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Markus Reuter and Tim Motzer’s Transcontinental Collaboration

April 22, 2011
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“I WAS INVITED TO PLAY A ONE hour live set on the Star’s End radio show on WXPN, and I asked Tim to sit in with me,” says German Touch Guitar player Markus Reuter. “We had no idea this would turn into an album, but right after the broadcast we knew we had created something special and took it from there.” Where he and American guitarist Tim Motzer took it was to a stunning ambient/experimental disc titled Descending [1k], which also features impressionistic alto flute work by Theo Travis, BJ Cole’s atmospheric pedal-steel playing, subtle grooves and electronics from Pat Mastelotto, and bits of cymbals and other metal objects played by Doug Hirlinger. The music that began as a live duo improvisation took its final form via a transcontinental collaborative process that spanned multiple studios in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany.

How were the original tracks recorded?

Reuter: Tim plugged his guitar and pedalboard directly into my laptop looping setup, along with my Touch Guitars U8, so there were two input sources. We tracked to Ableton Live, running two Circular Labs Mobius looping plug-ins for the automated cross-feedback between delays that created the core of the record’s sound. Each repeat of a phrase was altered sonically using reverb, delay, pitch shifting, chorusing, half-time and double-time conversion, reverse playback, or combinations thereof—and the phrases recurred unpredictably in an often musically surprising fashion.

Were the improvisations structured?

Reuter: We experimented with things like playing E Lydian over a C drone and Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition, or interjecting pitch-selection rules as we went along.

Motzer: For example, Markus might call out a particular scale or something like, “descend chromatically.”

What happened after the initial recording?

Motzer: We picked our favorite bits and framed them out, beginning with the section that became the title track. After that, we exchanged multitracks between Germany and the U.S. via Dropbox and did some overdubbing. An example would be my glitch guitar parts on “Emanuella,” done by plugging a Godin directly into the double-looper and processing the results with Mdsp Livecut.

Reuter: I worked in iZotope RX and Tim used Apple Logic. We also exchanged lots of stereo files during the mixing stage.

The other contributors were also in disparate locations. How did that work?

Motzer: Theo added his parts in London, and BJ added his at another London studio. Afterwards, I felt that the album needed some electronic rhythms to help it percolate a bit, so we contacted Pat, who recorded his parts in Texas. In each case we sent them stereo guide mixes with the correct start points to play along with, and then imported their files into Logic. After that, I still felt the music could use some cymbals, and I recorded Doug’s parts at my studio.

Did everything come together as you’d hoped?

Reuter: Although we added overdubs, I think we still managed to retain the vibe of the original recordings. It’s a perfect meeting point of determination and freedom: technology and humanity, concept and chaos, playing and programming.

Motzer: It was a great experience working with Markus and sharing sonic densities with a few of my favorite musicians, and I’m proud of the results. Film music supervisors should call us pronto!

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