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Darkroom: The Notes behind the Numbers

img  Tobias

Did the satisfying results of the „DAC Mixes“ feed back into your approach to SOTNMS in any way?
We wanted to get beyond sequential edits of big live loops – we'd pushed that as far as we wanted to for now with Fallout; Mike similarly with Bernhard Wagner as Pedaltone. Hearing what the remixers did with our material on 'The DAC Mixes' probably did encourage us to try doing something similar to ourselves, at least as a starting point, and led us to rediscover some of our earlier multitrack experiments (e.g. Daylight). But there was also a feeling of wanting to make something bigger in scope.

The original brief for the album was „Guitar under a microscope“. What exactly was the idea of that mission statement?
The phrase was Mike's: the original idea was to focus not just on the notes that were played but on the sounds behind the notes – pick sounds, amplifier hum, valve rattle etc. Changing perspective on a sound - zooming in after recording to emphasise unexpected parts of the audio, or zooming out and taking the music in new directions by building on these with new connections.

You can hear some of that clearly in the album e.g. the amp being turned off at the end of Mercury Shuffle becomes a key part of the track, the album sequencing & mood. Two Is Ambient has many examples - Mike played electric fretless bass, and we mic'd up the fingerboard even though we weren't expecting much from it, resulting in a bass that often sounds more like a cello. String slides end up anticipating the distorted bass that's central to the last track, and Mike's breathing in some places could easily be mistaken for a cymbal in the final mix.

You might think this brief would produce an album of abstract noise or self-consciously experimental guitar tones - in the event, it often resulted in us exploring some classic rock guitar, but from a different angle. If anything, this process changed the brief into "Ambient Stadium Rock", which was arguably our true mission statement, once we realised it.

Judging from the press release, 60s instrumentals appear to have been an influence –something that's perhaps not that obvious from the finished album ...
Track 5 - "No Candy No Can Do" - had the working title "The Shadows in Dub"! The lead guitar line is very much inspired by echoey 60s guitar twang, but deconstructed & in a setting that would've been impossible then. The dub instrumental came first, but as a complete listening experience was missing something - Mike improvised the guitar line separately one evening (in a completely different tempo and key, as it turned out) and so began a process of editing and arrangement that produced the final track.

Some of the inspiration is indirect, and more to do with the approach... a love of sound for its own sake, and the feelings it can create. The cover image that Carl Glover designed for us also echoes this... something about 'what the future used to look like', and how sounds can date, but bring the past back... which is part of the reason there's a gated snare on the last track! Though it's panned hard to one side, to evoke that 60s 'reprocessed for stereo' feel. To lift the title track, we added some analogue surf sounds... maybe there's a 60s instrumental connection there, but it wasn't deliberate or conscious at the time. Honest.

There's probably more direct influence of 70s instrumentals in the album - e.g. Tangerine Dream's Rubycon, Jeff Beck's collaborations with George Martin, and Mike Oldfield's more organic work. Though the album was very much a product of digital recording and nonlinear editing techniques, we wanted it to have a warm but dynamic analogue sound... this finally led to a mastering session with Jon Astley near Eel Pie Island, partly because of his work on The Who's 'Live at Leeds'.

Were songs already written by the time you began to record or was it a process of slowly feeling your way forward?

It was about a year from us deciding that we were going to make an album (rather than just making various musics for e.g. the podcast or short soundtracks) to having the finished result. We knew we wanted something more 'composed' than the podcast and the albums that went before, but weren't quite sure how we would go about it, so yes we were slowly feeling our way forward. We were still creating sounds based on improvisations, but with a specific goal of creating a coherent album from them in the end. In fact Os's mission statement for the album was originally simply: everything used on the album had to be specifically recorded for the album. We almost kept to

The pieces on the album feel extremely refined and honed to perfection. Were you consciously creating different layers of listening to the album?

We wanted something that would stand up to repeated listening on many levels, where there would always be new things to discover – both technical & emotional. Which isn't to say that we consider it all perfect! We kept the flaws we liked. But the refining and honing are intrinsic parts of the way we work - we often created recordings with no specific plans for where they'd go or how they'd fit into tracks, and then the process of creating tracks is one of extensive editing, arrangement and juxtaposition, so mostly the results are very deliberate even at very small scales. Then as a final pass we removed clutter - at the scale of a single note or an entire track - that got in the way of the album communicating as a whole.

Part of this process was finding the title for the album - "Some of These Numbers Mean Something" - which happened very late in the process, but helped draw everything together. Like the music it works on several levels - it's about searching for patterns of meaning in digital data, or representation and a search or longing for meaning in general, which feels very current still. But it could also be read as 'numbers' as in the tracks themselves... or what they might do for anyone listening. I guess this all means it's a 'concept' album... but whatever the concept is, it's deliberately not lit up in big neon lights.

The notes to SOTNMS mention a recording, mixing and mastering phase, but no „editing“. How come?
Recording, editing and mixing are all part of a seamless process for us. Sometimes Os would prepare a guide track, other times there would just be a click, and Mike would record guitar parts - often according just to what amp or pedal we wanted to explore that day... or that happened to be working! Then Os would take these recordings away and build tracks from them - sometimes multiple tracks from the same set of recordings, other times combining unrelated recordings into single tracks.  For example, the track 'Mercury Shuffle' started as a drum loop, which Mike played several layers of guitar over. The last of these – a single take of spacious melodic feedback solo - was all that was kept, but it was kept intact and the rest of the track constructed and orchestrated around it. We could have edited the solo - but didn't want to lose the coherent 'something' that it had. Once we had a number of candidate tracks close to finished, we started the process of bringing them together as a whole.

Maybe there was a short phase right at the end that was pure mixing in the traditional sense, but even then it was more tweaking of near final mixes, that had developed organically as we went along. That said, there was also some drastic editing right at the end too – one track was completely removed, but its bassline lifted and transplanted into another track from the same session, where it was much happier.

The album is divided into an A- and B-side separated by an intermission. How did the idea develop?
This was Mike's idea and arose from his lasting fascination with vinyl... using LP sequencing as a guide, but putting a 7" single track in the middle with a different feel, that's separate from the main development. The audio equivalent of a cinema ice cream.

When did Andrew Booker join the sessions?

We can be very specific about that - it was 16th April 2008! And only
that one day - all of the drums were recorded in a single session. We used a fairly minimal and quickly set up selection of microphones, put some rough mixes through Andy's headphones and recorded the results. Andy commented afterwards (in his blog on that he thought we were just going to take snippets of his drumming and make some loops - in the end we often used fairly extensive sections of his performances, which I think adds to the sense that the album was 'played' rather than built in a computer. Which isn't to say that there weren't occasions where we made some very fine edits and rearrangements of what was actually recorded.

Our process was probably unusual in that the drums were all overdubbed, rather than recorded as a foundation for the tracks, but it's a tribute to Andy that his parts became integral. Whether these were orchestral colour or rhythm, Andy quickly 'got' what we were doing... just as he always does with Improvizone, or on a bigger stage last year - as with the "Mixtaped"-DVD, with no-man.

What did Andrew add to the final result in your opinion?
'Two Is Ambient' is four almost unedited guitar improvisations (electric, acoustic and bass) - in our opinion the drums bring it together, and make it sound like the ambient power trio that you think might be playing the track live. In a way having 'real drums' on the album also makes it more accessible to people who wouldn't normally listen to 'electronic' or 'loop' music, and who couldn't care less about how it was made, or what's going on underneath. Os - in Mike's view - has no conventional prejudices about how a kit should sound, treating a drummer a bit like a sample CD - the same as any other audio component in the fabrication of the album.

Anthony's arrival on this world is credited with getting the album made in time. Might he also delay the next one just a bit?

(laughs) To be fair to him, he's been no bother at all! One thing that's delayed progress so far is Os's other musical endeavour – his software exploits as Expert Sleepers (, which takes up all hours if allowed to, but which feed in to the music. (The 'Augustus Loop' plug-in is used extensively on SOTNMS).

However, there has been progress, and we have a number of recording
sessions sitting on the harddrive waiting to be attended to – probably some of the best stuff we've done. Still working out what the 'key' will be this time... initially we were making an ambient album, which then - after listening to Orbital and loving the approach but having reservations about some of the sounds - developed into 'what if we made 90s electronica with 70s gear in the 10s'? As well as new lives, there'll be an influence from losing others. Whatever comes out, it won't be 'Some More Of These Numbers Mean Something Else', that's a promise. Watch our blog for news on how it develops...

Homepage: Darkroom
Homepage: Burning Shed Records

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