October 24, 2005

All Is Quiet On The Western Front...

by Chris Randall

Man, it's been a long time since I had a whole weekend go by without finding anything new and/or interesting for Monday morning posting purposes. I guess I should point out that I had a lot to do this weekend, and thus wasn't the normal Surfin' Foole that can dredge up the usual oddities. So I'll opine on my current goings-on.

I've been working on this new Scanalyzer record (named "On The One And The Zero,") with Wade Alin for the last couple months, and it's the first time I've co-wrote an album with someone where the co-writer is a couple thousand miles away. Wade lives in Chicago, while I am, of course, high in the Cascade Mountains in Western Oregon. Through the miracle of the Interwebs, we maintain a constant dialog and flip Nuendo folders back and forth. (Wade, like all smart producers, uses Nuendo on PC, just like me, which is convenient for this sort of work.)

The record itself is IDM/Noise/DubDustrial, so it's not a terribly complicated process, I'll grant, but it's still the first time I've done anything like this, and it can lead to some interesting thoughts about the creative process itself. Will all electronic musicians turn in to pasty agorophobes by the advent of cheap broadband? Wait! They're pasty agorophobes already! I personally can't really see this sort of situation working in the context of rock music, except for remixes, I don't think. But for "electronica," it is a viable way to record an album.

How we do it is thus: either Wade or I will come up with, say, 32 measures of a song idea, figure six to ten tracks of drums and synth. Then the other will add and edit 'til it exhibits some song-like tendencies, then flip it back for completion. The album is approaching "done" status in fits and starts; we've been working on it on and off since early last year. But both Wade and I have our Main Things to work on as well, so that's no surprise. Back when I was rich and famous, I would think nothing of locking out a recording studio for a month or two just to write, but with having a home studio, the time pressure isn't there, and I tend to not work as fast, or without the same Sword Of Damocles provided by the financial department of the Label hanging over my head. ("Yes," said Dionysius, "I know there is a sword above your head, and that it may fall at any moment. But why should that trouble you?)

Actually, in thinking about it, that's not entirely true. I was signed, first to Wax Trax!, and then to TVT, for a total of 6 years, during which I released four albums. My contract ended in 1997, and since then I've released nine albums. So I guess that technically speaking, I'm _more_ productive without the Sword. That's an interesting line of reasoning...

But I digress. The point is that while it is nice to be in a room with someone when you're writing/producing, it is no longer necessary. I think you're also more likely to try wacky shit, because no one hears it but you; there's no danger of creative embarassment. But I don't think it would work with every kind of music. Thoughts?




Oct.24.2005 @ 12:54 PM
I've done the distance thing a few times, and I think in the preliminary stages and mid-stages it's great. As you say, you're willing to try some different things, and you don't have someone sitting next to you looking bored when you decide to route that hi-hat track into your modular and make some sort of weird "splorng" sound that takes 1.5 hours to patch up. It lets people be comfortable and do their own thing, and like you say, at your own pace. The trick, in my opinion, is the final stages of mixing / production. I think at that point you want the person sitting next to you so that there is a sense of cohesiveness, plus I find it greatly helps to have someone sitting next to me go "dude, you don't need to keep EQing that track, it's fine".

Then again I'm certainly no professional, so take me with a grain of salt.


Oct.24.2005 @ 3:03 PM
It worked for us, doing very involved electronic production but (a) we didn't "integrate" as well as it sounds like you guys are, and (b) it was kinda less inspiring than every time Brad and I get in a room and write rock music. Which probably means something important.

We're working on a second Plink record now from 3000 miles apart and it's ... slow.

(see hoopy tape op article: link [www.rainlikely.co...]">link [www.rainlikely.co...] , link [www.rainlikely.co...]">link [www.rainlikely.co...])


Oct.24.2005 @ 4:13 PM
Chris Randall
Shit, I read that article when it came out, and I was like "yeah, okay." This sort of thing is quite common in post work, but I think not so common with professionally released albums of any stripe. Since Wade does so much post and music-for-picture, he's quite used to it. My experiences prior to making this album were more limited to remixes, and even then, I'd just get a CD-R with the files.

In any case, I think it's important to note that in your case as well as ours, it was two people, and both people had more or less the same system. Also, programs like Nuendo and PT have features to handle this sort of thing, while a lot of other DAWs do not.



Oct.25.2005 @ 7:04 AM
I participated in an event like this on the MARSH forums last year (called CAPE, they're doing one again right now I believe). Fittingly, I was in "Team Industry" - and between the 7 of us we produced a great track moving files between the US, Australia and Europe. We didn't have the luxury of same hosts, someone was recording with Paris, someone with PT, Logic, Live etc. - so in the end it all came down to the mixing guy to put it together.

with electronic music I feel it's slightly different since you're not confined to an instrument or technique (I was the guy for loops and dsp wankery in the above collab) - you can move around the arrangement more intuitively and work on the parts you like. In the end I prefer live improvisation for electronic music though. With some preparation that's the most satisfying way to get stuff done with others for me.


Oct.25.2005 @ 11:43 AM
Yeah, it wasn't exactly a revolutionary article, I just like name-dropping that I was in Tape Op. Makes me feel better about our 3-digit sales numbers. I actually sent them a followup letter to the editor that described a few more of the nuts and bolts of how we worked, but even that wouldn't be news for long-time net dorks.

One thing of note -- Brad and I weren't on the same system at all. I worked in SX, with maybe half of my effects and synths printed; Brad worked in CEP/Audition, with everything printed. But since Brad is the worst collaborator ever ("please don't touch my chord changes, rookie") we didn't have to interface all that much. And of course, the fact that all his stuff was printed made it easy to drop into SX when we did the final mix. Going the other way would have been a drag. (and was, when we did it.)




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