Holger Czukay

In response to DMT36, James asked:

Did you ever see Czukay performing in Cologne?

No, I never saw Holger Czukay perform live but I watched several performances on TV in Köln, and I met him one time. Some of the performances were actually live and others were full playback. I remember watching his band Can perform on a TV show and wondering whether they were actually performing this particular time. I was around 15 at the time and had learned to look for the telltale signs. Are there microphones on the drums? Is the singer using a regular microphone, but without the cable, to make it look like a wireless mic? Are the guitar and bass plugged into anything? My mom used to say I was ruining performances for her by pointing out that a singer’s lips and the singing didn’t actually sync up and they weren’t real performances… well, just miming really. 

So I was watching a Can performance and everything seemed to be plugged in and… could they be doing this live in the studio???? Then the guitar player, Michael Karoli, took a solo. During his solo he slowly turned around, with a smirk on his face, and…. the end of the cable, the one that was supposedly connecting his guitar to the big amp behind him, was in fact stuck into the back pocket of his jeans. I roared with laughter and loved that they were poking fun at the full playback. (Many years later I had some interesting experiences with full playback in Mexico and in Germany, myself…)

At this point, in the Seventies, Holger was already playing shortwave radio and dictaphone instead of bass. I think Rosco Gee was on bass. Not many understand the huge influence Holger had on music. The use of cut up radio voices on Brian Eno and David Byrne’s excellent album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts goes back to Holger who had been doing that for many years already. In the late Seventies Eno visited Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne many times. In fact Eno said he was inspired to create Music for Airports after an experience of waiting for his flight from the airport in Köln. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is an excellent album and I merely want to point out that Czukay’s influence on music is disproportionate to his fame. I am sure he liked it that way.

One late afternoon in the early Eighties, sometime between 1981 and 1983, while I was visiting my parents in Köln, I walked around the city. (((I thought about this and am not sure whether it is correct… could have been around that time, or around 1986, when I was back in Köln to buy the classical guitar that I ended up recording most of NF with))) I stopped at a cafe and while I was there I saw Holger come in and sit down at the bar. I walked over to him and we started talking. He ordered a glass of Fernet-Branca, advertised on German TV as hellishly bitter, to make himself more brave, or so he claimed. He explained that he had to do a difficult mixing session that evening. The subject turned to recording and microphones and Holger explained that the where (of microphones) is much more important than the what. He said he had gone to Hamburg, where Irmin Schmidt (founder of Can) was conducting the orchestra of the NDR (public radio station) in a performance of his music. While the orchestra was recorded in the modern fashion, with the use of dozens of microphones, Holger went looking for the “one sweet spot” in the room and recorded the performance with a single mic. He claimed that his recording sounded far better than the official record did. I believe it. It’s an art, finding the sweet spot of a room. Perhaps it’s an art that is going extinct.

I am so glad that I plucked up the courage to talk to Holger that day. I’ll never forget it.

Anthony Bourdain recorded a show in Köln in 2016 (Parts Unknown, Season 7, Episode 7). It’s an excellent excellent show and I was hugely impressed with Bourdain’s (and his researchers’) knowledge about the city. I had a big smile when Bourdain met Irmin Schmidt for a meal around 21’ into the show. The first image of that section was Czukay playing bass, actually. Definitely worth seeing the entire episode!!


my 2008 post on Holger’s 70th birthday, which links to a great post by Echoes. Quote: 

Holger Czukay enjoys his status as a homunculus in the machinery of pop music. “I did an interview with German MTV and at the end I asked the director of the station if they had a chief editor. He said, No. I said, Take me. I can make your station very successful. Don’t play anything that I like and you’ll become very successful.”

another post from 2010


Ian asked where I found my longer IEM cable.

I order cables from Null Audio in Singapore. They sell IEMs and make a whole range of custom headphone and IEM cables. I chose the Tiburon cable, which is at the low-mid end of their price range. I find the default length, which is 47″, a little too short and requested a longer 66″ cable, with MMCX connectors for the Euclid and the NL4 Blue 3.5L stereo connector (right angle plug) for the input. I have ordered a couple of different cables from Null. You can use their contact page to let them know what you want. They will send you the price and an invoice. One cable was in my hands eight days after placing the order, the other one took 18 days for start to finish. Great turn around time for a custom cable from a little vendor in Singapore.

In English the word Null means empty or non-existent, as in null and void. In German Null is used for the number Zero.

The Italian mathematician Fibonacci (c. 1170–1250), who grew up in North Africa and is credited with introducing the decimal system to Europe, used the term zephyrum. This became zefiro in Italian, and was then contracted to zero in Venetian.
0 – Wikipedia

Fibonacci’s zephyrum derived from the word ṣifr (Arabic صفر), which meant empty. It’s only one of many words that came to the English language from the Arabic. Algebra is another, from Al-Jabr – the reunion of broken bones.


Ian asked:

your new portable recording system sounds amazing. What are your preferred headphones for mixing and/or tracking

Thank you, Ian. I am very happy with the sound as a starting point. I also love how the guitar sounds with the rain.

I took a look at what I wrote about headphones in the past. There is this post from 2005. Unfortunately the links don’t work anymore because Stax no longer produces those headphones, uh, Ear Speakers. I just searched for the Stax headphones and tube amp I use – SR-404 + SRM-006t – and found a set on Ebay for $880. Great price.

Those Stax are my most used pair of headphones in the studio, ever. I bought my first pair in 1990 and bought this combo about 20 years ago. I can say with confidence that I spent more time listening with those headphones than any other headphones or loudspeakers. I mixed every album with those. At first I mixed on speakers and occasionally checked the mix on the Stax but slowly that reversed over time until I worked mainly with the Stax and checked and confirmed with the loudspeakers.

Headphones for tracking: what I wrote in 2005 about tracking headphones was valid until last year…

I have an indestructible pair of Sony MDR-V600. They are a little bass-heavy, but are used by many musicians and road engineers. They last forever. About $75.

They lasted a long time and I still have them.

What I have been using since this Summer, for both tracking and mixing, is a pair of Audeze Euclid IEMs. They are tiny, and travel well, but have an amazing sound.
OL 221008 13 09 05
I was also wearing the Euclid IEMs in this photo from Rockport, Massachusetts, last month.

When I work on music I can wear the Euclid for a couple of hours and forget they are there. These monitors use the MMCX = Micro Miniature CoaXial connector, developed by Amphenol, which makes it possible to easily switch out cables. I have a custom-made long cable with a 90º stereo mini plug, for listening to my laptop, the MixPre, or my stage monitor mix, and also use the Audeze Cipher BlueTooth cable for listening to my phone on the go.

Ideally I would love something like this IEM of my dreams:

  • MMCX plug for the option of using a cable for higher quality sound
  • built-in BlueTooth
  • built-in Noise-Cancellation
  • built-in mic array for making phone calls
  • In other words the one ring that rules them all… :-)
    It’s not likely to ever happen because it is not something that a lot of people would need or want.

    Back to headphones. Check out Stax, if you can find a dealer, and check out headphones by Audeze. All of their headphones are really nice. A few times a year Audeze sells so-called B-stock at great prices. Stephen Duros uses a pair of Sennheiser that he swears by and, while I have never listened to any Sennheiser cans, I have heard a lot of good things about them.

    Question : Answer – Upright Bass

    Steve asked what I know about the upright bass, seen in this post.

    It’s a Chadwick folding upright bass. Jon has been playing the folding bass since 2015. It makes traveling so much easier and is a big reason why we do perform with the upright again. Well, it also sounds really good. We can fly with it and at other times it gets shipped via FedEx.

    Unfortunately Chadwick no longer produces the bass – see this.

    In 2015, before settling on the Chadwick, Jon tried this one. It didn’t sound as good.

    Question : Answer – guitar EQ

    Eric Nolan asked:
    When you mix, do you pretty much leave the EQ and other guitar effects the same once you find your sound or do you find yourself starting with a clean slate every song and exploring from there?

    My guitar EQs are guitar-specific, meaning they are created for each guitar and because of that particular guitar’s acoustic properties. EVERY guitar’s sound has an ugly component somewhere, some part of the sound that is boomy or muddy or otherwise not right. An easy way to find this component is to insert an EQ on the guitar track and to sweep the frequencies one suspects of unpleasantries, while boosting the EQ. Now the bad stuff will jump out and be very obvious. Narrow the EQ to taste, then roll off those frequencies. Save this as a preset for that guitar. That guitar EQ should work every time, but you will have to adjust it when using a different microphone.

    I always have at least two EQ presets for every guitar, one for RGtr (rhythm guitar) and one for MGtr (melody guitar), with the rhythm guitar EQ rolling off a little of the general low end in addition to the above described surgical removal. I often play several RGtr tracks (the chorus of Barcelona Nights was made up of three RGtr tracks and two MGtr tracks) and if I leave the RGtr tracks too “thick” they will take up too much room. I also EQ reverb returns, but I’ll save that for another time.

    This gives me an idea: it might be interesting for some of you if this could be a component of the subscription site: I could record a video or do a screencast of a mixing session and explain why I record, mix, master the way I do. Or perhaps the occasional Zoom session to answer questions.

    Question : Answer – plugins

    Ian had a followup question:
    I have one more music production question – what plug-ins (if anything) do you use on your master fader in Pro Tools?

    I don’t have any plugins on the master track, but the preceding mix has the following three plugins inserted. I normalize the stereo mix to -1.5db to allow enough headroom and then use the Massenburg EQ plugin, and two plugins from Sony Oxford, Sonnox, the Inflator and the Limiter. That’s also the order in which the plugins are inserted: EQ, Inflator, Limiter.

    I have used the MDW EQ for a long long time, perhaps for 15 years. It is my guitar EQ as well as my mastering EQ. I think they didn’t make the plugin for a while and I was bummed to have to do without it after upgrading my equipment last year. But then they came out with a new version of the plugin and I was able to move the presets, which I had created over the years, from the old G4 Macintosh to the new MacBook Pro without a problem. And they worked!! That was a relief.

    Jon turned me onto the Inflator and Limiter and they have been part of my mastering for at least five years.