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The Young Gods: Swiss Technology

The Young Gods: Swiss Technology

The distinctive hard‑edged sound of The Young Gods owes much to current sampling technology. Nigel Humberstone investigates.

There aren't that many bands who originate from Switzerland, but those that do, like Yello (and does anyone remember Kleenex?), have a character all their own. An eccentric leaning that more often than not verges towards the experimental and 'odd‑ball' avant garde variety. Although now more European than Swiss, The Young Gods are still part of that legacy, with their distinctive hard‑edged sound uniting a variety of musical elements.

The band first hit the international scene in 1986 with their individual version of Gary Glitter's 'Did You Miss Me?'. It highlighted their interest in using sampling as a tool to further creativity. Their self‑penned debut album of 1987 featured a disorientating blend of samples taken from classical and pop sources; a new sonic configuration which has persisted and become a trademark TYG sound.

Further albums followed: L'Eau Rouge in 1989, and a compilation of Kurt Weill compositions recorded at a Swiss arts festival in Geneva. 1992's TV Sky represented a new departure — an album full of the dynamics of classical music but utilising the power and urgency of thrash metal. Vocalist and founder member Franz Treichler also broke with tradition on this album, by singing in English rather than his native French. This he justified as both a desire to have more direct contact with audiences, as well as a result of him beginning to think through his ideas in English. It was also a stab at the American market, where The Young Gods were still regarded as an 'exotic' rock band.

For the latest album, Only Heaven, The Young Gods have assimilated and re‑presented all their eclectic influences. Similarly, the vocals are multi‑lingual. The album was conceived and created entirely in the USA, where the band, along with long‑time producer/collaborator Roli Mosimann, lived and worked in a rented New York loft kitted out with the latest in digital hardware/software for sample manipulation. I spoke via telephone to both Roli Mosimann in New York and Franz Treichler in Belgium.

Working Methods

The Young Gods: Swiss Technology

This is the first time that The Young Gods have recorded and worked solely in the United States, despite Mosimann living in New York. Live recording of drums and some guitars was carried out at Eastside Studios, New York, whilst the majority of time was spent at the loft — programming, sampling, editing, and arranging the material. As Treichler explained, he was involved more with the creative rather than technical approach to the project.

Treichler: "I worked more with smaller equipment, in parallel, while Roli (Mosimann) was trying to figure out how to run the big Pro Tools system. I was working with an Atari and Cubase, two Akai samplers, and a small mixing desk — and that's the way I normally work.

"We worked both there (the loft) and in a regular studio, where we recorded drums and guitars. Then we went back and edited everything together on the Pro Tools Macintosh system. So we took our own samples as the basis for the new songs. We chose sections from the ADAT takes, sampled and looped them, then used Cubase to trigger all the loops and samples." opens doors and makes you able to get closer to the kind of vision you have in your head.

With the drums (played by Uze Hiesteand), for instance, did you take individual sounds and sample them or was it a case of looping sections of the drum patterns you had recorded?

Treichler: "Yeah, we took sections and looped them. On certain songs we re‑programmed parts on top of it, sometimes, but the basis was always the live loops."

Although a classically trained guitarist, Treichler's preference is to make Young Gods guitar parts sound as unlike a guitar as possible. How did he go about achieving the range of textures?

"Each song has a different history, but I like to detune strings. If you take, for instance, the end of the long song 'Moon Revolutions', there is a huge tom‑tom section where you get this huge guitar glissando. What I did was to detune the strings and 'layer' the guitar on at least six tracks of the ADAT. I use very large gauge strings with a .58 for the 'E' string.

"I work with delay effects a lot and use the Lexicon Jam Man. I like the sound of it and the fact that you can tap in your delay tempo; I like to play with delays on dotted quarter notes, which gives a more complicated rhythmical pattern. There's quite a few songs where I use this effect — like on the French song, 'Lointaine'. All those bubbling, watery sounds are guitars treated with delays and wah‑wah."


The mention of water prompts me to enquire about the sounds I heard at the beginning of another track, 'Dreamhouse'.

Treichler: "Those are water drops — all of them. I was renting a little flat in New York and the guy had an aquarium, so I just recorded it one day whilst I was feeding the fishes. I then worked on the sound in the sampler — copying it, editing start points, detuning, and generally creating weird stereo effects. There's a lot of strange effects on the album — like breathing or distortions that I created by messing around with the radio.

"At one time the whole Digidesign system was suddenly playing up, so I recorded it on DAT and had all these crazy digital noises. I like to utilise mistakes, because very often they can give happy results. Whenever there is an external element over which you have no control, it is always very exciting."

Getting back to the equipment you use; advances in new technology — and especially the Pro Tools direct to hard disk system that you've been using — are important to The Young Gods sound, but the final result is not cold or severe. How do you manage this?

Treichler: "We like to balance the digital sounds with old Pultechs and valve equalisers, to bring more of an edge and warmth to the sound. We also always print to 48‑track analogue tape when mixing and don't mix direct from the samplers or from SampleCell. Even after mixing to DAT we will master onto analogue half‑inch tape, in order to balance the whole digital thing. It's important to find a balance, but I think that technology opens doors and makes you able to get closer to the kind of vision you have in your head."

So if this technology wasn't available, how would you envisage your music today?

Treichler: "I think it would be based more on jamming but still trying to be experimental, like old German bands. And if we had bigger budgets, then maybe we would sometimes rent some string players and still do this sort of sound collage — but basically, I think The Young Gods sound is a result of the technology that we use, for sure.

"We try to keep an organic approach, although we use kind of non‑organic equipment. Creativity is a never‑ending story — it depends on what people have inside themselves more then anything else. Some people can do great things on an acoustic guitar, whilst others can do it great on a BassStation. Music is just a language and technology helps."

Applying Technology

Roli Mosimann has been a long‑time collaborator with The Young Gods. A former member of The Swans, he has since undertaken production work with the likes of The The, New Order, and That Petrol Emotion. Having worked before with The Young Gods on a number of occasions, I wondered if this time around there were any different briefs or technical requests, especially considering the new digital equipment that they were using?

Mosimann: "The project began around April 1994, when Franz was just starting to write songs and I was plugging in the Macintosh and watching it crash," announces Roli with some amusement. "I decided then that I had to learn all about how the Mac's extensions work, little things here, little things there, so that I would understand when someone said 'Oh, you need to have this digital audio version 2.2 to run that, not 2.1'.

"I wanted to have a system where I could load up the different software and then transfer between them. If I had a track on Pro Tools and I wanted to do something in Hyperprism, say, I just wanted to go 'tap' and be there, do it, and come back.

"I would say that we really had the system tested and made all the mistakes that slow you down by the end of August. We got really into it after that — I had prepared drums and sound libraries for about 20 songs. Some of those didn't get used, because they weren't working lyrically with Franz.

"We had worked before with numerous S900 and S1000 samplers and an Atari computer running Cubase. But for the new album we used Digidesign hardware and a lot of different software in order to manipulate the sounds."

How did you go about evaluating and choosing the various software programs?

Mosimann: "I chose Cubase Audio because I already knew the program and didn't want to learn another. I checked a few others out, like Vision and Notator Logic, which were both good programs, but I didn't want to go through the whole learning process having used Cubase before.

"We also got the 8‑channel Pro Tools system and various programs to manipulate sounds — Time Bandit for timestretching; Sound Designer; and we used a very good company called Waves, who design plug‑ins for the Digidesign system. They produce very good digital sound processing software, so that you can take a file and compress certain frequencies, for instance."

I like to utilise mistakes, because very often they can give happy results. Whenever there is an external element over which you have no control, it is always very exciting.

What experience had you had previously with digital recording?

"I had done digital recordings on big digital tape machines like the Mitsubishi, on The The project, but that was more the classic approach of recording regular instruments onto tape. This is the first time that we've used hard disk recording."

Did the choice of recording system affect the way you worked?

"Well, in the beginning it slowed us down a bit, because there are so many different possibilities; you have to chart out the way to do certain things and approach it from many different angles. Once we got a few problems out of the way, it all went pretty fast and we recorded all the vocals straight to hard disk. I had to learn the whole Mac system, which took a while to get into because we had all these software extensions, and it would crash a lot in the beginning. But now the system is sorted out and it's running very smoothly."

I believe you were also running an Alesis ADAT with the Pro Tools system?

Mosimann: "Yes, we used an ADAT for the live drums, although they were first recorded onto analogue because I like the sound, and then we transferred them onto ADAT. We recorded a lot of drums — maybe a dozen 40 minute tapes — then I imported it all into the Pro Tools system and, using track separation, took bits out. That way I could have separate drums or mixed stereo loops, which I then loaded into the Akai samplers."

Analogue Love

I find it very interesting that, throughout the recording process, you chose to record many instruments on analogue tape but utilised the access and transfer facilities of digital formats. Even at the mixing stage I believe you mastered onto DAT and then copied it once again to half‑inch analogue?

Mosimann: "That's right. We mixed onto a DAT and then ran all the mixes back into the computer, to be compiled. We transferred that digitally onto a DAT and then went to Harvey's place at Masterdisk, where he slammed it onto half‑inch analogue, full blast, with the tape running at 30ips. It just seems to add some sort of compression, which is desirable for our type of music.

"The basis of the whole project was to get everything into the computer, arrange it, and then print onto analogue tape and mix from there, so that we had a good warm sound. But since we did the vocals last and were working with the arrangements till the very end, we kept everything on hard disk — so on a lot of songs, we ended up using digital things live in the mix."

Cubase Audio

How did you go about recording Franz's vocals with the computer?

Mosimann: "I used Cubase Audio and what I did was to get a rough mix up and have Franz sing along to it a few times, until he was happy. Then I recorded the mix onto two audio tracks on Cubase Audio and recorded the vocals straight into the computer, whereby I could have certain sections in cycle. We recorded lots of different versions, then I edited the whole thing in Pro Tools and touched up certain bits."

What sort of manipulation did you use on Franz's voice once it was in the computer?

"For the recording we had an old Telefunken valve microphone, which passed through a Pultech valve compressor and then straight into the computer. If we had any unwanted pops, then we could go from Cubase to Sound Designer with the vocal line and I could just take the 'p' sound and apply a gain change of ‑10dB, say. Sometimes when Franz sings, he forgets to sound the 's' at the endings of some words, because English is not his mother language, so sometimes I had to paste in an 's'!

"On some songs I also used compressor software, like on 'Moon Revolutions', the long 16 minute song. Because it had so many parts I was running out of outboard stuff at the mix. During the second section, where they use tom‑tom drums, I had run out of de‑essers and compressors, so I used the Waves software instead."

So how do you rate these software programs against the equivalent outboard equipment?

Mosimann: "I think they are very good but you have to approach it differently. I'm used to plugging in a compressor and knowing what will come out of it. Here, you don't know what might come out and so you have to make more decisions, because it can go really drastic. Say if you use the digital EQ from the Waves Q10 software; if you cut something off below 200Hz, then it's off — it's completely gone. So you have to be very prudent about how you are using it, but if you want to use it to create special effects, then you can really go for it."

Are there any special effects that you employed which you are proud of, or any that you would like people to notice?

Mosimann: "Well, we did so many things over the course of the year that I don't even remember what I did! I liked what we achieved, though — there are a lot of guitar sounds on the album that don't sound like guitars anymore, and the treatments don't make them sound like just effects, because I didn't want that. I remember 10 years ago when everybody was listening to records and the snare sound was great, but what's the point? The song still has to be great!

"Some sounds went round the block a few times, which is part of the nature of learning the system. The possibilities of a system like this are endless, so you have to have a plan and know how far you want to go in each situation. Like making sure you don't mix a track when you record it — I always kept backup copies so that I could always go back a step. If you work with a digital recording system, it's very important to back things up. We use a big optical drive — but with a hard disk recording system, backing up is just a discipline that you have to learn, otherwise you end up in big trouble."

The album Only Heaven (Play It Again Sam Records) was released on 12th June 1995.

Recording Guitars

Franz Treichler recorded most of his guitar parts straight to stereo DAT, via a Sansamp guitar preamp, or onto ADAT.

Mosimann: "Franz recorded to DAT and then sampled the guitar into the Akais or ADAT. I then constructed these huge banks of possible guitar sounds in SampleCell, but the big amp stuff we mainly recorded onto ADAT. Sometimes we would thicken up the guitar parts by playing them eight times at slightly different speeds, and then I mixed them and took a stereo sample of that.

"Franz used a lot of the filter modulation section on the S3200 to treat his guitar sounds. He'd also recorded a lot of things on DAT which he sampled, made into a loop, listened to on a ghettoblaster and played along to with guitar.

"I actually used the Sansamp quite a bit during the mix, especially on drums to add some distortion. I just ran it from a buss in the mixing desk to add some 'oomph'.

What I like on guitars is this BBE 462 thing [Sonic Maximiser], which works well — it's difficult to explain, but it delays the high frequencies so that they arrive at your ears together with the bottom end, making the sound more compact."

The Young Gods — Live

In the studio and when playing live, Franz Treichler is augmented by Uze Hiesteand on drums and Alan Comet on keyboards. They are a compact and interdependent trio who, surprisingly, use no sequencers.

Treichler: "Live, we use an Akai MX1000 keyboard. Alan (Comet) is the keyboard guy and everything is played live. He hits the keys and triggers loops or samples, but we don't use any sequencers or backing tracks. So it can be pretty fragile at times. If you miss the key, you miss the beat — there's no net under the acrobat."

Two Akai S3200 samplers are utilised for live work (one as a spare), fitted with an internal 128Mb magneto optical drive. Treichler does not play guitar live but rather chooses to have the treated sounds played back via keyboard and sampler.

Treichler: "Uze (Heisteand) is the drummer and it can all get very intense, because with only three people, everyone has to play a very important role."

The Young Gods On Software

Mosimann: "You have a page with controls, like a modular synth, and you can use LFOs, filters, and actually connect them with cables on the screen. You can make FM synths or analogue synths or take a sample and then mess with it. It's very, very good software."

Treichler: "It's all virtual — you can take, for example, a filter and then filter the filter as many times as you want. You just take a little cable and plug it in. It's like patching a modular synth only it's all on one screen, and it can remember all the patch settings. It's pretty exciting."

Mosimann: "ReCycle is from the same company that makes Cubase and basically what you can do, if you have a drum loop for example, is use a slider and find all the 'hit' points. It then automatically slices up the loop and creates a MIDI File, where it saves the individual bass drum, snare and hi‑hat samples, but still within a loop. You can then maybe send just the snares to a separate output, for different effects."

Mosimann: "Another good software program is Hyperprism, where you can load in a sample or any digitally recorded sound. You have a big screen where you can actually draw different effects with the mouse, like flanging and crazy stereo stuff. With the latest version, which I've just got, you can now record those mouse moves on a MIDI sequencer and then apply them to different samples. So you can have like a flanger effect that moves from left to right, say, and control all these on the screen in real time."