Sci-fi meets krautrock on TenGrams’ new album. The Piatto brothers talk us through how they made it.
When asked to name their biggest influence, Alessandro and Davide Piatto reply that it’s “clearly” sci-fi. Classic 60s and 70s works of science fiction collide with Ron Howard’s space epic Mars and ironic takes on anti-drugs propaganda films to inform the duo’s new album, which is out now on NOIA Records.
“The album was recorded and mixed between the end of 2015 and summer 2016, using mainly vintage synths, drum machines and samplers, following no rules or music trends,” the brothers tell us. Musically, the obvious house and techno reference points are supplemented by a strong krautrock influence, from the motorik rhythms of Kraftwerk through to the experimental sounds of Cluster.
The result is an eight-track collection of joyfully analogue-focused house, sprinkled with hints of intergalactic trippiness.
We asked the duo to talk us through how they made it, track by track.
The opening track of the album was inspired by the Ron Howard TV movie Mars.
We programmed the drums with the TR-808, making a classic electro funk pattern (big thanks as always to Kraftwerk) and recorded it through the Mackie CR1604 VLZ and Sherman Filterbank. We kept the signal quite clean, just adding a little distortion. We love the way the Sherman works – it always gives a new life to the sounds.
The bassline comes from the Roland SH-1, a classic square wave modulated with the PWM linked to a slow LFO rate. The arpeggio was played with the Roland MC-202. It’s a great unit. We program it with the software MC-202 Hack – it’s fast and easier than the old-school way. Pads and drones come from U-he Diva, NI Massive and GForce MTron. The main falling FX come from the Korg MS-20. All the tracks were processed with U-he Satin. The reverb units are, one the software side, the Valhalla VintageVerb and, on the hardware side, the Korg DRV 2000. The other plugs onboard were Soundtoys EchoBoy and D-16 Antresol.
‘Electric Happiness’ was born on a very dark and rainy afternoon. We were just jamming in studio looking for something new with FM synthesis, and usually it’s not our cup of tea. We spent some hours to find a couple of sounds and then we made the track.
The bass comes from the Yamaha FB01, doubled by the Roland SH-1 for a more rich deepness in the low frequencies. D-16 Drumazon provided the drums. We sampled the kick,
the snare and the clap with the Akai S950 to get a more gritty sound thanks to the 12-bit resolution. The congas comes from the TR-808 and the other percussion sounds from Native Instruments’ FM8.
The high-pitched sequenced melodic line was programmed and played with the MC-202. All the pads and leads were done with U-He Diva, starting from the Jupiter-8 template.
Please, wash my brain again
This track was inspired by the Carl Craig remix of Hot Lizard – ‘The Theme’.
Our idea was to make an evolving hypnotic atmosphere, like deep-sea swimming. We sampled the chords and build the track with the MC-202 as bassline. The drum sounds comes from the TR-808 that we sampled and played with the Akai S950. Drones and pads were done with U-he Diva and Madrona Labs’ Aalto, which is a great semi-modular software synthesiser. We used the D16 Fazortan on the drones and the original Ibanez FL301-DX flanger pedal on the shakers. All the tracks were processed with U-he Satin.
As we are a deeply lovers of sci-fi, we wanted to make a different love song, thinking of the great movie The Day of the Triffids.
Despite the terrible behaviour of those alien vegetables, we looked for some sweet and dreamy melodies. The TR-808 was recorded once again through the Mackie CR1604 and Sherman Filterbank to create some weird artefacts. We made a frenetic hat pattern and a half-tempo kick and snare. In the end, all were compressed with the Softube FET Compressor for a more pumping beat.
The sub bass was made with the SH-1 lightly sidechained to a 4/4 ghost kick. The riff synth at beginning of the track comes from a NI Massive preset, a nice detuned brass sound that you can hear all along the track. The pad sound was done layering the EDP Wasp, the Roland MKS-70 and U-he Diva. We added to this stack also a ERS software clone of the Roland Dimension D chorus and VintageVerb. The melody line comes from the MC-202, lightly detuned with a slow LFO modulating the pitch. The echo unit for the lead was the Evans Analog Echo AE 205R. We put also some field recordings and a VHS noise tape.
The track was build around a sample from the krautrock combo Cluster. It comes from the album Grosses Wasser, released in 1979.
Cluster’s music is a constant source of inspiration for us. The kick is a classic 909 with a long tuned decay for a boomy rich sound. The clap also comes from the 909 – they were both resampled and played with a lower pitch with the Akai 950. This track is pretty basic, not too much stuff inside: some FX were done with the EDP Wasp and all the rest with U-he Diva, which is our main go-to software synth. Verbs and delays come from VintageVerb and Echoboy.
Everyone Is Worth Saving
This track was the first that we made for the album. Following no rules was our direction. It was just like a breath of fresh air, no stress, only fun.
Kick and toms were done with the TR-808, hats and snare with a noise signal from the Korg MS-20. In the snare channel we put a Waves C1 Gate that made it shorter, a little bit inaccurate (in a good way) and organic. The bassline comes from the Roland SH-1 (our preferred monosynth). It’s a classic saw wave with random sample and hold modulation on the filter. It’s a pretty basic progression – we took inspiration from the Cluster track ‘Caramel’.
The piano pad was done with U-he Diva. We put Waves Real ADT on it to get a slightly detuned chorus sound. The high-pitched lead synth comes from the square wave of the Roland MC-202, played through the Echoboy (Roland Space Echo emulation) and the ERS Dim D.
Don’t do drugs
We took inspiration for this track watching an old 60s anti-drugs TV propaganda movie. We built the track thinking of it as a soundtrack for that video. It’s a weird track. It seems, in the beginning, to be in 3/4 time because of the ghost hats and the cowbell but, in fact, it’s classic 4/4.
The kick was done, once again, with the 808, the hats triggering the noise signal of the SH-1. The ghost drum pattern comes from a sample library, as does the bassline. The pads and the arpeggio were done with U-he Diva, the lead with a free ensemble of NI Reaktor. We looked to get an overall ‘stoned’ sound, so there’s a lot of detuned stuff, chorus and big space reverbs.
This track was not written for the album. Some time ago we were asked to make ‘housey’ stuff for a various artists 12 inch, so we made something very basic: a shuffle house pattern made wth D-16 Drumazon, a GForce Minimonsta jazzy bassline, a glossy pad from U-he Diva and an old-school vocal sample. We went for a lo-fi mix. The drums were processed with OhmForce Omicide and the other tracks with U-he Satin. In the end we love how it sounds and decided to put it in the album as a bonus track.