After the helpful experiences we had during the production of the first two Alphaville albums, we decided to set up our own studio in the fall of 86, in order to make the third album on our own. After half a year of construction and messing about, we had our first opportunity to test the studio, when we produced two B-sides. The results, as well us the atmosphere for working - daylight, quiet - encouraged us to pursue the project, although many technical details were later to be changed during the production. But there's an Old Chinese proverb: To build a studio is a never-ending task.
There were various reasons which led to the decision to produce in our own studio:
1. We ourselves are responsible for the realisation and financing of the AV albums. Since we have a so-called "tape deal" with the record company. (That means the artist/producer is responsible for the production and its costs and hands over a tape to the record company which can be then reproduced. As compensation for taking the risk, the artist receives a larger percentage of the record sales profits, more than in an artist deal. In an artist deal, not only does the record company take the financial risk, but it has decisively more authority - even if it's about a guitar solo in the second chorus). We belong to those lucky few who have the greatest amount of freedom in choosing the conditions under which we want to produce.
2. Since we are - in the truest sense of the word - a studio band, (which doesn't mean we'll never tour live) we need the atmosphere and technical possibilities of a studio to compose and realise our ideas. But we no longer wanted to be in the unlucky situation of working in a rented studio, even for the official recording session. Rather we wanted to work on our sounds and songs in an atmosphere we had created ourselves, and without the time limit and pressure of a rented studio.
3. The demo syndrome: In nine out of ten cases in a professional studio it's impossible to recreate certain things on a demo, which has been made under technically sparse conditions. Whether it's an obstinate sound that can't be reproduced, or whether one lost track of what the constellation of the effects was, or whether the musician delivered a "once in a lifetime" performance. In any event, you lose hours and days because of that - by all means justified - statement: "But it doesn't sound like the demo". Every producer's horror trip. We tried to counter this so-called demo syndrome from the very start by recording immediately when we were composing and arranging, and by paying great attention to the quality of the recording. We then mixed each song right away so we Could profit from the experiences we had made during the recording session. We originally planned the usual weeks of mixing at the end of all recording, in order to hear everything with fresh ears and from a distance, But, as it turned out, with the exception of one song, none of the mixes had any great mistakes which needed ironing out. And there will always be one track, even in the most perfect mix, which is slightly too loud or too quiet. One could keep on mixing for years, if one wanted. Since we had worked on each song for up to ten weeks, by the time of the mix-down (approx. 5 days per song) we were so involved with the song that we'd lost all objectivity. To our surprise, the results were unusually balanced and 100% appropriate for each song's atmosphere... Apparently the loss of distance to each song had resulted in a form of directness which put each song it its right place.
Whatever influences there were, one essential factor was working together with Klaus Schulze as co-producer. We probably would have done the whole production on our own, if Klaus Schulze had not appeared "out of the blue" on that fateful evening in May. Even though we didn't know one another, we spontaneously decided to produce a song together. Klaus' openness, his musicality and his unpretentious yet sharp "know how" - made working together not only exciting for the band, but for him as well. Klaus didn't put on the airs of a "hyper-professional"' producer wizard who for commercial reasons suggests to put a four-on-the-floor bassdrum throughout a song, Instead he encouraged us to go ahead with risky adventures which we might have shied away from, if we hadn't had objective authority.
What was initially planned as weeks became almost 2 years for Klaus in Berlin which he put up with without becoming impatient. That in itself is so unusual, it doesn't need to be emphasized,
Man and Machine
The age of rhythm machines is long gone - or are we experiencing a revival of the good ol' 808? Without embarrassment one can say that apart from the vocals, 90% of everything comes from the sequencer. Whether it's been played in directly, edited later or programmed from the scratch. A big 32 x 32 Midimatrix was absolutely necessary for the complete apparatus of instruments. This is controlled by a central computer whose hard and software was built by our studio technician: only the timecode and the bassdrum (as reference track) were recorded, as well as all acoustic instruments like guitar, saxophone, trumpet, contrabass, crashes, hi-hats and of course, vocals. The advantages are obvious. Number one: One is still able to intervene up to the mastermix and change whatever comes from the sequencer, even program a snareroll. Number two: One has plenty of tracks on tape available, i.e. for vocal or guitar tracks which can be recorded parallel on tracks and then bounced together. Today, the sequencer can be regarded as an extension of the tape machine, as long as there are no synchronisation problems (which there always are). This calls for a large assortment of sound generators which are available in the identical constellation for a possible remix.
With the exception of 2 songs we programmed everything with the Creator which proved by its flexibility and speed. But that is nothing new. The 2 songs, "She Fades Away" and "Patricia's Park" were made with the good old QX 1. Especially in the instrumental "Patricia's Park", it performed outstandingly. The song comes completely from the machine, and without the 384 clocks per quarter note resolution and the 8 individual midi outputs, this wouldn't have been possible. There's nothing as ungroovy as a machine which isn't perfectly on time, i.e., causing midi delays. Since midi events come out of the machine serially when 3-4 events are programmed on the same point, flams can be heard by sounds with percussive attacks (Drumsounds). Horrible! Apart from programming sparingly, the only solution remaining is to have numerous midi outputs like the QX 1, It was a great experience to divide a simple piano composition into individual sounds and lines and to divide the events perfectly so that everything sounded as if it had been played (which is difficult when you don't have a continual drumbeat, as in this song). But when you then start programming tempo, velocity and modulation changes to get the right flow and the right dynamic, you eventually get fed up with midi.
Then you're really happy to start working with live instruments, as in "For a Million". Working together with guest musicians often happened spontaneously as with Klaus. In most cases they were acquaintances or friends of ourselves or Klaus who happened to come by and showed interest in the particular song we were working on. In "For a million", we had two guitar players, who had received a cassette from us, so they'd been familiar with the song's atmosphere. Manuel Göttsching (ex-Ashra-Temple) and Eff Jott Krüger (ex-Ideal) contributed to the success of the song, Both played intuitively and emotionally, so that we simply recorded 10 tracks full, out of which the best parts were bounced together. In this way, you don't lose any expression which is often the case when you are doing drop-ins to correct mistakes. The inspiration of the moment applies not only to live-recordings: A piano solo which Echolette played into the creator on the S-50, produced a hearty vibrato when playing back which wasn't heard during recording. After the initial shock, we found it to be absolute appropriate, even though too strong. What had happened? Numerous after touch events had been recorded which the S-50 reacted to only when playing back.
Irreplaceable Working Sounds
In the same way, 2 initial working sounds proved irreplaceable: A D-50 organ sound which played the intro-melody, and which we didn't want to use because of its extremely noisy tail, turned out to be the only sound with the suitable expression, after we'd tried out at least 100 different sounds. Even after use of the outstanding EMT noise filter, an unwanted amount of noise remained but the sound itself is more important than its absent of noise, In the other case, it was a bass drum from the old Linn which refused to make room for a better sound. The Linn bass drum simply suited the overall sound the best.
The piano in the instrumental is a mixture of S-50 piano, "real" piano and prophet VS string. We tend to mix sounds from different sound generators in order to create an individual characteristic - thereby running a small risk of losing the identity of the sound.
This problem applies as well to the vocals. In many songs, especially in the verses, we decided to keep the voice solo, thanks to Marian''s voice which has more character and emotion when it's solo. His vocal volume is so large, that he can fill out the whole song with only a bit of chorus and a "nice" reverb.
The vocal recordings were done with an over 30 year old Neumann tube microphone which sounds outstandingly in comparison to the new Neumann TLM 170 even though it has a better noise level.
Almost all the other acoustical recordings were done with this microphone using different capsules Sometimes modern technology is strange, for example, vocoders. All the new models, whether DVP-1 or the Roland Voice Processor proved unsuitable for the vocoder voices in "For a Million". Klaus had the idea to get his ancient Moog vocoder which in the end knocked our socks off. Especially with the breathy voice sounds from the D-50 this old artifact worked perfectly. In "Middle Of The Riddle" we put the snare through the vocoder in the mix and used it as the send for the reverb. The result was a totally smooth sound.
For this song, as well as 2 others, we invited "Blacky" Schwarz-Ruszczynski, the guitar player from "The Other Ones." Blacky plays unusually well - as one can hear in the strange guitar run after the first chorus. We took all of his sounds - he plays exclusively on a Paul Reed Smith - directly out of the Exef pre-amp with the Rev 7 and T.C. Delay effects and send them into the mixer. It was great not having to spend hours at the mixer with noisegates, compressors and EQs trying to get the right sound. In '"Middle of the Riddle" Master Schulze had his only appearance as a musician. He played the string pad in his own individual style.
The song with the most successful symbiose of live instruments and machine for me is "Heaven Or Hell". Eff Jott Krüger, Ernst Deuker and Hansi Behrendt - nearly the complete Ideal-team - were in the studio as the backing band. After the attempt to record all the instruments simultaneously failed, due to the slow heavy tempo of the song, we sampled Hansi's drumsounds with the MPC 60 - various bassdrum beats, snare beats and complete rolls (played to the click), hi-hats in all variations and the special brush beat on the snare, since we wanted to create a live swing character.
Hansi and I then programmed what he had played. The authenticity is astounding. After that, Hansi played a live ride-crash track onto tape, as he'd done on various other songs. The minute human inexactness on top of an exact and straight machine creates a breathing, living feel. Ernst on contrabass, Eff Jott on his ancient Fender and Friedemann Graef on saxophone all contributed to rounding out a perfect sound. The piano on the other hand is programmed, a time-consuming task working between exact drums and the other instruments.
During the whole production, we never made any compromises in terms of forming the overall sound of the LP to fit radio compatibility (this word had to appear somewhere). Our goal was to create a warm, open sound, leaving composition and lyrics plenty of room and space where they can form a dear, almost visual atmosphere. Even if the road we took was long (or perhaps just because of that?) I think we achieved this. There are really no rules for producing a good sound. You should only be influenced by what the song means to you,
There are no rules for quality!
Equipment used in Lunapark Studio: