The Making of the Moon

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How about guitar miking? Will you put up several mics at different distances from the amps?
If I’m doing a rock band, there’s generally two guitars. I’ll try to listen to how they interact while we’re doing basics, and when we go to do overdubs, I can then accentuate the difference between them. We’ve got the 4038s and the M160s, both of which are great-sounding ribbon mics for guitars. I usually use one of the ribbons on each amp, and then I’ll enhance it with a 57, which I really like.

I’ve used that lavaliere on guitar amps, and it’s an interesting sound if the amp isn’t too loud. It won’t take a high SPL. I’ll usually do the off-axis thing, sort of out at the edge of the cone, more or less pointing toward the center. Kind of close, maybe four inches off the cone. We have a collection of old, crappy garage sale mics, all of which have their own charm.

Sometimes I’ll use an M160 and a 57 the same distance away from two different cones on the cabinet. That usually makes for good sound with no phase problems.

Do you ever put another mic in back of the cabinet and reverse the phase?
I used to do that all the time at Idful. You ever see the old Altec ribbon mic that also had a crystal element in it? It has a screwdriver-set switch that set the way the two were matrixed together. That sounded great in the back of a Fender amp. I haven’t done that kind of thing lately; I should probably get back to that. I guess most of the people I’ve worked with lately have had closed-back cabinets.

It makes for a great, unreal sound when you pan the two signals hard left and right.
Almost any pair of mics can be used to introduce some kind of phase problem and produce a great effect. You might have a really cohesive mix going, but you want something to really snap the listener out of it. You throw in something like that, and it really calls attention to itself.

The Moon and Antarctica has a lot of production touches that are a far cry from earlier Modest Mouse recordings. Had the band worked with synths or MIDI, or done heavy-duty production much before?

Modest Mouse guitarist-vocalist Isaac Brock (foreground), Deck (middle), and drummer Jeremiah Green (background) work on a typical late-night mixing session. Next to Green are the anvil cases for Deck’s Amek console and outboard gear—remnants from Clava’s mobile recording period.

Not much—it was a bass-guitar-drums, analog-tape, quick-overdub-and-mix kind of a band. But the band members were definitely interested in production, and Isaac in particular really gained a handle on the possibilities. By the end of making the record, he was able to mastermind some cool maneuvers with plug-ins and Pro Tools. Shifting things back and forth, flipping parts around backwards; he was getting good at knowing what he wanted to hear and knowing how to express it. It wasn’t so much that he was mixing, but he could look at a song, understand the musical event that he wanted to make happen, understand the tools at his disposal, relate it in a way that I could understand, and make it happen pretty quickly. That helps you to get a good working rhythm.

We didn’t use much MIDI at all for this record. There were parts where we wanted to sprinkle a little piano onto a track. I’d hook up the Kurzweil K2500 and record a MIDI track in Pro Tools, just in case we wanted to edit it. But in the end we just used the original recorded track.

Actually, most of the technologically tricky stuff that we did was in editing. Once any band I work with finishes recording on tape, we bounce the basics into the computer. What I’ll frequently do—almost by default at this point—is to make a tempo map in Pro Tools. You just set your cursor wherever you want and hit Command + I. A dialog box comes up, and you can say this is bar-whatever, beat-whatever, and the time signature is thus and so. It’ll take that and calculate a beat map for however many different markers need to be in there.


Reprinted with permission from Magazine, January, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved