Geometry, pop music, and the theory of the universe

Firstly, allow us to thank you so much for launching our campaign on Kickstarter with a propulsive blast outta the gate. One week into the project and we’re 59 percent funded!

So let me tell you some more about our new album, Sun Moon. I already shared how we started recording these songs on Sunday afternoons at OP headquarters. The first song we completed was “Aether Tide,” and it basically set the direction for how we would make the rest of the recordings on the album.

Of note, we approached the recording of the drums in a very different manner on this album. It’s mostly because our new drummer, Gabriel Coan, has a unique way of playing and tuning his vintage drumkits. Now, there’s no official method for recording drums . . . there have been thousands of ways of recording them over time.

In the mid-60s, engineers typically used fewer microphones and recorded the drums in a fairly large acoustic space. In the 70s, it became more common to use lots of microphones in a fairly dead acoustic space. As the 80s came, more and more microphones on the drums became the norm, with the dead acoustic spaces being augmented by plenty of digital reverb.

There are exceptions to those generalizations, of course. For instance in the late 60s and early 70s, when most drum sounds were starting to get fairly claustrophobic and microscopic, engineers like brothers Glyn and Andy Johns were experimenting with ambient microphone techniques that made tracks breathe with new life. You can hear these sounds on the Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street (see “Sweet Virginia”) and Led Zeppelin IV (especially noticeable on “When the Levee Breaks” — albiet aided and abetted by a Binson Echorec).

So, back to Mystery Lawn Studio . . . in this first session, we decided to use the resonant qualities of the drumkit in the ambient kitchen space of our Eichler. We put up a single, stereo ribbon microphone a few feet in front of the kit, and that is our entire drum sound. No kick drum mic; no snare drum mic. . . I think it’s one of the first recordings we’ve made that treat the drumkit as a single instrument instead of 5 different, smaller instruments (with the exception of the drum sound on “You’re So Clever” from “So Far,” which uses a single tube condenser mic on the drums).

Getting that kind of exciting, deep, ambient drum sound on our first session definitely set the direction of how we recorded everything on this album. I think it also inspired the lyrical direction of many of the songs. Having all that space in the mix definitely did something to my brain. The lyrics on “Aether Tide” are loosely based on the ideas of Aether Theory, which proposes an alternative view of quantum physics.

There’s a nice blog entry about it from our friend Eric Smith at BeyondChron.

We released the song as a Digital Single in May of 2011 and we cobbled together a simultaneous video as well. Sun Moon will feature a remixed version of the song when it is released in early 2013.

Here’s an instrumental demo version of Aether Tide. Back when I recorded it, there was no drumkit in the house, so I used a Sequential Circuits Drumtraks drum machine with a slowed-down tom tom sample trying to sound like a tympani.

I definitely had a pretty good idea of the structure, vocal melody and chord sequence . . . what I did not expect was how much the band would add when we recorded the definitive version. John Moremen would contribute a riff to the Orange Peels version which we tracked through an unlikely guitar amp (a mid-60s Akai tube tape machine and a 1930s Altec speaker). It gives the tune a futuristic grit that only old technology could have possibly created.

Comments are closed.