Mixing Outside the Lines

Jul 30, 2008 2:05 PM, By Janice Brown



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In the sonic universe of ambient synth artist/producer Steve Roach, sounds morph and mutate and ultimately coalesce through an intricate, nearly all-analog process conducted on a 48-channel Mackie 80 Series live mixing console.

Next to his favorite synthesizers—the Oberheim Xpander and Matrix 12 hardware synths and his behemoth modulars—the console is really the main instrument in the studio where Roach performs his “spontaneous compositions.”

“There are entire worlds of sounds living in those hardware synths, waiting to be discovered,” says Roach. “The way I continue to find the excitement in those instruments is through the constantly evolving ways that I process them live through the board, using the board EQ as an instrument, the sliders and sends and effects chains as instruments; I’m essentially performing the board.”

Roach will produce multiple albums in a year, and those he records, mixes and masters in his studio—as opposed to live for radio or in concert—will begin with exploratory sessions, where Roach uncovers “magic tracks” that become foundational to a larger piece. “At that initial stage, I’ll have the board completely loaded—every input is full, with synths and drum machines, effects processing and loopers,” describes Roach. “The magic tracks are built from all this real-time interaction. The pieces will evolve and change, and a big part of this spontaneous composition is in the mixing—I’m pulling things in and out and making decisions in that moment that are hierarchal. Once you mix the drum machines out a certain way, or bring some atmospheres in another way, then that becomes your composition, that becomes your form. I am recording everything as it unfolds. ”

The magic tracks become the building blocks of the larger piece he creates in multitrack mode. “At that point, I may carve more tracks or run those magic tracks back out through the board and perform some heavy processing or radical EQ'ing.” Effects-wise, Roach returns to favorites such as the Eventide 4000 and 3000 and Lexicon PCM-91 and PCM-70. “The use of effects—especially hardware effects—in the live mixing process further extends my approach of using the studio as one large instrument,” Roach summarizes.

“I’ll use the Korg Kaoss Pad for modulated delays and strange pitch effects: By dedicating a few sends off the Mackie board, I can feed it with lots of sources, continue to do some drastic EQ on its return into channels in the board and from that point add more mutations by sending it to the Eventide 4000 and 3000 and the Lexicons. All of these live effects can be part of the overall piece, recorded directly in stereo to either the DAW or just direct to CD-R depending on how I feel like working that day. What I am always reaching toward is to arrive at this living, breathing feeling that is infused within the piece. Being able to have this visceral connection to the sound through hands-on knobs, sliders and a lot more as it’s happening is vital.”

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