What do you get when you mix synthesizers, theremins, traditional folk instruments, and electronic drums with a multitalented, multicultural, classically trained keyboardist (with a degree in electronic music) and a New York jazz drummer? The answer is Xenovibes, an eclectic duo based in Dallas whose music can loosely be classified as synth pop.
Photo credit: Shueh-li Ong
Xenovibes is the brainchild of Shueh-li Ong, the Australian-born keyboardist and vocalist who also plays theremin, Chinese 7-string Guqin, and tin whistle. Ong, who spent part of her childhood in Singapore, is also the band's producer and engineer. Xenovibes' second CD — the self-recorded, self-released Xenovibes II: Music from Another Land — debuted in the United States in early 2007. The band followed it up last fall with a single that's a cover of the Beach Boys classic “Good Vibrations.”
Xenovibes' impressive and heavily improvised live show helped them to win a contest (which was put on by Moog Music) to be the opening band at the 2007 Moogfest (check out EM's video coverage at www.emusician.com/videos).
Ong's studio, where both the CD and the subsequent single were recorded, is based around her old Apple PowerBook. “I got it in 2003, and it's still alive and kicking,” she says. For Xenovibes II, Ong did most of the recording using Steinberg Cubase SX. She sang and she played all the instruments except for the drums, which were the province of Xenovibes' other full-time member, John Anthony Martinez. He played acoustic drums on one song, “Robolution,” but used a Yamaha DT-XTreme IIS electronic kit for the album's other eight tracks.
Ong took audio and MIDI feeds from Martinez's kit when he recorded his parts. The MIDI data allowed her to layer additional sounds. “Shueh-li will stack my MIDI information with her own creations,” Martinez says. He describes Xenovibes' overall sound as “electronic music with no barriers.”
Although mixing can be a frustrating process for many home recordists, Ong remembers the mix for Xenovibes II (for which she used Alesis M1 Active monitors) with supreme confidence. “I did it from the comfort of my living room,” she says. Ong learned much of her mixing skills while studying for her postgraduate degree in sound engineering. “I had a really good … I guess you could call him a tutor or a lecturer,” she recalls, “and he made me aware of stereo, mono, small speakers, big speakers. So I got in the habit of looking out for transparency. Can everything be heard? Because you have various frequency bands you can fit things in — parts can be soft but still audible.”
Ong's studio also includes a Yamaha 01X digital mixer. “I mLAN it to the PowerBook to do digital transfer. It works like a digital mixer through mLAN and as a standalone,” she says. She recorded her vocals on an AKG C3000 mic.
Live, Ong and Martinez often play with local guest artists and improvise much of the time. “In the show situations, that's where I relinquish control,” says Ong. “That's where the Xenovibes show takes a different route from the Xenovibes album.” In the studio, Ong and Martinez stick more closely to parts they've worked out during performances. But occasionally, a mistake can turn into a whole new part. “You do something, like your finger slips or you press the wrong button,” observes Ong, “and you have to go with the flow. Sometimes when you do that, you go, ‘Wow!’”
Home base: Dallas, Texas
Sequencer of choice: Steinberg Cubase SX
Primary monitors: Alesis M1 Active
Web site: www.xenovibes.com