Welcome to

We 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 80’s 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 isn’t really the best way to answer the question “how should I get started?” or “what should I buy?” It’s 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



JO:
It’s 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



JO: 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 it’s face for super convenient reference.


The
ALESIS MMT-8



JO
: 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 wasn’t 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 weren’t convinced this was actually saving our data, but the next week when the MMT-8’s 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.


The
AKAI MPC 60



JO: 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 Linn’s 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 can’t tell you how much I treasure the MPC now. It’s like a friend or an arm . . . it doesn’t 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.

REASON


JD:
Reason (by Propellerhead) 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 haven’t 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


JO: 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

JO: 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.


The
ZOOM FIRE 7010 effects box


KATHLEEN:
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 and videos).


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 doesn’t 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 pads



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.



The
MINIDISC player


JO:
After a couple of tours running all this pre-programmed MIDI stuff from stage, we realized it really wasn’t worth the headache. What were we trying to prove? What’s 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


JD: 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 projector


JD: 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 don’t like is that you can’t 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

KATHLEEN:
When 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.


The
FENDER TWIN REVERB guitar amp


KATHLEEN: 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 in tune!


The
MXR GOLDFACE distortion pedal

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.


OK, 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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