A pure obsession with sound drove a young woman from her rural Italian home to the UK and into London’s recording studios. A relentless drive to learn how everything in audio works then set her on the path to sessions with Depeche Mode, Björk, Animal Collective, Circuit des Yeux, Holly Herndon [Tape Op #132], Goldfrapp, and black midi. Recently, the MPG (Music Producers Guild) awarded her UK Music Producer of the Year, among other previous honors, and her work has been nominated for Grammy Awards. I dropped her a line at her Studio Zona, and Marta’s enthusiasm and dedication to the art of recording audio was enlightening.

This is your space, Studio Zona?

Yeah. This is the place where I feel the happiest. I feel like whatever is happening outside, I can get some relief being here. I’ve got my studio, and outside of that door there are other studios. We have a common area, which we share. During the pandemic, I was coming here, locking myself in my own studio. I missed the social and creative interaction I was used to before the world went upside down, but I can’t complain as other people had it so much harder. I could come here on my bike and work, and that kept me going. Before, I had a studio on the other side of London – that meant an hour and a half commuting on the Underground. This would not have been possible if I still had that place. When lockdown truly happened here, it was in March 2020. I was on a session at Strongroom Studios, recording with this artist, Jealous of the Birds [Naomi Hamilton], from Northern Ireland. We were watching the news unfolding. She looked at me and said, “I need to take a flight back right now, or I’ll be stranded here.” We finished the vocals for that song and then she had to go. The day after, they closed the studios down. We were the last ones there for a while.

I’ve done far more mixing than tracking since the pandemic started. Has tracking work been coming back for you now?

It has, yeah. Everything went back to the same rate as before, if not more, because artists during the lockdown have been writing, writing, writing. Like you, I switched to mixing in the depth of the pandemic. Some projects had to happen remotely. I was meant to help out with the production of Circuit des Yeux [Haley Fohr]’s -io, for example. I was looking forward to that, because I love her music. I ended up having to mix instead, without being involved in the production. It was a bummer for me. I would have loved to have been there from the start, but it’s a pandemic. Same thing with another artist, Desire Marea. I was meant to be more involved from the start, and I was meant to attend a session for mixing; but being in South Africa meant that they couldn’t travel to me. It happened to everyone. People had their tours canceled, and that was thousands of pounds for them. I can’t complain. I could still mix here and use the studio.

Is there a common tracking space?

I mostly do mixing and tracking here, when it’s not a full band at the same time. When I record live, I like to be in the same room comfortably without being crammed into a small space. Both for the sound and for the actual feeling of it. Next door, on the same floor, there is a big tracking room with a separate control room. I carry my tape machines, and whatever I need, from here into there. It’s convenient. I got it in 2019 when I moved from Hammersmith; I was working out of the studio at Mute Records. I was working for them, doing my own music, as well as for artists on other record labels. I had the occasion to come and see this space, which wasn’t a studio before. It was a completely empty warehouse. I met the guys who were building it, and I said, “Okay, I would love this section because it has the most windows. I want to see outside.” They built the walls, did all the insulation, and I was one of the first ones here. Slowly they started to fill in all the other rooms. It’s a nice hub.

Is there a name for the whole complex there?

It’s called Pony Studios. The guys are in a band [Tempesst], and instead of spending their advance on renting out a studio they decided to build their own, which is the big studio next door. They happen to be very good builders, and good brains with all the acoustics. They’re resourceful, because now they have an income.

That’s a common studio concept we’re seeing now. The idea of having resident engineers working in private suites, and then a shared area they can rent or request.

In cities like London, space costs a lot of money. So, it’s not common for many producers and engineers to have a huge studio [of their own], unless it’s a bit out of the city or totally in the countryside. At some point, I think I might get a second and bigger studio in Italy, where I can have a live room and separate control room. Hopefully somewhere by Lake Iseo, where I was born, and where I can host artists and bands I work with.

One of the reasons you moved from Italy was a lack of studio infrastructure and work to be had, right?

That’s the main reason, totally. Why else would I leave everything; my family and my friends? I didn’t know anyone in London. Zero. I moved here because I had already exhausted the resources I had there. I started there in live sound when I was around 15. My first mentor, Carlo Dall’Asta, and I were working at this centro sociale – social center. It’s a place that was liberated in the ‘90s. That means that it was occupied back then by a group of activists.

Like squatters?

Yeah, but not for the purpose of living in it. Rather it was for the purpose of creating a place for the community. A place of counterculture, for the farmers to come and sell their products directly, or a place for concerts, debates, and meetings to organize demonstrations. A place that could provide support for levels of the community that often are marginalized by society. Places like this in Italy are still very strongly connected to the type of culture that young people, like me at that age, want to be a part of. When I went to high school – from my small town into a bigger city – I started frequenting this place, which had a venue at the back to raise money. Mainly experimental and punk bands would come by and play for a reduced fee, because centri sociali are non-profits. That was how the place would sustain itself, and also by having other initiatives such as exhibitions and art events. I was 15 and an activist, organizing demonstrations with students from the same high school, and others. It was a place that felt very inspiring. One day, I wandered into the venue and saw a mixing desk. I thought, “Wow, what’s this?” I wanted to learn it because I was fascinated by it, as well as by the idea that a piece of equipment could control the sound coming from the stage and therefore the experience of the listeners. A tangible thing controlling the intangible. I saw it as a performance, but without being at the center of the attention and away from the spotlights. I was introduced to Carlo, who was the in-house engineer there. He had a huge patience. I was a teenager and didn’t know anything about audio. He would tell me, “This is a microphone,” and would take it apart in front of me to show me how it worked. He explained to me what sound was, in theory and in practice, and he taught me everything I knew. Because I lived 20 miles away, and I was so young and didn’t have a car, I could never stay for the concert properly, only for the soundcheck. For many years, I only did the setting up and the soundcheck, and never actually saw the concert! When I got my license, I was 18 and finishing high school. I had already gone and done all the festivals around the province of Brescia, which is where I am from. I was already working in some theaters. Carlo was giving me jobs to do on my own. I remember telling him, “I’m going to get my diploma soon, and I’m going to have to choose what to do. Either go to uni, or follow this path.” I wanted to work in recording studios, to be in an environment that would allow me to experiment with sound and explore it further, without the time constraints of the live world. He told me, “Look. If you stay here, you’re going to keep on doing what you’re already doing. If I was you, I would go to London or Berlin.” So, I chose London. When I gave my last exam in school, I didn’t care about grades. I just said, “Can I book my flight?”

“I’m out of here.”

My friends and family were like, “Okay, you sound pretty convinced. This is the plan that you have.” They never had an example of anyone else who “made it” like that. I’m from a working class family; my mom is a teacher and my dad worked in a factory. I was initially going to go to uni in Bologna, maybe study politics, and I would probably be a professor by now. That’s what they thought I was going to do. They were a bit confused, but they supported me. It was quite scary to send their daughter away to another country at 19 years old.

I tell people all the time: To get anywhere in doing this, we have to sacrifice financial stability, eating well, sleep, significant relationships, and whatever else it might be at the beginning.

Oh, truly. That’s so true. I’d wake up every morning and go to this school, Alchemea [Music Production College]. It was a great place; the school had lectures every day, but it was open 24 hours. We were encouraged to go and use the studio to prepare ourselves for the real world. I was always there. I thought, “If I am taking this course, I’m going to try and make the most of it.” I used every single bit of equipment, and then I had to find a job, because London is expensive. I got a job in post-production, which was pretty brutal, because runners are so disposable. We were treated quite badly. Post-production was good, in so far as learning to be very quick at Pro Tools. They were getting me to do track laying, audio editing, and to be very on point with all the assisting jobs. I was calling up studios on the phone whenever I had a break. I thought, “No one is going to answer emails.” So, I was writing letters, posting them, and then calling up the studios. One of the first opportunities I had was for a studio in South London, which I had seen in an advertisement in Tape Op. It was State of the Ark. It looked incredible, with an old EMI console. I called up, and Dan Britten, who is the son of [owner, songwriter/producer] Terry Britten, told me, “Look, I’ve got no job for you.” I said, “I don’t care. I just want to come and present myself.” I went down, met him, I saw the studios, and straightaway I offered to tidy up. “Can I clean up your studio right now?” He remembered me. He called me back and said, “Look. I’ve got a session. Would you want to come in and assist, and be around to make teas and coffees?” I said, “Yeah!” I told the post-production people that I couldn’t come in, and went straight to State of the Ark. It was way more hours and less pay than the job I’d left. But the job I got was being an assistant in a studio; that’s what I wanted. One thing always leads to another. From that session, I met a producer who needed an assistant. I started working with them, and I began working in different studios from there.

When you meet more people, folks see that you’re competent.

Yeah! There are so many skills that go into this job. Obviously, you need to have such a solid knowledge of everything involving engineering, but it’s also about having a good attitude, having the passion and the drive to do it, and a 100 percent commitment. In Tape Op, the interview with Leslie Ann Jones [#74], in 2009, was amazing. It was written by Marsha?

Marsha Vdovin. She’s also one of our advertising representatives.

Oh, my god, Leslie Ann looked so cool! I saw a picture of her in the studio, and she looked so confident running the session. That picture became – in the back of my head – “I want to be like her.” She was wearing a wristwatch, and that is the reason that every time I record, I wear a wristwatch in homage to Leslie Ann Jones. I really liked that interview. She came across so brilliantly. To be able to experience that level of confidence and skill is such a joy for me. It’s inspiring. She was totally a role model for me, from that point onwards.

You were working with producers and in various studios?

My breakthrough, at Strongroom and RAK Studios, was when I truly started engineering and being booked on sessions where I was freelancing for different producers. Before then I was at Dean St. Studios, that used to be Tony Visconti’s [Good Earth Studios, Tape Op #29]. I had to know all of the studios very well, so if I got called by a studio manager and suddenly needed to go on a session, I had to know how to work not only with the different studios and producers, but with many genres of music and bands. I loved that, because I always learned something new. I learned to adapt, and to be able to always take something home for myself in terms of, “What did I learn today?” It has been a very incredible learning experience, because now I can work across all genres. With contemporary music, now genres don’t matter anymore. There are so many cross genres. I like that. I never like to be pigeonholed. Back then, I had the opportunity to use the studios when there were no sessions happening.

That really helps.

I made the most of that. I would say to the studio manager, “If no one comes in, can I use it?” I’d be making sure everything was cleaner than it was before, and perfectly spotless. I would log any fault and fix problems. It would be a gain for them, and a gain for me. Bands that I would see at concerts, I’d say, “I loved your set. Would you like to come and record? I get the credit, you get a track, an EP, or an album.” I was also having to assist, engineer, produce, mix, and sometimes having to master by myself, because there simply was no money.

Yeah, right?

I loved that, because it was scary to suddenly be running the whole ship. That’s how I learned to listen and truly gain the confidence that I could do it on my own. I was doing that alongside my freelancing for others. That’s how I’d work, with a bands’ word of mouth, or a producer who would talk to other producers and engineers and record labels. During a session, I met David Wrench, who became my mentor. I respected the sound that he could sculpt. The first day, we were working on a record for LA Priest [Sam Eastgate]. I was inspired by how he mixed and made everything sound so beautifully clear, but also so punchy. The bass was very potent, but not overpowering. He’s an incredible person to speak to, as his thoughts, taste, and ethics completely lined up with mine. It was like a eureka moment for me. He was getting busier and busier, and he needed someone to help him as an assistant engineer, so I started working with him a lot. He championed me and put me forward for jobs that he couldn’t take. The first mix I did on my own he put me forward for was Bombino, a Tuareg guitarist on Partisan Records. I was so honored to be working on my first mix. David always told me, “If you need to borrow my ears and show me a mix, feel free.”

That’s very nice!

I grew a lot with that confidence and security. We were working on cool music. There are so many jobs, obviously, that as engineers we’ll do that maybe don’t line up with our taste. But when you finally feel like you’re doing what you want, and working on the music you like, that’s it.

It’s hard to explain that to people, isn’t it? I’m not going to do a lesser job if I’m not a fan. But when we get to work on sessions where we admire the music, it brings out a little more in us.

Oh, yeah. The care and the time that I put into it suddenly is worth more. At that time, I worked 24 hours and 7 days a week, but it didn’t matter. I was doing everything I wanted to be doing. I remember being so happy. I felt so lucky.

This wasn’t luck. This is the result of your hard work!

I’m from a place where working in music still equals to not a full-time job. I feel blessed and absolutely honored to be doing what I do. I did work very hard for it. But, yes; there’s that part of me that comes from a small, working class town, where people work hard and there’s an engrained humility in everyone’s ethic. Entitlement is something that only the upper class can afford. I started from the bottom and I’m never going to take any success for granted. I always feel genuinely happy when people I respect know my work and when artists I love ask me to collaborate. It’s fulfilling. It’s so important to feel like we’re on the right track. That’s how I felt when I was reading the interview with Leslie Ann Jones many years ago. I thought, “Oh, you’re feeling the same feelings. Okay, so I’m not alone in this!” That meant a lot.

That is awesome. Working with David Wrench, was a lot of that recalling mixes and setting up his favorite signal paths for mixes?

Yeah, he would commute from Wales to London, so I was in charge of making sure that the setup would always be the same. At some point, he got his own speakers, so I would always set his speakers up, plus the sub[woofer]. Whenever we needed to record something, I would make sure that I had the mic already set up. He’d use his own computer, so I would have to rewire the rig. I wanted him to show up and for everything to be seamless. Then I was sitting in, looking over his shoulder, and making sure that I was taking in as much as I could. When there was a break, I would ask him questions. He produced a record [I’m All Ears] for Let’s Eat Grandma. We went to Rockfield [Studios, Wales]. I was engineering, and he was producing. I knew him so well that I knew what he wanted and what he needed, so I would make that happen. He gave me the freedom to experiment. I wanted my work to be good, I wanted him to be happy, and I wanted the band to be happy. I knew everything about engineering, but I needed to learn that fine line where it’s about refining my own taste. “What sounds good?” That is a very subjective idea. I remember I was struck with how good records that he worked on sounded. It was an incredible guidance for me, and an inspiration.

How many years did you two work together? Do you still work together occasionally?

It was four or five years. We don’t work together as much now, but we’re friends. When we see each other, we go out for a drink or for dinner. He was the person – like Carlo back in the day – where he told me, “You should leave.”

“Get out of the nest!”

“You’re getting your own jobs now.” Basically, it happened when we were working with Goldfrapp. Joff [Gladwell], A&R at Mute Records, came to our session at Strongroom. Joff said, “We have a studio at Mute that we don’t really use. We’re looking for someone to take it on and do some jobs for us. We need someone who is self-sufficient. We won’t keep you busy seven days a week, so you need to have your own work going on too.” I thought, “This is the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for.” When you freelance, you never have a headquarters of your own to call your studio. I didn’t have the amount of cash that I’d need to open a studio back then. I went to meet Daniel Miller [Tape Op #110], head of Mute, and Joff. They showed me the studio. It was a small room, but it had speakers and a small SSL console. It had a lot of synths from Daniel. That was my first studio. It was amazing. Suddenly, when people would ask me, “Could you mix this for us?” I didn’t have to go rent a studio. I had one!

You could work on your own projects, as long as you were available for their projects?

Yeah. Daniel might walk in and say, “We need a radio edit right now.” They became a family. They had publishing on the first floor, and on the second floor was the record label. I got to meet the artists that they signed, and I got to know Daniel. He’s an amazing person. We still work together. That was a great opportunity.

I find it fascinating how intertwined production and mixing seem to be for you.

Yeah. Bands can record themselves now. A lot of artists do self-produce more than before, because there is access to technology that’s more affordable. I remember some producers being quite bitter about that. When I was freelancing, I would catch some conversation of a big shot producer saying, “Yes, but it’s not the same as going into a big studio.” Within myself, I would say, “Actually, it is.” If someone’s got a good idea, and they don’t have the gazillions that are needed for six months at Rockfield, then I welcome the new technology! It makes music more democratic. It’s at that point where mixing becomes quite important. Mixing can transform a track, taking a sound from something that maybe doesn’t convey the messages as powerfully as it could, to something that does stand out from all of the music out there. To stand out, it needs to be the content, the delivery, the quality, and all of that. The figure of a mixer has changed in recent years, and it blurs the line with production in music.

It’s a hard line to straddle now when we start the first communication about a mix. “Do you want me to produce? To move parts around and mute instruments? Or do you only want me to take what’s there and make it sound nice?”

Yeah, totally. It’s always a conversation I have at the beginning. Sometimes people come to me, and they don’t really know. Some say, “I definitely want your input. I need it.” Some people say, “I am very attached to these levels. Please make it better, but let the relative levels be the same.” I put as much work into making something sound completely different as making something sound completely better, but with the same levels.

Same here. I listened to a few of the albums you’ve worked on, like Holly Herndon’s Proto. What are you receiving to mix from, versus what we hear on the final album?

She and Mat [Dryhurst] designed this AI called Spawn, this artificially intelligent creation that would train itself to simulate her voice. It was an amazing celebration of this new creation. What I received was a mixture of sounds generated by Spawn and her voice, but the voice also would be processed. Then some of the sounds I would treat as if they were traditional, beat-based synth sounds, because that made sense in my brain. What the beat, the bass, and the synths were meaning to the track would be completely different and very experimental. The beat might be made by actual mouth voices and do the job of a hi-hat. I had to work hard in my own brain to figure out how this should sound, because I didn’t have a comparison in the world of records. We did that at Mute. I mixed it for a bunch of time on my own, and sent them the first, second, and third drafts. Then they came over and we finished it together. We were able to talk about what should be prioritized, sound-wise, what the concept was behind certain tracks, and how I should be mixing it in terms of how it should be delivered.

You’ve got to focus in on what is suitable for her vision.

Yeah, it has this epic quality to it, and the message that it’s conveying is very epic. I went to see it performed live in Manchester, and it sounded incredible. The choir had this traditional element to it, and then there’s the voice being processed through this new artificial intelligence creation. It demonstrates that we can collaborate with technology, but also technology can be used for enhancing our limits, and to go beyond the human limits of the voice. They decided to make a record with it to celebrate it, and say, “This is what it can be, but let’s reflect on technology.” I wanted to make it sound impactful, big, and something that makes you go, “Wow, okay.”

I also listened to Time Skiffs by Animal Collective. I imagine you had rough mixes that had that gauzy reverb presence on the vocals, where they are sort of separate from the music. Is that correct?

With that, I spoke mostly with Brian [Weitz, a.k.a. “Geologist”]. We were always in touch about how elements in the mix should sound, and what the intent with the music was. I’m a huge fan of their music, and so I felt I had these songs I used to dance to as a teenager ingrained in me. When I was mixing it, I felt, “It needs to feel like Animal Collective,” because they have such a huge span of work. But I would also think, “Maybe the bass could have a little bit more definition.” There are so many elements to their tracks. They’re so rich. I wanted everything to have its own space, and everything to be very defined. I wanted the group vocals to have that quality of feeling like one vocal.

True, right.

Gel them together and have the percussion all around it. When I mix, I almost feel like I try and visualize it in a 3D depth and height. One of my favorite things I learned when I was studying sound was the phantom center of the two speakers. It truly feels like I can create these prisms of 3D moving within stereo. That’s how I see it in my head. I want the bass to be the foundation. Sometimes it can be mono and sometimes it can be stereo, as long as it feels good in mono. Then I can build upon that. Here’s where I put the beat: The kick drum, and then I put the snare across it, the vocals round it up, and the percussion is a little bit on top of the vocals. Everything needs to feel focused and cohesive. That’s how I approached that. I wanted the experience for the listeners and the band to be immersive and to tip the hat to all their previous records, but also to have mixes that would feel like a step forward.

I think we have to visualize mixes in a “fantasy” way. A mix can be a dead end if we conceptually start it off wrong.

Yeah, I hit dead ends sometimes! We all do. Sometimes it feels like, “Oh, shit, I’ve mixed this completely wrong.”

You mentioned depth and height in sound. Have you mixed in surround or Dolby Atmos?

I haven’t yet. I’m due to go and have a meeting about Atmos. I got to do a couple of sound designing jobs in surround, which I really enjoyed [Sisters with Transistors documentary]. So, I got a taste for it, but I haven’t truly mixed a record in Atmos yet. I guess I already try and simulate a “surround” feel as much as I can in stereo, with phase and with shifting sounds. I’m doubtful of Atmos a little, because I’ll think, “I know how to do this in stereo. How does it work in Atmos?” Master bus compression, or any other master processing, for example, that doesn’t work the same in Atmos. Or stereo placement. Atmos uses a center speaker. In stereo, I love using the concept of a phantom image of the center. So that’s different too. The use of dynamic within a mix is different. So, it’s a whole new way of mixing. Are the results worth it? I’m not sure yet. I do believe it shouldn’t have been forced upon us as a format so soon, and without much thought on timing and consequences for us who work in studios. I’m open and very intrigued to see how it will sound though, once all this annoying transition period is over and solutions to simple problems have been ironed out. If it can be a new creative tool, I can get behind that. But only if it’s a step forward in sound quality, not a step backwards. If it remains a seemingly corporate move to sell more products then I’ll say, “No thanks, I am happy with my stereo speakers.” There are so many studios that need to adapt for this new format, which is putting a strain on the industry.

I can’t afford to do it here!

It’s too expensive! It feels a bit like Atmos came into the room, “I’m here now! Everyone needs to change.” Let us catch up. The pandemic’s just happened. Now I’m going to go and get some huge Genelec monitors to hang around my studio?

I feel we’ve been fooled so many times. “Remix your records for 5.1.” Who was even listening to those?

I’m a fan of stereo, because I love working with limitations. I’m trying to break out of the dimension of stereo, but through what I already have. Like, if I use a certain amount of doubling, then suddenly it feels I can gel parts together and also make them wider. Or EQ’ing can make them feel wider. I do a lot of my leveling post-EQ, rather than the other way around, because I always felt that EQ’ing is such a huge part of my job. But also it does change the stereo field quite a lot, and the perception of the stereo field and how wide or expansive something is. I enjoy playing with stereo so much that now that Atmos is coming along, I feel like I’m defending it!

When you were working with Björk [Utopia], was it all stereo mixes on her project?

Yeah. That was in 2017.

She’s always looking for new technology, or new ways to present her art.

Yeah, goodness; I respect that so much! For example, when she did the film Black Lake for the retrospective she did at the MoMA [Museum of Modern Art] in 2015, she was using a binaural headphone system. That was, I thought, a breakthrough technology because that is basically what Atmos for headphones is, and all spatial audio. They created an audio experience that was so immersive that when the listener turned their head the focus point would still be in one place, and they would feel the movement of it. They integrated gyroscopes onto the headphones to determine the head rotation of the listener and made the world’s first dynamic binaural audio experience. It was super clever. She’s always at the forefront. I love that.

You have a collection of tape decks. Do you utilize these for your mixing and production?

Yeah. My fascination is with a medium that, when I started, people were not using anymore. Everyone tracked in Pro Tools. Tracking on tape is a choice rather than a necessity. I wanted to learn about it, because it has such a rich history, and it involves a lot of knowledge. I wanted to have that knowledge.

I saved up for a ReVox PR99 MK3 tape deck. I started playing with it and realizing how it works. I had to work it out myself, hoping that what I was doing was right. I didn’t have much patience for manuals or watching videos on YouTube. I started using it for everything, using it for compression, for saturation, tape delays, pitch shifting, time shifting, and phasing. Rather than having a whole rack of gear, I got a tape machine. I bought another tape machine, and then I started linking them up with the same tape. One is in record and the second is in playback. I thought, “If I push them far apart, I’ll get a ten second delay.” I started playing with that idea, and thinking, “I can use this for producing sounds that weren’t there before. Creating different polyrhythms, patterns, and harmonies by changing the pitch. Or even tampering with the tape as it passes through the heads, like pulling it with my hands or scratching it with a razor blade.” There is so much possibility there when you work with tape and start experimenting.

Nobody can really replicate all these hands-on techniques with plug-ins.

Yeah, true. Every tape machine is different, just like a microphone. I love the idea of having this collaboration with the medium of tape, which truly is analog. It’s a little temperamental now, because these are not new machines. They work with their own minds, and they can go wrong at any point. There is a level of knowledge to put into it and invest, but then what I receive back is so satisfying. I tend to use them for mixes and production, but I also go out and do performances with tapes. Tomorrow, I’m going to introduce a movie by [Pier Paolo] Pasolini called Teorema. They asked me to introduce it with a tape performance, so I composed a tape tone poem collage with different music and interviews. I made it with my TEAC 4-track, which is the latest addition to my tape family. Suddenly I thought, “Wow! I have four channels, not two.” I can play the 4-track tapes on that deck, and then use the two AKAI tape decks for this effect that I call “the maze.” I didn’t know at the time I worked it out, that it shared similarities with “Frippertronics.”

Robert Fripp’s tape delay system. Well, he borrowed that from Brian Eno [Tape Op #85].

I guess as brains who like to experiment, we sometimes reach similar stages through our own explorations. I had no idea about it until I was introduced to their record, [Fripp & Eno’s] No Pussyfooting. And even then, the purpose of my “tape maze” felt very different from what I heard in that record. What I am really interested in is the collaboration between the tape and the musicians, or the source of the sound that comes back around and becomes its own instrument. Like memory, it can appear faded, distorted, changed, and reinterpreted. And the interaction with the past sounds means creating new ones, either by fitting into the spaces in between or by playing and harmonizing with what’s coming back. For one of the performances I did, I asked my friend, Agathe [Max], to join me and be the “source.” She plays violin. I blindfolded her with a tape loop [laughs], so she would play with her eyes closed and only follow her ears. On a tape loop that I was recording live from bits of what she was playing, sometimes changing the speed of the playback to create harmonies and dissonances. Then I was sending that to the tape maze – to the two tape machines – and that would create a ten second delay of what she was playing. She started playing with a past version of herself and harmonizing to it. The whole thing became alive, self-regenerating – its own instrument, really. It was amazing. Suddenly, collaborating with a tape machine and a live musician, the potential goes up.

You have to be careful about how much previous signal is fed back in. Otherwise it can become a cacophony.

Oh, yeah, it truly does. I quickly learned that when I started. It’s hard to ride it that way so that it’s just enough so that it is beautiful. Otherwise, it goes into meltdown, and everyone will be covering their ears!

Yeah, that’s a good thing too, if that’s what you want!

Oh, yeah. If you’re going for the full noise vibe, then totally. I’m in!

You did a cool record [Landform] with Erland Cooper. Was some of that this tape work?

Yeah. He walked into my studio with three tape loops, and said, “I buried this into the land of Orkney, and I drowned this into the North Sea, and this one I dried in the north winds. These are three tape loops, and I’ve got this record called Landform. I want you to use these three tape loops to compose three pieces that I’m going to incorporate into my album and make it a collaboration.” I thought, “Wow, this is something that encompasses a lot of what I love; collaboration with tape and nature.” These tape loops were still wet from the land and the sea. I waited to dry those. Meanwhile, I got my tape machine out, and I put them on mic stands – these were very long loops. I started recording them back into Pro Tools. What was fascinating for me is that the tape machine warming up warmed up the tapes, and they started to smell like the sea, like being there.

That’s weird!

The sound of it was quite intensely low. It felt like the murmur of the waves. I’ve never been to Orkney, but it’s so north that I imagine the sea being this potent element there. Obviously, it regulates the lives of everyone. I recorded very long chunks of these three tape loops, and I reworked them by sending them to my tape maze, through the Akais and the PR99. I sent back my compositions to him, and he loved them. He then arranged them into the album and weaved them with what he had already.

Oh, cool. He did a final combining of everything?

Yeah. For some of them he used very long chunks. There is one track, “Cairn VI,” which has long sections of the tape work that I did. It feels like a layer underneath, this bubbling. You can tell it’s the tapes, because the long loops, when the tension goes down, it does go down a lot, and it does this little “bloop.” It becomes this very distinctive element.

Sometimes the splice makes a little bit of a “bump” sound as it goes by.

Yeah, that makes its own sound, and it starts to have a percussive element to it. Your brain starts making a rhythmic pattern.

I’d assume you mix most projects that you’ve produced and recorded?

I do a lot of my EQ’ing when I can, and compression on the way in, so that it’s done. That’s probably why I mix a lot of the records that I produce. I set the tone from the start, so it feels like, “Okay, I know what to do now.” To give mixing to someone else I would have to sit down, have a tea, and be like, “All right. I did this because of this and because of this.” I think there has only been one instance where I had a record that I produced mixed by someone else. That was Ben Baptie [Tape Op #147], and he did a great job. Other than that one time, I have always been doing both jobs myself. I tend to experience the fact that also bands and labels like to have the same person doing it, because it smooths out the process. When the masters come back, I check them as well.

How do you make judgment calls on the masters?

Sometimes it can be hard. I tend to mix and make two versions. One with the limiter on as a listening copy; as a reference for the mastering engineer to hear the same thing that I’ve been listening to with the artist and the record label. Then, the version [sent to] mastering has all my processing going on in the master, minus the limiting. [For checking the masters,] I line them up in Pro Tools, and I A/B them very quickly, [in order] to try and make a mental note of exactly what changed. Then I try to listen back to the master as a whole experience, and feel if all of the impact points, like the choruses, have retained their own dynamics. A big part of what I look for is preserving the dynamic in a master. I do hope that it doesn’t get squashed. Brightness is a matter of taste, because some people have a different sensitivity to it. With some records, maybe the hi-hat was recorded quite harshly, and it’s hard to maintain it, to poke through without destroying your ears.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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