Alain and Tommy Four Seven show us round their Berlin studios and explain some of the key gear used to create their new album.
Welcome to my studio. It serves both as the creative workshop for all the music I write but also as my company One Million Mangos, a recording and mastering studio in Berlin.
This is the view from the front. From this angle it’s a classic mastering setup – apart from the modular on the left, of course. I feel most comfortable working in this configuration, whether that’s writing music or working recording, mixing or mastering. I’ve been using flat mid-fields with a sub for so long, I just can’t work with anything else.
I do everything with the sub on. There’s always been this mysterious controversy surrounding mixing with a sub, but I don’t get it. I need to hear everything all the time. I don’t use alt monitors, just one solid system that I know inside out.
In terms of DAW, for the last four years or so I’ve been using Reaper exclusively for pretty much everything.
Analogue Systems Modular
Taking up most of the rack is an Analogue Systems modular synth. This thing is pretty standard in terms of the module selection but in comparison to many other brands, everything just seems to have more vibe. The comb filter, for example, is horrendously lo-fi and noisy but in a great way. The modular features (exclusively) on ‘Isopod’ and ‘Untitled’.
The main thing to talk about in the right hand side rack would be the EQ. I built it myself so there are no labels for the controls. This is definitely the best sounding EQ I’ve ever owned as it’s totally over-built. I mean, all the components are way more expensive than necessary and it could have easily fit into a 2U rack, but I wanted this particular layout with oversized knobs.
Although this EQ didn’t feature heavily in the initial production stage, it was a key part of mastering.
Tape & Outboard
Quite a few of the songs were either run through the tape machine or mixed off tape to some degree. I guess you can hear it in the overall sound of the album. We weren’t afraid of hiss or saturation for this project!
Some of the other gear used here is the ART valve compressor and Alesis Midiverb, both of which were patched in from time to time when mixing because of their unique characters, but didn’t shape the sound of the album as much as some of the other gear elsewhere mentioned.
The acoustic drum kit was used to varying extents on all tracks which have drums. It’s one of the most important elements to the sound of the album. The tracks ‘Severed’, ‘When Told’, ‘Diesel’ and ‘Laika’ in particular all started life from sounds recorded from the drum kit.
Guitars were extremely important for drones and background textures. We ran a whole bunch of stuff through guitar amps too. On ‘Diesel’, for example, the bassline was cranked through a valve amp to get that saturated tone.
I’ve been writing pretty much in the box until recently, using primarily Logic as my main DAW. Slowly over time I’ve added more hardware as I find inspiration in getting hands-on and away from the mouse and screen.
Because our studios are both in the same building, we regularly swap gear and hang out in each other’s studio. But for the most part of the album writing process, we worked individually in our own rooms and then swapped sessions back and forwards. This meant every time we swapped a session, we’d actually commit all processing down to audio tracks, because we use different DAWs and plugins. Although this is now seen as somehow outrageous in terms of total recall, it definitely helped shape the sound of the album.
In every track which had drums, we concocted some sort of weird and wonderful kick out of either the acoustic drum kit in the live room, or some random source. In the case of the track ‘Ivy’, the kick drum was made out of a plastic toolbox. Although these kicks gave each track a unique character, a lot of the time, no matter how much you cranked the lows, there wasn’t enough weight to the bottom end.
So the 909 was used on every single track with drums, layered underneath the existing kicks to fill in the low end where the frequencies were lacking. You can’t even really hear that there’s a 909 in there on many of the tracks, but if you mute it in the mix you can massively hear the difference!
MicroKorg & Pedals
Despite having Alain’s Analogue Systems modular we actually used a MicroKorg for the vast majority of melody on the album. We used it as a kind of toy instrument because it’s easy to pick up and play, but always ran it through a bunch of pedals so the actual sound coming out of the thing was nearly irrelevant by the time the signal path had run its course.
The MicroKorg and pedals in this combination featured on every track apart from ‘Isopod’ and ‘Untitled’, which were done with the modular.
A good few of the songs had an ambient noise recording real low down in the mix to add a character in the same way room tones are used in film. We chose a location to capture based on the mood of the track. I guess the most noticeable use of this would be on ‘Ivy’ where we layered a field recording of us walking outside the studio on snow and the nearest station underpass which had some great ambience.
Sherman Filterbank Dual
The Sherman rack was used occasionally for mangling more percussive sounds, like the drums on ‘Trelesire’. Although it’s a visual centrepiece of my studio, it didn’t get used half as much as it should have!
Both being vegan, fruit is an essential studio snack and the ultimate lazy fast food! No dirty dishes, no washing up required. We’ll typically get through a box like this in a week.
1st November, 2013