The Helio Sequence's Negotiations or “That time Sub Pop (almost) went Quad”

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Simon A

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The Helio Sequence is a Portland-based indie Pop band. The duo of Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel released their fifth album Negotiations on Sub Pop in 2012.

The road leading to the recording of the album is one with many a bumps. During their 2009 tour supporting their then current album Keep Your Eyes Ahead, their Portland HQ and studio was flooded which left them with having to find a new space to work from. After a long search, their choice fell on a 1,500 square foot space. The duo found themselves listening to a large variety of music during this transitional period. These listening sessions were comprised of everything from minimal Techno and Library Music to the beautifully dark Frank Sinatra Suicide albums ( In The Wee Small Hours, Close To You, and Sings For Only The Lonely). These varied influences seep through here and there on Negotiations. Whilst being conscious of these newfound influences, the group also wished to revisit the sound of their earlier albums but making sure to place the spotlight on the songwriting.

The group not only released Negotiation in 2012, but also a companion disc called Aces. Some time ago I got in touch with the group regarding the Aces CD (only available with pre-orders of the LP version of Negotiations) which is meant to be played simultaneously with their Negotiations album. Had they created a Quadraphonic mix of the album or was Aces simply meant to add atmosphere and nuances to the sonic landscape of the original album?

Benjamin Weikel got back to me with the answer:

Brandon and I had a great experience when we were younger listening/experiencing Zaireeka by the Flaming Lips. It was wild and fun... although a bit chaotic and not always working very well with the timing differences of each players clock and start time.

But to be so immersed in sound was wonderful and I assumed surround would be the future of music (sadly, it was not). I also often played around with "quad" sound in my bedroom as a youngster, using a second stereo with a tape deck... the delay from the tape head combined with turning the second stereo down low could create a fun/larger listening environment (sort of a Haas effect), even if not ideal and certainly not intended by the artist. I was surprised at how much a delayed version of the music could work with a wide variety of albums, but very rhythmic music could get too blurred and confused (not unlike the errors in timing with Zaireeka).

Many years later, we had an experience with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in surround DSD in an incredible mastering room in Denver... perhaps one of the best audio experiences we've ever had. As an avid lover of high quality sound (both vinyl and digital), no stereo experience of Dark Side of the Moon could compare to the surround DSD in that room.

When we finished Negotiations we had the option from Sub Pop to do some kind of add on material for the pre-order. In the past we had given away some b-sides, but we didn't have much this time around and I had come up with the idea of making a simplified Zaireeka Surround type experience for Negotiations. Having the above experiences, I knew how "off" the timing could be using two players, so I wanted the experience to be very very flexible. I would basically try and keep any dry transient signals and deep low end out of the rear channels and focus more on enhancing spaces, creating ambience and highlighting musical orchestration with Aces.

There may also be some very subtle different synth and guitar stuff, but primarily it is more an enhancement of the stereo mix. It works to put it an a DAW and route the signal with no delay to a rear channel system, but it also works if it's 100ms too slow and getting slower or even playing before the front system. It's very flexible and each playback could have a slightly different result and possibly highlight different elements of the album. I didn't have a true surround system so the quality of Aces is possibly suspect to sound imperfections... but it was never meant to be a perfect companion... more a unique experience and different perspective of the album.


I've imported both discs into Audacity and synced them up. It's exactly how Benjamin described it and I admit that putting the word Quadraphonic on the cover of Aces was misleading (though the band had no malicious intent in doing this), but the end result is more than worthy to my ears. To say that the rears only contain the reverb trail of the Stereo mix is a misrepresentation of what the parties involved attempted to achieve with this companion disc. Yes, the reverb trail for the drums and vocals are present but from song to song but the reverb trail level of the other instruments varies, not only in volume, but in placement as well. This creates a gigantic sounding mix, with a soundstage as if you found yourself in the center of their 1,500 square foot studio. It gives the album a nocturnal aura that fits the mood of the album perfectly. For people who wonder what the group sounds like on this album, I'd dare say to me it sounds like “Laid back BritPop”. I chose to lower the fronts by 2 db and I found the balance I wanted.

I salute the band's intentions and the efforts they've put into making this bonus disc for fans such a cool way to hear the album. I wish more artists would do this.

Aces can be found on it's own for a few dollars on e-bay and Discogs and is worth hunting down. I know I'm glad I did.

The album is exactly what the title of the thread states: “That time Sub Pop (almost) went Quad”.

If you liked this album, be sure to check out the rest of the band's catalogue. They have created quite a lot of superb music. :)

I wish to thank Benjamin Weikel for taking the time to share the band's motivation for doing this.

Negotiations.jpg


Aces.jpg


Negotiations 2.jpg


Aces 2.jpg


 
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Clement

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Thanks ever so much, Simon! Fascinating read--one that had me flying over to discogs to score a copy. And it better be good, or you're Toast, mate! Yeah, I'm talking to you, Sonny Boy--can you HEAR me?
 

Simon A

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Thanks ever so much, Simon! Fascinating read--one that had me flying over to discogs to score a copy. And it better be good, or you're Toast, mate! Yeah, I'm talking to you, Sonny Boy--can you HEAR me?

Yes I can hear you Clem Fandago. I honestly doubt you'll be sorry you got one. :)
 

humprof

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Fascinating, Simon. There's a full album stream of Negotiations on the band's website. (D'oh--I see now that that's what you linked to in your OP!) I like what I'm hearing so far.

Maybe you could get them to authorize you to do a more traditionally quad "fan mix" (along the lines of what the Lips did with the fan-made 5.1 mix of Zaireeka)...
 
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Simon A

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Fascinating, Simon. There's a full album stream of Negotiations on the band's website. (D'oh--I see now that that's what you linked to in your OP!) I like what I'm hearing so far.

Maybe you could get them to authorize you to do a more traditionally quad "fan mix" (along the lines of what the Lips did with the fan-made 5.1 mix of Zaireeka)...

I was thinking that Sub-Pop could also put up Aces on YouTube so people could play them together using two computers or portable devices.
 

HomerJAU

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I was hoping I could move posts from another thread on the subject to this one. I can't. Here's the old thread (now closed):

 
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