4Tracker Recording Notes

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.

Time Travel Is Lonely Recording Notes

time travel is lonely (bark 17)
released june 12, 2001 on the fantastic barsuk

recorded summer of 2000 at tiny telephone, sf
engineered by john croslin, scott solter, and jv
mixed by john croslin at tiny telephone
mastered by paul stubblebine

graphics by sam trout

songs were tracked to an ampex mm1200 2" 24 track at 15 ips (basf 900)

mixed on a neve 5316 to an ampex atr 102 1/4" running at 30ips (basf 900)

smart C1 was used as 2mix compressor

all vocals recorded with a U87 > neve 1089 > urei 1176 (F)

1 you were my fiji
a cheap PA compressor called the Shure LevelLoc was used on all tracks. its slow release time and ungodly noise floor have an unmistakable and (to me) heavenly sound. I sang on three tracks, played four acoustic tracks (one is distorted heavily through an ampex mx10), moog source, mellotron strings. this was the first song I recorded after msof.

2 keep the dream alive
drums, tambourine: gavin foster
bass: peter straus
trumpet: bill swan
harmony vocal: carlos forster

croslin tracked all the basics.

the cros suggested that gavin go for a "maggie mae" feel and that really made the song come together. after cros left, gavin and I added some super-saturated NMH-style drums rolls (they open the song). we pressed all four ratio buttons on the urei 1176 and went to town. a few weeks later, we triple tracked bill swan’s horn. in mix down, cros added some wonderful distortion on the trumpets with an ampex mx10. bill plays in the brilliant beulah. carlos (from one of my favorite bands, for stars) came in when the song was almost finished and laid down 4 vocal tracks, doubling two high harmonies that he wrote. icing on the cake. I sang, played acoustic guitar, piano, mellotron flute, moog lead line, and moog source sequence.

3 little boy lost
eight tracks of moog were used on this one, the rhythm ace provided the beat.
I had been listening to walter carlos’s switched on bach and wanted to imitate the mechanical playfulness of those recordings. I sang (3 tracks), played moog source, moog prodigy, distorted acoustic (2), and a looped, reversed and distorted sample of a webern string quartet (that insane muttering in the acoustic breaks).

4 interlude 1
the piano was taken from brahms’s piano ballade #3 and run through an ampex mx 10 line amp and multed through two eventide h3000 harmonizers. the "stutter" patch was used on both. I played string and flute samples from a mellotron over the melody. the rain sample was taken from a hafler trio record, the opening quote ("I haven’t been told what I’m here for") is from lee harvey oswald after he was arrested for assassinating jfk.

5 everything changed
drums: gavin foster
harmony vocal: carlos forster
triplet vocal: alex nahas, scott solter
(it comes in on "it could’ve been the shame of not even trying")
percussion: scott solter

the cros tracked the drums, scott tracked most of the rest.

scott solter had a lot to do with this one. he triple tracked a distorted tar drum (it plays on the 2, 4 and 6) and a sol ogon (an african finger bass) which he laid on the "4 and" (right before the downbeat of the measure). using the ampex variable speed operator, he sped the tape down and doubled the sol ogon with a sub from the moog source. this lowered the moog note when the tape was played back at full speed. I sang four on tracks, and played moog source, moog prodigy, mellotron strings and choir, roland organ.

6 my old flame
drums: gavin foster
ebowed stick and pattern: alex nahas
electric guitar: logan hedin
harmony vocal: noe venable

scott solter recorded drums and bass, alex nahas tracked the stick

this started out as a demo with acoustic guitar, vocal, and an supremely annoying roland R8 drum machine patch. as happened with most of these songs, the genius we call "gavin" came in a played drums and we built things up from there. noe came in and knocked out her complex harmony work in about an hour; we were humbled when she left. I played moog source, moog/realistic MG-01, acoustic, and mellotron (3 tracks).

7 interlude 3

the drum and guitar loop is from a band too big for me to name, again the tracks were multed and ran to 3 stereo feeds and the h3000s. I found a sound effects disc with the falling object sound, sampled it, and ran it through the akg bx10 reverb.

8 time travel is lonely
drums: gavin foster
bass: peter straus
electric guitar, delayed guitar effects: logan hedin
rhodes electric piano: patrick main

the cros tracked everything; we recorded the basics live.

gavin, peter and logan had a big hand in writing and arranging this one. I brought this into practice as a nod to spoon and mk ultra, my old band. we played a few shows with patrick (oranger, snowmen) and he was nice enough to come in and play inspired rhodes. logan plays all the delay sound effects and an amazing joey santiago-like line in the chorus. I sang on 3 tracks (the great harmonies in the chorus were written by peter), played distorted moog (it doubles peter’s bass line in the chorus), sampled camera flash recharger, electric guitar, and satellite feed.

9 if I live or if I die
alex: cabasa, woodblock, shaker

percussion tracked by scott

I sang, (3 tracks), played piano, handclaps, delayed woodblock, distorted bongos, moog source (4 tracks, including the high buzzing lead line, the ramps on the left side, and the arpeggiating bass lines), moog prodigy, moog/realistic MG-1 (all the outro beeps and squiggles)

10 emma pearl
drums: gavin foster
guitar: logan hedin
stick: alex nahas

drums and vocals tracked by jv, stick and guitar tracked by alex

after a short tour of the NW, we decided to record a song that more closely represented us live. the drums were recorded using one beyer 160 ribbon mic >ampex mx10 > urei 1176. we also leaned heavy on the ampex and other ribbon mics during the rest of tracking. I think this accounts for the very murky, subterranean feel of the recording. the outro piano was distorted using a neve 1089 > urei 1176 > ibanez 202; the idea was taken directly from the great grandaddy record, sophtware slump. I sang, played my harmony acoustic, and piano.

11 interlude 2
the harpsichord is from bach’s preludium to fugue #2, the cd was amped through two neve 1089 and compressed (it’s disturbing how much better DDD classical music sounds when run through a good line amp). I multed the signal out to the ibanez 202 and tweaked the regeneration and time during the transfer. I sang (11 tracks!), and played arp, chamberlin, and mellotron samples, moog, and organ.

12 do you remember the man?
drums: gavin foster

scott tracked the drums, cros tracked the vocals

the groove that gavin laid over the rhythm ace still astounds me: it swings so brilliantly. he only varies the beat once: he adds an extra snare beat in the most surprising place (the break between verse 1 and 2). the odd instrumental that follows the chorus (where dueling acoustic wind their way up to a D#) was written around some tracks that I forgot to erase from a previous song on the reel. I played bass, electric and acoustic guitars, delayed xylophone, roland vk-9 organ, moog subs, roland gr-500 guitar synthesizer, and distorted, delayed wood block (the crazy echo sound in the instrumental).

13 jacksonville, fla
stick, percussion: alex nahas
percussion: scott solter

scott tracked the percussion, alex tracked the stick.

alex and scott wrote some fantastic percussion parts on this song. the opening rubbery slide sound is alex on a tar drum through a heavily tweaked signal chain (h3000 + mxr flanger), he also played a jar drum that plays on the 1 of the even measures. another tar drum track plays on the 4 and "4 and" of every measure except the fourth. the rhythm ace holds down the beat. in the instrumental break, scott double tracked one of beulah’s bongos (we used their percussion collection to full effect while they were camped out at tiny for the summer) and I ran it through our invaluable ibanez 202 delays. I sang (2 tracks), played pianos (3 tracks), chamberlin and mellotron samples, distorted acoustic, moogs, and organ.