INTERVIEW WITH TASK HORIZON
We caught up with Task Horizon for an in depth look at their studio techniques and advice for new producers…
Talk us through your setup:
We use a Windows PC running the newest Cubase 9.5 – It’s a big step up from the previous versions, and we especially enjoy the automation curves.
Sometimes Ableton Live is used for sketching out ideas on the road, as it doesn’t require a dongle (we hate that).
But tracks invariably always get finished in Cubase. Its bustling architecture is just better for our way of working.
We’re bona-fide RME users in terms of audio interfaces, and for monitoring we use ADAM A7 (with a sub), Yamaha HS6 and JBL LSR305.
Voice recordings are done with a BraunerValvet microphone going into a Manley VoxBox.
We’ve had a wide range of vocalists in the studio over the years, and they always sounded great through that chain.
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How do you separate tasks and find you have different strengths in the studio?
We definitely have different strengths, as we come from different musical backgrounds and training.
Aaron started out in the visual arts, attended SAE and is in charge of engineering.
Tim is a keyboard player with an MA in music and brings composition knowledge to the table.
We both do sound-design, Aaron being more the drum and bass guy (in both ways), Tim doing the melodic and harmonic components.
Depending on the production phase of the project, one of us might be working on their own for a longer period.
At other times, we take turns quite frequently, each one adding the next little thing as we go along.
What one piece of gear would you love to own?
We wouldn’t say no to a Slate Digital Raven MTX, if only as a stop-gap until we have a 3D holographic user-interface as seen in the movie “Minority Report”.
Imagine moulding and massaging audio in a three-dimensional way with your hands, in real-time in front of your eyes – and all the involuntary potential for giggles and sexual innuendo.
What are your top 5 effect plugins and why?
In no particular order:
Studio legend Bruce Swedien said it -Bruce Swedien is right: Compression is for kids, and transients are everything in music.
This plugin gives us the most precise control over transients, way beyond what traditional compression could do.
Slate Digital: Mix Rack
Most of the time we prefer surgical and neutral-sounding processors, like the Sonnox Envolution as mentioned.
Sometimes there’s a need for old-school mojo and coloration, and these plugins give us just that for mixing.
Native Instruments’ Kontour
This synth plugin blurs the lines between traditional FM synthesis, waveguide-based physical modelling and conventional subtractive methods in an amazingly streamlined and elegant way.
It’s the first and only synthesiser that allows us to create organic-sounding leads and pads which defy reference to any existing synthetic or acoustic source.
We use this one extensively for wave-table basses and drum layers.
The sound quality is second to none, and we especially appreciate the modulations being calculated at audio-rate.
This makes for super-snappy envelopes and LFOs, which are always hundred-percent predictable in a dense mix where deviations by only a few samples become a huge issue – if you have our level of sonic OCD, that is.
Fab Filter’s C2
Like all FabFilter products it’s a true workhorse.
We use it for all sorts of different scenarios where we need traditional dynamic gain reduction, from side-chaining to squashing delay and reverb trails in the mix, as well as situations where good old compression just does the trick.
What synths do you use the most in your productions?
As mentioned above, Native Instruments’ Kontour and Xfer: Serum are constant favourites.
Others are Native Instruments’ FM8 for pure FM synthesis, Native Instruments: Absynth for granular duties or also as a great multi-FX insert, and Native Instruments’ Monark for the rare occasion where we want old-school analogue flavour.
Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Native Instruments’ Kontakt are also regulars, but we use these mostly as preset libraries rather than for creative sound-design.
Where do you find inspiration? Also, if you are working in the studio and get stuck; how do you get past that point?
Inspiration is always there in our opinion.
It’s the blunted senses that get in the way of experiencing it.
Maybe you spent too many hours obsessing over the spectral transients of your snare drum, or a personal issue is bugging your unconscious, or maybe you’re just plain overworked.
Whatever it is, get out of that studio!
Physical activity outdoors is always a good antidote to the confined movements of shoving around the mouse in semi-darkness.
After ten lonely hours of mixing or sound design, it’s high time to get out and meet friends over a couple of drinks.
Cook a tasty meal. Watch a good movie. Watch a bad one!
That works even better for boredom to set back in – at which time it is safe to re-enter the lair where feeling bored isn’t an option: the studio.
How long have you been producing?
We (Aaron & Tim) have been at it for over 20 years now.
In the mid-90s, owning a just moderately equipped studio was expensive, bulky and tedious.
We would have killed for having just a small fraction of the possibilities that modern DAW environments have to offer.
But we’re very grateful for that experience, as it heightens our appreciation for the amazing avenues of expression available nowadays.
It’s truly a fantastic time to make electronic music.
How do you usually start tracks and where do you turn to for sound sources?
Aaron will mostly start out with a lead line and drums, just to see where it takes him.
If it starts to fly, we have the nucleus of a new tune and can proceed to the next production steps.
If not, it simply goes into a folder with some outlandish name.
Maybe we’ll hear it differently on another day.
He loves to mangle and re sample the sounds until they start to sound interesting and can keep it up for hours, hence he prefers working alone during this phase.
Tim often comes to the studio with pre-formed composition material, or he will jam around on the keyboard until he hits on a musical idea that might work as a track theme.
This is then orchestrated with fitting sounds, serving as a thematic core around which the rest of the track can be built.
How many hours does it typically take to complete a track from start to finish?
This can be between 15 and 150 hours.
It’s hard to say because some tracks might start out as duds, get thrown in a folder, and be dug out months later in order to start a second life.
We’re constantly learning and growing, so sometimes the solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems of a track can become blatantly obvious a few weeks or months down the road.
What do you listen to in your free time?
Anything but DnB. This could be classical music, movie soundtracks, other types of electronica or even ethnic genres.
We’re big fans of traditional Bulgarian singing here.
We’ve even experimented with applying their odd-meter rhythms to DnB, but we would probably have to spike beverages with funny substances in order to make a regular audience really dance to that.
What advice would you give to new producers?
Go for everything you hear! The more different music you like, the better.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to recreate the feel and sound of tracks you like, on the contrary: that’s how you learn to technically achieve what you liked about that track to start with.
Don’t become obsessed with trying to consciously find and force your own style – it doesn’t work that way.
Let yourself instead be totally influenced by absolutely everything that turns you on.
Because when you let all those influences in, the coin flips and you become a very identifiable artist.
Work hard and be patient – like every real skill it takes years.
What are your favourite techniques and plugins for processing bass/mids?
Mid-side compression and limiting, with saturation.
There are no standard recipe plugin chains that we use all the time, there are infinitely many different ways to approach sound.
Sometimes we will make basses out of percussion samples, which obviously requires a whole different approach than firing up a wave-table synth for the umpteenth time.
What plugins do you typically use on your drum buss and why?
UAD Fairchild compressor in parallel and a lot of saturation. Love the Fairchild.
The whole drum buss is usually resampled in order to make it malleable for further treatment.
A fair amount of decisions are made down the line and committed to audio.
We prefer to not include the kick in the drum buss however, but to have it separately because that suits our way of working.
What do you find the most challenging part of producing?
The hardest part is to resist consciously or unconsciously recycling formulas and techniques which proved to be successful previously.
It’s just basic human nature to want to repeat what worked well in the past.
The more proficient you are, the more workable formulas you have under your belt – so the more difficult it gets to prevent this from happening.
If you could choose a dream collaboration, who would it be with and why?
Oh, definitely Noisia. It would be interesting to see how they approach some of their sound design. Plus, they come across as easy-going people, which is also important.
If you could choose a track to remix, what would it be and why?
For Aaron it would be „SickNote“ by Ed Rush and Optical, or „Masochist“ by Pendulum, just because how these tracks influenced him in the past.
Tim will take anything if the money is right.
What projects are you working on currently and where would you like to progress to in 12 months time?
There’s quite a load of new material in the pipeline for our own imprint Evolution Chamber.
We’ve also just finished an EP for Eatbrain and are working on some things that we can’t talk about right now.
In twelve months we’d like to look back on 2018 as the year with the most releases so far.