Mixing and Mastering for the Low End
For each song, Laswell generally took a three-tiered approach, first recording a rhythmic riff, followed by an additional lead track playing off of the rhythms, and capped off by an ambience track played with an ebow or slide to create a drone. While some songs are spare, like the focused virtuoso of “Bahala”, others are much more dense, with as many as six tracks of bass happening.
While a good deal of the audiophile-quality recording of Deliverance can be attributed to the carefully crafted recording path, the mix also helped Laswell and his engineering team to make the most of it. At Orange Music, mixing does not take place in the control room adjacent to the live room. Instead, the faders are moved in a separate, dedicated room on the top floor of the studio (picture a Southwestern cabin with mirrors on the ceiling), where a Yamaha DM1000 32-input digital mixer and a Neve 8816 16-channel summing mixer are available.
“For this particular mix,” Dellatacoma says, “we wanted the cleanest signal path possible, so we just used the DM1000, because the 8816 is known for adding that classic Neve transformer sound. We edited as we went along. If parts were good they were kept, and if not they were muted. Bill’s style of mixing is very manual: He has his hands on the faders, without a lot of automation. So in Bill’s mind, if things are colliding or interfering, he knows what volume moves will work.”
Not surprisingly, compression and other processing were minimized for this naturalistic recording. “Rob’s theory was, ‘Let’s use as little processing as possible’, because we wanted a real clean, defined sound for this record,” says Dellatacoma. “We didn’t use a lot of compression, and we certainly didn’t use a lot of outboard gear, in order to minimize electronic noise. Any compression that was used was in plugin form, like the MCDSP Compression Bank, and the Fairchild 660 Bomb Factory plugin, but that’s heavy – when Bill is playing a dub-style bass line, that kind of compressor sounds great.”
After Orange Music, the tracks made a crucial stop at TurtleTone Studio for mastering by Michael Fossenkemper.
“He does all of Bill’s mastering and he knows what a Bill Laswell record is supposed to sound like,” Dellatacoma says. “Whether it’s a full band or solo bass, it will have a rich low end that’s not thumpy or foggy – its defined low end. The low end is the anchor of Bill’s records, and Michael knows not to roll off too much.”
Wisdom of the Basses
Typically, Bill Laswell is not sitting still. Although the record was just released on his Innerythmic label, he’s already got his sights set on something new: a series of live musical performances set to a one-hour edit of the classic mind-blow film Koyaanasqatsi, originally scored by Philip Glass but now being reimagined by Laswell with the permission of director Godfrey Reggio.
Looking back at the landmark achievement that is Means of Deliverance, Laswell is sure of at least one thing. “What’s definite is that I can’t repeat that again!” he states. “It’s documented. So I have to move on and take it as a step that I’m moving forward with.
“I haven’t got a particular philosophy about this period or this work, but I hope it translates, because this is some real life experience moving out of the speakers: It’s a simple story that can be interpreted, reinterpreted, and carried on and on.”
— David Weiss