The Crystal Method

The Crystal Method is in the process of moving. For the past decade, Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland have worked out of a small house in Glendale, California — living in the house proper and recording in its converted garage. The authentic subterranean structure that was installed in the front yard as a response to the Cuban missile crisis has served as the source of much amusement, both in print and in person, but The Bomb Shelter itself (the garage studio from which the duo have produced track after track of cutting-edge electronica) has slowly grown throughout the entire property, and the guys have thus come to the point where it is necessary to relocate their headquarters, even if the timing is a bit inopportune.

But then again, it’s not as if The Crystal Method ever slows down enough to make time to comfortably uproot a studio. Whether it’s creating yet another album of original material (now numbering at three: Vegas, Tweekend, Legion of Boom), putting together DJ mixed CDs (the Community Service collections), scoring soundtracks (Tomb Raider 2, Blade 2, and Spawn), creating sounds for fashion or television shows (Third Watch, The Dr. Drew Show, Hawaii, and most recently, Bones), composing music for video games (Splinter Cell, Need For Speed, Matrix: Path of Neo), or collecting music for their radio show, there is obviously no such thing as a good time for the group to transfer studio locales.

Their newest venture, the scoring of the entire soundtrack to the movie London, was undertaken with The Bomb Shelter in shambles because of their impending move. To add further stress, they were limited in the amount of time they had to work on the score — six weeks — the shortest amount of time they’ve ever allotted to working on a full-length. And aside from a couple of ideas that were developed prior to the film, the remainder of the music had to be cooked up from scratch.

But despite these limitations, London boasts some of the Crystal Method’s best work to date. Amply mimicked is the film’s urgent, energetic, mayhem-laden, and drug-fueled plotline; all created on a rather bare bones setup because of the transition of their headquarters: an Apple Power Mac G5 Dual 2 GHz running a number of virtual and plug-in instruments, among which was the Korg Legacy collection, which incorporates the virtual MS-20. Also used was the GForce Virtual Instruments series: The Minimonsta: Melohman (a Minimoog emulator), impOSCar (an Oscar emulator, “We have the real Oscar, which is very old and finicky. The plug-in one works very well.”), and the Oddity (an ARP Odyssey emulator). Additionally, the Alesis A6 Andromeda keyboard figured prominently as one of the only pieces of outboard gear, with everything then sequenced through Digital Performer.

In considering the Crystal Method’s penchant for having an actual instrument to bang on, particularly during their live shows, their acceptance of the virtual realm seems an endorsement of sorts. “They’re all sounding better,” Kirkland points out. “That’s helped us to feel better about using them. We’re more used to sitting in front of the synthesizer and tweaking everything on board rather than going to click on a mouse and finding a spot on the screen. Also, there’s a certain sonic quality that I’ve always enjoyed about some of the synths we have. But again, like I said, they’re getting a lot better. There’s a lot more warmth. We’ll continue to experiment and use more virtual synths, but we’ll always use outboard synths and gear that we’ve been collecting over the years. For a quick fix, [the virtual instruments] are always there, and more times than not, they sound really good.”

But what of those trademark basslines the Crystal Method are known and revered for? Well, here are a number of sources for the ever-identifiable bass thumps that permeate the London soundtrack. “I wish we were that organized,” Kirkland says in response to the question of the existence of a bank of bass sounds to regularly draw from. “A lot of them are sounds that we’ve liked. Some of them are random patches that we go in and tweak to our liking. Some of them we recreated ourselves. It’s a combination. For this particular project, we used the impOSCar, the Korg MS-20, and some outboard synths like the Andromeda and the SE1 and Nord. We create within Reason, with the bass synth module in there, changing the bass sound within the synth itself before recording it. For compression, we use the Waves plug-in bundle: Renaissance Bass, C4 Multiband Parametric Compressor, L1 and L2 limiters and L3 Peak Limiting Mixer.”

He continues, “The beats are from our vast library. Some are from traditional sources [such as] sample CDs. Most are from picking up loops over the last 15 years of working on music. You have these loops sitting around and you don’t really know where they came from. A lot of beats are created within Reason, live, or just triggered from, or put together within Digital Performer.”

One final element that is missing, but not missed, on London is a proliferation of guest vocalists. With every album, the duo’s collaborations have become more noteworthy, to the point of sometimes overriding the instrumental aspects of the song. While the scarcity of vocals on the tracks for London allows the music to show itself more fully, the vocals that are present, such as those on the track “Glass Breaker,” are unobtrusive and complementary. “We used a Neumann TLM 103 microphone going through an Avalon 737 mic pre and compressor,” says Jordan of Charlotte Martin’s vocals, featured on the aforementioned track.“ There’s one version that’s on the album and one that’s in the movie. One has a really degenerated sort of vocal thing. The version on the album; you can hear her vocals a lot better. There’s another track in the film that we added a vocal to on the album, ‘Smoked,’ with Troy Bonnes, who also did the song ‘Crime.’ We wanted to keep it pretty minimal. Everything we did for that soundtrack was all out of necessity for the film, what we thought would work best for the film.”