Atticus Ross

Atticus Ross, like the Army, does more before noon (or midnight as the case might be) than most of us do in a year. Not only has he regularly spent the last two years — three weeks on, then three weeks off — recording, programming, and doing additional production and sound design on the new Nine Inch Nails album, With Teeth, but he’s doubled that down with some Emmy-nominated compositions for The Hughes Brothers’ Touching Evil TV series that aired last year, the Zach de la Rocha solo record, and Reznor’s yet-to-be-released legendary Tapeworm project.
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Add to that Ross’ programming and instrumentation for bands like Bad Religion, Rancid, and Error, as well as remixes for The Transplants and Dillinger Escape Plan, and you have a man with a full dance card. So no surprise that right now, Ross is busy producing half of the next Korn record. What is surprising is that he took some time to explain to us the process used for recording the synths on With Teeth.

SIGNAL PATH

Most of the recording of the synths for With Teeth was done using an Avalon pre-amp, the Focusrite Liquid Channel, an SSL pre-amp or a Neve, going through a Lavry 2-channel A-to-D converter into Pro Tools HD.

For some of the tracks on With Teeth, Reznor played a Moog Voyager through a Fuzz Factory or a few other radical distortion guitar pedals. “And as he was playing, he’d be screwing with the guitar pedals, “ says Ross. “We’d record for a while and Trent would usually stumble into something that sounded pretty unique.” Since the whole record was performance-based, this worked well with the theme.

One of the favorite hardware synths for With Teeth was the Vostok, which would often be hooked up to a huge modular wall with Doepfer, Analogue Solutions, and Metasonix pedals with various sequencers, drum machines, and other synths attached.

“We used a Kenton Pro 2000 for MIDI to CV with Trent’s preferred controller for the modular being the French connection,” says Ross. “Although this can be played as a regular keyboard, Trent performed many of the parts for With Teeth with the ring and thread.”

“Even MIDIable instruments would be sent through external chains and recorded into the audio as performances,” he says. A suitcase Synthi and 2 Sherman Filterbanks — chained together — were used as well.

In addition to the hardware synths, a lot of soft synths were deployed, including several from GForce: Ohm Force, ImpOSCar, Oddity, and the MTron. “Those would often be programmed in all sorts of different ways,” says Ross. “Sometimes we would take that out through the modular, sometimes we would find stuff to do to it inside of the computer, or sometimes one synth would go into another synth just to get a different effect.”

PROCESSING

The tracks were recorded to a Power Mac G5 running Pro Tools, but none of the modular tracks were further sound designed inside the computer. They’d be manipulated in terms of arrangement and such, but not sound design.

Reaktor was the most popular software synth and effects processor for With Teeth. “Everything in Reaktor is MIDI controllable,” explains Ross. “So we would design patches using it as a processor where Trent could have a couple of controllers to manipulate the sound while he played. For instance, there is one Ebow effect that was achieved by Trent playing his guitar through an ensemble of strung together formant EQs while altering different parameters with two foot controllers.”

MIC POSITION

Sometimes the Reaktor patches or other synths would be sent out through a cabinet like a Marshall, a Mesa, or a Vetta, or through a Diezel head. “But as neither I nor Trent are particularly well-versed on mic positions, the emphasis would always be on the source sound,” explains Ross. “We usually just had a 58 close on the cabinet sometimes with another mic a bit further away.”

TRACK NOTES

“Contrary to what people may think, there is very little beard scratching during a NIN session,” says Ross. “We work fast with the music up loud and we have a good time. Decisions are made quickly with a simple philosophy: If it sounds cool — we record it. And if it sucks — we don’t.”