King Creosote & Jon Hopkins: Recording Diamond Mine

Interview | Artist

Published in SOS May 2012
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People + Opinion : Artists / Engineers / Producers / Programmers

The long-awaited collaboration between singer Kenny Anderson and producer Jon Hopkins has yielded a hypnotic album where not everything is as it seems...

David Greeves

Kenny 'King Creosote' Anderson and Jon Hopkins.Kenny 'King Creosote' Anderson and Jon Hopkins.

Diamond Mine is a remarkable album. Seven years in the making and seven tracks long, it's a collection of spare, emotionally charged songs wrapped in layers of gorgeous instrumentation, 'found sounds' and ambient noise. The overall effect is extremely moving and, from a production point of view, fascinating. In their use of field recordings and everyday noises, together with conventional acoustic and electronic sounds and effects, singer-songwriter King Creosote and electronic composer/producer Jon Hopkins have managed to create a uniquely atmospheric record packed with delicately nuanced details and three-dimensional soundscapes.

Nominated for the 2011 Mercury Music Prize, Diamond Mine is now getting a richly deserved deluxe re-release, packaged with additional singles and the excellent recent EP Honest Words, which reveals a subtle progression towards a more overtly electronic sound. A variety of musical influences ranging across folk, classical and electronica are apparent, but what's harder to pin down is exactly what makes the production such a mesmerising, involving experience.

Two Worlds Collide

King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, is a prolific songwriter and recording artist with a strong independent streak. In the mid-'90s, he set up 'micro-indie' label Fence Records and began recording and releasing CD-Rs of his music from his home in Fife on the east coast of Scotland. Since then, he has reportedly released over 40 albums, frequently collaborating with other Fence artists and members of the 'Fence Collective', and co-releasing some albums with UK indie powerhouse Domino. His recorded output ranges from the decidedly lo-fi to the more polished sound of albums like KC Rules OK and the Hopkins-produced Bombshell, both released on Warner imprint 679, but his trademarks — devastatingly honest, personal songs and an unmistakable singing voice, often backed by acoustic guitar or accordion — have remained constant.

At first glance, Jon Hopkins might seem an unlikely partner in crime for the man from Fife. A classically trained pianist, Hopkins cut his teeth touring with Imogen Heap before embarking on his own career as a producer, remixer and solo artist. In addition to releasing three albums of enthralling instrumental music (a fourth is due before the year's end), he's collaborated with Brian Eno, Coldplay and David Holmes, among others, and composed the soundtrack to the critically acclaimed indie sc-fi movie Monsters.

They may have sprung from wildly different musical backgrounds, but there's clearly a huge amount of mutual respect between the pair. "I know a lot has been written about this album taking seven years to manifest, but that's obviously not seven continuous years,” Anderson says. "I met Jon around seven years ago. He was a big fan of the Fence Records and the Fence Collective. At that time we were pretty much a cottage industry — we were DIY, we were CD-Rs. All the acts on Fence were recording at home, so we were known as a lo-fi, all-hands-pitching-in type of enterprise. Jon came to a few of our shows in London and he also started coming up to Fence Collective live events, like the Homegame festival [held annually in Fife].”

Hopkins approached Anderson about remixing some of his songs, and the pair struck up a strong friendship. However, initial attempts to collaborate on new recordings were continually overtaken by other commitments. "Back in 2006,” Anderson explains, "he had a list of my songs he wanted to work on, and we started again on this collaborative project. And then, in my other life as King Creosote, the producer that was in line for my next record fell through, and we thought, 'Hold on, we've started doing these songs together — how about Jon produces the next King Creosote album for Warners?' So the three songs we'd been working on became part of that album [Bombshell], but that meant our collaborative project got derailed a little bit.

"Then Jon himself got very busy with writing his own records and production jobs and soundtracks and lots of things, so our collaboration got put on ice again until about 2009. Jon got back in touch and said, 'Look, I've got a bit of free time, I think we have to start on this or we'll never get it done!'”

The Sound Crystallises

The Cafe Music live room, where almost all of the acoustic parts on Diamond Mine were recorded.The Cafe Music live room, where almost all of the acoustic parts on Diamond Mine were recorded.

Bearing in mind that Anderson and Hopkins had already made 2007's Bombshell, albeit as artist and producer rather than artist and artist, what made the project that would become Diamond Mine so different? The absence of any pressure to deliver 'a hit' seems to have been crucial. While you can clearly hear the beginnings of the Diamond Mine sound in some of the more experimental moments on Bombshell, with complete freedom this new direction could be fully explored.

"I certainly never sit down at the start of a record and think, 'How can we make this popular?'” says Hopkins. "But with Bombshell, we did try and make a snappy record of songs and it worked — we're proud of it as an album — but it didn't work on the level we wanted it to work. So on this one, we just thought, 'Let's do exactly what we want to do, don't even think about that, and people will come to it on its own terms.'”

The songs featured on Diamond Mine have, for the most part, appeared on previous King Creosote releases, but they've never sounded like this before. Talking to Anderson and Hopkins, it almost feels as though they've taken a set of simple songs, recorded with just vocals and acoustic guitar, and produced a cinematic score around them. There's no sign of conventional arrangement or song structure, no steady build to the big chorus. Instead, the backing ebbs and flows around the songs, sometimes almost disappearing altogether, only to return unexpectedly, but all the while underscoring the emotion of the moment.

"There aren't really any choruses on this album,” say Hopkins. "It's more about storytelling and the feel of the song, and just the absolute heartbreaking beauty of the melodies that Kenny has written. I wanted to put the vocal at the front and have everything else just serve the vocal, so that remains the focus.”

Guided By Voices

In simplistic terms, there's no great mystery to the vocal-centric sound of the record: for the most part, Anderson's lead vocal is mixed high and dry, so it's pushed right to the forefront. It's also beautifully sung and recorded, despite what he might say. "With this record, Jon was absolutely adamant that it was going to be about the voice first and foremost,” he explains. "That's how it all started, I suppose — with Jon hearing something in my voice that few have heard, or few in his position. I haven't had producers biting my arm off to work with me! But he heard through the Scottish accent, through all the harsh S's and the rolling R's. I'd like to think he hasn't just seen that as a challenge!

"Jon learned very early on that I'm absolutely hopeless at singing a line the same way twice. On bad days I think it's because I'm lazy, but on good days I think that's my thing. I'm not trained, so I'm always taking breaths at different times. It's just how I feel on the day. So he got me to sing each song maybe five or six times. He realised that, with me, it was about the performance.”

"The vocal is the album,” says Hopkins, "and we managed to get him at his absolute best. Like any singer, he's affected by hayfever or hangovers or any of these things, and this one time we got him with nothing. It was just perfect. When he's at his best there's not a better singer, not that I've ever heard. It's such a perfect sound.

"Because he's such a good singer, I think with whoever he's worked with in the past, they'd always use the first take. And I'm not passing judgement on that — that can be a brilliant approach. But I wanted to take a lot of care over the vocals. If you're going to hinge the entire record on them, they have to be so beautiful. It's not really a question of accuracy, it's about the emotion of it. They are straight takes with Kenny, but I did cut between a few different ones and move little bits around. None of it was correction, just making choices to try and push it that little bit further emotionally.”

Beyond the minute attention given to the vocal, both in selecting the right performance and in detailed level automation, the rest of the arrangement is geared around ensuring the vocal has maximum impact. "I'm very much about hearing every syllable of every lyric and getting the meaning of the lyrics over,” says Anderson. "Jon has taken that and vamped it right up to the max. He's added so much gravity to certain lines. It's like, 'How can we exaggerate the impact of this vocal line, then how can we do that times 10, times 20?', but he's done it in a quiet way. Nothing's clamouring to be louder than the rest. It's like how artists have the golden point in a painting, where your eye is drawn to that thing and then goes round the painting. It's like my voice is that point and the more you listen, the more you hear all these other layers to the record.”

While the lead vocal sits at the front of the mix, the backing vocals, provided by the angelic Lisa Lindley-Jones, sit further back, swaddled in reverb. "I didn't want it to be all gruff Scottish stuff!” Hopkins jokes. "I wanted to have a bit of beautiful femininity as well, and Lisa sings beautifully with him. She even does the accent when required! Particularly in certain songs, I was trying to keep Kenny's vocal very, very dry, but Lisa's has got lots of lovely reverb on it, just to keep them very different and very separate in sound. For me, it's crucial that these two elements should work — they should be good enough to listen to on their own. If you've got a vocal that good, then the rest is easy.”

Keeping It Real

The vocals, like the acoustic guitar, accordion, harmonium, drum kit and string parts, were recorded in the basement live room of Cafe Music Studios in East London,Cafe Music has been established for more than 30 years, and what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in atmosphere. This is the control room. Cafe Music has been established for more than 30 years, and what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in atmosphere. This is the control room. before being taken upstairs to Jon Hopkins' small project studio for further production. Given the lifespan of the project — some elements heard on Diamond Mine were recorded as far back as 2005 — it's not surprising that Hopkins' setup has evolved in that time. In fact, the MacBook Pro running Logic and the Apogee Ensemble interface he uses today are recent arrivals. Before that, he was using a PC laptop running an ancient version of Cubase, and an Edirol Audio Capture USB interface (now mounted on the wall as a memento). This austere setup was used to produce about half of Diamond Mine and all of Hopkins' solo album, Insides.Jon Hopkins' own studio is based around a very minimal setup, now using Logic on an Apple laptop computer. Jon Hopkins' own studio is based around a very minimal setup, now using Logic on an Apple laptop computer.

"Early on in the making of the album, I was bringing all the takes we recorded downstairs up to my old PC laptop running Cubase VST from about 2002 or something,” says Hopkins. "I would comp them in that, and it's a terrible program. It's just very, very old! But because the album was done over so many years — there was a whole year when we didn't even open the project — by the time I got to actually mixing it down, I had Logic up here, so I was able to improve the sound of some things slightly. But the core sound of it is all VST.

"There's nothing 'high quality', it's all 16-bit, all 44.1kHz. In fact, that's true of everything I've ever done. I just prefer it. I can't explain it, but there's just a warmth to it. I don't like the 24-bit sound. I know it's just that there's less information in 16-bit, but it just sounds nicer to me. I find that if you're working at 48kHz and 24-bit, everything just gets shinier and shinier until I can almost hear the ones and zeroes, and it's just absolutely horrible — you can hear it all over so many records. Pretty much everything I do is to try and keep things from getting into this ultra-high-quality realm which I just cannot stand. There's no life in it.”

Tied up in this was the decision to avoid electronic or digitally produced sounds as much as possible and instead to use, abuse and manipulate 'real', acoustically recorded sounds. "A lot of what people mistake for electronic sounds on the album are not electronic at all,” says Anderson. "For example, Jon might hear a crazy buzz from my guitar or a badly fretted note, then he'll take that and EQ it or octave it up. Everything is very much real sounds that have been treated.”

"The drums in the song 'Bubble' are probably the thing that's closest to electronic beats on the album, but there's not a single electronic sound in there,” Hopkins explains. "That was quite a conscious move, really. That song was started in 2006 and all the programming was done in [Cubase] VST. I had these tie-clip mics — 25 quid from Maplin — which I used to record the drum sounds. They're all things like bits of paper being rubbed between finger and thumb, or flicked and scraped. I also did things like put the mics down on the carpet and tap my fingers in front of them, or attach them to my legs and then do some Vic Reeves-style trouser-rubbing. That all then went into Sound Forge to be edited and then completely re-sequenced. There were little bits of processing too — things like EQ and pitching things up or down — but that's basically what those sounds are.”

There are some exceptions, like the occasional use of Sound Forge's simple synthesis capabilities to produce sine-wave bass-drum sounds. Hopkins' venerable Casiotone 101 supplied many of the organ-type sounds heard across Diamond Mine, while his well-used Korg Trinity workstation keyboard provided a smattering of synth bass and electric piano sounds. "The Trinity is an incredibly warm-sounding synth,” says Hopkins. "I use it loads and loads. It doesn't sound particularly digital, and I think that's because of something in the output stage. With the bass sounds, you can really hear these [high-frequency] artifacts, particularly on the very low notes. I would always boost the treble so you can hear more of that.”

Make Some Noise

A comfy lounge is crucial to the success of any studio!A comfy lounge is crucial to the success of any studio!

If using 'real' sounds and characterful, even technically imperfect, synths was one way to ensure that the album was sonically vital and interesting, another strategy was to, as Hopkins puts it, "bring things out of the machine and then back in again as often as possible”. Sometimes that involved recording individual parts from the Logic arrangement onto his TEAC cassette deck and then returning them to the DAW environment.

"There's a lot of cassette recording on this album,” says Hopkins, "even to the point where we had a whole track of tape noise playing throughout the song in the background. Some of the vocals went on tape as well, just to give them that bit of life. My friend Nathan Fake, who makes amazing techno, also let me use his tape deck. He's got an older tape deck than mine, which sounds beautiful — it's got a much crustier sound than mine. He taped that whole choir sound [towards the end of 'John Taylor's Month Away'] through his tape deck, then we took that and mixed it with the original. So in some cases I'm actually adding machine noise into these songs. I don't want to take noise away as a rule, I just want to add it, because that's what gives air and dimension to the thing. And it's all mixed quite loudly, it's not in the background at all.”

If you haven't heard the album, all this talk of 'noise' might have you imagining something scratchy, lo-fi and chaotic, but the very opposite is true. Every one of these elements is carefully shaped, using a variety of EQs, filters, saturators and reverbs, and thoughtfully placed to serve the whole. The same is true of the snatches of field recording employed throughout the record.

"Jon, having come to Fife for various Fence events, had probably fallen in love with the place, as many people do,” says Anderson. "It's very picturesque, it runs at its own pace, mobile reception is patchy at best — all of that. Jon's idea was to fix these songs in this place, even though the songs themselves span a lot of different times and places. He came up with his digital portable recorder. In the beginning, it was a bit off-putting to have him sitting there with this thing running while we're all chatting away, but after a while you forget about it. There are also things like the noise of seagulls and boats in the harbour on there, but that's just what was in the background. We didn't run around trying to capture all the clichéd East Neuk of Fife noises.

"I also sent him a CD-R of all the buckshee noises that I had on my recorder. I don't use a digital recorder — I use a little handheld analogue Dictaphone — so you've always got that mechanical whirr in the background. I sent him an hour's worth of ridiculous noises and off-kilter loops — bicycle wheels, pram wheels, my daughter chirping away in the background, my analogue phone ringing. Jon also zoned in on little noises that sort of bookend my own songs, whether they're there by accident or not, and he's lifted them as well.”

"The accordion you hear at the end of 'Running On Fumes' was a part from a different song on one of Kenny's other albums,” Hopkins explains. "He sent it to me and when I turned the treble way up — like, 18dB or something — I found all this bleed, all this interesting stuff going on in the room around him when it was recorded. You can hear what was on his headphones coming through, you can hear bits of other people's vocals, all these little whispers and little clicks, there's so much going on in there. I always look in the treble range to see what's hiding, because so often there's stuff there that's amazing. Then I put the whole track through an octave-and-a-half pitch-shifter up and then put a massive reverb on that. What sounds like a synth behind it, that's just the accordion through the processing.

"That stuff is a huge part of the character of the record,” Hopkins says of the field recordings and found sounds that punctuate the record. "I didn't want just a singer-songwriter-y album. It had to be something different. I like the idea of building lots of different little worlds around these songs. 'Bubble' is a good example of that: I wanted to make everything sound like it was handmade, like it's a tiny little world that's fabricated in no more than a few square feet.”

In addition to the (literally) handmade drum noises he recorded with his tie-clip mics, Hopkins employs a range of inventive sounds to add a slightly other-wordly quality to his miniature world. There's the upright piano in his project studio, recorded, then heavily treated using Sound Toys' Echoboy plug-in, until warm and fuzzy. There's some pitch-shifted, delayed electric piano supplied by the Korg Trinity that sounds like a strange, tinkly music box. As the song swells into the closing instrumental section, echoes of preceding vocals return, smothered with reverb so that they're ghostly and indistinct, and somewhere in the middle of it all there's one of Anderson's "buckshee” noises.

"The other bit of the beat that you can hear is actually Kenny's bicycle,” Hopkins explains. "He sent me a recording of him winding the chain and it kind of sat quite nicely with the drums I'd made. It seemed to sound like part of that loop. It's much more pronounced at the end of the track, when everything else stops apart from the piano. Just to have a piano on its own at this point, it would be like, 'Well, that's a pretty piano, but…' It's a lot more than that if you mix it with the sample from Kenny's bicycle. Every time the tune reaches the end of a cycle and starts again, you hear him winding the chain back, as if he's winding my playing — that was the idea, or the joke, there.”

Killer Instincts

The level of attention paid to even the smallest detail is impressive, as is the skill with which these unconventional arrangements are mixed, but Hopkins is quick to play down his technical abilities in this area. "I don't have any techniques apart from instinct,” he says. "That probably sounds like a very pretentious statement, but I don't really have any studio training or knowledge. I don't know what the correct way to mix is or anything like that. So I just do things according to what I want to hear. When I listen to Kenny's songs, I get these ideas — going and recording a stream and putting it in, or recording a car engine, or whatever it might be. So I just do it, then in order to make that sound sit right, you have to EQ it in a certain way, or often I'll take it out of the computer and onto tape. But I just keep layering and keep working on it until it sounds right to me and my instinct says, 'Yeah, that now serves the song in the way it deserves.'

"I think there's a lot of benefit to not knowing how to do things correctly and just learning by doing it. I've seen engineers look at what I'm doing in front of them and everything is wrong, always. I've got no real idea. But if you end up with the result that you want, I don't think there is really a wrong or right way to do it.”

So does he have a clear idea of what the end result will sound like from the very beginning?

"Not before I start,” he says. "I discover it as I go. It becomes clear. With 'Honest Words', for example, it was just all about Kenny's melody, which is so strong. I put those opening Casiotone chords down, then as soon as one part is down I know what the next part should be. Whether that means, 'Right, let's call a drummer and get him in here,' or 'Let's get some piano parts on here,' I try to do it all really, really quickly. I might spend a while refining it later on, but capturing the energy of those first ideas is crucial. The whole album was done like that. Even if there have been huge gaps of time between working on different bits, I've always put my ideas down very quickly, and then let them dictate what the next idea is going to be.”

Hopkins' approach to using plug-in effects and the incredible potential for sound manipulation provided by the DAW environment is somewhat unconventional, but it's all part of this desire to work quickly. "I just use Logic now, but before that I was using Cubase VST for 10 years,” he says. "I don't like the process of learning new programs. It's so tedious that I'm just not interested. It has to be instant, because my brain is just too simple — forethought and sound are not compatible ideas for me. It has to be right there, which is why Sound Forge is so perfect. You change something and that's it, it's on the waveform, it's happened.”

Having used the same PC/Cubase system for so long, he's still firmly attached to a handful of old VST plug-ins, not to mention the Sound Forge wave editor, which he runs alongside Logic on a virtual Windows desktop within his Mac. Using Sound Forge, he can then destructively edit and process individual sounds from the arrangement outside of Logic. He often does the same with the output from plug-ins within Logic, which he likes to bounce down onto separate tracks. "When I first got Logic, I did experiment with freezing tracks, but I never do that now: I just bounce it, because you pretty much never go back,” he explains. "Once I realised that, it was very liberating. I always print everything now. I tend to bounce effects channels into another track and treat them as other instruments, just so you can get their sound very specifically EQ'd, in quite a crazy way if necessary. I have got some new, expensive plug-ins, but I keep using these old ones from the PC, things like Gadget Labs WaveWarm — I think it was free, but it just sounds so good. So I use a mixture of the two.”

Organic Electronics

Hopkins employs a variety of ingenious techniques to create new and interesting sounds out of acoustically recorded parts in the arrangement. In 'John Taylor's Month Away', for example, he creates what sounds like the tinkling of a treated piano by applying a resonant EQ to the acoustic guitar. "That sound, which I really like, is the acoustic guitar filtered through a very tight Q at a specific frequency, but with loads of delay on it,” he explains. "If you do that and then phase it with the original, you're left with just the pure EQ. Added on top, it just has the effect of making that guitar glow a little bit. So that sound isn't electronic really, though it is produced inside the computer. But it's not an extra part played on a synth, it's something that was made out of the guitar, which I think has a bit more character.”

It's a tactic he employs often, and throughout Diamond Mine you'll encounter pianos, guitars, accordions or harmoniums sitting towards the front of the mix in their natural state, but with a cleverly manipulated version somewhere off in the distance adding depth, interest and the other-wordly quality Hopkins is after.

"The end effect of it all is just that, for me, it sounds very alive,” he says. "There are some fairly complex chains of plug-ins in some places, where I've taken, say, a piano, limited it very heavily, then put it through a reverb and then put that into [Sound Toys] Decapitator, which is a very nice plug-in, or multiple instances of [Destroy FX] Skidder, which applies random panning and volume changes. But it all comes from the piano sound, and it just adds a little bit of magic. It's still an acoustic sound, but one you can't really place.”

Much of Hopkins' most creative plug-in use revolves around reverb, and is crucial to the sense of space and depth that is a constant theme of the record. "I like using reverb as an instrument in its own right, often quite heavily processed. That's the secret to the sound of the song 'Honest Words', this huge reverb underneath that's kept miles away from the vocal. That adds a lot of space to things. For that I used Rennaisance Reverb, which is just a great, slightly wonky old Waves plug-in. I bounced [the wet signal] down, then opened it up in Sound Forge and used this old plug-in [Steinberg] Magneto on it. I've still never found a nicer saturator.”

Elsewhere, as on the song 'Bubble', an extremely long reverb and some cunning send automation combine to create what sounds like the most beautiful synth vocal pad you've ever heard."There's automation all over everything,” says Jon Hopkins. "Every track has stuff going on, and I will ride the vocal crazy amounts. A lot of effort went into making this record sound effortless, to make it sound like nothing had been done at all.” This Logic screen, taken from 'Bubble', shows the lead vocal at the top, with automation sending selected notes to a stupendously long reverb. The reverb and vocal effects are printed to the next two tracks below, and then copied so that they continue on into the instrumental section after the lead vocal has stopped."There's automation all over everything,” says Jon Hopkins. "Every track has stuff going on, and I will ride the vocal crazy amounts. A lot of effort went into making this record sound effortless, to make it sound like nothing had been done at all.” This Logic screen, taken from 'Bubble', shows the lead vocal at the top, with automation sending selected notes to a stupendously long reverb. The reverb and vocal effects are printed to the next two tracks below, and then copied so that they continue on into the instrumental section after the lead vocal has stopped. "That's [Audio Ease] Altiverb, which is sort of the king of software reverbs,” says Hopkins. "It's absolutely ridiculous, that reverb —– I think it's got about a two-minute decay on it for this particular section. But I only send it certain notes that will work as a drone, because if you had every note of the vocal reverbing at that length, you would get a crazy mess of nonsense. So every time Kenny sings the 'A', for example, the automation sends that to the reverb.”

Daydream Believers

Reverb is used both create a sense of space and to enhance the dreamlike quality of the record; as Hopkins points out, at certain points individual instrument are gradually consumed by their effects until they dissolve into a sort of ghostly blur. As you might expect, this is entirely premeditated, and part of an overarching strategy to draw the listener in.

"I've got this obsession with hypnosis as a concept, and specifically hypnosis in music,” Hopkins explains. "So there are many points where, for example, the rhythm slows down gradually. It's all about trying to change the mood of the listener throughout the album. It happens right from the beginning. Underneath, there's a track of tape noise put through a big reverb which then, using Sound Forge, progressively slows down very gradually. It just creates this feeling of: you were in one place and now you're slowing down into another place. It has a real subliminal winding-down effect. You can hear that in there, though you may not be able to pick it out necessarily.”

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins: Recording Diamond MineThe opening track on Diamond Mine is unconventional, to say the least. 'First Watch' opens on the sounds of a cafe, recorded by Hopkins on a visit to Fife. As piano chords drift in, the voices and bustle gradually dissolve into a wash of noise and echo before the first song proper, 'John Taylor's Month Away', begins. "That sets the scene, really. It's almost like a statement of intent for the album,” says Hopkins. "If we'd just started the record with the opening guitar chords of 'John Taylor's Month Away', it would be a bit dry and cold and sort of boring. It's like, we're never going to have a pop hit anyway, so why try and be direct? Why not take the time? If people can't get past that three-minute intro, they're not going to like the album!

"The idea in 'First Watch' is to try and make you feel like you're going into a daydream — that's kind of crucial. It's like you are in that cafe and you're falling asleep or going into a daydream. So suddenly that's not where you are any more, you're somewhere else. Later on, there are instrumental sections at the end of the songs where things just go off on this dreamy tangent. They're all attempts to try and hypnotise the listener, just into feeling different from how they did before they put it on.”

Perhaps this explains why listening to Diamond Mine can be such a disorientating experience, if you let it. As in dreams, it's easy to lose all sense of time once you give the album your full attention. "Sometimes you play that record and it feels like it's been going on for an hour,” says Kenny Anderson. "And yet sometimes it's over in the snap of a finger. It depends whether you concentrate on it or whether you just let it glide by. With Diamond Mine, we wanted to make people have to sit down and listen. It's only half an hour long, or just over. It's about taking people on a journey. It's about pressing Play and seeing where you end up at the end of it.

"I think it's such an immersive album. Maybe your ear doesn't fully get all of what's going on the first time. Maybe not even the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth. I've listened to that album probably more than anybody, through working on, checking it, agonising over it and all of that, and I can still hear new things in there. I'm still surprised by it, and I think it's caught a lot of other people off guard. In terms of our collaboration, I'd like to think Jon and I have only just scratched the surface, but if we have, it's a pretty deep scratch!”  

Cafe Music Studios

Diamond Mine was recorded at Cafe Music Studios (www.cafemusicstudios.com), a small but perfectly formed recording facility hidden away in the backstreets of Bow, East London. The antithesis of the archetypal big, shiny mega-studio with its modernist furniture and hardwood floors, Cafe Music is more shagpile carpet and a comfy sofa, and prides itself on maintaining a relaxed, artist-friendly atmosphere. It has the feel of a well-kept secret, something a glance down some of the famous names on the client list confirms.

Set up by Studio Director Mark Sutherland in 1980, Cafe Music ranges across three floors of what looks from the outside like an ordinary terraced house, with the main live room in the basement. Sutherland calls this the "womb room”, and the acoustic is wonderfully warm and atmospheric. It was here that all the live recording on the album took place, save for the upright piano in Hopkins' project room.

Hopkins freely admits his own lack of formal studio training, and is happy to give credit to Sutherland and in-house engineer Cherif Hashizume for providing the analogue know-how in capturing the acoustic sounds on Diamond Mine. "The great thing about this studio is Mark has had it for ages and has built up a collection of mics and outboard gear spanning 50 years,” Hopkins explains. "Whenever I need a certain kind of sound, I can just go down there, describe what I'm looking for and he'll come up with something. I won't really know anything about what he's using — I don't really use any of that gear upstairs in my room — but we have access to it and it really brings everything to life.”

The studio supplied a list of the microphones and outboard used on Diamond Mine:

  • Kenny's vocal: Coles 4038 or Audio-Technica AT4033a through Focusrite Green EQ and Dbx 165A compressor.Many of Kenny Anderson's vocals were recorded using Cafe Music's Coles 4038 ribbon mic.Many of Kenny Anderson's vocals were recorded using Cafe Music's Coles 4038 ribbon mic.
  • Acoustic guitar: Calrec C50 through Focusrite Green EQ, plus Milab PZM or Beyer 741 omni for the room sound.
  • Harmonium: AKG C451E stereo pair through Thermionic Culture Earlybird 2.
  • Accordion: Oktava MK219 stereo pair (original East European type) through Thermionic Culture Earlybird 2; Coles 4038 through Summit MPC100A preamp/compressor for room sound.
  • Violin & viola: AKG C451E through Earlybird 2, plus Oktava MK219 or Violet Amethyst stereo pair for room sound through Summit MPC100A; Ashly SC50 compressor, Focusrite Green EQ and Empirical Labs Fatso Jr tape simulator (UBK modified).
  • Kick drum: Yamaha Subkick and Shure SM57 through 2x Focusrite Green EQ and Empirical Labs Fatso Jr.
  • Snare: Beyer M201 through Universal Audio 6176 preamp.
  • Hi-hat: AKG C451E through TLA EQ1.
  • Overheads: 2x Violet Amethyst through Earlybird 2.
  • Toms: 2x Sennheiser MD421 through Focusrite Liquid 4 Pre, using its Manley Slam emulation.
  • Room sound: Coles 4038 facing floor tom, through Summit MPC100.
  • Upright piano (in Hopkins' project studio): Violet Amethyst pair through TLA PA2 dual valve preamp.

Parallel Lines

Although he now works in Logic on a MacBook Pro, Jon Hopkins' strong attachment to Sound Forge and the ancient PC plug-ins he's been using since the days of Cubase VST necessitates the use of Parallels Desktop, a handy bit of software that allows Mac users to run a simultaneous virtual Windows PC within their machines. Typically, Hopkins will be working on a Logic arrangement — mixing, adjusting automation and applying effects — while simultaneously editing individual audio files in the Windows environment using Sound Forge. Jon Hopkins has evolved a unique working method whereby Sound Forge, running under Parallels Desktop, can be used to alter files that appear in his Logic arrangements. Jon Hopkins has evolved a unique working method whereby Sound Forge, running under Parallels Desktop, can be used to alter files that appear in his Logic arrangements.

"When you have things open in Sound Forge [in Parallels Desktop], they update in Logic as you edit them,” he explains. "It's not supposed to do that — it's a sort of loophole. Logic doesn't know that something else is editing the sounds. Because you're directly editing what's on the disk, if you have the same bit of audio copied a hundred times throughout the Logic arrangement and you make a change in Sound Forge it'll happen in every instance, which would never happen if it was an integrated thing. There's a lot of benefits to working like that.

"Say I was to make tiny edits on a bass drum in Logic, I'd then have to copy that all the way through the song. Then say I'd made an arrangement change just before I did that and I wanted to undo it. Normally, I'd have to undo all those bass-drum changes before I could undo the arrangement. Whereas, the way I do it, the bass-drum edit is completely separate and Logic doesn't know it's happening. I think it's a technique that's so ridiculously powerful, because you've got the whole of Logic and all that it's got, and you've also got an infinite amount of edits for any sound you've got, kept entirely separate from the undo chain in Logic.”


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