4Tracker Recording Notes

posted by JV | September 12 2005

Life and Death of an American Fourtracker
Released May 7, 2002 on Barsuk (CD) and Sea Level (RTI vinyl)

Recorded January-December 2001 at Tiny Telephone, SF
Engineered by Scott Solter, John Croslin, and JV
Mixed by Scott Solter at Tiny Telephone
Mastered with a Pacific Microsonics A/D convertor in HDCD by Paul Stubblebine

Songs were tracked to an Ampex mm1200 2" 24 track at 30 ips (Basf 900)*

Mixed on a Neve 5316 to an Ampex ATR 102 1/2" running at 30ips (Basf 900)
No effect returns were used in mixdown, all sounds were committed to tape.
Smart C1 was used as mix buss compressor.

All vocals recorded with a SM69 FET > Neve 1089 > Urei 1176


1 Fiend in a Cloud
v76 Drums, percussion: Jim Eno
Bass: Alex Nahas
Spectrasonics acoustic: Logan Hedin
Cello: Zoe Keating
Violin: Tony Cross

Scott Solter tracked the strings.

Jim Eno, Spoon’s brutally good drummer, was in San Francisco for a software conference and stopped by to hang out at Tiny Telephone. There was a drum kit and mics already set up (thanks to T- E- B-, who was recording at the time) so we decided to run some tape. We weren't able to move any of the mics, so I found a Soundelux U99 positioned a few feet in front of the kit, powered it up and switched it to omni. I blew out the signal with a Telefunken V76 into a Urei 1176. So then I was free to fill up the 23 remaining tracks! (One of which Jim played a nice tambourine on)

Logan played a Larravee acoustic track that was absolutely clobbered with a Spectrasonics 610, a 70’s compressor with a bizarre EQ curve and a wicked output stage. We doubletracked his guitar, varying the 610 settings slightly.

Alex played the bass directly into a Neve 1089 > Urei 1176.

Scott discovered a fantastic way of recording strings on a later overdub session with Tony and Zoe. Let’s call it the "Mono Fill." He tracked one take with a U67 on the violin and a SM69 (mono) on the cello and panned them extreme right and left. He then doubled it with a Coles 4038 on the cello and a Beyer 160 on violin, comped them and panned it straight up. By using the softer mono ribbon track in the center, it provided a wonderful compliment to the stereo condenser pair. Brilliant.

I sang, played samples, mellotron strings and flute, and sampled B3.

The opening five seconds of backwards noise took an afternoon of sampling, recording and tweaking. I may need to look into a hobby.


2 Me and My 424
Drums, shaker: Gavin Foster
Bass: Danno Carr
Harmony guitars, backing vocals: Ben Gibbard
Cello: Zoe Keating
Violin: Tony Cross

John Croslin tracked Gavin’s drums. Solter tracked Dan’s bass, strings, pianos, and Ben’s guitars and vocals.

I had Gavin come in one day and play drums alone while the Cros worked his magic. The 424 beat is based on a Lauren Hill song, Gavin accented the hi-hat fills with a shaker.

This is the usual Croslin set up: AKG D12E on kick, SM57 on snare, precisely even AT 4033s on overheads, 421s on toms, U67 two feet behind drummer, Coles 4038 two or three feet in front of kit. He would pan the two room mics out (67 and 4038) right and left and set different compression on them to get a "wacky" stereo image. It sounded fantastic.

Ben Gibbard, who was in town visiting, came by and played the opening guitar harmonics and the lead guitar octaves. He also sang a lovely, cresting "Ahhh" in the chorus, which he doubletracked with a crossing harmony.

I sang, played three piano tracks and doubled the string parts with a mellotron.


3 Underneath the Leaves
Drums: Gavin Foster
Detuned tambourine, speaker drum, Juno 60: Scott Solter

Croslin tracked the drums. Solter tracked my vocals (without compression), distorted piano, and his percussion and Juno.

Underneath the Leaves (which is based on a beat from a Pinback song) was done in the same session as 424.

I had been obsessing over Grandaddy’s "Signal to Snow Ratio" and "Frosty Glass" EPs and decided to tweak the Juno’s arpeggiator until I approximated the genius of their tones. If I record a keyboard that has a sonic edge (like a Moog or ARP) I always use the Neve 1089 as a direct in. Any newer, cleaner synth begs for some grit. With the Juno, I slam it into the Ampex 351 and whack it with an 1176. That will keep you out of 1983 territory…

The bass synth is a white ARP Odyssey; which I had recently bought on eBay. I cannot overstate how good this monosynth is. Please go buy one now. I spent 3 or 4 minutes and hit this very tight, focused bass patch. I know why this synth is all over Eno and Bowie records, not to mention a good deal of the prog catalog.

Solter did brilliant work in the instrumental section in this song. He speed up the 1200 and recorded a tambourine; at normal speed it sounds like a string of seashells hitting a drum. He then double those accents by tapping on the 15" speaker of a bass cab. Scott is one of the few engineers who can regularly create sounds you have never heard before.

All guitars were tracked directly into a Neve 1089 > Ampex MX 10 (line input) > 1176. An Ibanez Phase II pedal was used on the left guitar. The distortion on the instrumental guitars was created by using the MX 10 mic input, jamming to 10, and using the 1176 to pad down the output.

I sang, played Juno 60, Moog Source, Sequential Multitrack, ARP, delay piano, and guitar.


4 Interlude #4
Drums: Jim Eno
Pedal steel: Thomas Heyman
Bass: Alex Nahas

Solter tracked the pedal steel.

Tom Heyman, a member of the great Court and Spark, came in and wrote an excellent, mournful pedal steel part that really glued "From Out Here" together. I remixed the first minute of that song and tweaked some of the tracks for an interlude.


5 The Mansion
Drums: Jon Curtis
Trumpet: Bill Swan

Solter tracked the drums and vocals.

Solter devised a great way of doing vocals during this song. He put the SM69 on my voice and a U67 about 15 feet away in omni, hanging upside down two inches away from the concrete floor. He kept both tracks and in mix down, added the smallest bit of the ambient mic. That mic is brought way up in the mix for the line: "I stole my girl from her backyard."

I tracked the acoustic with an SM2 (in mono), recording the two clean harmonizing parts that are panned center and right. Lowering the Neve 1089 gain, I inserted an Ampex 351 mic pre to fuzz the signal out. That guitar doubles the right channel and is panned extreme left. I did the same thing with Bill Swan’s trumpet, going for a "Savoy Truffle" horn sound. A Coles 4038 slammed through two mic pres (this time I used the more volatile MX 10) produces a thin, buzzsaw of a tone that would sound silly on its own. But stacked on top of two normal tracks, it provides an amazing frayed edge to the horn part.

Scott put up five mics for the drum kit, one of which I later erased for a keyboard (he was mad!) A pair of Schoeps 221s, kick ass small diaphragm mics from the 50’s, were used on overheads. A Beyer 160 was used on the room.

I sang, played acoustic, piano, Source, and Moog subs.


6 Nikki Oh Nikki
Unknowable percussion: Scott Solter
Harmony vocal: Kori Gardner Hammel
Drunken Trumpet: Bill Swan

Solter created the entire real time percussion loop that holds the song together, inventing sounds and new ways of manipulating forgotten junk in our drum box along the way. On one track, he nuked a Schoeps 221 on a tambourine with a Distressor. He had me stand it up and hit the metal rings with a mallet, every third or fourth hit I would spin the rings as fast as I could. The effect is unreal to me: it sounds like a slot machine payout mic’ed in a small metal room.

Kori, from Mates of State, came in and knocked out a stunning vocal track like a session pro. Swan triple-tracked a very cool trumpet line in the third verse. I set up a Coles and he varied his position and distance by take.

I sang, played a Prodigy, Multitrack, Juno 60, and samples.


7 Amitriptyline
Drums, felt hat, goat hooves: Gavin Foster

Solter tracked the drums, Croslin recorded the vocals.

The songs starts with a Rhythm Ace that has been multed out to three tracks, like this:
(1, left) Rhythm Ace > Ampex MX 10 > Aphex gate
(2, center) Rhythm Ace > Neve 1089 > Urei 1176
(3, right) Rhythm Ace > Neve 1089 > Urei 1176 > h3000 Harmonizer (delay patch) > Kepex gate

Scott recorded the drums with four mics: a U87 behind the kick, a RCA BK5 pointing at Gavin (near the rack tom), a Shure podium mic (under a felt hat!), and a Sennheiser 421 (which had goat hooves strung on the stand which Gav was hitting). This is my favorite drum recording ever, thank you Solter.

The reverse vocals you hear on the chorus, after "Amitriptyline," is a sample I used from the MK Ultra song "Dream Is Over."

I played acoustic guitar, electric guitar, Moog Source, Moog Prodigy, samples.


8 Greyhound

Solter tracked both voices and both acoustic guitar tracks. Everything was crunched through a Spectrasonics 610 compressor.


9 Interlude #5
Drums, percussion: Mark Bernfield
Guitar, bass: Ben Barnett

Solter tracked everything.

Mark Bernfield, who plays a lot of shows with me, is a fantastic drummer to record. He later double-tracked distorted finger percussion, which is panned out extreme right and left.


10 Cool Purple Mist
Multitracked drums: Gavin Foster

Solter tracked all drums.

Gavin plays three separate tracks here. The first one follows the phased-out Rhythm Ace and is recorded with a single 160 ribbon mic two feet in front of the kick into an Ampex 351. A second track is a stereo pair on Gavin’s tom rolls. A third part comes in at the choruses and is panned far right.

The blown out drum sound was created by sending a very hot signal off the board into the mic input of an Ibanez AD202 delay and tweaking the regeneration knob until pure chaos is reached.
The backing vocals were sang through a Dolby 301A noise reduction unit, the earliest one of its kind. In playback, the un-encoded vocal track has an angelic high end and absolutely nothing below 800 H. It sounds great if stacked with another normal vocal track.

I sang, played reverb-drenched Juno 60, Source pulses (which were multed and delayed again), delayed Telecaster, and distorted Multitrack.


11 From Out Here
Offset drums: Jim Eno
Bass: Alex Nahas
Pedal steel: Thomas Heyman
Cello: Zoe Keating
Violin: Tony Cross

Alex Nahas, who has toured with me, came in and played a striking, disconnected bass line. For me it glues the entire song together.

Jim Eno asked if he could doubletrack his mono drum part, delaying it by one beat. So what seems like a delayed drumset is really a second take. It’s a perfectly destabilizing effect for our wave-tossed narrator, saying goodbye to the world while getting pulled out to sea.

The call and response mechanical noises panned extreme left and right are snippets from a Webern string quartet that I sampled, reversed, and then slammed them through an MX 10 mic pre. The guitars were recorded direct, stacking both the 1089 and the 351 together. One used an Ibanez 909 phaser.

The high vocals were recorded through a Dolby 301A.

I sang, played guitar, Rhodes electric piano, detuned seagull samples, and mellotron 300 strings.


12 Fiend in a Cloud, Pt 2
Pedal Steel: Thomas Heyman
Cello: Zoe Keating
Violin: Tony Cross

I destroyed the vocals in the last verse by sending a very hot signal into an Echoplex and tweaking the delay time. A Studer 1/4" tape delay was used on the piano and strings.

I sang and played piano, chamberlin flute, and mellotron cello.

The closing music, recorded directly off a turntable, is from Schumann’s great Davidsbundler.


Kyoto Pond (Vinyl Only)
Drums: Jim Eno
Bass: Alex Nahas
Harmony vocals: Carlos Forster

Carlos, who sings in For Stars, is the man to bring in for vocal harmony fireworks. He made "Keep the Dream Alive" and I knew if I cleared out 5 or 6 tracks, he could do the same here.

Jim played drums alone for this one; I fell in love with this beat and wrote a song around it. The drums were recorded with one Soundelux U99 > Neve 1089 > 1176.

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