.”
Other working tools came into play when developing string arrangements. Hybrid handed conducting/scoring duties off to Harry Gregson-Williams, but it all began at Electrotek.
“We use libraries of sample strings, the Vienna Symphonic Library and SONiVOX MI's Sonicimplants Symphonic,” Truman says. “We use those for mapping out a basic idea, then we might sample textures from other contemporary works, then we take what we've written and all the samples, and a friend orchestrates it. Then the synth strings and samples are deleted or muted, and we record the live strings [in all of three hours for I Choose Noise]. Then we return to Swansea and put the strings in the mix. The original mix doesn't sound that impressive, but once you put the real strings on it, it all comes to life.”
Some producers can't remember what they had for dinner the night before, but Truman has the best memory in show business; he can recall every step of recording “Dogstar,” despite production wrapping up months previously. “We had Perry sing into a Røde NT2-A mic into an Avalon preamp straight and an Apogee PSX-100, then into Pro Tools. We used the Antares Avox plug-in on the backing and lead vocal and a SoundToys TimeBlender [in the SoundBlender collection]. We added a little compression and delay, and it was done.
“Most of the ambient intro is Reaktor and MetaSynth,” he continues, “bits of sound design heavily granulized with pads and noises. Then the beat and the strings kick in. That is all live; it begins with a string motif we did with the sample strings, then a couple of high strings that we got from a film score. Those were shifted around to make it our own.”
An oozing keyboard surfaces in the mix, joined by a fat, acidy rhythm. Here, Hybrid is using three different patches from Logic's ES2 soft synth, each one playing exactly the same thing. Hybrid ran the synths through an Empirical Labs Distressor compressor and the Avalon preamp. “A lot of our bass noises are composites of sample synths all squished together,” Truman says. “I toyed with the bass line for ages.”
Farrell rambles about constellations and aliens in the chorus, joined by massively swelling strings that threaten to devour the entire track. “Those are the room strings being pushed up to add that grand scale,” Truman recalls. “They start smaller with the close-miked strings, and then we pushed the room strings up to get that wider, bigger sound. As the orchestra plays, it actually gets louder and increases the overall intensity. “
STRINGS OR SAMPLES?
The album's dizzying centerpiece, “I Choose Noise,” is a galloping sci-fi anthem of phasey effects, scurrying vocal snippets, dashing strings and staccato turntable squeegees.
“That was a really wicked afternoon,” Truman says. “Those banging sounds in the intro are basically Fast FX. I chopped up a brass sample from the first album [DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince]; we wanted to go for something big and bombastic. I picked these three brass riffs at 130 bpm and sent the composite riff back to Chris, who put it through Fast FX and a couple other glitching bits. Then we came up with an amazing riff that I gated and spliced.
“Then Harry had a fit,” Truman reveals, “and he reorchestrated all of it so it begins with a sample, but once it gets going, it is actually the orchestra playing that sample. What we had done in Reaktor we tried to get the orchestra to replay; it was crazy, but it worked out well. When you hear that fast ascending string line, that is the real orchestra, and underneath it the cellos are furiously chopping away to keep the rhythm. Also, we made those odd turntable noises in Reaktor: We took a bit of Kirsty Hawkshaw's vocal, put it through SoundToys Crystallizer for a pitched-up effect and then through Reaktor to stretch it and give it some kind of digital glitch.”
An additional shadow vocal runs throughout the track, what sounds like someone shouting or getting up in your face. “We took phrases from an old hip-hop record, but only half a word,” Truman explains, “and then we put it through Reaktor. We wanted to get that impression of MCs but without them actually saying anything. So we literally took a word or phrase from either Chuck D or Ultramagnetic MC's then put it through a granulizer and mangled it. We did four different passes. Again, that is the beauty of Reaktor.
“My memory is a curse,” Truman says with a laugh. “I must dream in binary!”
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
With a third album under its belt (plus work for album number four already underway) and remixes of Future Funk Squad, Elite Force and Lostep in the can, Hybrid has called upon friends (UNKLE, Nick Warren, Infusion) to remix tracks from I Choose Noise. Then it's back to the world of soundtracks for Truman and Healings. Many artists, regardless of style, want to get into soundtrack work. What better way to make your living than sitting in an air-conditioned room looking at movies?
“Your music has to have a certain idea behind it,” Truman advises. “Straight-up dance tracks do get used in films, but generally, the tonality and texture of that music isn't suitable for scores. You have to think about mood and texture. It is more about otherworldly sounds than banging tracks.”
That is no stretch for Hybrid. Even when they were remixing the kings of pop and spinning vinyl for their bread and butter, Truman and Healings were looking ahead, planning, conjuring and most importantly, listening.
“What has always driven us is listening to movie scores,” Healings reflects. “Blade Runner, Bullitt and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are three of the best. That has always driven us, how beautiful and rich music can be. It doesn't have to be cold dance music. That has always been the Hybrid idea: Let's put two things together that shouldn't go together. Very melodic beautiful strings with screaming, dirty bass lines and massive breakbeats. I couldn't live without them.”
PERRY FARRELL MEETS HYBRID
When Hybrid asked Perry Farrell to contribute to I Choose Noise, the supernatural rock star couldn't have been more pleased. Not only did he sing and pen lyrics for “Dogstar,” but Farrell enlisted Hybrid to co-write three tracks for his upcoming self-titled album with his band, Satellite Party.
What part of your musical personality doesI Choose Noiseaccess?
The full-moon sort of madness that I so love howling to. Hybrid dropped tracks into my lap that blew my mind out to another galaxy. I couldn't have asked for more prismatic scenarios to write songs to. Their mastery of beats is of a primal clinch. These tracks I hold as treasures.
How does singing in a dance/electronic setting differ from a pure rock setting?
Once you are on beat, you let your spirit ride regardless of how it was created. Each song has a personality. Lyrically and sonically, you try and parry with that emotion. The music is your partner testifying to your story. I find a slightly smoother execution often works better for electronic music. Slightly less rasp-disruptive aggression. People who dance want to feel sensual and happy. The news is good.
What does Hybrid bring to the three songs they co-wrote for your next record,Satellite Party?
I incorporated their ferocity, their patience, their mystery and explosiveness. I loved applying the additional soundscapes that fall outside of guitar, bass and drums, which they created.
You sang through Neumann and Røde mics on “Dogstar,” but in your own studio, what mic/preamp combination do you prefer?
Tonight I am singing with a Neumann M 49; the pre is Pendulum Audio. Often, I use a hand-held mic — even an old Shure SM58 — when singing more energetic songs. Hitting my highest notes sometimes requires extremely flexed body forms.
Are there particular EQ settings you favor?
I have the voice of a Bacchanalian waif, so at times I add in lows for an additional robustness. I boost bottom at 100 Hz and add 16 kHz to open some air.
What is your favorite piece of equipment?
Well, My new Apple G5 with quad processing is my favorite piece of gear, but when I record through boards, I always love the sound field of a Neve 8048 [console].
What are some iconic records that are quintessential productionwise?
When I first got into recording music, I was mesmerized by Adrian Sherwood and his On-U Sound recordings. I felt that I could apply some of his sonic principals to rock. And Martin Hannett made such deep, emotional music, especially his recordings with Joy Division.
Do you prefer digital to analog recording?
I much prefer digital to analog. I often record straight to Pro Tools to keep continuity for mixing purposes. It gives me the ability to bring the hard drive around the world and return home with an exact mix.
See the next page for gear, software, instruments, plug-ins etc. used by Hybrid.
Computers, DAWs, recording hardware
Apple Logic Pro 7 software, Mac G4 1.6 GHz, G5 Dual 2 GHz, Mac PowerBooks (2)
Digidesign 24-bit ADAT Bridge I/O (3), Mbox audio interface, Pro Tools software
G-Drive 250 GB drives (2)
Glyph Trip Ultra SCSI 40 GB drives (2)
Sony DAT recorders (2)
Yamaha 02R V.2 digital mixers with four ADAT cards and AES/EBU card (2)
Samplers, drum machines, turntables, DJ mixer
Akai S6000 samplers (2)
Allen & Heath Xone:3D DJ mixer
Roland MC-909 Sampling Groovebox
Roland SP-808 GrooveSampler
Technics SL-1200MK2 turntables
Synths, modules, software, plug-ins, instruments
Access Virus B rack synth
Bias Peak 4 software
Boss GT-5 Guitar Effects Processor
Clavia Nord Rack 2X synth
Digidesign MassivePack 4, Pultec Bundle EQ plug-ins
GRM Tools ST Native Bundle plug-ins
Korg MS-2000, Triton synths
Massenburg DesignWorks High Resolution EQ (Roland VS format) plug-in
Native Instruments Fast FX, Komplete Sound 2, Reaktor 5 software
Propellerhead Reason software
Roland JD-990, JP-8000, JP-8080, JV-2080 sound modules
Serato Pitch ‘n Time Pro 2.3 plug-in
Sonivox MI Sonicimplants Symphonic orchestral library
SoundToys SoundBlender, TDM Effects Bundle plug-ins
SuperCollider OS 9 software
Texas Instruments Speak & Spell
U & I MetaSynth software
Vienna Symphonic Library orchestral library
Yamaha drums with A series Zildjian cymbals
Mics, mic preamps, EQs, compressors
AMS Neve 1073 Mic Pre/EQ Reissue
Avalon Design Vt-737sp preamp/compressor/EQ
Empirical Labs EL8X Distressor Compressor
Neumann U 87 Ai condenser mic
Røde NT1-A, NT2-A condenser mics
Dynaudio M2s, Yamaha NS10s