all about Madonna

William Orbit on Madonna, Ray Of Light : Keyboard Magazine

Throughout the record we hear pulsing, echoing effects, some very tightly timed and some more loosely attached to the beat — in “Drowned World” and “Frozen”, for example. Whats your approach to quantizatlon?

Often I won’t quantize at all. I do believe that you can take away… You can make something very unlistenable by quantizing it too much. I play a lot of stuff by hand and don’t quantize it, and very often it sounds better that way. Unquantized rhythms work better when used next to quantized rhythms and vice versa.

One of the drum fills in “Frozen” is extra-expressive, going from what sounds like mallets to hard wooden sticks.

One of my friends asked, “Is that the track with the trash cans being kicked about?”

Did you achieve that effect with filters?

Yeah, it’s all done with filters.

There are wicked drum fills in “Drowned world” and “Sky Fits Heaven”. How do you create those – from breakbeats?

I mostly construct them out of little tiny fragments — a little bit of this and that, but they weren’t off records.
We had a couple of sessions with a drummer in Los Angeles, and it didn’t quite work out. But Fergus [Gerrand, whose drumming does appear on the CD] is someone I work with all the time; I’ve worked with him for years. So he came to my house in London and put down a load of drums, which I then threw into my system and chopped up and messed around with. But like I said before, I don’t use ReCycle or any of those things. I’m not sure if I want to. I mean, I hear some really good stuff being done with it, but I don’t want to date-stamp things too much. I’m very cautious about putting out a record that a year down the line will sound date-stamped. So I’m trying to chart my owm course, be it good or bad.

So all of your chopping and editing is done directly onboard the Akai samplers?

My own version of ReCycling, if you will.

When Fergus was recording at your home was he playing along to your sequences?

He was, but they were rudimentary sequences. Don’t forget, the thing with modern recording is that you can work backwards. You can do anything in any order you’d like. It’s like editing together a film, shooting the first scene last, etcetera. Any approach you’d like and Fergus is very good about that kind of thing. He knows that what might end up on the record could be completely different from what he originally played.

In “Sky Fits Heaven,” there’s a nice half-time version of the main drum pattern.

I like messing with time signatures. I’m glad you picked up on that. It’s fun. Why stick to the same time signature? Something I was really happy with was on “Mer Girl.” That so sounds like it’s just an ambient piece of strong scape, but in fact it’s got verses, bridges, and choruses. lt’s more structured than you might think at first listen. And when the fourth verse comes in, there’s this bit where it goes into lots of conflicting time signatures on top of each other deliberately. I
thought I’d try it in a visceral kind of way.

And all of these loops and performances were in your Akai samplers being triggered by Cubase events, correct?

Yeah, but there aren’t many loops, you see. Most are made up of quite small bits. But everything was coming out of the Akais. In fact, what I normally do, is… I use two 53200s, and ultimately the whole soundscape of the track, apart from the vocals, is coming out of the Akai stereo outs and through a valve [tube] compressor. I’m not used to working with automation, and this is the first time I’d fully used it; we used a J-series SSL. I haven’t been north of the faders on an SSL ever until this, but I tried to use the stereo outs of my Akais whenever possible because I like the sound of all that material coming from the same outputs. That’s when the magic starts happening – when the sum becomes greater than the parts. If you break everything up too much, you lose that. So whenever possible I like to run the majority of the material through the same outputs, and subsequently route it through the same compressor, or whatever.

What compressor do you prefer?

I usually use Drawmers; they work perfectly and I like the way they sound.