JV recording notes
engineer: scott solter
studio: tiny telephone
recorded on a studer 827 2" 24-track deck and mixed to a Spitz ATR 102 1/2".
so here we are, this is a recording diary. exciting. I will try to keep a detailed and accurate ledger of the losses and gains, additions and subtractions.
dead slate pacific track sheet
plymouth rock track sheet
angela track sheet
new zealand pines track sheet
the golden gate track sheet, string charts 1 2
dear sarah shu track sheet, string chart
peacocks in the video rain track sheet lyrics
exodus damage track sheet
letter to the east coast track sheet
trance manual track sheet
the kingdom track sheet
continuation track sheet
crc 7173, affectionately track sheet
farewell transmission track sheet
radiant with terror track sheet
1 letter to the east coast
2 plymouth rock
3 exodus damage
4 peacocks in the video rain
5 trance manual
6 new zealand pines
7 radiant with terror
9 dear sarah shu
10 farewell transmission
12 dead slate pacific
13 the golden gate
14 crc7173, affectionately
CD/double gatefold 180 gram vinyl
the kingdom will be vinyl only
out august 23 on barsuk
tuesday april 12
well, to wrap things up I thought I’d list some things I learned while making this record. some came easy, some came hard. please note, actual mileage may vary! these are truths for me only and may not make sense, may not work, or be financially feasible for another.
1. one great signal chain is better than 30 crappy ones.
2. one bad performance will undermine everything that comes after.
3. an inferior piece of gear that works 100% of the time is better than an inconsistent, but superior, piece of gear.
4. compression is great for controlling low end and vocals, and especially great for complicated forms of distortion. it is not good as a standard part of your recording signal chain.
5. mix buss compression is not necessary.
6. spend more time on the quality of your source (guitar amps, drums, strings, etc.) and less time on the reproduction of the source.
7. one great mono signal chain on a drum set is better than 14 crappy spot mics.
8. the perfect vocal mic does exist for you. it may be a sm7, it may be a U47. be prepared to rent mics (if owning is out of the question) and record all vocal performances together.
9. speaking of, dedicate the maximum available time to vocal recording.
10. good reverbs and delays are expensive. bad reverbs and delays are the kiss of death.
11. watch out for the high hat.
tuesday, april 5
a few minutes away from leaving to master with bernie grundman in LA. we’re still debating sequence and song selection. and why not, maybe we can keep it going after mastering just for fun. we start early tomorrow so I thought I’d fly in tonight and hang out with graham macrae.
I posted all the track sheets above. more info on the way as it comes, including notes from mastering.
btw, pixel revolt is about 3db quieter than most cds. john darnielle sent me this interesting article about volume wars.
wednesday, march 30
scott mixed high and low in sections. cutting in the quietest post-chorus parts ("I’m only lonely through and through") it allows him to mute all the tracks not playing any music (there is a LOT of noise at 15 inches per second, something I’m starting to dislike). those sections only have one vocal and a stereo piano track. scott is cruising through the mixes; we may end one day early.
monday, march 28
scott mixed pixel revolt. then he nailed the kingdom. three down. the artwork and title debate rages. this is was easier when I was in a totally obscure band. god only knows what justin timberlake goes through.
pixel revolt track sheet
the kingdom track sheet
this is a very good internet radio station.
sunday, march 27
scott mixed "exodus damage." it seemed to sound really good when he pulled up the faders. he did a little eqing, probably some other stuff and… viola. it is done. no mix buss compression, that’s what bernie grundman told us. he also told me to not go over +6 on gp9, because of print through. btw, grundman is a genius.
scott also got close on pixel revolt, but it got late.
tuesday, march 15
tracking is done! the past three days have been a bit of a blur. I remember scott hitting a gong… I remember singing, tonight I did 5 tracks of vocals on “crc7173.” it’s a little sad really, the thought that I won’t be tracking again until next year? crazy. we’ll be mixing starting march 25th. the record will be mastered at bernie grundman’s in early april. so our account here is almost closed out. I’ll post all the tracking sheets and assorted docs.
I’m off to sxsw tomorrow morning.
saturday, march 12
what a wonderful, productive day. we recorded at scott’s 15th st studio. he tracked us live, playing as a trio.
alex decarville: drums (his new rogers kit)
matt cunitz: bass (kustom/ B15)
jv: scratch guitar
I have to admit, the song I brought in was underwritten and a little limp on first run through. but I work with professionals who can cover for my shaky work habits…
after we got a good take, matt played a stellar hammond part. he really takes off in front of a keyboard, he’s absolutely fearless. then he played grand piano and a vako orchestron. the orchestron is really a hi-fi optigon, that produces sound by playing one of eight vinyl records (pipe organ, flute, violins, choir, hammond, french horn, cello, saxophone). matt used choir, to great effect.
the song, btw, is called “crc7173, affectionately.”
friday, march 11
Mr. Rose is reportedly working on the album even now in a San Fernando Valley studio. "The ‘Chinese Democracy’ album is very close to being completed," Merck Mercuriadis, the chief executive officer of Sanctuary Group, which manages Mr. Rose, wrote in a recent statement. He added that other artists including Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder "have throughout their careers consistently taken similar periods of time without undeserved scrutiny as the world respects that this is what it can sometimes take to make great art."
I enlisted one of my heroes (dc berman) to help me with a title, I sent him lyrics and a cd today.
redid vocals for “exodus damage.” the other double tracked version kind of sucked. this time I did a lead, a compressed lower octave voice (with a little dolby 301A signal mixed in) and a super compressed double of the first. much better. it seemed to sound nice when I panned the low voice left, the lead center, and the double hard right, bussing them through a stereo compressor (alan smart). it seemed to do something nice.
the smallest things make the biggest difference when you start paying attention. for instance, changing ratios on a (good) compressor, or lowering the threshold by a hair, it changes everything. sometimes I miss the days of not paying attention.
added high harmonies to “dear sarah shu.” instead of adding a plate, I used scott’s lexicon 200 for room. erased a lot of tracks on same: opening cellos, some drums and percussion in middle break.
redid vocals on “radiant with terror.” spread the mono vocal to three tracks this way: u47 clean, very little compression (1-2db); u47 crushed through a distressor (opto, distortion 3); gated molt of first track through a lexicon 200.
thursday, march 10
"Most of the stuff he had played me was just sketches," Todd Sullivan (Geffen A&R) recalled. "I said, ‘Look, Axl, this is some really great, promising stuff here. Why don’t you consider just bearing down and completing some of these songs?’ He goes, ‘Hmm, bear down and complete some of these songs?’ Next day I get a call from Eddie" – Eddie Rosenblatt, the Geffen chairman – "saying I was off the project."
erik only has few hours before his flight so we’re in hustle mode. we spend most of the day on “the golden gate.” this is the most inspiring part of our session (which has been phenomenal). erik keeps complicating the ending resolution with unknowable intervals and harmonies. this guy knows his stuff, I’ve never seen someone play against existing tracks so well, and his instrument is not fretted! and he’s playing with tracks that are not exactly in tune. (some things are concert tuning, others are tuned and tempered by ear, some have overtones or intonation problems that fuck everything up).
wednesday, march 9
erik friedlander is here! scott has the flu so I take over the session after he sets up the mic and EQ.
schoeps cmc 65 (in cardioid) > millennia pre (-2 db at 20hz, + 3 at 25k hz)
I am impressed to find erik tours with a schoeps mic. I love him even more, if that is possible.
erik is a wonder; he’s the creative and quick session player I’ve ever seen. we blaze through “sarah shu,” continuation,” “the kingdom,” rock some el matate, continue on with “pixel revolt.”
monday, march 7
holy shit, the new fiona apple album, extraordinary machine, is brilliant. the idiots at sony have indefinitely delayed the release because it (supposedly) lacks a single, or is too weird. more here
and with new albums from geto boys, murs, the game, bloc party, andrew bird, m ward, okkervil river, and spoon, I feel lucky to be alive. how many fantastic records were already released this year? a lot, and think of how few records we all get to hear. what’s happening in senegal? or sweden? or russia? or brazil…
scott played a wonderful counter on hammond b3 to the reich theme on “continuation.” and then more b3, this time two parts, on “dead slate pacific, pt 2.” one mono support, wacked to high heaven with a urei la-22 (a bad ass compressor), the second spatialized with a lexicon 200.
erik friedlander is coming on wednesday and thursday! he is unreal and we are comping tons of tracks on wednesday morn to make room for him.
I first met erik opening for mountain goats in nyc at the knit. he played solo cello and basically ran the room for 45 minutes. you don’t see bands doing that very often, much less a solo performer.
sunday, march 6
scott really knows the endgame of making a record. it’s best for me to provide the right tools for him, steer the rudder a bit now and then, and stay out of the way. we are making major progress this week.
scott wrote a reich-ian motif for the verses of continuation, a 3 over 4 repeating figure made of a baritone guitar and a vibraphone (without vibrato). scott then doubled a previous guitar line.
we were going to drop a gong in the opening of every verse but ran out of time. gongs rule, btw. listen to “june, july,” a drum sound scott’s been asked frequently about. he put a gong on top of christopher mcguire’s snare hits, it adds up to a complicated sound with a strange and beautiful envelope.
friday, march 4
after scott added a hammond spinet, matt greenberg came in and added tons of trumpet on “dear sarah shu.” (I key gated the hammond, using the high hat as a trigger, it makes the organ sound like a pachinko machine.) scott wrote this wonderful harmony line and had matt played it note by note on different tracks. the chorus has one 14-note line, so scott had matt play note #1 and #7 one the first track, note #2 and #8 on the second, and so forth. matt was unflappable and powered through the entire song. on thursday, scott will pan, level, and comp the 7 tracks to a stereo pair, lightly compressing them with the alan smart compressor.
matt also added a “resigned” trumpet solo (my words, I started with a “triumphant clarion call” but that didn’t work).
nedelle came in and sang back ups for “high and low.” we are getting closer! I am doing nothing but the record day and night until april 6th, so if I haven’t called I will…soon.
I have to admit, I am really obsessed with the game. after the recording sessions, I drive home v e r y slowly on the 24th street with my windows open listening to the documentary.
"Coming up I was confused my momma kissing a girl
Confusion occurs coming up in the cold world
Daddy ain’t around probably out commiting felonies
My favorite rapper used to sing ch-check out my melody"
thursday march 3
we worked on a new song, “continuation,” all day. scott doubled the main guitar line, added a beautiful baritone figure in the chorus. matt cunitz, who’s played a lot of keyboards on the record, played a kustom bass through his very nice ampeg b15.
monday february 28
vocal day! yeah a yeahee. I’m stressed out. I sang “exodus damage” and fixed the sharp-as-hell-choruses in “high and low.” why do I talk about stuff that you, kind and patient reader, have no knowledge of? well, it helps me, keeping these notes up to speed. and maybe helps to reduce the weight of the work ahead? anyway, thanks for reading this.
we are aiming for a double album. if I can find someone insane enough (hello ben dickey/post-parlo!), it’ll come out in double 180 gram gatefold vinyl. yeah a yeahee, like I said.
just rented dogville, very excited…
sunday february 27
for the next two days, scott and I are at his fab studio, 15th st, located on the exciting corner of 15th and Valencia in the mission.
matt greenberg came to play on “the kingdom,” a ballad for voice and piano. matt played scott’s grand piano (circa 1840!), I faced him and sang. it felt good: this is how you’re supposed to make music. scott overdubbed vibraphone on the choruses. we did some other stuff that slips my mind.
I then braved another piano song, “farewell transmission,” which scott tracked live. this one came out very nice.
“your dad didn’t know the age of the sun,
but now we know the hour it was born.
how does that help us now?”
the title is from a wonderful jason molina song, “long dark blues.”
scott then went nuts and overdubbed tons of varispeeded pan steel, and vibraphone. I played a delayed guitar line on top.
if you want to find a wonderful amp for under $400, buy an ampeg gemini 1. it blows the doors off a lot of new, boutique stuff I’ve played. I’m sure the ampeg fanatics would prefer I keep this stuff under wraps. but one day, these amps will get their due, and they will get bid up. until then…
piano > schoeps CMCs > millennia mic pre
vocal > u47 > millennia mic pre
everything else, almost always: schoeps CMCs > millennia mic pre
wednesday, february 9
tracked vocals for “trance manual”: one lead and 4 support vocals, 2 of which are falsetto parts. I did that vocal grid system of bringing up the effects on the neve and then mixing and matching levels through the busses. I’ve settled on a 200m delay on the primetime, dolby 301a, and a fully dampened 140 plate reverb. the lead vocal always gets a clean and an effect track, backing vocals are done in mono. I did all of this yesterday as well but scrapped everything after I went home and listened. a year ago that would have really bummed me out, but I am so patient now!
also sang a new song, "pixel revolt," and played two guitar tracks and two wurlitzer tracks.
tele thin line > masco PA head > sm57 > neve 1089 > 1176
wurlitzer > masco PA head > beyer 201 > ampex 351
okay here’s where we are…
new zealand pines
dead slate pacific
songs more or less recorded:
high and low
radiant with terror
songs that need to be tracked:
new piece in mix with scott and I.
thursday, february 3
scott and I devoted ourselves to “radiant with terror,” a song I opened the fall tour with. scott had me sing into a borrowed neumann cmv 563; he had me face the soundboard of the baldwin upright and close miced the resonating strings, gating and highly compressing the signal with a distressor.
we rented tons of percussion and had my wonderful drummer, dave douglas come by. he has a degree in mallet instruments from north texas, so dave knows what to do.
we got: 2 timpani drums, tubular chimes, glockenspiel, and crotales. dave brought in countless other devices, including cookware. dave played on the 20 or so remaining tracks, it is amazing!
came home and watched the kingdom 2 on ifc. brilliant.
sunday, january 30
scott and I are mixing new zealand pines today. I’ve been thinking a lot about tubes lately. here’s a very interesting discussion of tubes vs. transistors from walter sear.
"Why do vacuum tubes sound ‘different’ than transistors in audio applications? Russell Hamm and I published our research in the May 1973 issue of the Audio Engineering Society Journal. We had been curious for years about why transistors sounded so different. Our research, which is often quoted and misquoted, revealed some interesting facts.
"Attack transients (initial wave front information) from a good microphone can hit your mic pre-amp at plus 90 dB. The poor amplifier, whether tube or transistor, can pass about 40 dB. The rest is clipped. Clipping the excess 50 dB results in distortion. When we studied this distortion, we found that tubes would distort in even harmonics (mostly at the octave) and that transistors distorted producing odd harmonics, the 3rd and 13th partial predominating. You didn’t have to be a pipe organ designer to know which distortion was more acceptable to the ear. Through the intervening years, many people have been trying, with varying success, to design transistor circuits that would sound like vacuum tubes. Finally, many manufacturers just went back to vacuum tube circuits.
Another nice thing about tube electronics is that when over-driven (too much input signal on the screen grid), they go into distortion slowly, similar to the way the human ear goes into distortion. With transistors, no such luck. As with digital overload, you hear it instantly when you have gone too far."
an interview with stephen jarvis about minimalist recording techniques.
friday, january 28
scott mixed plymouth rock.
damn this is a tough one. I believe it’s a wrap, though. jay pellicci assisted.
then, scott mixed dead slate pacific.
aaron prellwitz and nedelle provided moral encouragement.
the sf chronicle wrote up our january 21 session.
wednesday, january 26
scott mixed dead rabbit!
sunday, january 23
added a gated acoustic guitar on an untitled song, whose drum beat was shamelessly ripped off from the wonderful dead prez b-side, “hell yea (pimp the system).”
I key gated the acoustic, meaning I sent one of the prerecorded drum tracks (in this case, the high hat) to tell the gate to open and close with the high hat. I strummed on the off beats, so the only sound was the choppy decay of the guitar in rhythm of the song.
acoustic > schoeps CMCs > neve 1089 > ampex mx10 > 1176 > aphex gate
saturday, january 22
like scott doesn’t do enough…today I was pretty laid out with a cold so I reacquainted myself with our very purple couch as scott worked on songs. he multi tracked an ebowed electric guitar (10 times) reinforcing a moog solo on “plymouth rock.” he comped it and flew it in using the ATR 102. I do think that song is done! hopefully we’ll mix it this week.
friday, january 21
nedelle came in and did millions of backup vocals on “new zealand pines.” here’s how we do it in the analog museum know as tiny telephone: scott submixes the song onto the ATR 102, and dumps the submix on a new 24-track reel. we know have 22 open tracks. nedelle is a trouper! she sang and sang and sang. scott comped them all down to the ATR 102 and flew a stereo track back into the choruses. and by "flew," I mean: he records the stereo out of the ATR, using a grease pencil to time the start of the deck. see, it’s fun being a luddite!
nedelle: sm69 > millennia TD1 > alactronics 1176
keith cary, a hammond wizard from winters, ca, took over after nedelle collapsed form exhaustion. keith brought his 7 foot upright aluminum bass and played some wonderful stuff on “trance manual” and the outro of “dead slate pacific.” he did three runs on “dsp” and then bowed a nice pedal chord through the last half. that upright has an incredible reverb! it literally sounds processed when it hits the mics (schoeps CMCs, btw).
came home and stayed up LATE watching kill bill, vol2, a remarkable and surprisingly somber movie, so different in tone to the first one.
please check out a record called “martial arts weekend” by the extra glenns. it’s brilliant collaboration between john darnielle and franklin bruno; I’m listening to it as I type…
thursday, january 20
“my aim is only true when I’m aiming at you”
I played a four minute acoustic guitar outro on “dead slate pacific,” doubling the song and making room for keith cary’s upright bass (more on that later). scott then quadruple tracked ebowed electric guitar, making a stereo comp. one track was sent through the fantastic lexicon 200 reverb; they were comped in stereo. scott then added some additional landscape guitars.
we then went down the long and winding path of imitating robert fripp’s frippertronics guitar loops. we made a five second tape loop for the revox, and putting electrical tape on the erase head so the delayed signal only faintly disappears with each passing cycle. I played my heart out. better in theory? yes, but some of it may survive.
sunday, january 16
forgot to document a song I did two weeks ago, “dead slate pacific,” an acoustic ballad about the trials and terrors of monoamine oxidase inhibitors.
scott wasn’t around so I was forced to wing it big time: setting compression and gain levels by memory, placing microphones by faith alone (“my son, omni is a far more forgivable pattern as there is no proximity effect and less phasing problems…now go forth unto the world.”)
I used a schoeps 221 for the laravee acoustic (the only one I own), the rented u47 for vocals (millennia > 1176) and a microtech gefell um70 about five feet up and over me, slammed into an 1176 with all 4 ratio buttons pushed down. sometimes you mimic things you read about in tape op or mix (like this button mash) and it’s silly or pointless, other times it’s the shit. this time it worked out.
later I sent to u47 signal into the emt 140 reverb plate and printed to tape. I hard gated the left side so it twitters on and off depending on how loud I’m singing or playing. it’s a very odd and destabilizing effect as it messes with the stereo image. boo ya.
“dead slate pacific” was played live; it’s the only song on any of my records done that way. what is my problem? it was so fun, so FAST. man, I have GOT to do this again. (“my son, prepare your songs at home, fully and completely, and present unto them a 24-track recording machine. so now in full voice and ashen instrument go unto the world…”)
tuesday, january 11
we had the Outer Mission Sambanista Battery in last night to add some white boy I-love-caetano–veloso-can-we-do-something-like-that on “high and low.”
okay OMSB is really alex decarville, scott solter and jay pellicci taking orders from mastermind chris mcgrew. I sat in the control room and marveled. and read motley crue’s "the dirt."
we did three mono tracks, laid out something like this.
track 1: 1st and 2nd surdo
track 2: 12” and 10” repenique
track 3: quica and sanza
using either a pair of microtech-gefell um 70/schoeps cmc6 mics > scott’s SQN mixer w/ limiter
also added baldwin tube organ, HEAVILY processed through an unknowably complicated string of 202s and cinema filters on “ddr.” why? these things have a life of their own… scott played the part. as he often does.
btw scott and I work so quick sometimes we forget to notate the track list and promptly erase what we’ve done. we’re beyond caring.
bill putnam sr, respect!
wednesday, january 5
okay, I’ve figured out something. it took me a WHILE. let’s call it the “VOCAL SYSTEM MATRIX ™” or maybe “let’s buss a lot of crap around until we like how it sounds.” that may lack marketing zing.
so, if you only have two tracks to do vocals, and you have stupid rules like I do (no effects sends in mixdown) then this is useful.
all day today I did lead and backing vocals, so I spent an hour or so setting up all effects that I might possible want to use, assigning them to aux sends and input channels on the neve.
channel 1. clean u47 (millennia > alactronics 1176 (1-2 db compression max, 4/1 ratio)
channel 2. ampex 440 tape delay, 1st input chained into 2nd, running at 30ips
channel 3. dolby 301A noise reduction (we send vocals through this and play it back unencoded. this makes it sound super bright and compressed. you can pull some of the cards out and exaggerate the effects, it can give you this angelic top end on anything you put through it. a very beautiful piece of gear.
channel 4. EMT plate reverb, mono. (compressed through the smart, high and low pass filters on)
channel 5. lexicon prime time delay
channel 6. studer revox tape delay
if I have 2 channels, I will print the clean u47 and mix the others to taste. if I have only 1 (for backing vocals), I’ll combine everything to a mono track.
btw, I used to hate reverb. absolutely terrified me. but I became obsessed with radiohead (ok computer is a study in echo and dimension) and I got an EMT 140, a 8 foot anodized aluminum plate that produces a soft and complicated room effect.
let’s visit one of my heroes: walter sear.
tuesday, january 4
oh so much to report!!
the only maker of analog tape in the WORLD, quantegy, shut down yesterday. so every analog tweaker (like me) has been freaking out for the past 24 hours, sourcing tape, (there is none left), having a crisis of faith (yes the format is dead, we’re just trying to enjoy the twilight years in peace). as tiny telephone is the only studio (that I know of) in the bay area without a digital workstation, we’re in a very precarious position.
so I dusted off an old credit card and bought $7,000 worth.
okay now onto business…
recorded two moog source basslines on “plymouth rock” and comped them to one track through the smart. I’ve said this a few times, but please check out the source if you’re looking for a monosynth. I would even recommend it over an ARP odyssey (I think it has better low end). short of a mini or modular moog, it’s the best bang for the buck.
moog source > millennia media direct input
played an ARP line on “high and low.” comped, moved and erased tracks on songs for a few hours…
thursday 29, 2004
okay let’s change some titles, retroactively (this will happen a lot).
songs I’m doing vocals for tomorrow and friday:
plymounth rock (I lost the reason)
high and low (love you too)
new zealand red pines
the dead slate pacific
in heavy rewriting:
always, almost (imitation of life)
to record later:
radiant with terror
(we did this once, but scott has talked me into trying a more stripped-down version live to tape)
I got the fixed neumann u47 back from jarvis. here’s some info on this marvel of audio engineering.
I borrowed a nylon string guitar from nedelle for dead slate pacific. scott is gone until the 3rd, I’m flying solo down at tiny tele. I am terrified to do a lot without him, but I gots to make progress on this thing!
I listened to time travel today in my car while driving through the presidio. the first thought I had: did I make this? it seemed like ten years ago… the second thought: I hope I can make something like this again. oh if I tell you later that the new songs aren’t autobiographical I’m lying, but I’ll never admit it so just nod your head with me.
happy new year!!!
friday 10, 2004
scott and I worked on “love you too” at his studio (15th st). I played scott’s old 19th century grand piano, miced up with two schoeps CMCs. then scott dialed up a second track using an ibanzez 202 > allison labs filter (an old measurement passive EQ once owned by UCLA), for a tweaked, dubbed out lead line.
thursday 9 , 2004
scott and I continued with vocals today. after losing the u47 (intermittent pattern switching), steve jarvis brought us a AKG c12 and a brauner vm1. we tried to nail a take on “always, almost” for a couple of hours before bailing. not only was my melody line not there yet, I couldn’t figure out the direction/tone of the delivery. very frustrating.
we were more successful with “plymounth rock,” printing a lead vocal and falsetto support. I added a gated EMT plate to defeat the tail of the reverb and give the backing vocal and unnatural space.
brauner vm1 > millennia td1 > urei 1176
brauner vm1 > millennia td1 > urei 1176 > EMT 140 > kepex gate
later, I added a sub synth line on “dead rabbit” with the moog source. I’ve been experimenting with our new millennia EQ, adding 20db (!) of gain at 30hz and cutting a bit at 250hz, we’ll see what happens…
came home late and stayed up way later, watching douglas sirk’s all that heaven allows and punch-drunk love (for the 10th time). in those pre-dawn hours, I thought about the connection between playing an instrument and learning to love, Barry Egan’s tentative stabs on his “small piano,” and how he sounds the first chord on his harmonium during the very last scene. “here we go.”
wednesday 8, 2004
songs, so far:
I lost the reason
imitation of life
new zealand pines
love you too
radiant with terror
scott and I recorded vocals for “dead rabbit” today with a rented neumann u47. there is a reason this mic trades for 6k, it is insanely good! the presence, the low-mids of that thing are obvious and astounding. scott has always commented that it sounds like it’s internally compressing. (is it the circuitry? the vf14? I owned an m49 that did not sound remotely close to this, and while it’s a wonderful mic, it certainly wasn’t flattering on my voice)
well, the thing scott is really after on this new album is a more committed and convincing vocal delivery. I will try! my voice has never recovered from tearing a vocal cord in 1998. listen to “grand canyon” on mk ultra’s original motion picture soundtrack and you will know what I mean. it has caused my much hand-wringing and sorrow but I am probably a better person for going through all that. I was one of those impatient, volatile “artistes” before the tear. I lost two whole notes on the top of my range, not to mention resonance, pitch, etc for two or three years after. boo hoo!!
some rules I am forcing us to abide by.
-24 tracks is the maximum amount of information we can mix, so no effects sends at all. delays, reverbs, etc, have to be printed to tape. this forces us to plan a little more and commit to ideas right away.
-only two compressor sends can be used in mixdown. so we try to track everything with that in mind. in general, scott and I only use compression to destroy a signal, not as a corrective device.
-no mix buss compression.
-no samplers, for any moving of music around, we use the atr 102 or the ampex 440. -no digital workstations.
-remember, it doesn’t matter what your rules are, as long as they work for you.
-comped matt cunitz’s solo (which is comprised of a mellotron cello line doubled with a celeste, played at once. these are the real instruments, not samples. matt is a genius! and he has a wonderful collection of stuff). he played the melody twice, so we comped them with a EMT plate send of the whole mess, fading out the primary tracks and leaving the plate send up for the final two verses.
-recorded jv vocals, one lead, one double for last verse and chorus.
u47 > millennia media td1
-erased a lot of stuff, my favorite part
scott cut a two-measure drum beat from an earlier session we did, dumped it onto 1/2" tape, cut the tape into a loop. and then, using a mic stand for tension, he recorded back onto 2" tape for later. hopefully it will grow up to be a song.
can I say right now the new (to me today) bright eyes record, digital ash in a digital urn is fantastic. as is the BE ep, lua.
please go buy some hip hop and drive around town. please? how about some king geedorah? or the alchemist?
we have so much to do tomorrow!
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.
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.
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.
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.