are back by popular demand with an updated and re-organized version of
the gear section from our old website. As promised, we finally put together
some info about home recording, our set-up for live performances, and
the audio and video production software that we use now.
Please note: the point here is not to endorse any specific products and
it is certainly not to argue for any kind of retro-tech 80s old-schoolism.
We advocate artistic risk-taking with no prescribed starting point or
budget while acknowledging that tedious periods of technical overhaul
and demoralizing encounters with male authoritarianism have paved the
path of our self-education. Also, the following isnt really the
best way to answer the question how should I get started?
or what should I buy? Its more like a case study. Analog
Tara wrote a really good article on her website pinknoises.com
that really breaks down the basic issues you need to think about before
you buy gear.
Check it out.
I. SAMPLING & MAKING BEATS
This section is a brief history of the samplers, drum machines,
and computer software that we have used to make the programmed elements
of our music.
The ENSONIQ MIRAGE
hard to believe that the ENSONIQ MIRAGE
sampler-keyboard was once the mainstay of our song-writing process. Released
in 1984 for just under $2000, it was considered the first practical and
affordable sampler. I bought mine used for $150. A bunch of disgustingly
dirty floppy disks of orchestra hits and classical percussion sounds bound
with a rubber band were included in the deal. Supposedly the MIRAGE was
revolutionary in its day for its many features and envelopes that allowed
the inventive musician to customize her sounds, but to us these features
were so obscured by technical language that our results were generally
accidental. The initial Le Tigre sampling strategy involved lifting a
couple of bars of music from a record and pitching it way up or way down
(Deceptacon, Hot Topic, Slide Show, Phanta, My My Metrocard etc). We used
the maximum sampling time on the MIRAGE to make super low resolution (8
bit) samples that sounded scratchy, warped, underwater. We would then
try to manually trigger the sample in time with a beat. It was an abject
approach to electronic music, all about the aesthetics of impending disaster
(i.e. our one step behind the drum style). We were insane
to take the MIRAGE on tour (it is so fucking heavy!),loading floppy disks
between every song and playing it through a guitar amp, but magically,
it never broke (although we can't say the same for the guitar amp).
The ALESIS HR-16 B
This is the first drum machine I ever owned. The dude who sold it to me
told me it was a hip hop machine so i would need to put
it through an effects unit. His presumptions about the kind of music
I wanted to make aside, this was in, like, 1998, and let me tell you,
hip hop in 98 was not made on any HR-16 B and Le Tigre in 98
was not gonna complicate matters further with any crappy FX unit this
dude wanted to sell us! Nearly all the beats on our debut album were recorded
directly from the stereo outs of this machine. Sounds we got considerable
mileage out of were the fake 808 rap kick,
the garish techno snare and the lip pop (i.e.
the popcorn chaos on our song The The Empty). Although we
ultimately wanted to go beyond pre-set drum sounds and we donated our
HR 16-B to a high
school music program, all of my subsequent knowledge re: sequencing and
beat-making was based on my familiarity with this drum machine and so
i think of it fondly. Also it has this cool flip up instruction panel
on its face for super convenient reference.
When I think about the ALESIS MMT-8
sequencer I feel a wave of nausea and panic as well as a sense of achievement.
We bought this sequencer to loop the samples we made on the MIRAGE in
time with our beats on the HR-16 B (so we would not have to trigger the
mirage by hand). The MMT-8 was designed as a companion to the Alesis HR-16
and HR-16 B (they match although the MMT-8 is grey instead of black).
It really wasnt that hard to figure out how to use cuz it combined
familiar elements from drum machines, 4-tracks, telepathic communication.
Initial confusion resulted from the fact that in none of the individual
equipment manuals (mirage, HR-16B or MMT-8) could we find any allusion
to how we might make MIDI connections to get the machines to work together
(we found this info in the excellent book MIDI for Musicians).
After we had programmed most of our songs for the first record and were
getting ready to go into the studio, we had this brilliant idea that we
should try to BACK-UP the sequences on the MMT-8 and the HR-16 B in case
something bad happened. This involved recording a tone out of each machine
on to a cassette tape. We werent convinced this was actually saving
our data, but the next week when the MMT-8s internal battery died
and we LOST EVERYTHING, we learned that indeed somehow that tone on the
cassette had the power to give it all back to us. Thank god.
AKAI MPC 60
The MPC 60 came into our
lives after we finished our first record and had to figure out how to
play our songs on tour. We felt like bringing our old sequencer and drum
machine on tour was stupid — too fragile. We wanted something that
saved to disk. The MPC (MIDI Production Center) is a sampling drum machine
(you sample your own sounds and assign them to these cool big pads) that
can also play other electronic instruments via MIDI -- it is a sampler,
drum machine and sequencer all in one. With the 3.0 system software upgrade
and SCSI interface (so we can save data to a zip disk) available from
Roger Linns website, we souped up the MPC 60 so it was no longer
functioning like a thing of the eighties (although it still does not have
nearly as much sample time as the more recent MPC 2000, 200XL or 3000).
Although it ultimately became this central creative tool for us (we made
all the beats on "Feminist Sweepstakes" with it including guitar
samples, bass-lines, synthy parts etc), I learned the basics of how to
use it in one mind-bending 3-day weekend when I sampled all the drum sounds
from the HR-16B onto the MPC and replicated all our old beats and song
structures on it. Then I re-sequenced all the MIRAGE loops so that the
MMT-8 was out of the picture too . . . it was a pain in the ass. But in
the process of doing all this reprogramming shit I discovered this whole
world of stuff that I could be doing instead. I cant tell you how
much I treasure the MPC now. Its like a friend or an arm . . . it
doesnt seem like a piece of equipment, but like a very special robot
with human qualities and idiosyncracies capable of making artistic suggestions.
I really really love it.
is a non-linear music program for both Macs and PCs. It is super easy
to use, as it is based almost completely on real rack-style components
and contains everything you need to make a funky ass track. While working
on a track, you can press the tab key and you can actually turn the components
around to see where each cable is plugged in. This makes for easy troubleshooting
as if it were a real patching environment. When you begin a Reason session
you have a 14 stereo channel mixer on the screen in front of you. One
cool thing is that you can actually EQ each track with the mixer. Granted
you only have low end and high end options but if you really want a deep
bass groove, it is there. You can also route sounds through a bunch of
different effects. You then have the capabilities of adding loop players,
samplers, drum machines, and synthesizers which have access to a library
of sounds which is installed with the initial program. It is also possible
to download millions of sounds from the Propellerhead website. You can
use the sequencer to sequence a bunch of sounds to play a midi sequence
throughout the track, or you can simply write the sound into the track
with a tiny pencil! Some of the sounds in Reason are a little cheesey,
but suit me in some cases. I think the program was created for serious
club tracks. A lot of techno and house sounds if you know what I mean.
The cool thing is that if you take advantage of the Malstrom Graintable
Synthesizer, you can change the sound to your liking with all kinds of
oscillators, filters, and shapers. The sound quality is pretty amazing
(especially if you are coming from the Le Tigre world of cat-throwing-up-a-hairball-style
sampling). I guess it depends if you like sounds dirty or not, but these
are squeaky clean. Once you have made something you like in Reason, you
can export a loop (as an AIFF or WAVE file) directly into into ProTools
(or whatever recording software you use) and then you can sing or play
other instruments over it! You can also use Reason to trigger a different
sound from an outside source via MIDI, or use the sounds in reason triggered
by another trigger. This I havent tried but I have heard the easiest
way to try this is using a tiny (DI box style) gadget called the "midiman,"
but I prefer the "midiwoman" (yeah, right).
II. SONGWRITING & RECORDING
Since we are not a typical band that "jams" in
order to create songs, we have always used recording equipment as a part
of the writing process itself. We have used everything from boom boxes,
casette 4-tracks, and reel-to-reels to digital 8-tracks and computer software.
Although our activities often fall in a grey area between "beat-making"
and "song-writing," we've tried to make this section about how
we put the programmed elements of our music together with the other stuff
(like vocals and guitar).
The TASCAM DA-88 and
the ALESIS LX-20 ADAT
These machines are digital 8-tracks that
record to tape -- Hi-8 and S-VHS respectively. (In case you are totally
new to this stuff, multi-track recording means you can record different
instruments/ voices/ sounds separately and mix them together, like you
can build a song in layers and record over a keyboard part if you decide
it sucks). Although we ditched the 8-tracks for protools last summer,
I have to say they are pretty rad and I have no complaints: easy to learn,
easy to use, hands on, etc. We made pretty good demo versions of most
of the songs on our EP "From The Desk Of Mr. Lady" and on "Feminist
Sweepstakes" on one or the other of these. If you know how to use
a 4-track you could definitely figure one of these out in about an hour.
. . and I hear ADATs are going for like 300 bucks on ebay these days!
To get your sounds in you'd have to get a mixer/preamp too, though.
PROTOOLS LE and the M-Box
Last summer Le Tigre bought 3 M-boxes
with Protools LE so we could
be a totally compatible 3-headed track-making hydra. Protools is multi-track
digital audio recording software — it records to a hard drive, not
tape. This was a major move up from the digital 8-tracks because it has
more tracks and you can edit in a non-linear way. Protools represents
soundwaves in beautiful colors and shapes that you can cut and paste.
Finally we could put the high hat on a separate track and double the chorus
without starting from scratch! (A side note: Protools also kind of belongs
in the sampling/beat-making section because we sometimes sample directly
into the computer and cut stuff up there). The M-Box is the interface
we use to get our sounds into the computer. We connect it to the computer
(via firewire) and then we can plug our quarter inch (guitar style) cables
or mic cables into it. It only has 2 inputs so we can't record from all
8 outputs of the MPC at once, but luckily, thanks to the indispensible
grid feature of protools, we can line everything up later. To facilitate
collaboration, we each have portable, external hard-drives that we keep
our protools sessions and audio files on so we can easily go to eachother's
apartments to work on music. It's kind of hard to figure out where to
start or stop describing protools, it's just so fucking cool. Finally
we are in the driver's seat.
ZOOM FIRE 7010 effects
This is the most awesome thing in the world
and I don't even like technical gadgets that much. It is a guitar effects
box that has a built in speaker and is battery operated so you can rock
your friends at the corner store if you so choose. We like to use the
zoom for recording vocals. We sing though it with our Shure SM57 mics.
It has a setting called "ZZTop" on it that is totally distortion-y
in a majorly disgusting way and another setting called "Woman"
that is massively ethereal and ridiculous. I like to think that ZZtop
is supposed to be the "man" setting and it's opposite is the
"woman" setting. Luckily this thing has like two hundred settings
in all so it's easy to find a bunch of good ones. The zoom tends to put
a lot of hiss on vocals which we sometimes like, but most times we redo
them in a nice studio with better mics anyways, so it doesn't really matter.
We use the zoom to decide how we want our vocals to ultimately sound (like
do we want flange, reverb, distortion, compression, modulation or what)
on them? That way when we are in the studio we can play our homemade recordings
for to the engineer and ask her/him to create a similar, less hissy version
of the effect we used. Word has it that Stereo Total also uses the Zoom
on their vocals. I also play my guitar through it directly into the computer
when we record at home.
III. PLAYING LIVE
We've had to grapple with a lot of issues in translating
our recorded music to a live show. Major projects have included switching
from a rickety MIDI set-up to a reliable playback system for our pre-programmed
elements/backing tracks, finding a way to monitor our electronic stuff
on stage so we could have fun and hear what the fuck was going on, and
developing a visual accompaniment to our performance (i.e. slide-shows
The SLIDE PROJECTOR
KATHLEEN: After the initial
realization that yes, we were actually gonna be a band and play live,
our next collective thought was "What will our show LOOK like?"
While we really really wanted a video projector and a nice big screen,
we just couldn't afford it, so we settled for a
slide projector and a sheet. It worked okay and
we still try to replicate a slide-like feeling with some of the videos
we make, but it was a hassle to teach people to run it live and we had
to bring a huge shelving unit with us everywhere to get it high enough
off the ground so we didn't get "top of people's heads" shadows.
I hear there are ones that can work off MIDI now, but we don't even wanna
get involved with that shit. Making slides costs way more money than making
videos does in the end, and while we learned a lot doing the slide thing,
our new video set-up now looks way better and gives us more visual options.
The AKAI S2000
JO: The MIRAGE had to
be phased out almost immediately when we started touring. Too heavy, too
awkward to load floppy disks on stage, too weird to trust, too outdated
to repair quickly. So the Akai S2000
entered the picture, a rack-mountable sampler to put our long loops and
keyboard sounds on (we trigger it with a MIDI keyboard controller). So
I re-sampled all the sounds from the MIRAGE on to the new sampler which
sucked and for some reason it was hard to get them all trimmed right.
The Akai S2000 compared to the MIRAGE is like a fighter jet vs. a rotary
phone. It has so much more memory, more editing features and other crazy
shit. Our rudimentary use of it as a sound bank for the keyboard doesnt
even scrape the surface of its immense brain! We basically use it as extra
memory for the MPC when we have it maxed out, or to play keyboard parts
live. And now we have drum pads to trigger its samples!
The ROLAND SPD6 drum
JD: There are 6 rubber
pads on the SPD6 that we
use to trigger samples from the S2000. We also use the drum pads to play
some of the 32 pre-set patches from the internal sound module. It is super
fun to play drum sounds and samples on the pads instead of on the keyboard,
cuz you can hit the pads with your
hands or with drumsticks and really shake your body.
JO: After a couple of
tours running all this pre-programmed MIDI stuff from stage, we realized
it really wasnt worth the headache. What were we trying to prove?
Whats the difference between the playback of MIDI sequencing and
the playback of a pre-recorded audio track? Neither are live
or variable in any interesting way and if you think the audience cares
about our gear once JD starts jumping around, you are obviously living
in a fantasy world. So we put all our shit on minidisc
and started leaving the MPC home, safe and sound, where it belongs.
The DVD player
Once we got over the minidisc revolution, we got to thinking. . . now
how could we sync up videos with our music? And so our DVD
player/projector system was born. Nowadays we burn our
our beats onto a DVD. We export AIFFs from ProTools straight into Final
Cut Pro, which is the program in which we edit most of our videos. Then,
we export the movie as a Quicktime file and drag it into iDVD (software
which comes with some G4 macs). We can do it at home, and stay in our
bathrobes. . . YES! Live, we play over the backing tracks on the DVD which
are in sync with the videos. Once we decided to use DVD we went shopping
for the best of the best DVD players, starting with the Marantz. It was
rack-mountable which was cool, but it certainly was fussy. Not playing
when we asked it to etc. So we switched to a Pioneer, which is smaller
and seems not so pro, but is super pro, especially when you add a mouse
to navigate the menu. Beautiful!
The SANYO PLC XU 35 video
After shopping for a projector for a few months
we decided on the Sanyo PLC XU35
which is 2000 lumens and 8.5 pounds. We figured we needed it to be easy
to transport yet really bright for bigger clubs. The only thing I dont
like is that you cant change the lens to maximize your zoom. But
if we tell the clubs in advance about our specific needs, we usually get
what we want in terms of projection. We keep the DVD player on stage with
us and must wrangle the S-VIDEO cable from the projector all the way across
the club to the stage. Then we just hook up the audio from the dvd player
into the board through the snake on stage. We also bought a used snap/fold
screen which is super easy to use/transport and it looks better than a
white king sized sheet tacked up behind us!
Our ON-STAGE MONITORING SYSTEM
we first started playing live, we were faced with the problem of how to
hear our drum beats and samples on stage. At first we tried playing our
samplers through guitar and bass amps, sending our higher (more trebley)
sounds into a guitar amp and our lower (bassier) sounds into a bass amp.
This proved disastrous and we destroyed several amps. We heard Atari Teenage
Riot used a mixer to control their own stage levels and were intrigued
by this concept. Shortly thereafter we purchased a Mackie
1202 VL2 12 channel mixer which we have actually used
for recording stuff as well as for live. It is basically the same idea
as a home stereo tuner, it controls the levels of all the stuff you put
into it (in our case, backing tracks out of our DVD player's audio outs,
our samples, and the drum pads). Each thing has its own fader so we can
run over on stage and turn stuff up and down as we want. We used to go
out of the mixer into a Crown power amp
and then into these huge Yorkville E2204
speakers placed behind us on stage. Although the Yorkvilles
have great bottom end and internal crossover (so we didn't have to worry
about separating the high and low frequency sounds), honestly it was a
little overkill, and the speakers took up too much space in the van. The
Yorkvilles completely rocked the smaller clubs we played at that could
not have otherwise handled sending our beats through their PA's, but now
we use smaller, self-powered Mackie speakers
on stands behind us. They are okay and they do the job. A lot of people
ask why we don't just use the monitors clubs provide to hear our backing
tracks, but to us that would be like kicking our drummer out of the band!
Seriously I am used to hearing drums coming from behind me while I am
performing that I find it totally disorienting to have stuff coming just
from the front. Plus, we still encounter a lot of crappy monitors that
can't handle our guitar, our voices and our beats in a way that sounds
loud and clear enough to us.
TWIN REVERB guitar
I used to use an old Sunn Sentura amp
with a Marshall cabinet for playing live, but
I stopped doing that cuz the Sunn head was really temperamental and I
had to order the tubes from Texas which was a pain in the ass. Luckily
our sound engineer, Killer, had a Fender
Twin that she'd rebuilt that she wanted to get rid of,
so that's what I use now. It's a reissue so the tubes are easy to find
and it is small, great sounding and reliable. I used the bigger amp/speaker
combination before cuz we played small clubs that often didn't have the
set-up to mic my guitar, so I had to have more volume. Now that we play
bigger places my tiny cabinet always gets mic'ed so it doesn't have to
be that loud. It is also really special to own an amp my friend built
with her own hands. Now if I could just find a guitar that would stay
The MXR GOLDFACE distortion
KATHLEEN: I have no idea
why I bought this thing except that I remembered Billy from Bikini Kill
buying one once so when I was looking for a distortion pedal it was the
first thing that caught my eye. I buy the vintage version of this pedal
which I think sounds way better than the reissue, but to be truthful they
are all so different from each other even though they look the same, so
if you are gonna buy one it is best to try it out first. I guess I shouldn't
say that cuz I really never test them out myself since there is always
some guy in the "try out" room at the guitar store playing Iron
Butterfly songs really really loud and I would honestly rather have one
of my arms broken that have to walk in there. (Are these guys on the pay
roll of the shops? Are they spawned on a secret guitar asshole island?
Why won't they leave?) I usually just check out the store return policy
on used stuff before I buy it and then bring it back if it sucks. The
pedals cost around $90-125.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW ALL OF OUR SECRETS, START YOUR OWN FEMINIST ELECTRONIC
BAND AND COME KICK OUR ASSES!!! Love, LT
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