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Hooverphonic…in your house

For the recording of their 13th album, the Belgian band Hooverphonic launched a public appeal and invited the audience to suggest interesting locations.

Titled Reflection, the new Hooverphonic album has been recorded with fans at home. “A welcome alternative to working between the four walls of a studio,” explains Alex Callier, songsmith, bass player and producer with Hooverphonic, “but quite a challenge.”

Hooverphonic launched the Hooverdomestic concept in March 2013 with a newsletter and social media postings, calling on their fans to nominate their own dwelling as a possible location for the recording of the new album.

The mail-out contained three audio fragments of handclaps to illustrate the room acoustic the band were searching for. Fans were offered a free song download as a reward for participating.

“To be honest, my gut-feeling already told me that photographs of interiors tell a lot about acoustics,” explains Callier. “I have some years of experience in recording, and so does engineer Peter Claes – we know the difference between plasterboard, concrete, or an old mansion with a wooden floor, panelling, a high ceiling and lots of curtains.”

Callier and Claes made a first selection based on pictures submitted of different rooms in the homes, and went on location to investigate the facilities further. “Our main concern was, alongside the acoustics: where do we build the control room? We had to find the space to install a decent monitoring system, and next to get a perfectly ‘dead’ room. And the recording room had to be visually inspiring as well,” continues Callier.

The first recordings took place in a dining room in Gentbrugge – other locations include a mansion farm in Ranchecourt-Suzémont in the Champagne-region in France, a brick stone factory in Boom, a church in Hoeselt, and an old farmhouse in Hasselt.

“The key issues in the recording process was to only use natural reverb – the spirit of a house is in its reverb… In a world where everybody’s using the same plug-ins and presets, we wanted to have a unique reverb on our record,” Callier says. “Whereas the stone drying tunnels in the brick factory offered a ‘medium-reverb’ of some 1.5 seconds, the dining room’s natural decay was 2.3 seconds. The church was ideal to include the kind of long reverb which is actually Hooverphonic’s signature sound. And, in case we couldn’t find the correct reverb, we used vintage EMT plates.”

All of the new album’s drums and piano tracks, plus some of the guitar-tracks, were recorded both in Gentbrugge and France, resulting in quite some extra work like the transport of all the gear and the setting up of the equipment, pianos, drumkit on each of the recording locations. The band also used two specific pianos: an original 1930 Kriegelstein piano in Gentbrugge, recorded with AKG C12As, C24 and Neumann SM2 microphones, and a vintage Petroff upright piano in France, tracked by Neumann M49 microphones and a pair of Shiny Box MX46L ribbon mics.

Engineer Peter Claes made use of a flightcased recording configuration consisting of a Pro Tools HDX 32 in/out recording system, Phoenix DRS-8 pre-amps, Telefunken V676 pre-amps, and Avalon Vt-737 pre-amps. “We used the Phoenix quite often, in combination with a Summit Audio TLA-100 compressor, an Urei 1176 limiter and a pair of Urei LA-3’s says Callier.

“And then we had Peter’s terrific vintage microphone collection with Neumann and AKG microphones. All of them were routed via the pre-amps and compressors in the Pro Tools engine – this puts in perspective the importance of high quality pre-amps.” Monitors were Unity Audio The Rock cabinets with ribbon tweeters.

The drums were directly recorded in the HDX32, all of the keyboards were steered through Unity Audio The Boulder speakers, “to give the whole more oxygen”, as Alex explains. Singer Noémie’s voice was captured by a Blue Dragonfly microphone, fitting her voice perfectly.

The whole multiple-location recording process involved quite some logistics: the transport of the recording equipment and the band’s vast instruments inventory, from the glockenspiel to a Hammond B3 or an original M400 Mellotron. “But it was worth the effort,” laughs Callier.

It was Ronald Prent, at Wisseloord in Hilversum, Netherlands, who mixed the album on the API Vision 64 console. “I absolutely wanted to have the album mixed on an analogue console,” concludes Callier. “We also used analogue outboard – the album is a bit different from our previous work: no strings here but more bass, drums and guitars, sounding more ‘live’ than ever.”

Reflection was released on 15 November through Sony Music – Hooverphonic will tour the album from February.