OPN's Daniel Lopatin and engineer Al Carlson take us through the making of his startlingly poignant new album, song by song.
Al Carson: This is actually a pretty minimal arrangement. 3 elements really; each effected in a handful of different ways to create some moving texture. It starts out with a rich Omnisphere choral patch pretty slammed with compression. Juno 60 then slowly creeps in to state the theme. The third element was a few sample layers Dan was jamming through the 555. I think the bed involved percussion, piano, and a male voice saying “waste”. On the other end I was messing with some Sherman distortion and enveloping to make it swirl. The song ends in a break also sampled on the 555. I believe we used some classic Goldwave Delay on the master bus there.
Daniel Lopatin: Yeah super minimal, like most of the tracks on the record I think we had a unwritten rule that we wouldn’t get into more than 8 tracks per song and even that was pretty generous. I’m addicted to the short delay in Goldwave which helps widen the stereo field. I somewhat barbarically use it to ‘master’ my tracks a lot of the time, which blends nicely mostly on stuff that isn’t acutely song oriented.
Al Carson: Another pretty simple arrangement here. Starts out again with our favorite toy Omnisphere. We tracked all the stuff in this jam on some super slow 1/4 tape. The speed was something like 3.75 IPS or something. I think when all was said and and done we even slowed down the playback a little more. Slowly the theme starts to creep in. This was also tracked through very slow tape during an unrelated jam session. I think it might have been a jam session we ended up using in Nassau. You can hear some elements from Nassau on the ending for sure.
Daniel Lopatin: Yeah that is true, bits of Nassau are heard at the end there. It was important to get the ‘remember’ / ‘cry’ sample relationship right at the end, I was feeling like it was too melodramatic the first couple times we tried it. I wanted it to be less metaphoric and more procedural, like the way the way people input memory and output emotion versus I’ve remembered this sad thing and I’m crying because it’s tragic.
Al Carson: Yet again a simple arrangement involving Omnisphere and tape. This was tracked with a little more hifi 1/4” machine though. Think we were running at a blazing 7.5 IPS here. There was some sort of lo end fortification going on here as well. Might be some Sherman or some more generic in the box magic.
Daniel Lopatin: A straight ahead ambient track that we placed in the middle of the record as a sort of transportative break into Side B.
4. CHILD SOLDIER
Al Carson: I think this track kind of sums up the thesis of the record; smooth meets agro. Strings/Choir/R&B vocals juxtaposed with distorted samples/synths. The distorted solo is one of my favorite moments. Sherman was hooking up the distortion while the eventide spread out stereo field to give that crass sound some depth. You also have some staple Sherman sub bombs on this. In my opinion no groove-based track is complete with out an attempt to blow up car stereos.
Daniel Lopatin: Definitely enjoyed / abused the smooth Omni vs. agro sample interplay, you’re right.
Al Carson: This was the only real loop-based track on the album. I think Joel and Dan came up with a bed while syncing together the MPC and D-50. Pretty sure that’s what provides the lo end here. I then came in and we added some Omnisphere and tape delay etc. Think there was also some Juno 60 and Memory Man mixed in there. The bed of sounds here make me feel as if I’m floating through a rain forest.
Daniel Lopatin: Yeah, a very organic track in terms of arrangement, it sort of arranged itself via Juno loops. Had to get the Juno patch #12 emoting-bird loops somewhere on the record. Joel hooked up the insane digi fretless bass line. It was sounding way too Bjork with actual section changes so I kinda limited that and it ended up having a Peter Mergener quality to it, or something more like what you’d hear on a late 70s Innovative Communications release.
6. SLEEP DEALER
Daniel Lopatin: This was an interesting one that I think we tried to midi sync, right? And then gave up on that. I vaguely remember something about the MPC controlling the SP 555 where all the Sleep Dealer samples were, and Al was figuring out how to send MIDI tempo from the 555 which is a pretty goofy instrument overall. Anyway, we did it manually, like everything basically, stitching the parts we liked together and doing overdubs. Everyone chipped in, in terms of creating a nice circular flow of melodic events so that the repetition of the piece was slightly tweaked from section to section. We used a bunch of Omnisphere – for strings and that weird Farfisa synth sound. I don’t remember where the troll like voices came from exactly, obviously sampled but what from I don’t remember. Al was on the Sherman Filterbank, per usual. A lot of the low end on the record was Al processing the main sampler track through a Sherman Filterbank.
Al Carson: One of my favorites here. Yes, midi sync went right out the window on this one. Went with that human sync as a lot of this was jammed in real time. Dan was flipping around from loop to loop while adding some samples here and there for texture. I was on the other end bombing the track with the Sherman. The minutia of this was tweaked after the fact but the body of the song came about almost immediately.
7. POWER OF PERSUASION
Daniel Lopatin: The instrumentation was sparse on this track, which is one of my favorites on the record. It was 4 samples, Omnisphere, and a Yamaha CS-01. We used an Effectron to delay out the second sample in the series of 4. It’s held out for a long time so we recorded these long delay feedback swells. The choir-like stuff is coming from the Omnisphere. We used patches or ones similar to it all over the record. The Yamaha CS-01 was a keyboard I got on suggestion from Robert Lowe (Lichens) and it’s a tiny monosynth from the early 80s that shreds, and we got it to sound like trumpets. The samples were taken from a coffee commercial I believe.
Al Carson: Ah yes. I think all technical elements of this track elude me. My most distinct memory of this was the mental picture that Dan painted for us. He said he wanted the track to sound like a scene from the movie Mozart where Antonio Salieri convinces Mozart to write his own requiem mass (in D minor). This was unbeknownst to Mozart himself as Salieri’s face was hidden in a mask. In any case all I could picture was a classical swindler pulling the greatest trick in history.
Daniel Lopatin: Although I was hesitant to use the piano at first, Carlson had gone through a lot of effort mic-ing the piano up and was gently nudging me to do some piano stuff, so this was the result. We got a good koto sound in Omnisphere and distorted that through tape. There’s lots of Juno 60 tracks… the organ lead and the buzzing current-like drones that comprise the B section and the crescendo. We were thinking ECM but it ended up sounding pretty uptown?! But the reference track for this wasn’t jazz, it was Limpe Fuchs Wir Tanzen off her record ‘Via’.
Al Carson: Beautiful song. Probably one of my favorite piano tones to date. I think everything in this track completely captures the sentiment we were feeling on that overcast Saturday. Something about just letting time pass by as we continue to age. A lot of tape effects on this. Tape slow down, tape delay, tape distortion etc etc.
D: This one came together pretty naturally, all the samples (about 14 of them) fit well together and it was just about letting them cycle out and identifying interesting relationships between them. We must have recorded a sample performance track first, and then once we had the basic arrangement down, we did some overdubs for Yamaha CS-01 leads and Wurlitzer electric piano chords. Al did some Sherman Filterbank stuff, you can hear it pretty explicitly when the subs come in. Probably one of my favorite cuts.
Al Carson: Yes, natural one for sure. Similar to Sleep Dealer, there were a lot of jamming moments with Dan on the 555 and myself on the Sherman. Really love the CS and Wurli solo on the end of this one. Again we tracked those elements through tape using tape delay. That particular sonic combo evokes memories of being in high school and listening Herbie records with Dan and Joel.
Daniel Lopatin: This was the other piano track. I can’t remember how we made this, at all. Was thinking it sounded like lifting off into the Avatar cloud city (baked). Lots of piano via tape delay, and samples, probably just a handful of them. But that one beat is propulsive enough where it is able to push forward and keep the hypnotic vibe anchored. I really wanted the end to have an Ashtray Navigation feel to it, whether that was achieved or not is TBD but I think it works.
Al Carson: This jam was created using a little different approach then others. I think we had like 4 or 5 tracks up on the Neve and just slowly faded them in and out. The theme was started with a sample from the 555. The second element was another similar sample. Then a 3rd string sound slowly creeps in. To end the tune we have a dubbed out piano that Dan played live while i was messing with a delay of some sort.