STUDIO VIEW: DAVE CLARKE
Dave Clarke, the Baron of Techno, has a unique approach to his craft. For starters his studio is on a boat in an Amsterdam canal. Secondly, he’s not a synth-head. He’s all about using effects and compression as his sound shaping tools more so than filters and oscillators.
His studio is based on a 24-core Hackintosh running Logic Pro, but from there things get a little weird: He takes channels and stems out of an Apogee Symphony into a bank of various hardware compressors then into 24 channels of a summing mixer before being mixed down via a smattering of hardware compression and EQ. Dave calls it a proper ‘hybrid’ setup of in and out of the box. Here we’ve asked Dave to talk us through some of his gear choices.
FAN OF APOGEE SYMPHONY
There’s a Dyson Airblade attached to it because the moment you stick another card inside, it starts overheating. They won’t tell you this. Even if you do put the magnetic swipe on the back, you need to reflect the airflow in a more efficient way. I took the top off the Airblade (on its lowest setting) and attached a duct to it and that feeds air to the back of the Symphony.
HARDWARE COMPRESSION FLAVOURS
I use the Roll Music compressor for bass. I don’t know what it does to bass but it’s very smooth. Sometimes when you use filtered-down bass and you shove it into a compressor you can hear it creaking. But this one just seems to add a bit of peanut butter to the mix and make it very smooth. Not the crunchy peanut butter; smooth.
Naturally I use the Distressor for bass drum, but will put more than a bass drum through it. I’ll have it reacting with a bass drum, then maybe a snare or a hi-hat.
Sometimes I use the Smart C2 for snare or hi-hats in Crush mode, or send the snare and hi-hats together through the Fatso, because that’s kind of fun as well.
The Avalon 747 is for synth sounds or more full synth bass sounds. The Titan is probably more for percussion gain. The API 2500 I often use for vocals or guitars, just because there’s that American sound that can be fun. Otherwise I’ll use the SSL comp [Al Smart C2] on vocals. Previously I had the SSL on the two-mix but found it a little too polite. But it’s great on vocals.
SPL NEOS SUMMING MIXER
I did have a Neve mixing console. But after a while I realised that a) it sounded pretty shit and b) it was clunky to use — too many button pushes to get the routing right, which annoyed me. Sorry Dave Grohl, but you can’t spell Neve anyway.
I was looking at a variety of summing mixers, and the 120V SPL Neos made the most sense and it sounds very good — there’s a lot of transparency and a hell of a lot of headroom. I have 24 channels.
TWO-BUS CHERRY ON TOP
Out of the mixing console into the Focusrite Blue ISA330 into a Bettermaker 232P EQ with full recall via a plug-in into a Clariphonic EQ for a little bit of sizzle, and then into an old Cranesong HEDD. And then from the HEDD back into the box.
CRANESONG AVOCET MONITOR CONTROL
Every time you get a new piece of equipment, it always opens up a weakness somewhere else. After going with the SPL Neos I was missing a big console’s monitoring section. But Dave Hill, f**king genius that he is, has done something special with Avocet. It’s got this wonderful thing called Offset. If I’m monitoring compression before it goes back in the box, I might be hearing something 4dB louder and think it sounds better when in fact it just sounds louder. So you can program in the offset, and suddenly — f**king great idea — you can hear it before compression as it comes out the mixing desk, and then hear it after you’ve gone through all your processing and EQ at the same volume level. You can objectively determine: is this beneficial to me or is it suckering me in?
MONITORING: DUAL TO THE DEATH?
For years I swore my undying allegiance to Tannoy monitors. I grew up on Tannoys. To switch camps would be an insult to my father’s memory. I love Tannoy dual concentrics — their tight, controlled sound. But after many years and with mixes getting more and more complicated I realised that Tannoy wasn’t moving ahead. I realised the more complex my reverb tails were becoming, the less I could pick them out within the mix. Gradually I felt my mixes were suffering as a result. With a heavy heart I began looking elswhere.
I thought I’d try the Neumanns. I listened to them, they sounded beautiful, but I knew there was some weird trickery going on inside the box I couldn’t trust.
Barefoot? I heard those at an SAE workshop in Amsterdam, when I was invited for a tour. I heard them and they sounded bloody awful. Okay, it may have been the room they were in. Then I thought, hang on a minute, you’ve got two bass drivers on their sides facing each other; how does that work with air pressure?
After quite a bit of shopping around I finally auditioned a pair of ATCs. I let the guy put them in. He had them sitting on their ends — ‘portrait’ mode — he said the tweeters were happy in either configuration. I listened to various different source material, including Stevie Wonder, and the clav in the Superstition mix started to hurt. Every time he hit it, it was like someone was outside of the ship hull attacking it. Something about the speakers in that configuration didn’t look right. I recall my old flying teacher telling me: “If it looks like shit, it’s going to fly like shit”. Which is a pretty cool thing to say. I was looking at these ATC’s thinking they looked like shit in that configuration. So we turned them on their sides and everything just went ‘click’. It snapped in; everything made sense and tears came to my eyes because it sounded so engaging but not tiring. That’s a really difficult thing to get the speaker to be engaged but not exhausted. To not be flattered, but hear everything.
I had them on the Argossy I42 stands, which always worked very well with the Tannoys, but the ATCs are such a heavy speaker I was worried they might topple over when the next canal boat came past. I then put them on the Towersonics. You have the option to fill them with sand or lead. Timing-wise the sound improved by another 10% being on those stands.
EQ PLUG-INS: ON A TRIDENT TIP
Now I’ve gone with a summing mixer, I miss some of the ‘big console’ features, like channel EQ. Which is why I was tempted by the SoftTube Console. Instead I set up a template in Logic which automatically assigns my Waves EQ plug-ins. I’m not a preset/template kind of guy. This is the only template I have and it will choose what EQ module goes to each output. At the moment I’m in a Trident EQ mood.
I was in Japan visiting friends who gave me some prototype power cable to take home. I actually bought a special case that allowed me to take it on board — there was no way I was going to be separated from this special cable and check it into the aircraft’s hold. This cable was about as thick as a hose pipe wrapped in carbon fibre, made of medical grade silver inside, and apparently the molecules were all lined up going one way… if you believe in that type of thing. The connector was palladium with a glass-filled bead bezel. I didn’t get a wink of sleep for those nine hours back from Tokyo, I was just lying awake thinking about that cable in my studio. It had a 16A IEC at the end of it and I was just imagining it supplying pure electrical goodness to my Furman. That’s the OCD in me.
Admittedly I haven’t gone as far as Wendy Carlos and enclosed my whole studio in a Faraday cage, but I’m well on the way!
“The connector was palladium with a glass-filled bead bezel. I didn’t get a wink of sleep for those nine hours back from Tokyo, I was just lying awake … imagining it supplying pure electrical goodness to my Furman”
I HEART LOGIC PRO
I had a break from the studio about 10 years ago and when I came back I thought I’d look into Ableton Live. But it upset me. I didn’t realise why it upset me, and then I realised it upset me because it reminded me of C-Lab Notator. Notator had this two-screen bullshit where you had to constantly flip flop between one screen and the other. I also didn’t like the fact Ableton wouldn’t allow me to commit. It would allow me to keep jamming forever and just keep throwing stuff into the pot. It was fun but I wouldn’t get anything finished.
I re-learned Logic after years of working in Cubase. It was very familiar but at the time it was so unreliable. Logic 8 and Logic 9, it just wasn’t fun at all, and the 32-bit bridge would constantly f**king upset the whole applecart — you’d go out for lunch, and you’d come back from lunch and it’s crashed for no reason. But when Logic 10 came out, I was able to make the full leap to 64-bit. And you can now take its stability for granted. Now, 10.1 finally has the Plug-in Manager and I now feel it is an absolutely complete and reliable piece of software, a joy to work in finally! It’s my friend. I love it.
PLUGS: MAKING WAVES
I have about 780 plug-ins [including the Dave Clarke signature suite – Ed.]. I’ve been using Waves Mercury for a very long time, since back in the days when it took three minutes to load up a single plug-in. Over the years I’d be running plugs on UAD from Firewire boxes to internal cards and right now I have a 24-core Hackintosh, with two PCI cards in there so I can run a shitload of plug-ins in one go. For a long time I was a big fan of Plugin Alliance, but the update routine is such a palaver. But I’ll use those and a few others like the BBE plugs, which are good fun to have.