Career in Gear by Sylvan Esso: “We printed the whole song via the radio transmitter, and this is the version that ended up on the disc”

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn form Sylvan Esso, a duo recording radiant electro-pop that vibrates with unbridled emotion. Balancing the scales between total pop melodism and electronic experimentation, their third album Free Love saw them think outside the box and go deeper into modular synthesis, earning them a 2022 Grammy nomination for Best Dance Album. / electronics in the process.

Though they reinvigorate pop music with adventurous sound techniques, Nick and Amelia aren’t gear snobs: they’re just as happy to run an entire track through a radio transmitter and push Ableton plugins. to their limits as they make deals on a monolithic Moog Voyager XL. For our feature film Career in Gear, the duo pulled five key tracks from their discography and gave us a look at the five studio gear that defined their sound.

1. Make phonogenic noise

“Frequency”

NOT. : “” Frequency “was made around this loop that I made with a module called the Make Noise Phonogene. It’s this nice old sampler that they don’t make anymore, that sounds wonderfully bad, it almost sounds like a hacked sampler.

“He’s got that ultra lo-fi kind of that kind of quality. But for some reason it has this amount of miraculous soul, it feels like whatever you put in it is emerging with more intention and meaning than there was. It’s like this way of revealing a melody in something.

“So the whole initial piece, that floating sound that is the backbone of the track, is all I sample my own voice into that Phonogene and then the sequence. It’s totally one of those things where I don’t think this song would have happened without it, it’s a beautiful piece of kit.

2. Moog Voyager XL

“Die young”

NOT. : “Amelia wrote this in our friend’s studio, and we were trying to sketch it. In that place, they had this absolutely crazy Moog Voyager XL. It was the kind of thing that – especially back then – we didn’t. would never have access to this magnificent and giant instrument.

I thought, I’m just going to do that again on something else, make it tighter and play it better and stuff. But we couldn’t beat the sound with anything else

“Right away she came in and I wrote that bassline, the main riff of the song, using it. Because we were sitting with that, that part became that classic sound, Moog-y, almost Hornsby, with an oscillator tuned to the root and one tuned to the fifth above.There’s no way this song would have happened that way, if this thing hadn’t been sitting there.

“It’s actually funny too, because we were recording it, assuming we were just recording the demo. Because the waveforms I was using were so simple, it’s literally a triangle wave and a sawtooth. I thought, I’m just going to do that again on something else, make it tighter and play it better and stuff. But we couldn’t beat the sound with anything else. It was one of those things where it’s like, it’s a triangle wave, how can that be so different? It was so frustrating – we ended up having to borrow someone’s Voyager and do it again.

3. ⅛ inch radio transmitter

“To free”

NOT. : “For our song ‘Free’ I chose a thumbs up radio transmitter – remember, before you can plug your phone in the car, before Bluetooth, those little things that you plug into your Discman? Then you would tune your radio station in the car to that frequency.

A M: “This piece of equipment didn’t perform very well – that’s why we loved it.”

NOT. : “We ordered a few and started radioing things and recording this old boombox that Amelia found.”

We printed the whole song on the radio, and this is the version that ended up on the record

A M: “Yeah, instead of printing things on tape, we were printing them on the radio. But the cool part is you could player the radio by moving it. Almost every Free Love song has it. You might really lean into the white noise of the radio.

NOT. : “The transmitter is not very powerful. So your ability to play the distance between the boombox and the transmitter suddenly becomes its own dance instrument. And there’s this thing that I don’t think I realized until we started doing it, that there’s the static sound that we all know, of what something looks like when it’s transmitted over the radio. There is a very specific type of distortion.

A M: “It’s the same as iPhone recordings. You didn’t notice that there was a sound in something, and then you realize how beautiful it is, when you can hear it on its own. “

NOT. : “We literally did the mix for the song ‘Free’, then we printed the whole song on the radio, and that’s the version that ended up on the record. “

4. Ableton Vocoder

“What if”

NOT. : “Let’s do another inexpensive one. I think the built-in Ableton vocoder is not celebrated enough. On “What If” we really got into that that was the bulk of the chords and the whole sound.

“I just feel like it’s one of those stock plugins that I never hear anyone talk about. And I use it on almost every track, it’s so powerful. I particularly like it on this track. We doubled down on Amelia’s voice, then raised one of them an octave. And then the two each went through their own instance of the vocoder, then saturated with Ableton’s saturator.

“It makes that huge sound, especially for something that comes with Ableton. It’s such a flexible tool. I never look for other vocoders, I love this thing so much.

5. Hyve Touch Synth

“To make easy”

NOT. : “We really wanted the song to feel like it’s bursting at the seams and starting to tear. I have this tiny little tactile synth called Hyve.

A M: “It’s a really intuitive machine, it makes a nice sound. It looks like bees – it’s beautiful.

NOT. : “It’s very intuitive to play. There is a keyboard at the bottom, and when you move your finger left and right, it moves left and right. As you move it up and down, it goes up and down by octaves. Then there’s this hexagonal grid – like a beehive – which functions more like a hexagonal keyboard, almost like an accordion-type keyboard.

It’s like you’re holding a lightning bolt, there’s that crazy noise

“I played this in a Landscape stereo field on tour. It’s really like you’re playing electricity, in a way that other electronic instruments don’t, for me. He has that absolutely wild, plaintive, dangerous sound that was just perfect for that. Especially associated with that landscape stereo field, which is another thing of the touch plate. It’s like you’re holding a lightning bolt, there’s this insane noise.

A M: “The mixture of these two touch panels together is so beautiful. They really balance each other out.

Sylvan Esso’s Free Love is now available on Loma Vista Recordings.


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