Erol Alkan and Richard Norris returned to the fore last week with their second collaborative album as Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve, 'The Soft Bounce'.
Eight years since they last shared a full-length BTWS project, the album was released last Friday on Erol's own Phantasy Sound label and is easily the kick-back-and-relax soundtrack you've been waiting for all year. From the swooning female vocals on album opener Delicious Light, through to the movie score leanings of Tomorrow, Forever and displacing "acid-assault" vocal close of Third Mynd – Richard and Erol show the power of collaboration.
To mark the release on July 1st, we got Richard and Erol to talk us through the gear that made 'The Soft Bounce' – which ranges from a borrowed BBC mixer from the '70s, a battered Fender, and a microphone that once belonged to a member of The Who.
Read through a list of Phantasy studio's prized posessions that helped contribute to the unique sound of 'The Soft Bounce' below.
Revox PR 99 Tape Machine
Erol: "This was used in a quite unconventional manner. Rather than using it for mastering the mixes onto the tape, we used it as a limiter by having the machine paused and driving the signal into the machine. It's got excellent headroom and gave the mixes a really cinematic feel, something which no other hardware has in the Phantasy studio. We tried a few other boxes to achieve the same effect but nothing came close to the Revox."
Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe pedal
Richard: "A solid black metal box of tricks, hand built in England, as used by Hendrix and others. Tremolo, Chorus and Vibrato sounds that work amazingly well with…"
Thermonic Culture Vulture and Chandler Mini Mixer
Erol: "Pretty much every sound on 'Soft Bounce' was treated through the Culture Vulture. It's a valve based distortion unit, but there is a way to use it with no distortion being added, but instead creating a gentle haze across the sounds. It's quite an expensive distortion unit but when used right can create a variety of different modes of crunching, or used as we did, can make everything sit together without actually sounding angry. There are also some moments when it was pushed to its limits, but these moments are quite low in the mix, and purely there to tap into your subconcious. The album was mixed with Steve Dub (who has worked extensively with The Chemical Brothers) and we did quite a few unconventional things to get what we needed. It was a pretty fluid process."
Erol: "The main summing mixer for each track. I've used this on pretty much everything since I bought it off Mike Skinner in 2010. It's exceptional and I would recommend it to anybody looking for a summing mixer rather then going for a desk. It has a really pure circuit which instantly brings the sounds to life. Mine has been modified to drive a little harder then it's factory setting, so you can get some pretty intense results if needed. It also looks great."
Rat Pedal & LoveTone Big Cheese
Richard: "These two fuzz pedals have distinct jagged edges. The original RAT (better than later versions), combined with the Voodoo Vibe, creates that inimitable The Smoke My Friend Jack serrated fuzz tone kick. The Big Cheese, now pretty sought after as they had a very short production run, is a unique fuzz sound. Kinda T Rex – it really cuts through."
Akai S612 Sampler
Erol: "This was used to great effect on the title track of the album. We made a choir of voices from a single note sung by Hannah Peel. It's an 8-bit sampler, so you get quite synthetic results but that sound is like nothing else I can get on any other unit in the studio. A few other sounds were thrown into it and re-sampled just to give it a slight movement. This was actually given to me by a guy named Will who was throwing it out and it was used all across the 'Illumination' EP. Having that limitation of six seconds of sampling time opened up multiple worlds of creativity. You can probably pick one up off ebay for around £50."
Sony C 48 Microphone
Erol: "This belonged to John Entwistle of The Who until I bought it. We used it to record some guitars, as well as Blaine Harrison. I'm hoping some of John's chaotic magic rubbed off on the record."
Suzuki Omnichord OM-27
Richard: "This is a strange, brown, plastic thing and shaped like a kidney. But don't let that put you off, as its electric autoharp sounds are celestial. We used this a lot on 'The Soft Bounce', as well as on 'Sun Restructured' – our re-animation of the Temples 'Sun Structures' album. You can play chords with one button, which helps produce songs you wouldn't have come up with if you'd been slaving over a hot fretboard. There's a good cheap rhythm sound on there too."
Erol: "Borrowed from a friend and used all over Diagram Girl, with each drum sound gently overdriven as the song progressed. I have no idea of the model number as I've since given it back, but I know it was made for the BBC in the '70s."
Logan String Machine
Erol: "Also used all over Diagram Girl. Each sting part was double or triple tracked to create a really thick layer of sound. There is no midi so it was all played in freehand which added to the feel of the track. You can probably hear a few timing issues which were kept in as editing those out is the mindset of the devil."
Erol: "I've had this since the '90s and it was abused around the time of me being in a band back then. I'm sure one of the pick ups sounds completely off but it sounded right for one of the multi tracked guitars on Iron Age. Most of my instruments are probably not optimised as they should be, but that adds something unpredictable to the moment. The same guitar is pictured on the cover of the album."
Moog Moogerfooger MF 103 Phaser pedal
Richard: "All the Moogerfoogers are worth a look – particularly the delay, low pass filter and ring modulator, as well as this phase that has a great sweep and depth. Great on strings and drones."
Trident Flexi Mix
Erol: "Mainly used as pre-amps to record vocals and bass parts. It's a really full sounding desk with expansive EQs – you can drive the signal quite hard and it still sounds musical. It's also apparently the same model of desk which The Human League's Dare and Bowie's Spiders From Mars were mixed on."
The Mustafa SSL 4000 Compressor
Erol: "A homemade SSL clone I built 10 years ago, used as the master bus compressor across every track. It has a couple of modifications which drives it harder than a usual SSL and I've used it on almost every piece of music since it was built. There are only two in the world, and the other I made for Soulwax."
Zoom 2020 Guitar Multi FX Unit
Erol: "Cheap and nasty, also dates back to the '90s. I think it's 8-bit, so you get quite a strange sound from it, but it fit like a glove across the whole record. I have various supremely high end amps and pedals, but some of them lacked the needed character."
Logic Stereo Spread Plug In
Erol: "Essential. A completely underrated plug which makes such a difference. There's a way to use it to get the most out of it which is often overlooked, but I love it and probably use it too much."
'Soft Bounce' was released July 1st on Phantasy Sound (buy).