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Cut Copy's 'Zonoscope'

March 15, 2011
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cutcopy_1A desire for low-key experimentation led Cut Copy to rent a Melbourne warehouse to record their new album, Zonoscope. But as the Australian electropop group started tracking and recording, the cavernous floor itself became a sonic element. Beyond the idle ladder used as an occasional percussion instrument, space became a key factor in capturing the interlacing and often tribal rhythms coming from drum kits, bongos, drum machines, and more.

“We really wanted to employ different percussion to make it more hypnotic and rhythmic,” says Cut Copy frontman Dan Whiteford. “The whole idea was to create this separate world on the record.”

The group felt that comfort led to better performances; Whitford recorded vocals with a hand-held condenser at home so he’d be more relaxed. The warehouse was divided into clusters of recording stations, including a drum room and a kit set in the corner to achieve a more open, roomy, Jesus and Mary Chain sound, exemplified on the booming beats of “This Is All We’ve Got.” Like everything else, the rhythm tracks were recorded through an RME Fireface 800 into an iMac I7 running Cubase, but mics and mic placement were constantly altered, sometimes capturing the space’s natural reverb.

To record the main kit, they used an AKG D112 into JLM NV500 mic pre for the kick, and an E-V RE20 into a JLM NV500 for the rack and the floor, though they subbed in a Sennheiser MD 421 for more bottom end. A Røde NT4 was set overhead, and the snare was double-miked, with either a Shure SM57 or RE20 on top or a Neuman KM184 on the bottom (all run through a JLM NV500). For some of the more open sounds, an M/S pair (Røde NTK and a modded SM Pro MC03 going into a JLM 99v) was set a few meters in front of the drums, and Nady RSM-2s and Studio Projects condensers were used as room mics.

Layering gave live percussion tracks more presence amid the synth melodies, especially the Yamaha CS-80 bass lines. Drum samples as well as the kick and snare from a 909 were layered over live recordings on “Sun God,” adding emphasis to the already-strong rhythm section.

“The final recording isn’t that obvious,” says Whitford, “but there’s something about adding the kick and snare from the drum machine that creates a real mechanical sound. We also moved it around on the grid so it was quantized without sounding quantized.” Patrick Sisson

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