The Crystal Method's Ken Jordan
Check out how The Crystal Method's Ken Jordan uses Reason and Live to put the moves on the grooves
In the six years since The Crystal Method released its debut album, “Vegas,” the members of the Los Angeles electronic music duo have barely had time to come up for air. Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan spent two years on the road, headlining and joining the line-ups of a variety of tours (Family Values, Community Service, and The Electric Highway), and then began plotting and conceptualizing their next album.
2001 brought “Tweekend”, a project that consumed Jordan and Kirkland for the three years preceding the album’s release. “Tweekend” sets out to scramble what everyone thought they knew about The Crystal Method. The bass-fortified, hard-rolling techno concoctions gets the club kids moving, while the muscular hip-hop beats and fluid funk melodies have been augmented by an array of loud-and-soft rock dynamics.
Throughout the years, The Crystal Method has also contributed songs to a variety of film soundtracks, including “The Crow: Salvation,” “Lost in Space,” and “Spawn.” Now the duo’s fans anxiously await the release of a third album, slated to hit stores in the fall of 2003. At Winter NAMM in the M-Audio booth, “Remix” magazine editor Kylee Swenson sat down to interview Ken Jordan about the ways the duo uses new technology to create such unique sounds.
REMIX: What do you do with Ableton Live? Do you use it both in the studio and on the road?
JORDAN: We use Live and Propellerhead Reason as the starting points for almost all of our songs. It's just so easy to get going with those two programs. The writing process isn’t easy, but when you have all the tools you need right there, it is easier. One of the great things for us about Reason is the Redrum module. It allows you to play pretty much any custom set. We have a big library of sounds for the Akai MPC 3000, but it’s a hassle dealing with that format. With Redrum, you go through sounds really quickly and build your own custom drum sets. It's really unlimited.
REMIX: How do you mix your audio and your MIDI? I know you use a lot of live guitars with Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine. And you used live bass. Did you use live drums as well?
JORDAN: We used live drum samples, but we don’t usually cut live drums for anything. From time to time we do it just to get our own library of sounds and loops. Our sound is a combination of everything. We use technology to the max. We also like to use older technology as well. We busted out an old ratty pedal to get that solid-state distortion. We combined the best of the oldest and worst technology with the best of the new technology.
We're probably always going to be using some MIDI, and we use MIDI clock for tons of stuff. We can’t have any piece of gear that's not working with MIDI clock. That was one of our biggest problems with ACID. ACID would never lock to MIDI clock.
REMIX: Do you ever take live instruments, like a piece of Tom Morello's guitar, turn it into a REX file and then use it in Reason? What is your process as far as mixing the two?
JORDAN: When we bring in live musicians, we usually bring them in for specific tracks. We brought Tom in for a couple other tracks that we were working on. But I think the best track we did was “Name Of The Game,” and that was just while he was tuning up his guitar! We decided we were going to run a DAT for the whole session. He knew we were doing it because we didn't want to miss anything. So while he was getting ready over a different track and was tuning up, he starting playing this riff and that riff became the whole thing for “Name Of The Game.” Generally we find that all of our best sounds are accidents.
REMIX: I love that. I’d like to talk a little bit more about Ableton Live. It's kind of a newish technology and it's interesting to see how people have used that more in their studios. The things you can do with it as far as time stretching and real time are fascinating. Can you give me an example of a song you've recorded recently with it?
JORDAN: Right now I'm working with somebody on a TV score. When we're working on separate things, I'll be in the back with my PowerBook. I’ll have Reason and Live locked up, and will be working on the basis for all of the scores we're going to work on.
One of our favorite tricks is to get this really cool sort of stretch sound on the kicks and snares. Live does that automatically when you really stretch something good. You get this nice distortion of the sample. Live is also amazing because you can use it with OSX. I use it with OSX and run Reason as a ReWire slave. I've never had any kind of crash or anything. It just works so solidly.
REMIX: One thing that I’ve always been curious about is the dynamic of a duo. Obviously the process of recording a song is different every time, but with a duo, will one person start an idea and then the other person come in and follow through? Or are you collaborating the whole time?
JORDAN: I think I'm definitely more the producer/engineer and Scott is more of the songwriter/musician. We both do all the things, but generally the duties are split up like that. One of us will start with an idea and then we'll both collaborate on it together.
REMIX: How has M-Audio’s portable gear helped you?
JORDAN: All of this stuff is affordable and so functional, like the Oxygen8. That is the greatest thing ever. And that little backpack? I would have paid double for those things. I take the Oxygen8 and work with that stuff almost everywhere.
REMIX: So do you find that you are actually working away from the big studio a lot of the time?
JORDAN: That’s what took us so long to make our second album. We were on the road so much promoting our first album, and we didn't really know how to write or make music outside of our studio. Now with PowerBooks, softsynths, the Oxygen8 and programs like Live and Reason, we can write anywhere. And we do write anywhere.
REMIX: Cool. Can you tell me what you're working on now?
JORDAN: Well, Scott and I are working on our third album, which should be out in the fall.
REMIX: When people listen to their existing work, they often discover certain things they would have done differently. Are you finding anything that you want to do differently this time around?
JORDAN: Every time I hear any one of our songs, I think of things I would mix differently or do differently. Scott can enjoy our finished music, but I can't. I wish I could, but I can't do it. I think you hear different things when you hear it in different situations on different sound systems. You always know what it sounds like in your studio, but I like testing mixes on every possible thing. I like busing out to different things like a VCR and then taking the RF out back into a small TV. That's our check for a TV mix, and it works really well.
REMIX: Wow. So you really mix a lot of old school technology with brand-new.
REMIX: Are there any other M-Audio products that you've been kind of getting into lately?
JORDAN: I'm really looking forward to the new Ozone. That looks like the coolest thing ever.