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Aufgehoben: Counter-Intuition

By Published: December 4, 2007
Post-Production, Editing and Mixing

The changes that Aufgehoben's music experiences, between being recorded and being released, are huge. It has been said, by John Coxon, who was also on the bill at their Porto gig, that Aufgehoben "edited itself into existence." As all of the post-production has been done by Stephen Robinson, there is much discussion in the band about the process and its results.

AAJ: One of the things I was going to ask the others is, when you hear the final thing do you recognize it as what you played?

DP: Sometimes not. In a way, do you ever, when you are doing that kind of free playing? You go into that space where you don't know what you are doing.

Gary Smith: I think you're right.

DP: I feel estranged from the most straight down-the-line pop music. It's not me that plays it.

GS: Unless you've really got some prior vision. Now we're rehearsing, obviously we're expecting something out of it.

DP: It was really weird, that point where we were all playing and it sounded like itself rather than not like itself. There was some undefined unconscious point where we could all be in the same room making a noise that sounded like Aufgehoben.

GS: I think the main thing is when we've done recording—and we've recorded a lot of stuff, haven't we?—the overall thing is, the interesting thing is, since I've been involved, besides it being a good sound there was an identity when people got together and played. So whatever we've done seems to have had that identity. The Sixth stuff we've done is a little bit different but it still has that identity. I think that is the very interesting thing; you can record loads of stuff and put it all together and it still retains that identity.

Aufgehoben / Axiology/Thermidor One Five

Phil Goodland: The CDs come out well over a year after the sessions, so for me they're just a reminder that we were doing that; I don't remember; we've moved on, we've moved on a lot.

SR: The reference point for your own playing is ...the first stage is just to get a stereo mix, and then I send the whole lot around to everybody. Everybody gets to hear it in its untreated state...

DP: ...and we think, "What the fuck have you been doing?" [laughter]

SR: As things move along, I figure out another stage, and I send those along and then wait for the feedback.

GS: I always think Phil's comments are the most interesting, because he invariably comes in about a month later...

PG:... by emails.

GS: He says, "Perhaps we shouldn't put that one out; I like the one we've done after..."

PG: With Messidor, I just couldn't get into it, and now it's probably my favorite CD. At the time, I wanted to put Fifth out, not Messidor.

GS: Phil said maybe we should get rid of that one [Messidor] and not do it.

David, you've [talked] about doing a quiet album. That sort of thinking is really exciting.

SR: The trouble is that you've got to get it past me... and I don't do quiet.

GS: But you'll be in the bar. We'll be doing it out there.

SR: It's because I use such crap equipment, that's why I've got to have it loud. I've now blown another set of speakers in my car and I can't play it at home on my stereo as the walls vibrate alarmingly.

GS: I don't know how you can listen in a car to music.

SR: That's where I do all of the listening. The rest of it is just headphones on the laptop.

DP: We could have got this far in six months to a year if we'd been meeting more than once a year.

PG: We've got other things to do.

SR: I'm not sure about that....My issue with the six months claim is that it doesn't take into account the slowness of mediation—it's the time listening, thinking, arguing between sessions on the basis of my edits and processing of the previous session that means we make these quantum leaps.

DP: I'm not sure if that's true about the dialectic between recording and playing.

GS: What you have been doing has evolved a lot. I'm regressing back into rock music and you're taking my place, obviously.

DP [to GS]: The funny thing with you is that invariably you've changed your style of playing between one session and the next, anyway.

GS: No, it just evolves.

SR: By the time we all come back, you're somewhere else. That forces us into some other things. But we've also been doing stuff; David has also been continually evolving his stuff. Phil and my drumming styles are getting more divergent; we can respond in more sorts of funny ways in a fairly counter-intuitive way to where you are at.

GS: What does that mean, "counter-intuitive"?

SR: I've actually found myself using that quite a lot today. I've been listening to the Sixth sessions, and there have been some points where I've been trying out things that are essentially rhythmic but they feel quite wrong to me when I'm playing them; I can't get away from that. But when I listen to the recordings, because of what is going on with the other three of you, they work. So I've been trying stuff that feels very odd and just doesn't make any sense when I play it. Whereas usually the idea of playing together is that something gels. But I think the stuff that works with us, it just doesn't [gel].

AAJ: You are working against your natural instincts rather than going with them.

SR: Yes, I think that's it.

GS: I wouldn't think that, at all.

SR: I'm thinking of this from where we started, which was to have [a] very strong, identifiable rhythmic core, with Phil and I playing together.

GS: Originally, right.

SR: Partly through the editing process, that's the stuff I've chopped out. It's the stuff where we're not doing that—where we're often playing against each other—[where] I've got interested in it. Because we then spend a lot of time listening to the results of that, when we come back together again we're not doing the stuff that got us there. We start there and then we take off to somewhere else. Starting from quite a conventional rock premise where the drums carry the rhythm, the drums have been stripped of that function altogether so it's still an incredibly rhythmic unit, but the rhythm doesn't really come from the drums, it comes from the combination. It's been developed to a function of the group as a whole.

GS: Certainly one of the things I've developed is repetitive rhythms, which I wouldn't have done on the second album because I wasn't playing like that. My thing now is a lot of repetition and stuff. If you can't hear it, it doesn't matter but if it comes through then alright.

DP: I'm tending to lock into long lock grooves, but they never quite meet each other, sets of rhythms that are pulling apart. I've been recording with a friend, Cameron; he just puts down a track, records it, listens back to it then doesn't wear cans and goes for another take over something he doesn't hear. You get that really nice counter-intuitive pull-away from the thing, which is what you're trying to achieve whilst listening at the same time.

GS: Probably the way I play has got all these things working at once; hearing you talking, probably that is what's happening with the group. I'm not saying I've influenced the group, but the way I work, you've got things that, if you take them apart, they're not really that interesting [e.g.] the guitar parts, but put it all together and it makes a really interesting whole. I think that is how the group is working.

Aufgehoben / MessidorSR: I think that is true. I think what we have learned from the few times we've played together is that we can just rely on each other to do our own things. It is pretty much impossible to play this and to have an overall sense of what you are responding to. An awful lot of the time, I don't quite hear what Phil is doing, but I'm quite comfortable with...

GS: You mean when you're playing?

SR: Yes. For example, when I go into head down mode.

DP: It's the exact opposite of what you're doing when you play in a tight group together. You're occupying space that you're not that sure of, but you're sucked along by some secret rhythmic code that you're following; but it's not one that you can actually rationalize.

GS: When I'm hearing it, I hear all of the individual things going on and I relate to all of them at once.

SR: I think there's a sense that we've actually become a group at some point.

DP: For me, it was Messidor. It was the time when we all settled. It's the one with the least editing. There was a lot of work to make the sound really good. You've almost gone from doing a kind of treatment to doing an engineering job, focusing each individual sound, making it richest and getting the most out of it. That is the difference between that and the sessions. That was the one where I could just take the sessions home and play them raw and think there was some really great, excellent, amazing stuff going on, not feel that it had to be manipulated that much.

SR: There is a point where I actually just forget what I've done to construct it.

SR: It's OK at this stage, but my idea would be that we can actually use the live thing to do much what we do in the studio, and to record it. And that will supply material for albums. The main thing that has happened more than anything has been me dragging my heels over going live, for all sorts of reasons. The main thing is the sense of us as a unit; when we come together as four people, we do things that we don't do individually. I don't think any of us understand that, and that's a good thing. So it will mean that we take it into some other territory, just becoming more conscious of the fact that it is a unit. Whereas it just wasn't; that is not its history. There was a nice line that John Coxon had, "It edited itself into existence." Because of that, it takes a long time to really realize what happens when we get together. That's why I'm in this funny situation, because it has all been my editing and processing.

AAJ: The way you're describing it, it has been a dialectic between the editing and the next time around. Like a feedback loop, the editing is part of the creative process.

DP: Whether we continue to do that is an interesting question. Now that we've become more able just to do that, we can kick the ladder away, to a certain extent. Today was very strange; it was good, because we weren't thinking too much; we just got on with some playing, some nice sounds. The last sessions we did, we were consciously trying to go somewhere different to where we have been, and those were dead ends because we said, "Let's go back to rhythm" and that's got all sorts of pitfalls; we've become very, sort of, domesticated. There was a very conscious feeling that we were all trying to jump into another space, and struggling to get there, and prepared to make mistakes in trying to push things. So it's more of a feeling that you can rely on the live thing to try to play together somewhere else. Instead of always looking back, working against the last thing we've done.

SR: I think the live stuff will change a lot as we get more used to it, more comfortable with it.

GS: It's easy; it's easier playing live in front of an audience than rehearsing. All you've got to do is do it. It's true. The audience doesn't know what they're getting; the thing about Porto was that we did it. Bang! Very confident. I think playing live is going to be much easier than making an album. Because all you're going to do is do it. It's not forever. You can rely on all the things you've done before. That's how I see it.

DP: One thing I did suggest to Gary earlier was whether you [Doug] want to get involved in some mixing. We've got shed loads of mixing stuff.

Doug Shearer: Anyway, if I'm trying to replicate some sort of post-production aspect, I should really come down and see you [Stephen] post-producing it.

SR: What I do wouldn't make any sense.

DP: Mystification going on here. You wouldn't understand it.

SR: It makes no sense just because it is done over a very long period of time, on headphones, on a crap laptop, with one piece of software now. The situation we've now got, having moved the recording onto David's laptop, is that we've got shed loads of stuff that we need to get into good stereo mixes that I can then work with. That would be an interesting phase, because what I've done with the last two albums is to just go from the ADATs to a quick mix of the whole; where I've got five hours of stuff I just found balances, ran the whole lot into stereo; any other problems I inherited from doing that, I would have to do afterwards, just using the stereo mixes. Now we've actually got some stuff here; in fact, it's a process I prefer not to be involved in, because I like the two track, the limitations of having stereo stuff that I can then...

GS: I love it. I love mixing.

SR: Actually getting that into a different state to what I've been able to do before would be great. The mixing situation I was faced with was pretty terrible. I had to do it sitting on the floor under a table, with headphones. And in the last mix, Gary came out really loud. So we've dumped all of those onto David's laptop and they've all got to be mixed.

PG: I actually find it incredibly tedious. But I would like to hear that final mix before it came out; that's all I'm interested in.

GS: See, I love mixing; I just love it, so...

DP: We should make some dates. Maybe one evening every week...

SR: It would really suit me just to have the stereo. I don't actually care what happens. Because if there's stuff I need—if I want more drums added, I'll just filter it. I like the dirt that I pick up along the way. That'd be great, to do something like that. So there is the possibility of mixing stuff, and then I'll pick stuff up and shape it after that.

GS: That's what I was saying, if you get the mixes good then the next stage is going to be even better.

SR: The problem I have when I'm mixing is that I'm thinking along the lines of what might happen when I'm working on the stereo. And that's just the wrong way to do it. I like the problems I've got. If those drums aren't crisp enough, then I've got to work out how the hell to do that.

GS: If you've got a very good source that you're working from then—all the music with very good detail—then it's got to be a very good thing.

SR: Great. So if Doug wants to get involved in all of this and he knows what he's doing then...

GS: Ideally, from my point of view, we'd all get together and do it. Then we'd all be feeding off how we looked at it.

DP: I always find the situation where there are enough people that are bored shitless by it. Mixing is quite boring.

AAJ: Mixing by committee.

SR: That is why I do that stuff on my own and send out the end results.

GS: The reason it interests me is that you learn about what the people you are working with like. And I think that's very important. For me it's very important.

DP: In a way we're producing a neutral mix here.

GS: What I'm saying is that it doesn't work if you get a band together and stick them in a room to mix, it's a disaster. But at the same time it's nice to be around and learn about what people like a bit more. I guess that will happen if we do more live work because we'll be in that situation more.

Aufgehoben / Magnetic MountainSR: But I think there's a really productive think happening with you two about what you're up to. There are some interesting things from the point of view of the drums when I'm mixing them. I have a strong sense of what I'm doing because it is worked in blocks and it is more simple minded; it is quite easy for Phil to just be around here and as he's finding that space more and more. It would be interesting to have somebody else mix it. Often those blocks of sound to me make me think about what I'm up to.

GS: Nothing has really happened with the recordings we have done, in the sense that we have recorded. It is quite basic.

AAJ: How much is there a danger of losing that Aufgehoben sound if it's mixed too much?

SR: I share the same sort of worries. The thing that I like about it is the density of sound. And the thing that you lose with better quality is you loose the grain, texture and dirt. There are new challenges for me in that post-production work. The process that we've had since Anno Fauve is that I would work with stuff at a certain point, roughly where the shape of the thing is there and it's got to a kind of density where I can no longer hear what I'm doing. Then Doug would work with it and he would send back what ought to be a mastered version by any other standard, but what he's actually done is open up some spaces. And if I see spaces I just fill them in again. Often the end result of that would be me going to my raw stuff. Doug's nicer versions, I often end up re-layering those. What Doug manages to do is to give me some space that I can take even further than I was before.

GS: You're going to get more of the music, whatever it is.

DP: I don't know. I sometimes like the trashy quality. Like Fifth is a really trashy recording, but there is something about that that I really like.

AAJ: It seems to me if it's cleaner and more separate it's not going to sound like Aufgehoben.

SP: It won't be clean, will it?

DP: I think it will.

GS: Just record my guitar separately and it's never going to be clean.

DP: I disagree. Because we're playing like Aufgehoben. I don't think we have a problem. I don't want to make it into an ultimate destination and a fetish. From a record that had a spacious, very detailed sound you could go back to trashy; I see them as modes.

GS: I totally agree. It's a bit like saying do a quiet album. It's a step along the way. But all the recording we've done—it's not really a lot but it's a lot in hours—it seems absolutely natural to want to get a better recording, so that you can hear more of the actual content, because there is a lot of stuff going on, a helluva lot of stuff, and you're going to lose a lot of stuff. I don't think you'd lose the energy or the roughness or anything. Hell, it's rough anyway. You're not going to lose that.

DP: What I like at the moment is the way that Stephen is layering up the treatment, almost squeezing more defined sound out of a quite grainy source. There is actually something quite interesting in that process. It's very focused but it's also got dirt in it.

GS: When Stephen processes the sound, I just hear it like electronic music. When it goes really crunchy, I hear it like electronic music. I don't hear it like a group; it's gone somewhere else. I think it's great. Fine by me.

SR: One of the key features is just the sheer number of times I end up overlaying the same source, which shouldn't do what it does. All the bottom end is just accentuated. I don't know how many times I've actually done that; Fifth is a bit undercooked on this at the moment. I'm somewhat tempted to go back to it.

DP: I like the tinniness.

GS: No. No, leave it. It's fine.

SR: The tinniness will come down. Messidor had loads and loads of over-layering of the same stuff. Filtering stuff out, some of the bass stuff. It has a density to it.

DP: I'd rather spend money on better recordings.

GS: If you've got the gigs, if you can do the gigs.

SR: It's a sort of experience. I suppose it's the thing that has been driving me with the records; the kind of experience I want is a sonic experience that's not replicable anywhere else. We know we can actually play this. Getting everything in place so we are really in control of that would be really quite impressive.

GS: Essentially, you've got to stay excited about what's going on. The sound, you've got to feel good about the sound.

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