Three Tracks That Go Click in the Night
A long-time fixture in the NIN camp, as well as a renowned programmer/remixer, Charlie Clouser was instrumental in helping to bring the NIN opus The Fragile to the stage last year. In addition to a couple of co-writing credits on The Fragile, Clouser's recent credits include production and remix work with The Deftones, Rob Zombie and David Torn's SplatterCell, as well as contributing a track to the current NIN EP Things Falling Apart.
Clouser began by importing each of the multitrack files into Logic and dividing the tracks into groups. One group consists of possible tracks that guitar player Robin Finck would handle; another group might be assigned to the bassist Danny Lohner, and so forth. "And [then] there's what's not playable live," Clouser explains, "i.e. 16th note `typewriter' bass lines and 808 hi-hat parts that have crazy obviously machine-like bits to them." For the numerous keyboard parts, Clouser cut the multitracks into individual notes and exported them to an E4 sampler. The same process was used for a number of percussion elements that the drummer, Jerome Dillon, was intended to trigger live. The samples were dumped into an Alesis DM Pro drum module, which interfaced with triggers on the acoustic bass and snare, as well as an array of D-Drum pads.
For reliability reasons, the band uses DA-88s as a playback medium. "Back in `the day,' it used to be a Tascam 234 4-track cassette deck," Clouser remembers. "It was a rackmount Portastudio with a mono click, a mono bass and a stereo pair of synths and ambiences. And we've expanded on that just a tiny bit; it's still basically three tracks: a stereo pair and a mono bass - those things that are going to have ridiculous low frequencies wind up in mono on their own track - and then a track of click. And this time out we were more daring and put timecode on because we had had some video elements we wanted to trigger at specific points in a song."
The process of assembling the sequenced tracks and assigning parts to be played live began with the band's initial round of rehearsals last summer in the Bahamas. "I had been making a lot of the live tapes for The Fragile stuff on a portable rig as we were in rehearsals. In the morning, I would usually confer with the guys and say, `Here's three parts I've found for you to play, is that acceptable?' In many cases, there would be a bit of digital trickery involved because we find a lot live that you have to up the tempo by a few bpm. So then I would spend the morning doing my time compression and so forth and give the guys a really terrible version of the tape to play to. By the end of the day, after hacking through it a few times, we would have figured out the ultimate tempo."
The band then moved to full production rehearsals with the P.A. and a full crew, which included tape and trigger tech John Van Eaton. "We get the actual system down there," Clouser continues, "and we get an actual venue that's big enough to make it sound like it's actually going to sound." The band would then rehearse to either the DA-88 or Clouser's portable Logic rig, depending on how far along the band was with a certain song. Clouser's rig interfaced over separate ADAT bridges with a Yamaha 02R, which handled all the compression and EQ for the individual elements that would eventually end up on tape. The eight buses off the 02R would then be routed to the DA-88 for the final mix. "We can literally play along to the computer through the 02R. We can run though the song, and the FOH guy [John Lemon] can say, `there is some tambourine loop that comes in there in the middle that is so freaking loud.' And I'll go, `great' and walk over to the O2R and find that channel and pull it down and store that mix. And we would do that to very endless detail while we were in production rehearsals."
According to Clouser, another integral part of the process was creating a click track for the drummer to follow. "The drummer and I have worked out what his favorite sound is for the click and what sort of pattern he'd like it to play, because it's not just, `one, two, three, four.' But it has eighth notes and 16th notes in there. And there are little extra sounds; lets say there is a long break where there is some weird ambiance playing, so that he'll know when to come back in, there is, unfortunately, my voice counting him back in. And there are many songs where he's counting the band in, because we all start playing together and none of us are listening to a click except for the drummer. He follows the click we play to him. From our end, it's a very natural musical experience."
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