Obscurer: Setting Up & Recording

Posted on Posted in Geekery, General, Music, Obscurer, Reason

Obscurer was intentionally written using a rather minimal set of instruments. Those instruments and effects include a couple of Volcas, a couple of MFB drum machines, an AKAI drum machine pad/sampler thing, a Mini-KP, a delay pedal, and a Monotribe. One thing I also wanted to avoid with Obscurer was to allow myself to mix everything as part of a separate process, so all of that stuff went through a little mixer.

The mixer itself was a little budget thing that had a whopping single aux send channel. Naturally, this meant I’d have to be careful about what I wanted to use as an aux send – did I want a little bit of reverb, or did I want to use some ping-pong delay to widen the stereo field a little? Or should I record everything I want reverb on first, then switch to delay for other elements? Or should I just use the delay as an insert on one channel? It was always fun figuring out what would work best on a particular song and, while this sounds like it would require a degree of meticulous planning, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t more or less just decide what I was going to do as I went along.

After dialling in some simple EQ settings on the channels and getting a rough mix I could work with, I decided to keep my setup relatively unchanged for the next six months or so while I recorded all of the songs that would comprise Obscurer. Even though I’d recently recorded Neffle material prior to working on Obscurer tracks, I decided pretty early on that in order to get the same full sound and level of control as me & Tom did with Neffle that I would have to bring software into the equation.

As a result, I ended up using Reason to sequence most of the parts. Not only did this help to give me a better idea of what I was going to end up with before hitting record, but it also let me use temporary placeholder synths if I wanted to layer up one or two of the outboard synths. As I mentioned already, though, I was keen to keep the mixing mostly out of the box. Not only would this stop me from obsessing over the final mix, but it also meant I could record several parts at once which was a) way more fun, and b) invited me to be more spontaneous during the recording process.

While some of that sounds like it flies in the face of my more “minimal” approach, there were plenty of occasions where I really wanted to give the song I was working on an extra push which layering synths afforded me. I was still keen to not go too crazy with layering up synths and effects (which, due to the mix I’d already set-up, would have just resulted in a horribly crowded result), but it was nice to have the option of artificially expanding my little set-up if I needed to.

Generally speaking, when it came to recording I would record the different elements in anywhere from two to four passes. So, for example, taking the first track “Renew” as an example – that was recorded in three stages that went something along the lines of…

Lead/Bass/Drums -> Additional Synth/Percussion -> End Synth

So, as you can see, most of the track was recorded during the first pass. You can hear the results of that single pass below.

In this instance, I recorded the first pass and then wrote some additional synth parts over the top of that using a placeholder. When I had something I was happy with, I recorded another pass using the actual synth and would tweak it on the fly – ditto with the third pass. In certain instances I’d record the main percussion as the first pass which would allow me to tweak the drums a little more while recording, and then record the main synth parts as the second pass and, if I wanted to, add more parts during the third pass. That would give me a little bit of flexibility with regards to the final mix, but not too much.

While this was a great approach for the most part, there were definitely times when I’d record what I thought was a good idea only for it to end up sounding out of place or not sitting right with me after the fact. Sometimes, in that situation, I’d go back and re-record everything if I had a good idea of what needed fixing. In other instances, I simply decided to let the idea go and focus on something new. There was only ever really one instance where I thought “nah, this isn’t working” and stopped before I had a complete recording. Here’s an example of one of these complete-yet-rejected recordings – I liked it, but something about it just didn’t sit with the rest of the Obscurer tracks.

Every week I’d set a decent chunk of time aside to record an idea or two, though the way I had everything set-up did mean I could still record material using the built-in step-sequencers on the synths/drum machines I was using, so every now and then I’d record a quick little jam. As I mentioned before, Obscurer was really all about having an extra outlet to get ideas down. It was important to me that it should be enjoyable to work on, and every now and then that meant not staring at a screen and just messing about and jamming live.

This routine continued for about six months, and during that time my external set-up remained relatively untouched. This gave all of my recordings a nice coherence, which is how I was able to compile the results as an album following completion.

…of course, I’ve bought more toys since I finished recording Obscurer

6 thoughts on “Obscurer: Setting Up & Recording

    1. Hey thanks! I’m glad you liked the album!

      If it’s the synth sound I’m thinking of (the one that comes in right at the start of Forward and carries on throughout?), I believe that was a simple sawtooth that was overdriven using the Volca Keys’ filter resonance. I’m going from memory though, so I might be wrong about that… pretty sure that’s what it was, though.

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