How I met Mr. Steve Albini

Steve Albini and Martin Yam Moller in Electrical Audio Studio A

Ok, so here’s a wild thing that happened. I got to meet Steve Albini at his studio Electrical Audio in Chicago.… and embarrassingly I got so star-struck meeting him, that I completely forgot to ask all the questions that I would normally do for this blog!

So that’s why this post is a little bit different than the usual ‘9 Odd Questions for Music Gear Junkies’ Interview.

First of all, if you don’t know about Mr. Steve Albini. He’s a producer/engineer who famously recorded Nirvana’s In Utero, but also hundreds of other records that I and millions of others, have listened to since the ‘80’s.

He has got to have one of the heftiest discographies ever!

But more interestingly, he has a particular kind of attitude to recording and music in general. He records all analogue, not just because of the sound and workflow, but because of its importance as an archival medium. He also keeps his rates as low as possible in order to keep working with independent bands/musicians. This attitude is very much reflected in the way that he constructed Electrical Audio, the studio that he built and opened in the late ‘90’s.

Outside Electrical Audio

So I was in Chicago this summer playing a couple of concerts for the release of my debut solo album, and I was talking to my bassist, who mentioned that he’s recorded at Electrical Audio with other bands. He said “Give’em a call and ask if you could come by and take a look at the studio and talk to Steve”. For him, having lived in Chicago for many years, Electrical was simply the local studio that everybody used. For me, it was the holy ground on which Sunn 0))) conjured Pyroclasts, their excellent 9th album from 2019.

It simply didn’t seem possible to just call up the studio… and so for the 14 days that I was in Chicago, I procrastinated and did a whole bunch of other stuff.

Then on the last day before I had to fly back to Denmark. My buddy Anthony, the bassist, reminded me “Just call and go out there”. So I called up Electrical and there was a nice person who answered “Yeah, come on by… There is a session today at noon, but there should be some engineers here to show you around”.

So of course I took a cab out there at 9am! Jumped out and rang on the door.

Electrical Audio Studio Door and Bell

And… the same person on the phone says “Oh, there are no engineers here right now to show you around. Can you come back in an hour?”

“Sure” I say. An hour goes by. Me, loitering outside in the general area.

Ring that bell again. Same thing. So I come back 30 min later.

Receptionist says “Hey, what about if you give me your tlf number and I get someone to call you back when they get here?”

“Perfect” I say, and think ‘Damn, they’ll be busy with that session today and I’m leaving tomorrow’. So a bit disappointed, I walked down the road from the studio that I didn’t even get into, to find lunch somewhere.

I’m just about to order a sandwich at a cafe … and my cellphone rings.

“Hey, this is Steve… you wanted to take a look around the studio?”

“YES! I’ll be there in 2 min”… and I run out of the cafe.

The following is a loose, badly-remembered re-paraphrasing of the hour long tour that Mr. Steve Albini gave me of his wonderful studio and gear. Mainly just photos with whatever I could remember that Steve said.

At Electrical Audio, walking from one live room to the next, seems just like any other studio, but what is not visible, is the fact that each room has it’s own separate foundation, for near total acoustic isolation between rooms.

Walking from Studio A to B

You know how you always hear of studio owners tearing the roof off their house in order to get their massive consoles into the mixing suite? This is the upside down version of this! Buying a building and re-digging it’s foundation, with the building still in place. A pretty intense approach to acoustic control.

The mic collection at EA is a sight to behold. While I was a little too busy salivating over the mics, I barely managed to register that Mr. Albini said something like… ‘Every sound is different and every mic responds to that sound in a different way… so for every recording, you have to try out a lot of mics.’

Headphone tree
Guitars and Pedals

Analog recorders and effects racks play a huge role in the daily recording life at Electrical Audio. These aren’t there for show or the occasional ‘retro band’ that books a session once a year.
They are constantly serviced and maintained by the in-house tech.
Mr. Albini even showed me their service log books, and described the administrative system they use to keep everything up and running. Which means that anything that’s not working, gets pulled out and fixed off-site. Anything you see in the mixing rooms is plugged in and ready to go.

Studer A 820 MCH 24 Tape Recorder
Studer A 820 MCH 24 Tracking Recorder
Ampex ATR-102 2-Track
Ampex ATR-102 2-Track Master Tape Recorder

Electrical Audio even make their own brand of equipment. Their in-house studio tech has plenty of work to do, in order to maintain all that juicy analog equipment. But somehow they make time to produce a lovely EA preamp and shelving EQ (the bi-colored LED lit logo is a signature).

EA’s preamp and EQ

EA also make a passive direct box, which Mr. Albini say is a workhorse and gets used a lot, both for re-amping and sending mic level signals to guitar pedals. Since it’s a passive design, it is bi-directional.

Check out the super high ceilings in Studio B. There’s lots of natural light, which is very lovely, but quite unusual for a live room, there’s also tons of diffusion in the ceilings.
It was really funny to clap in this room, coz I could easily recognize the distinctive reverb, from countless albums with recordings of snare drums in this room. Strange to experience such familiar early reflections, in real life.

Studio B with very high ceilings and natural light

Steve took particular pride in describing the non-parallel walls made from Adobe mudbricks that were used inside the studio live rooms. They are unfired and have the odd properties of both reflecting sound in a diffuse way, but also absorbing it over a ‘pleasant’ spectrum.

Lastly… yes, I did remember to ask him what his favorite knob/fader or switch was….

Penny & Giles Motorised Faders on the Neotek Console

Thanks Mr. Albini for graciously taking me through your awesome studio!

[Editor: Wanna support the blog? Then here are some affiliate links to patch cables [US, EU] or guitar strings [US, EU].
Clicking one of these links and buying any product that you need, will help support this blog… doesn’t even have to be the ones in the link. Thx]

Todd Barton – The Don Of Buchla

1. Favourite knob/fader/switch on a piece of gear andwhy?

Large blue, skirted Rogan knobs like on my Buchla 259 Complex Waveform Generator. They fit my hand nicely, feel good and I can see the index on the skirt. For sliders, all the sliders on my Easel. I prefer sliders to knobs, because I can more easily see where they are. Clearly I use the sliders a lot, since the printing is wearing off!

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

When I travel my favorite setup of my Buchla Music Easel plus a lunchbox of eurorack modules, ususally a Makenoise Morphagene or Epoch Hordijk Benjolin to bring into the Easel’s Aux In for manipulation and processing and the Intellijel Planar 2 for spatialization.

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commuteetc.?

see above

4. What software do you wish was hardware and viceversa?

I wish Tom Erbe’s Soundhack plugins were hardware. Ooops, wait! They are 🙂 All of his modules with Makenoise: Morphagene, Mimeophon, Echophon,Erbeverb are the ones I have.

Eurorack case

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

My Buchla 100 and Synthi AKS. Couldn’t be helped at the time.

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

Buchla 200e

Clearly my Buchla instruments, but I have also created a lot of music I love with my Hordijk and Serge systems.

Hordijk and Buchla 200

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

Though I learned about analog synthesis from a friends’ Easel back in the 1970’s, the first modular I owned was a Serge Modular Music System in 1979. It was a great entreand, I’d do it again.


8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have,that you just can’t live without?

I’m going to interpret “annoying” as “tempermental” in which case my Easel. It’s tempermental, but I love it.

[Editor: It’s a little nice to know that even a synthesis master, who clearly has a superb grasp of the Music Easel, thinks that his instruments can be ‘tempermental’]

Easel Eurorack setup

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’vediscovered about a bit of kit?

Feedback. I try to get every module I encounter to feedback and learn what that has to teach me, what I can discover from it.

Artist or Band name?

Todd Barton




Sure. Well a photo of me taken by my artist daughter, Ursula Barton

Todd Barton

Where are you from?

Originally the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Moved permanently to Ashland, Oregon in my late teens. I’m now 70.

How did you get into music?

Though my parents weren’t musical they played musicin the house (radio and phonograph) and there was a piano in the house that I began exploring at age 5. From then on I was obsessed with sound . . .

What still drives you to make music?

Sonic curiosity.

How do you most often start a new track?

By following the sound, listening to where it might takeme. It feels like sonic T’ai Chi, or more specifically a T’aiChi form called Push Hands which is done with a partner and it is an exploration and exercise of moving energy. I feel like my partner is sound.

How do you know when a track is finished?

Completely intuitive . . . the sonic sculpture looks and feels complete, nothing more to add and along the way I have stripped away unnecessary gestures and layers.

Show us your current studio— Too messy to show, but here are a few isolated shots ofsome gear.

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

Listen, deeply.

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

Buchla Now album. In 2020 the cassette tape label Ultraviolet Light will release Buchla Now. This album will feature a compilation of new tracks recorded by some of the most exciting electronic musicians working today, and focus solely on instruments designed by Don Buchla, the legendary instrument builder, physicist, circuit designer and inventor of West Coast Synthesis. Buchla Now was curated by Todd Barton with contributions from Marcia Bassett, Suzanne Ciani, Dan Deacon, Jonathan Fitoussi, Steve Horelick, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Hans Tammen.

Suzanne Ciani once said of Don Buchla that his “ unique mindset allowed him to be outside the popular notion of what electronic music was”. Each of these artists, in their own way, carries on this tradition of boundary-pushing music, expanding the very notion of what music can be.

[Editor: There are affiliate links to the relevant gear throughout the articles. It helps to support this blog. In fact, should you be needing some patch cables or guitar strings. Then clicking on one of the above links and buying any product that you prefer, will help the blog… doesn’t even have to be the ones in the link. Thx]

A.Trentemøller – Yes! That Trentemøller

1. What is your favourite knob/switch/fader on a piece of gear?

The knobs on my Hohner String Melody II… I just love the colours…

Hohner String Melody 2

2. Do you have an ‘almost’ perfect bit of kit? What would you change?

I really like the sound of the drums on the Volca Beats , especially the kick drum, but I don’t like the snare . I would have loved one which was a bit more aggressive and snappy.

3. What setup do you bring on holiday/tour/commute etc.?

Just my laptop, a midi keyboard, my Apogee Duet Duo and the JHS ColorBox v2 for warming up and EQ’ing softsynhs / hardwaresynths or to record bass or guitar through or re-amping . It sounds so great and it has XLR input for mic as well. Perfect!

JHS ColorBox v2

4. What software do you wish was hardware and vice versa?

I wish my Hughes Retriever could be emulated as a plugin, it has such a unique sound and I love the way it opens up the stereo image.

Hughes Retriever and racked friends

5. Is there anything you regret selling… or regret buying?

A lot I regret buying, ha ha… lately the Yamaha Reface YC. It sounds like plastic and not in the good corny way… don’t know why I bought it.

Yamaha YC

I regret selling my Thermionic Culture Vulture, I didn’t use it enough, but sometimes I have experienced actually missing what it did. The plugin version is not sounding as good at all.

6. What gear has inspired you to produce the most music?

I don’t have one specific thing, but it could actually be my upright piano that I have in my studio. It’s where most of my songs have been made. 

Oluf Pedersen upright piano… where the magic is made

I like to NOT sit in front of a computer, but instead using my ears and I love that the sound is coming from the instrument itself , not through speakers. It’s very intimate and I feel more focused on the songwriting rather than the sound. I also use it with the felt on, and I like that intimate sound it produces. 

Upright piano with hammers on felt

7. If you had to start over, what would you get first?

A Mac not a PC. [Editor: Woah-ho! Easy now everyone. Let’s all be friends, ok?]

8. What’s the most annoying piece of gear you have, that you just can’t live without?

My wireless Mac mouse . It loses the connection to Bluetooth ALL the time , and I tried different Mac mouses, same problem! And I just got a new MacBook Pro, so it shouldn’t happen… but it does!! It drives me crazy!!

9. Most surprising tip/trick/technique that you’ve discovered about a bit of kit?

Playing with the reels on my Revox while recording. To give it a bit of wow / flutter here and there.

Revox B77 reel-to-reel

I actually had a controller specifically made for that one thing only.

Revox varispeed controller

Artist or Band name?



Indie / electronica


Anders Trentemøller 🤘

Where are you from?

Copenhagen. Denmark.

How did you get into music?

I started playing on all sorts of stuff, from pots and pans to toy pianos, from when I was 3 or 4 years old, and never stopped loving and playing music!!

What still drives you to make music?

I love the playful energy in it and the fact that I can create my own little musical world!

How do you most often start a new track?

At my upright piano.

How do you know when a track is finished?

It’s easier now, it was hard for me earlier. But I need to, still have that spontaneous vibe I had, when I started working on a song. It’s so easy to overproduce or overdo a track.

Show us your current studio

Trentemoller’s studio… knobs galore!
Trentemoller’s studio DAW setup

Best creative advice that you’ve ever heard?

“Use your ears” and “There is no right or wrong way to do things!“

Promote your latest thing… Go ahead, throw us a link.

Trentemoller – Obverse [Editor: Go listen now! Really]

[Editor: There are affiliate links to the relevant gear throughout the articles. It helps to support this blog. In fact, should you be needing some patch cables or guitar strings. Then clicking on one of the above links and buying any product that you prefer, will help the blog… doesn’t even have to be the ones in the link. Thx]