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WORKING METHODS - inspiration / techniques / devices / studio life


From: Martin Birke
E-mail: casualtypark@mailcity.com

When did you stop actually programming pattern-by-pattern drum machines?

The last time I did that to any great extent was during the making of 'Violator' even though there are 'live' drum loops on that album as well. Since then, the majority of drums have come in the form of loops although I still might programme certain percussion parts, hi-hats and cymbals.

From: Allan Thornton
E-mail: octoberstrain@home.com

I'm a big fan of Nitzer Ebb and my favourite songs you've produced for them are 'Come Alive' and 'I Give To You'. I love the strings on both and was wondering if those on 'I Give To You' were recorded by live musicians or just sequenced sampled strings and if so, how the hell did you make them sound like that?

The strings, brass and marimbas were all recorded live - arranged and conducted by Andrew Poppy. Some of the performances (mainly the brass) were so sloppy that we had to put them into samplers afterwards in order to re-tune them and put them in time. You may be surprised to hear that this is not uncommon when hiring classical musicians.

From: John Brockman
E-mail: JBrockman@Orthomerica.com

To aid anyone who works in a studio environment, do you go through any rituals or 'mood' generating actions before your recording or sampling processes? I work with an engineer and we do a huge amount of sampling and sound design but lose focus somewhat when it comes to the 'gel' of a song. I wondered if you did any mediation or 'focused dreaming' to get the mood in your head for a piece.

Most writers/musicians complain of exactly the things you mention. For me, there are no clever tricks to force the ideas out. I find the best way to get ideas is to work on a regular basis and just accept that some days are not going to be as fruitful as others. However, on average, more good ideas come if you keep trying than if you don't bother going to work because there's nothing in your head.

From: D. Alvarez
E-mail: D.alvarez LImilenio@aol.com

Currently working on a new album of instrumental tracks and want that classic Kraftwerk religion! What would you recommend?

Asking Kraftwerk.

From: R. Dunlop
E-mail: rdunlop@ati.stlawrencec.on.ca

There are several tracks on your albums, particularly the instrumentals that clock in @ 6 minutes or longer. Instead of breaking everything up into individual songs, what about only one very extended piece of music. Maybe too epic, though!

What, like a musical journey?

From: Chris Lilley
E-mail: Solar@access.net.au

What restores the positivity in your art when you have a shite day / week / month / career?

Exactly that. I often do my best work when I'm pissed off.

From: Martin Birke
E-mail: panmar@ix.netcom.com

Does the electro-progress reach a point where you think " Ok, I've taken this form of writing as far as I can with my resources as a musician/composer - time to de-construct" then go Eno-ish or John Cage-like? Or do the heaps of happy cash help squash any philosophical sparring ?

Some people would say I'm already up my arse - you want me to go further?

From: Aaron Henderson
E-mail: aaron.henderson@nuigalway.ie

What's your favourite aspect of the music making process - forming the germinal idea, putting the flesh on the bones, or the tweaking and EQ-ing at the end of it all?

The 'raking in the cash' bit.....

From: Dan
E-mail: bank666@webtv.net

I could never seem to figure out how to have all my samples (from 3 E-mu samplers and a few other modules) at the same consistent volume level in order to have enough headroom for mixing within Cubase (I have a modest studio of my own running Cubase VST on a powermac 8500/150). I understand that before you started using your Pro Tools set-up, you were using Cubase. Could you please describe how you would go about mixing a sample dominant track? Did you ever use the midi mixer within Cubase?

I would always sample each sound at optimum level and then record my musical part into Cubase after which I would adjust the part level (leaving maybe 30-40% headroom). My working balance would come together as each part built up. If I ran out of headroom I would reduce the level of all the other sounds either in Cubase or in the sampler (there are various ways to internally balance your sounds in the samplers depending on which machines you use). Up to this point, I would just be using the stereo outputs of the sampler(s). Only when it came to the final mix would I then assign each sound to its own output for ultimate control (effects and so on). I never bothered with the midi mixer within Cubase.

From: Rick Grossenbacher
E-mail: rick@rocketzero.com

I'm wondering if you have a particular mixing or EQ-ing technique for getting drum sounds to sound good. I know it depends on the sound you are trying to achieve but are there any hard and fast rules you usually follow?

No special tricks or even handy tips. I go through phases with drum sounds. Personally, I like to hear the ring of the snare and I like to feel the bass drum rather than hear a lot of attack to the sound but everybody has their own idea of a good drum sound. For me it's important to find the right source sound rather than having to rely on radical eq or effects.

From: bank666
E-mail: bank666@webtv.net

Do you usually do your own engineering or do you find it a daunting task and have someone else better qualified to take care of it?

With DM, we always used an engineer. With Recoil, I use an engineer just for mixing because I'm not a skilled knob twiddler. I have a certain amount of knowledge about technical aspects but I need to be able to concentrate on the music without worrying about syncing up this and setting up that.

From: Humanpose
E-mail: Humanpose@aol.com

Personally I find that I am more creative in the winter months than in any other. I think this if due to seasonal depression. Are there any periods of the year that you find you're more creative than others?\

Probably the winter as well.

From: Carsten Vogt
E-mail: cvogt@theorie.physik.uni-wuppertal.de

I would like to know what are the actual tasks of a producer and of a sound engineer. In particular, what is the difference between the two and could a band like DM possibly do without them? In the case of Recoil, you seem to be all of these people.

A music producer is roughly the equivalent of the film director: someone who retains the overall vision of a record, who attempts to draw the very best from the raw material given to him by the artist and someone who usually has final say about how the finished product sounds. They come in different shapes and sizes: those that are very hands on (even playing some instruments) through to those who are completely unmusical but nonetheless have a great perspective .

The role of the engineer is to realise the producer's / artists ideas from a technical point of view.

Producer: "I want the Peruvian nose flute sound to disappear off into the distance and then explode.

Engineer: "I know, I'll try sending it through delay unit 163457B and then gate it to the bass drum distorted through a leslie cabinet using 3 D72 mics at varying distances."

Producer: "Don't get clever with me, sonny - if it sounds shit, I'll dump it."

Engineer: "Whatever you say, sir"

Producer: "That's right"................ "BOY! Make me a cup of tea and go out and buy me a can of tartan paint...... hoover the ceiling, while you're at it...."


From: Michael M. Ubaldi
E-mail: mmubaldi@mailbox.syr.edu

To further the engineer / production questions, is a large amount of
individual track equalisation usually necessary? Is massive compression employed post-production?

There are no rules - it all depends on what's required for each individual sound or song. Some overall compression and eq. is nearly always added at the mastering stage but this is usually of the minor tweakage variety.

From: Greg Madison
E-mail: gakmadison@worldnet.att.net

Do you use the factory presets on your synths or do you muck about with envelopes and LFO's and such to create your own sounds? Do they ever get lost (as my knob of a guitarist recently 'erased' mine)?

I just twiddle with my knobs until I get excited.

From: Kristina Moodie
E-mail: kristina.moodie@stir.ac.uk

You've said elsewhere in q + a that you don't really care who listens to your music (which is fair enough) but not being musical myself I find that hard to understand. I mean, would it not somehow be tainted if you knew a murderer or rapist was a big fan?

Not really. If you think like that, you wouldn't be able to do anything. Whatever you do or say, there's always someone who's going to either be offended or disturbed by it etc...

Do you make music for yourself or for others? Is something like Recoil more prone to this 'because' of it's darker side?

As above, too much self censorship makes for boring output. It could well be that Recoil does disturb some people but if you don't like it, don't listen and if it makes you do weird things, that's your problem, not mine.

From: Guido Tranel
E-mail: tranel@uni-muenster.de

I would like to know if the DM albums 'Violator', 'SOFAD' and all Recoil albums were digitally recorded and mixed.

The DM albums you mention were recorded using analogue 2" tape with Dolby SR noise reduction. The very first Recoil release ('1+2') was recorded on a 4-track cassette machine! 'Hydrology' was recorded on 16-track half inch tape with Dolby C, 'Bloodline' was recorded digitally using my Akai DR1200 machines with some sounds run live into the mix, and 'Unsound Methods' was mostly run live except for one or two sounds which were recorded digitally. With all these later albums, the final stereo mixes were recorded to half inch tape using Dolby SR.............. you trainspotter, you.

From: Austin Kaiser
E-mail: akaiser77@hotmail.com

I was wondering how proficient you are these days at sight reading. Do you ever just get the urge to sit down at the Steinway and play some good ole fashioned acoustic piano? And if so, what do you play? Do you always make sure to sit at middle C?

I'm very bad at sight reading - always was. I usually prefer to improvise when I play the piano or just work out songs/chords by ear. Hep and I do play fairly regularly. There's a big book of classics on the piano in our room which we tackle (badly) every now and then. She did try and get me to play some duets with her in the early days but we spent the entire time moaning about the other one's lack of dexterity - then we gave up.

From: Matt Parsons
E-mail: zccat61@ucl.ac.uk

I'm a big fan of both DM and Recoil and was just wondering how you made the very resonant loops that are used at the end of 'Higher Love' and 'People Are People'. I've sat down with my sampler and tried all sorts of things but nothing really sounds right.

Can't really remember. The kind of thing you are talking about was probably created by sending the sounds through an external delay unit and allowing them to feedback on themselves. The old Roland Chorus echo machines are great for that sort of thing. In fact, I must get myself a second hand machine.

From: Curtis Perone
E-mail: cwp0914@ritvax.isc.rit.edu

I'm wondering if you prefer to attract an audience which is composed of thoughtful, at least somewhat intelligent individuals who are moved or inspired by your music rather than girls who don't really pay that much attention but just thought you were the cutest one in Depeche Mode?

I don't mind who listens to the music or on what level they enjoy it. Expect a few hate mails coming your way soon.

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