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Official Massive Attack Forum

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Small Attack

Culture Lab (22 February 2000)

The ‘Bristol Sound’ is a unique hybrid of the human and the technological. And the band who have done most to foster this strange musical mutation are Massive Attack.
Massive Attack have cornered the market in ‘spooky.’ Blue Lines, Protection and Mezzanine were not just seminal albums of the Nineties. The mesmeric sound of these albums communicated the unease of the technological as it is grafted onto the organic. More than any other contemporary band, Massive Attack are the sonic interface between technology and imagination.

The next album is eagerly awaited and is well underway. Its minimalist working title is LP4. Since last October, Neil Davidge has been working as co-producer alongside band members Grant Marshall and Robert del Naja. The group use a Digidesign Pro Tools system. This is a 64-track audio recording, editing and mixing system. Essentially it’s a recording studio inside a computer, or a "virtual studio". Created by the audio division of Avid, it runs on the Apple G4 series. The audio information is recorded to hard drives rather than tape. It is known as a hard disk recorder, or non-linear audio workstation.

Based on the same principles as Photo Shop, Pro Tools is a hugely influential system. It has helped revolutionise music making. It enables artists and bands to produce their own recordings, in their own environment, at their own pace. It's used by a growing number of musicians such as Leftfield, Reef and Talvin Singh.

"Computers have opened up a whole new world to musicians," says Andy Brooks of Gearbox Sound and Vision, who provide Massive Attack with the technology they need. "Whereas five or six years ago, the division between musician and producer was much more clearly defined, now, because of the new technology, the two roles are becoming increasingly blurred."

For Massive Attack, technology is not simply a tool. It’s a medium for harnessing musical spontaneity and raw energy. "We're expanding on the concepts of the last album" says Davidge. "With Mezzanine we were aiming for a slightly warped but organic feel. I think we'll achieve that fully with this album. We've not compromised so far."

The album-making process began in a residential studio in the Surrey countryside. Working with ideas provided in advance by Marshall and del Naja, and under their supervision, the guitarist, drummer and bass player formerly of Spiritualized - along with guitarist Angelo Bruschini and Davidge himself on keyboards - played together in a series of sessions.

There were four Macs in the studio: one working as the ‘ideas player’; one to record specific instruments; one to record everything that was happening in the studio; and a fourth constantly backing up the other three.

Now the band are working in Bristol, still with Digidesign, structuring the songs by whittling away at the raw material and arranging vocals. Davidge says that the technology they use gives them more scope to be creative. "The first time something is played is special. If you have to keep re-performing it because of some imperfection, you lose that original energy. With this technology you can smooth out mistakes, but you don’t lose the spark by having to start from scratch. It helps the sound stay fresh and spontaneous."

Davidge started his musical career in bands, playing guitar and piano. Perhaps that is why he thinks it's important to "temper the technology with traditional concepts of making music" as he has done with Massive Attack. "There's a danger of people locking themselves in their bedrooms and not interacting with others. That's where great music is born, where ideas spark off each other." Massive Attack work well together, he says, because everyone brings different elements to the process.

The mixing of the album is the next step, with Pro Tools plugged into a mixing desk. Davidge says that this time around they may use the mixing process to shape the songs even further, utilising pre-mixes to help with experimentation.

Lindsey Baker