Music Tech Showcase 2021: Producers and musicians are constantly looking to the future, looking for the newest synth, the most advanced drum machine, or the next piece of equipment that could change their sound.
Our focus on the future can sometimes make us forget that good music is made with older technology and, in many cases, could not have been made without it. With that in mind, we’re bringing together five artists who make great music with old-fashioned technology, outdated software, and vintage hardware.
Perhaps the most legendary example of a producer using outdated equipment to produce something brilliant is Burial’s Untrue album in 2007. Bringing together video game and movie clips on an older version of Sony Sound Forge running on an intermittently smoky “dying computer”, it produced what has been unanimously declared to be one of the most important electronic albums ever made.
In a rare maintenance with dubstep producer Blackdown, Burial explained why he favors software that many might consider obsolete. âI’m not a ‘musician’, no training, nothing. So I’ve always been afraid of people who had studios, âhe said. So I was like shit, I’m gonna stick with that crappy little computer program, Soundforge. I don’t know of any other programs.
Many producers might see Sound Forge’s lack of sequencing capabilities as a downside – but for Burial, it forced him to write music in a new way, arranging samples on a blank timeline to produce the beats. Unique offsets that define its sound. âI only see the waves. So I know when I’m happy with my drums because it looks like a nice fishbone. When they look skeletal like crap in front of me, and so I know they’ll sound great. He continued.
âBecause I don’t have a sequencer, I can’t really mess around. I can’t knot at all. I have to push it together and vibrate on it. I do the melody, fucking fast. Not a single track on my album took more than a few days to make. They get together very quickly, and then I spend time on the details so they can listen to them well. If we ever needed proof that it’s not what you use that matters, it’s how you use it, that’s it.
2. Fatboy Slim
Norman Cook is well known to be a fan of old school gear – he produced his blockbuster debut album You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby, on an Atari ST and Akai S950, and was some little reluctant to move to a fully digital workflow since.
Talk with MusicRadar in 2012, he spoke of his adoration for machines: âI have been making music on the Atari for over 20 years. Most electronic musicians of a certain age probably started out exactly the same – the Atari and the S950. With just these two pieces of kit and a mixer, you could make a melody. […] The Atari and Akais bought this house. They changed my life.
Cook then compared the Atari to the Telecaster in its importance to music makers: “Pieces of gear like the Atari, the S950, and the 303 are just as groundbreaking and important as the Telecaster and the Vox amp.” , did he declare. âI don’t think the Atari and Akai are the only legitimate tools for making music. Ableton is a fantastic kit. I just haven’t found a way to tie my creative urges to work with a laptop.
Bibio’s music oscillated between playful indie-folk and pastoral electronics, but one constant remained: the undeniably warm and saturated sound of reel tape recorders and cassette machines. The sound of the band is everywhere in its discography, from the ambient band loop experiences of Fi and Phantom Brickworks to the reverse guitar figures of tracks like Curls and Petals.
In a recent interview with Rupert Neve Designs, Bibio confirmed our suspicions: âI am quite famous for lofi and saturated recordings, especially with guitar tracks. I use cassettes, reels to reels, old samplers, and vintage effects pedals to get certain sounds. He then explained his preference for genuine tape recorders over software emulations: âI don’t use tape emulation plugins, if I want cassette sound, I use cassette tape, if I want high sound. range coil, I use my Nagra IV-S.
It might be faster and easier to record directly into a DAW – and there may be several ways to achieve a tape-esque effect without using the tape itself – but we’d say Bibio’s sound wouldn’t. quite the same without the genuine warmth, chirping and flutter of his trusty Nagra IV.
Another chart-topping album made with vintage material, Metronomy’s Love Letters was recorded at Toe Rag Studios in Hackney, a true time capsule equipped with a Studer A80 tape recorder and a 1950s EMI mixer from from Abbey Road itself. It might have been faster and easier to record in a modern, fully-equipped studio, but Toe Rag’s vintage gear undoubtedly contributed to the record’s retro tone, which went on to rise to No.7 on the charts. British albums and became their most commercial. successful record to date.
In a interview with The GuardianDrummer Anna Prior said recording to tape at Toe Rag Studios was a whole different experience than a modern, digitally equipped studio, leaving them less room for error, but bringing a more authentically feeling. live âto the recording session. âRecording in Toe Rag was so magical. We were all in a room with very few mics, singers in one corner, a brass trio in the other, and we played it all live knowing that would be the product. finished … she said. “I got pretty romantic about it.”
A shameless synth geek, Danny Wolfers’ studio contains a cargo of equipment, both new and old – one of his albums even bears the name of the Amiga 500. In addition to old computers, it is known to appreciate the sound of old samplers, using to imbue his recordings with a specific sonic character. âIt’s amazing how much these samplers can affect the sound, anything about DA converters and the warmth of old samplers, it’s not just chatter of nonsense. Everything is true, that’s for sure. he said, talk to The Ransom Note.
Wolfers treats samplers like effects processors, each giving a different tone to the input: âThe AKAI S900 is just instant blur, not that tight but nice especially if you set it to the lowest resolution. The X7000 and S612 transpose everything into the shadow of our reality. The MKS100 is like a blanket.
Does older equipment produce more interesting sound? Wolfers wonders if by capturing and processing sound in the highest definition possible, we are losing something of its essence. âThis thing with lower digital resolutions also exists in effects processors, those old 12-bit reverbs and delays make it all nice. I’m not too into newer reverb processors which sound super perfect, it’s just a little scary. It’s like this strange valley of sound, it’s too perfect.