Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9): Guitars

Recording on the road is the rule and not the exception for the ever-touring, genre-defying, experimental, alternative-rock-meets-jazz-meets-electronica act, Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9). The band, performing with legends like James Brown, Perry Farrell, Tortoise, LTJ Bukem, Telefon Tel Aviv, Ming & FS, the Roots, Blackalicious, and Ozomatli, was spawned from the collective desires of a group of four sonic scientists to explore sound design, instrumentation, and the magic of improvisation.
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“We really found what we thought was a unique sound and just let it be open to the moment,” says the Pro Tools manhandling guitarist/producer, Hunter Brown. That mantra was the foundation of what became STS9, an experimental live act that shares its space with its catalog colleagues and sometimes collaborators, Telefon Tel Aviv and Richard Devine.

Amidst sounds that are largely electronic, Brown tries to use the guitar to add to and complement the rest of the mix. “I’m not one of these virtuoso guys that can shred,” he admits. “I like to find a pocket and accentuate and morph rhythmic lines to build, sustain, and release energy. That’s what is most instinctual for me in the tracks I do for STS9.”

SIGNAL PATH

When it came to recording the guitar tracks for STS9’s ARTiFACT, Brown used Modulus, Godin, and Fender guitars, plus some borrowed acoustic guitars — most stocked with humbucker pick-ups. “I recorded everything with an Mbox into Pro Tools with a G4 laptop,” he says.

To monitor the tracks, they used Yamaha NS-10s and many random headphones. “But the headphones are always my favorites,” admits Brown.

MIC POSITION

“For mics I mainly used an Audix large diaphragm condenser mic for the electric and acoustic guitars,” explains Brown. “Because we were using just what we had available to us, this definitely sounded the best. I put my amp in my bathroom and ran the cables under my door and played in my room with headphones. I would put one mic right up against the speaker and another about three or four feet away and about two feet higher than the other mic to pick up more of the ambience of the room. I could usually find the sound I was looking for between these two mic positions.”

He also recorded some of the acoustic guitar tracks with a Neumann mic.

“That was really nice,” adds Brown. “I would usually sit on the floor and put the mic about eight inches or so from the center of the guitar and lean in a little when I would need more volume.”

PROCESSING

Brown mainly relied on stomp boxes when recording the guitar tracks for ARTiFACT. “I have a Mesa Boogie Tremoverb that I like ’cause you can get a lot of different sounds and tones out of it,” he says. “It’s kind of particular and needs to be babied a little bit but it sounds really good. I also used a TC G- Major for some effects on tracks like ‘Today’ and ‘ARTiFACT interlude’.”

He also used Live, Reason, and Reaktor to arrange, edit, and process sounds. “Sometimes I use a MPC2000 and some other drum machines/samplers when I get tired of being on the computer,” he adds.

TRACK NOTES

Recording on the road condenses the recording timeframe for STS9, so the next record probably won’t take four years to complete. “Technology allows us to experiment more with the recording process without the costs of studio time getting in the way,” says Brown. “Back in the day, we would record until we ran out of money, then come back two months later when we could afford to keep going. Today I can record most of my instruments on the road or at home.”

However, Brown still respects the craft behind the art of recording technology. “We still use studios from time to time because one thing the technology doesn’t come with is the experience of a real engineer,” he adds. “You can’t replicate real knowledge and experience with technology.”