Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Shoot Today

Today was my first ever video shoot. It's been put together and directed by Gavin and was really exciting. A big thanks to everyone else involved, Joe [stylist], Tom [DOP], Dickie [cameraman], Paul [studio manager], Camilla [makeup artist], Galia [runner] and of course Naz the alien. And Paul D for letting us set fire to his TV studio

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

John Lennon's Reverbs

Don Larking is also selling that V series Neve I posted about earlier. But check this out. He's also got John Lennon's two EMT 140 plate reverbs, the ones used on Imagine etc. Pretty cool

EMT 140 Stereo Transistor Echo Plates, previous owner John Lennon

In 1970 a company called AUDIOTEK, owned by studio designer Eddie Veale, was appointed by Apple Corps to create a music studio at Tittinghurst Park, Ascot, the home of John Lennon.

Among the items specified by Eddie Veale to be purchased for the studio were 2 EMT 140 Echo plates, and a Crown DC300 power amplifier. The serial numbers of the echo plates is 02802 & 02824, the echo plates and serial numbers are listed on the schedule of the Tittenhurst Park Collection as complied by the London Studio Exchange and confirmed by Mr Veale as being supplied to Tittenhurst Park when John Lennon was in residence. Although we have the Crown DC300 the serial number is not noted.

Tittenhurst Park was where John Lennon recorded IMAGINE, his greatest solo hit which was produced by Phil Spector.

We have the 2 Echo Plates and the Crown DC300 in stock which will eventually be sold once we can assess the true value. We also have a Studer A80 Stereo Recorder with Dolby's which was purchased for Tittenhurst Park after it was sold to Ringo Star.

We have written proof confirming the above, copies of which are available on request and which will be given to the eventual purchasers of this equipment.

If you have never seen or used an EMT Echo plate you may be surprised to hear that the box is over 2 metres long and 1.5 metres high and unlike digital effects processors they produce just 1 sound, a sound that is know as Plate Reverb, there is 1 parameter, adjustable decay, from 1 second to 5 seconds. They also have to be located in an isolated room so that no sould is picked up by them. You may think that this is a lot of trouble for just 1 sound - not really, it is the quality of the sound which is why they are in such demand. Usually they sell for £ 1,000 - £ 2,000, in view of their history these ones will most probably be sold in a Pop Memorabilia sale and should sell for a lot more 


1969 Neve Delight

Alternatively there is a vintage Neve with 1060 modules [same as 1061 but with alternative eq] in California today, which would go very nicely in the the studio next to the one in the previous post

CLASSIC GERMANIUM NEVE MIXING CONSOLE, ORIGINALLY BUILT IN 1969.  CONTAINS 24 NEVE 1060 INPUT MODULES. HAS A CUSTOM MADE PRODUCERS DESK WHICH HOLDS THE TT PATCH BAY. THE ENIRE CONSOLE IS WIRED TO ELCO CONNECTORS, AND DOES COME WITH SOME BREAKOUT CABLES THAT MATCH. COMES WITH ALL REQUIRED POWER SUPPLIES. This desk has been gone through by two of the bay area's most experienced technicians. It has a custom made 16 channel monitor section, which can be switched to dump into the stereo buss, yeiding 40 channels on remix. A fantastic console by any standards, and a rare one to boot. 20 channels have custom direct out buss amps made with 990 amplifiers and jensen transformers. Custom built console stand. 16 channel meters plus stereo buss meters. The console has 4 group outs plus discrete stereo buss, and 4 aux sends per channel . The console , including patch bay/producers desk is just 7 feet wide. Comes with appropriate paperwork. £43K BIN. Seller = Dan Alexander

Neve VXS Enormity

There's a Neve VXS on ebay today, and the enormity of it cannot be underestimated. It's the flagship '90's Neve analog console and this one was owned by George Lucas, but now it's in Gothenburg, Sweden:

Ex. Skywalker Sound Studio 1 console
72 Channels
Film Center Section. 5,1 and 7,1
Encore Automation
Skywaller Sound modified mic-preamps
Skywalker Sound eq's
88R Remote patchbay
Two spare channels

Perfect working condition. This is the best Neve VXS on the market!
Will ship anywhere in crates
Price 70k Euro

Here is a great review of this exact console

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Hindi 80's Electronica?

Here is a post on matrixsynth about an apparent reissue of an album recorded in 1982 using Roland synths. It's by Charanjit Singh called Synthesizing: TEN RAGAS TO A DISCO BEAT. I don't know if it is real or some kind of clever mind-game by a current producer, but it is extremely good, and if it is real then it pretty much resets the techno timeline

It does seem that Charanjit Singh is a real person who had some records out in the 70s as this link suggests. And it seems that this person did the audio restoration on the reissue


OK, I'm convinced. And amazed:
Via Dr. Rek on matrixsynth 'yes it is real, the original cover'

JVC Tubes

I bought this video camera on german ebay, for a one-er. It's one of the best results I've had on there I rekon, it's in perfect condition. Made in 1982, it has 3 analog tubes inside and the videos it makes look beautifully nostalgic - complete with those light-traces you can only get from tubes. It all tested out properly [thanks Rob+Paul] so I should have some fun with it soon.... in the mean time:

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Monday, 22 March 2010

Magnetic Field

UPDATE 23rd may 2010: I was walking in the same field today and took this pic

I was stranded at the farm in Toothill today without an internet connection and practically no TV so I did a bit of programming in Reaktor, which was a bit of a blast from the past. I wanted to build a synth similar in function to my Doepfer [which lets face it is a cheap attempt at a Buchla 100] and hear how it sounded in comparison

It's a lot easier to set up control parameters on the computer, such as envelope levels and CV curves, and everything sounds really sharp and punchy [on headphones at least]. It's amazing doing things like copying and nesting modules within modules. But on a real modular you end up with things you would never think of doing inside the box, just because they are there in front of you. On the computer you are always focused on one thing at a time, whereas on a modular everything is live all at once. They are both bloody good fun

I've been using Reaktor since before it was ported to the Mac in the mid 90's [it was called Generator back then]. I even bought a PC just to be able to use it. When it came over to the Mac I used it all the time in particular for laptop performances back in the day. I built my own granular resynthesis module that was really useful live. What's interesting to me is that Reaktor still has a 'sound' of it's own - somehow the programmers put a bit of themselves in the code

This patch is self generating and uses two sine VCOs and a third for frequency modulation of one of them, and LFO control of that. There's an 8 step sequencer and AR envelope shaper, and the clock of the sequencer is being modulated with a slow random source. I then copied that as an Instrument so there were three instances but due to the random nature of the clocks and altered envelope settings they played different things.  Then I made a mixer module to put everything through including my granular resynthesiser and some preset modules from the Reaktor library - a modeled spring reverb, compressor and phaser

Switched On

I moved some synths into a new corner of the studio and set them up with the neon lighting system I invented. This is what it looks like when you turn on the switch....

Top to bottom:
Roland RS202, TR66
Roland Juno 60
Sequential Circuits Prophet VS
Yamaha CS70M

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Arp 2500 Sequence

Here is a video of the ARP 2500 in action. Its not quite a solo because its going through a Furman spring reverb / limiter and a couple of delays [Vesta digital and Ibanez AD80 analog]. The ARP is doing everything else - with a few tweaks from me on the way. Shot on the iphone, but the audio is recorded through the Studer desk

Monday, 15 March 2010

Juno 60 Review

Here is a review of the Roland Juno 6 / 60 from this issue of Polyphony magazine, and I plan to put up more reviews as and when I scan them. Its kind of interesting reading reviews written when the instruments actually came out. Written by Eric Meyer in 1983

The Roland Juno-6 was the first of the under $2000 polyphonic synthesizers. It has a five octave keyboard with a good, fast action; and while the actual tone generating apparatus is rather sparse (thus contributing towards the low price), clever design on the part of Roland's engineers has compensated for much of what is missing.

The secret to the Juno's good sound is the Digital Controlled Oscillator (DCO), which produces three simultaneous outputs: variable pulse, sawtooth, and subpulse (a square wave one octave lower than the note actually being played). These three waveforms can be combined in any combination; but there is no mixer and only the sub-pulse, along with an additional white noise source, have amount controls.

While each of the six voices has only one oscillator, the subpulse helps fill out the sound, as does a built-in chorus effect (with two intensities). However, the chorus produces faint white noise sweeps which are audible when the keyboard is not being played, so judicious use is advised. Also, because there is only one sawtooth wave, "brassy" sounds seem rather thin. All waves are, of course, in phase; there is no detune.

The Juno has both a high and low pass filter, which when combined give a bandpass response. The filter can be made to oscillate, thus providing another tone source. There is only one envelope generator (ADSR), shared by the VCF and VCA. The envelope contour of the VCF may be inverted and can also be used to modulate the pulse width in the DCO.

A low frequency triangle wave oscillator provides the only other source of modulation. The range, however, is wide enough (0.3 Hz to 20 Hz) to produce useful effects. Modulation can be routed to the DCO frequency, pulse width, or VCF cutoff frequency; there are separate amount knobs for each. There is also a delay slider, which causes the modulation to fade in over an adjustable period of time after a note has been played. However, a note must be released before playing the next for the delay to be retriggered, as there is only one LFO for all six voices; otherwise, the modulation will continue as normal, with no fade-in. The LFO can be triggered automatically, or by a touch pad to the left of the keyboard.

Also left of the keyboard is an octave transpose for switching the entire keyboard up or down an octave. Most patches do not hold up well in the lowest octave. The bender is center-sprung (sometimes it would be nice if this could be defeated) and can bend the pitch up or down, and/or open and close the VCF. I found it easier to use than the standard pitch wheel configuration.

The arpeggiator will play up or up/down, and will arpeggiate over one, two or three octaves. A hold button will memorize notes, chords or an arpeggiator pattern, and a transpose button allows you to use key of C fingerings in any key. Jacks are provided for a VCF pedal, hold footswitch, arpeggiator sync, headphones and stereo output.

The Juno-60 is basically a Juno-6 with a built-in computer. It can store 56 patch programs and communicate with other Junos or computers. While the Juno-6 (or 60) is not as versatile as the more costly performance-oriented synthesizers, it is a well made, quality instrument. It is especially suited to those needing an inexpensive addition to a keyboard stack, or for people who want to learn about synthesizer basics. The panel layout is clear, and patches can be created quickly and easily (making it useful in a studio environment). The sound is definitely of professional quality. Several other manufacturers have produced synthesizers in the same price range, but I have yet to play one which significantly surpasses the Juno-6. The Juno-6 lists for $1295, the Juno-60 for $1750. You may obtain more information on these and other Roland keyboards by sending $2 to RolandCorp, 2401 Saybrook Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90040.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Russian Album Covers

Tench sent me this link to a really cool blog called English Russia which is all about giving us non-soviets a glimpse of their crazy world. And they can certainly do crazy record cover art as you can see from the following series called Sport and Music. I'm hoping they were made in the 80's, but wouldn't be surprised to discover they were more recent

Monday, 8 March 2010

Gleeman Pentaphonic

I don't know much about these synths, but they certainly get much kudos in the synth world. This one on the bay today is perfect, but it's over £5000 - what's that about? It's basically a pre-midi polysynth from 1981 with 3 digital oscillators. More info in this really interesting article

Great Interview with John Foxx

I've been looking through some old copies of Polyphony Magazine from the early 80's. They are really good and I'll post some more scans from them later [I've got some cool software that extracts the text from jpegs]. But first off is this amazing interview with John Foxx from 1983 by John Diliberto. Having met Foxxy and got to know him a little bit it's interesting to read his views on music making and synths back then because they are exactly the same as now, and that shows an amazing clarity of thought on his behalf. I don't believe this interview is available on line anywhere else but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, enjoy.....

When Karlheinz Stockhausen and Otto Luening started synthesizing sound out of sine waves and cutting up magnetic tape into unworldly configurations in the 1950s, their critics probably never suspected that the work and techniques of these electronic music pioneers would ever penetrate the public consciousness. But now, some thirty years later, electronic sounds are scurrying up and down the popular record charts; in the last three years hordes of synthi-pop artists (Human League, Flock of Seagulls, Berlin, Afrika Bambaata, and so on) have come to dominate contemporary music.

Curiously enough, synthi-pop evolved not from the spacescapes of Tangerine Dream, nor from 60's groups like Silver Apples, Fifty Foot Hose, or Lothar and the Hand People. Instead, electro-pop segued nicely out of the antitechnology sentiments of early punk, and one of the first groups to make the transition was Ultravox.

Put together by singer/composer John Foxx in the mid-seventies, Ultravox has always represented styles in transition, rather than epitomizing anyone stance or aesthetic. Their first LP, Ultravox! (Island ILPS-9449) shuffled punk imagery and power chording with classical violin, and subtle electronic manipulations courtesy of producer Brian Eno. Synthesizers and rhythm machines entered on Ha-Ha-Ha (Island ILPS- 9505) and dominated the haunting "Hiroshima Mon Amour." Veteran German electronic producer Conny Plank (Kraftwerk, Neu, Cluster, OAF) was brought in for Systems of Romance (Antilles AN 7079), a slow dive into Foxx's subconscious. Songs of alienations and shortcircuited communications like "Dislocation" and "Someone Else's Clothes" were enveloped in electronic textures and synthetic screams.

Systems of Romance was also Foxx's swan song with Ultravox. The band then recruited popster Midge Ure and recorded the icily lush and successful Vienna (Chrysalis CRR 1296) with prominent use of synthesizers. Foxx, instead of forming another band, just got a couple of synthesizers and rhythm boxes and recorded the starkly skeletal Metamatic (Virgin V 2146) on an eight track machine. With Kraftwerk as the obvious musical blueprint, Foxx unveiled the elusive patterns of memory ("Underpass") and technological ennui ("He's A Liquid"). His follow-up, The Garden (Virgin V2194) saw the return of conventional instruments, but was still dominated by electronic textures, treatments and rhythms. WhiIe the sound of Metamatic was cold, angular and urban, The Garden was bright, mystical and verdant by comparison.

Now Foxx is readying his third LP after several engaging singles, including the psychedelic Endlessly - complete with backwards tapes and sitars. Unlike his punk/new wave contemporaries, Foxx's musical roots are in late sixties psychedelia and later, the Glam movement (Roxy Music, Ziggy period Bowie). So his viewpoint and lyrics are more mature, than say, Heaven 17 or Duran Duran. While new wave and synthi-pop is enjoying its Frankie Avalon & Fabian phase of disposable hedonism/sentiment and the tyranny of the beat (dance uber alles), Foxx is exploring the inter-relationships of the human psyche and technology.

The current image of John Foxx is more in line with the real John Foxx. In Ultravox he sneered and looked menacing, but now he's friendly, highly refined and eloquent. He's careful in his speech, with its lilting northern England accent (he was born in Liverpool) and often says things two or three different ways to make sure he covers all the angles. Of the dozens of artists I've interviewed in the last year, he presented some of the most thoughtful insights into how electronics has changed music and our own relationship to the creation of art. 

John Diliberto: How was Ultravox formed?
John Foxx: It was the 70s, and I wasn't really interested in rock music. At that time it was mainly heavy metal in England or very sinisterly bright pop music, or over-professional pop music like Queen and Genesis and Yes. I must say I don't hate that at all, but it had become uninteresting to me. Also, the bands in England were imitating American bands - even singing with American accents, which I thought was ludicrous. I mean, I'm not really chauvinistic about being English, but I don't want to adopt someone else's accent when I go on stage. So I decided to design a band that incorporated Englishness but looked over to Europe, rather than America, for influences and ideas. Also, I wanted to pursue a tradition of electronic music that started with the Beatles that had never been exploited after they broke up. I think "Strawberry Fields Forever" was one of the first electronic records ever that was popular in England. And it was electronic; there were acoustic instruments on it, but everything was heavily treated and reorganized via tape. I remember that record as being one of the most exciting things, in fact one of the first things, that affected me musically.

Then a few things happened like Roxy Music that I thought were very exciting. And Kraftwerk were the first people who had isolated all the elements of pop music and synthesized them; they were using no acoustic instruments, or very few. There was also The Velvet Underground who were using feedback and accidental by-products of guitar/amplifier relationships, and that interested me as well - howling feedback, you know, is very exciting. I like that kind of intelligent crudeness and I wanted to incorporate all that into a band. I put ads in the Melody Maker (an English pop-music weekly) and interviewed about 250 people and chose the band. I didn't ask them to play or anything because that wasn't important, that wasn't part of the theory. It was based on amateurism. I didn't want very slick or professional players. In fact, if anyone acted professional, that was it, that was the end.

JD: This was in 1972 and 1973. The band wasn't very electronic then, was it?
FOXX: No. We couldn't afford to be. We didn't even have a keyboard then. We later got Billy (Currie) because I wanted to get a violin or something like that, and Billy was a friend of a friend who played violin, and he could play keyboards. He was interested in using the violin in different ways. He'd get feedback and make all kinds of amplifier noises.

JD: So it was nearly five years between getting the band together and getting the first album out.
FOXX: Yeah! It took a long time. What we were doing wasn't really fashionable; it was almost antifashion, the opposite of what was popular.

JD: But even when that first Ultravox album came out, it was associated with the punk explosion which you had clearly preceded by a few years.
FOXX: We always seemed to be out of phase with what was happening. I wanted to make angry music as well at first. And some of the first songs were, though they were mixed in with songs like "I Want to Be a Machine". In fact, that song was kind of the basic idea of the band, because I did want to be a machine. I was volunteering to be a machine, because it acknowledged that music really did come out of a machine. The only relationship that I would have with a listener was via a machine, because I was never going to meet with them or talk to them. That song was a celebration of that fact, rather than hiding or denying it like most of the music did, pretending to be down-home and personal. So I wanted to say "this is great" that I can have a voice of mine coming out of a piece of black vinyl simultaneously, hopefully, in a few thousand or million homes allover the world or planet. It's nothing to do with vanity; it's just a fact that this kind of thing happens, and I wanted to enjoy it, and I wanted people who listened to it to enjoy it too.

JD: Did you always play an instrument? Because in the early days you're never credited with playing anything.
FOXX: Yes! I wrote all the basic formats for the songs on the first albums, mainly on guitars because I didn't have access to keyboards. Then I'd take the songs to the band so they could do the specific Iines. I'd often just whistIe the lead line to people and they'd play that.

JD: The first album didn't have that much electronics, but the production was very electronic.
FOXX: Yeah, with Eno. I really wanted to work with Eno because of what he'd done in the past. I thought his work was magnificent.

JD: You were compared frequently to Roxy Music (Eno's ex-band) in the early days.
FOXX: Unfortunately, yes. But I didn't mind because as far as I was concerned that was pretty much a compliment. I thought - still think - that they were the only original force to come out of England for years. Even Bowie, for whom I have a lot of respect, was still embedded in rock 'n roll at that point. Roxy Music was not. They had all kinds of different influences and all kinds of different music, film themes and so on, that I thought were wonderful and incredibly imaginative. I wasn't that keen on the glam aspect that much, but overall, it was way ahead of its time.

JD: That's funny, because I was in a record store the other day and when they put on an old Roxy album, it sounded very contemporary.
FOXX: It could be a hit record if it was released now, and be very current indeed. Everyone I know who's interested in this phase of music refers back to those early Roxy albums constantly. Ferry and Eno, all of them in fact, were very diverse and two of the main forefathers of what's happening now. I can't say how much respect I have for them.

JD: It seems that each Ultravox album became increasingly more electronic and finally culminated in your first solo album, Metamatic, which was all-electronic. The electronics seemed to actually change the shape of the music.
FOXX: That was the thing that fascinated me most about synthesizers. Whenever you get a new instrument it changes the shape of the music completely. You write your music, and you write to accommodate the qualities of the machines. Like drum machines! You can play parts that a drummer would need three arms to play, or play in very strict time; the machine reIieves you of those tasks so that you can go on to other things. Every machine alters people's perceptions, like a string machine. When string machines first came out, people made them imitate orchestras, made them try to sound like strings. It's a bit silly because they're not strings. I always had this analogy with plastic. When plastic was first invented people tried to make it look like wood, and that made it very kitsch and cheap and people had no respect for plastic. But recently we've come to see that it's a beautiful material that can be made to do things that other materials can't do. So, it has inherent qualities that are unique to that specific material. That was the original problem with synthesizers: they were used to imitate other instruments, and thus lost any inherent dignity that they might have had. I was interested in trying to find the unique qualities of the synthesizer, and the only band that seemed to be doing that was Kraftwerk. They had this kind of design intelligence where they could see what these machines were capable of doing.

JD: But why, on Metamatic, did you go all-electronic?
FOXX: I wanted to see how much, and in what direction, it would change the music. I mean, I really let the machines do the album for me. I designed the album very strictly within the limits of my machines. It was recorded on an 8 track recorder so all the tracks (songs) had to function with just eight components. The human voice would be the only air-carried sound. It was a design concept really.

JD: Do you find that you relate to a synthesizer differently from an acoustic instrument?
FOXX: Well, the common link for both of them is that you need a certain amount of mental agility to play either one. If you were missing a few fingers on your left hand, you would never be a great guitarist (well, Django Reinhardt did okay - Ed.), but you could be a great synth player. You could organize the sound through sequencers or whatever, but finally, you would rely on your human ingenuity. That's the lovely thing about the synthesizer; it doesn't make you into some kind of inhuman person, it actually does the reverse. It frees you from what I feel are petty problems in dealing with, and getting sounds from, other instruments. Like with a violin, you must practice for a long time to become just adequate. That means that most of your youth will have disappeared. And the discipline is so intense that much of your originality and ingenuity will disappear as well, except in a very few cases. But with the synthesizer you can employ ingenuity without having it worn out of you or disciplined out of you. I also have that problem with classical musicians. They're wonderful players and capable of doing anything, so they do nothing. They aren't excited about generating sound, because they spend so many years generating sound that it no longer excites them. Whereas for someone like me who's very naive, I only had to touch a keyboard and I was wildly excited. And I wanted to organize it into a pattern that would excite me even more. It's that enthusiasm and excitement that's the fundamental thing about making music. Once you lose that it doesn't matter how good your dexterity is; if you don't have the initial excitement, you won't do anything.

JD: It seems that the electronics have also influenced the content of your songs.
FOXX: Yeah, but that was a mistake though, I think. It was almost kitsch, what I did with that album. But I felt like that. It was a very kind of alienated thing that I was feeling at the time. So it reflected how I was, it was a very selfish sort of thing.

JD: Do you really think it was selfish? Don't you think that music is a reflection of where the musician is at a particular moment?
FOXX: Oh, we're getting philosophical now (laughs). Yes to both questions. But I think what a good musician does, or any kind or "artist", is act as a kind of receiver for what's going on around you. You're a kind of filter or medium and you receive information, probably unconsciously most of the time, and you organize it into a pattern and put it out again. That's why people like music: It's a kind of code which by some miracle, human beings can receive. It's a wonderful means of transmission. It's non-specific. It's not a language and it's not precise in a linguistic sense, but it is precise in an emotional sense. Music is much more accurate in that way than any of the other arts.

JD: Your next album, The Garden, is very different. Where Metamatic was stark, The Carden is lush and also has conventional instrumentation. Why the move back to conventional instruments?
FOXX: Well, first of all I don't think it was a move back. For me it was an advance. After I'd come to grips with synthesizers, I realized that they're only one more instrument in the bank of things that we have to work with, and I wanted to acknowledge that. I wanted to sit the synthesizers comfortably among all the other things that Iike and see how that affected the music. Also, I was feeling a bit more lush (laughs). I was trying to open myself up a bit more to different music. In order to make Metamatic, I had to set myself very strict limitations and ignore certain aspects of music in order to bring in a purer sensibility and discover what synthesizers could do. Now, after clearing the air, I wanted to look at old instruments in the light of that album. I discovered a lot of exciting things about instruments, and even acoustic spaces, making music. When I did the track "Pater Noster" on The Garden, I got a couple of machines that you could sing into in order to make a huge bank of voices. I always thought it was very surreal to have a lot of mechanical voices, but very beautiful ones. I was brought up as a Roman Catholic as a kid so that kind of choral music was, in fact, more my roots than rock 'n roll. I had also just gotten a Lexicon digital reverb, which creates a computer-analyzed acoustic space; with the touch of a button, it can give you a cathedral sound, because the sound is like what it would be if it was released into a cathedral. By putting the various machines together, I had a church choir at my fingertips. Immediately, in the space of an hour, I did the "Pater Noste~' piece. It just happened.

It was a lot of memories coming out, again, without me particularly intervening. It organized itself perfectly without me even thinking about it. I also realized that a lot of the timing that I was doing was determined by the acoustic space. There were certain things I couldn't do, certain rhythms I couldn't play because the delays would stop me. I realized that a lot of church music was made that way because of the huge acoustic space. For instance, if a priest said "Pater Noster Quiestem chelis Sanctum fer chel .. " very fast, the audience a hundred feet away would just hear a mish mash of delays and not be able to hear the words distinctly. So the priests began to sing "Pater Noster qui'est um chelis" (sung in beautiful, choirboy style) and make the whole thing flow by using the qualities of the reverb and echoes. The priests accommodated the acoustic space and made a mode of music out of this. People began to compose for that space, like Mozart and all the great composers. In a sense, that whole mode of music was largely created by a piece of architecture, by a mathematical structure. It was a wonderfully exciting discovery for me. I realized that I was doing exactly the same thing with synthesizers and electronics; I was just reacting to what I had to work with. All the other composers had cathedrals and huge choirs and lots of acoustic instruments with good players to play them. But in this poverty stricken age we've got a few machines and digitally created acoustic spaces. I'm sure that if those people were alive today they'd all have synthesizers and they'd be composing for them in a very synthetic way, or what's known as a synthetic way.

JD: Are things a lot quieter for you now than when you were with Ultravox?
FOXX: Oh yeah! It was a mad time then. The atmosphere, the city, the whole life that I was living was just crazy. I never really wanted to join in on that life. Very briefly, I thought it would be romantic and it was in a sense. But it's also counter-productive and not very human. I'm more interested in the subtler aspects of human beings rather than the crasser side of people. So being in a rock band wasn't for me at all.

JD: Your earlier lyrics and music were often very psychotic and also had a certain psychedelic overtone to them.
FOXX: Yes. I don't really know what psychedelic means, but I've always been interested in the way people perceive things ... also the way memory affects the way you look at things. In lots of songs I was trying to see people through memories. For instance, if I see an old lady in the street, I just see an old lady and that's it. But her husband will see layers and layers of her extending backwards in time from now to when she was a young girl that he was in love with in the summer of 1920. It's a very beautiful way of looking at someone. He doesn't just see this moment, but endless successions of moments. We all do this to varying degrees to people we see, and the more we know them, the more multi-faceted the perception of them becomes.

It's that kind of event, when we're not quite in control of the moment and we're surprised by what's happening behind the subconscious, that I find fascinating. I always try to write from that point of view - it's almost like letting go of the reins. I often write lines like, "I'm driving somewhere without steering", or "I'm driving fast without the will to steer" in some of the car songs. It also implies a kind of trust as well. It's a trust that some people don't have, in relaxing their hold on the moment. It can be frightening, but it's one of the things that I find fascinating.

JD: Was the song "Systems of Romance" (from The Garden) written back with Ultravox?
FOXX: Yes, that was the title song for that album, in fact, but it wasn't finished. It needed a theme. But I used the title for the album because I liked it. It was also a reaction against punk. I was tired of very violent titles and violent names. That's another reason for the name "Ultravox"; it was a reaction against the Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Damned, which were all good names I think, but I didn't particularly want to be slotted into that category. I wanted something a lot wider than that, something that would last a lot longer. The idea of "Systems of Romance" was that I was interested in systematic music and systematic ways of making music as well as more instinctive ways. I was interested in a kind of romance with technology and the present day world. It's meant to be a paradoxical title, with systems and romance. There's a tension between those two words which makes it an interesting couple of words.

JD: The Garden is interesting because the music is very modern, but it seems to evoke a lot of past images and the booklet reinforces that feeling.
FOXX: What kind of past images?

JD: Ancient and historical images. There's all this stained glass and shadows going into mystical photographs.
FOXX: Good! Because that's what I wanted to do. I thought that The Garden was a good analogy with making music. In England, everyone's got a back garden to a greater or lesser degree - the aristocracy have back gardens that are 50 miles square and the poorer people have a back garden that's 10 feet square or something. I love the idea of investing some of your time and personality into nature and creating something that pleases you, where you can spend an hour or two of quietness. Of course, the aristocracy goes out there hunting and shooting and fishing, as well. I took a walk around England to look at these gardens and my favorite ones were the ones that were in a state of decay. It gave me a lot of childhood memories because the place I was brought up in was fairly new, Liverpool, and it was on the edge of the sort of horrific Victorian industrialization. The towns would stop and there'd be fifty miles of moorlands and you could walk out of the town and this horror of industrialization. There was a beautiful abandoned country garden out there with rhododendrons and vines all tangled together and streams running through it. When we were kids we either played behind the gas works or this place - a complete contrast.

JD: Do you approach your electronics and synthesizers from a keyboard standpoint?
FOXX: Not really, because I never played keyboard. I just got a piano, though, which I find is a wonderful instrument. Everything that I learned on synthesizer stands me in good stead on piano. So I come from the reverse direction.

JD: Ultravox, since the split, has toured heavily but you don't tour at all.
FOXX: Well, they enjoy that kind of lifestyle and I don't. It's as simple as that. I find that being on stage and touring just depletes me. I come back feeling like a shadow or shell. It takes me weeks to recover and remember who I am and what my real desires are ... it sounds pretentious to say that it's a psychic drain, but it is. Some kind of osmosis takes place between the audience and me that leaves me feeling absolutely exhausted. But it's intensely pleasurable as well at the time it happens, which I also can't explain. There's no other area of my life where I get the same kind of feeling as being in front of an audience. I almost feel as if I'm irrelevant, again, this mediumistic kind of thing. It doesn't have much to do with me; I'm just the sum of their desires. I think that people design their stars. The stars think that they're responsible for the people being there, and it's exactly the opposite. I think the audience designs and controls the stars very carefully, in a completely unconscious way.

JD: So are you the sum of their needs right now?
FOXX: Well, I'm trying very hard not to be, but it's difficult. The design of John Foxx was from an audience's point of view, and the audience is me because I watch him doing what he does and I designed him out of desires that I had, to create someone that I'd like to be. But I'm nowhere near as strong or intelligent as John Foxx. Yet when I made him, he could do all those things for me.

JD: How important is commercial success to you at the moment?
FOXX: Well, I honestly don't think about it that much. Things just seem to happen around me. I don't design singles or think that something will be a Top Twenty record. I try to do things as I feel. But I think that because I am a member of an audience, that it works.

JD: When electronic music first started with Edgar Varese, Subotnick, Stockhausen, etc., one of their underlying philosophies was that it would liberate sound from the diatonic scale, the restrictions of history. Do you feel it has done that?
FOXX: No, I honestly don't. I think those are very grand phrases, "liberating sound", etc. It's like the parallel in poetry when people tried to get away from linear language. Most of those things didn't work. What they actually did was make people aware that there was another way of working and it's possible and permissable to work in that way. For instance, the way William Burroughs works is pretty much classical English now, dislocated classical English. In doing that he's made it much more subversive to people's thinking than some very avant-garde experiment that most people will never receive.

I think a lot of similar things happened with music. There are elements that are influential from a theoretical point of view, but the actual music that they produce doesn't affect many people at all. For instance, Stockhausen's theories are far more attractive to me than his music. I love to hear the theory of his music, but I don't much enjoy listening to the music itself, though I will on occasion. But the theories and ideas make me review what I'm doing in another light.

JD: Don't you think that that kind of music can present a different way of listening and hearing? We've all been brought up to hear music in half-tones, whereas in Japan, it's quarter-tones. Now maybe the Stockhausen style of music is still a different way.
FOXX: Certainly! I like listening to rivers running. I get as much pleasure out of that as I do listening to a symphony. That's a very corny thing to say, but it's true. I've never thought that music had anything to do with quarter-tones or half-tones, because I didn't know what they were. When I played things, the keyboard that I happened to get was divided that way so I used it. If it had been divided into quarter-tones I would have used it just the same and I wouldn't have even considered those things.

I use lots of sounds that are not in tune. I work with classical keyboardists occasionally and they tend to be horrified at some of the things that I do, but it sounds right to me. It's not because of any lack of perception on my part; I've just never had the prejudices, because I've never been educated into them. I think that's a tiny aspect of what people like Stockhausen are trying to do, to break down the conservative framework and open things up a little.

But rock music is pretty atonal in some sense, isn't it? It's not even all music. In fact, sometimes the music's fairly irrelevant. A lot of it has to do with stances and imagery and a kind of instinctive understanding of what's required. In order to look at music fully you have to look at the whole spectrum of fashion and the way it affects peoples' lives. And the words are important; after a couple of years people still remember lyrics. I think that the difference between music and songs is that: A song is an expression of how people feel. They can sing it and when you hear a song you like you can sing along to it. But you tend to I isten to music and feel it. You don't sing along with music. That's probably a clumsy way of saying it, but it's true. The best writers reflect how things are at the time, whether it's trivial or silly or whatever.

JD: What can we expect from your next record? Are you playing with other musicians?
FOXX: Yeah! I've invited Steve (Coe) from Monsoon and some of his players, a tabla player who is really excellent. I was thinking, in fact, of getting some tabla sounds and putting them into the Linn Drum so I can play tabla on the Linn. I also want to get away from the dominance of the bass drum, which I've gotten heartily sick of over the last few years, having been one of the people who isolated it in pure pop music and used it ruthlessly. I can't stand the damn thing now, even though I spent a lot of time working with it in studios to make the bass drum massive and round and hit you in the chest and synchronize your heart to it so you'd want to dance. A lovely interaction of technology and human beings. It still is, but it's so hypy now: Every record goes boom-boom-boom. It's such an easy way to organize the hierarchy of the sound that you have in a song; first, you have this massive bass drum and then you base everything else around it. It's such an easy solution. It's too facile to be true.

I was listening to some old BeatIes records the other day. The thinking, the intelligence and the hierarchy of layers of instruments in that was stunning. There was nothing common to any of those songs. Now you get an album and all the way through there's a bass and drum up front in the mix. It's too easy. But if you look at those BeatIe songs, every single song has a completely redesigned hierarchy of sound in it. That's wonderful thinking. So I want to try, in my little way, to get back to that thinking. I think people deserve it because everyone else must be sick of thumping bass drums by now. I want to try to make music that makes you want to sway and move to it in a less direct way that is more subtle... something that makes you want to sing instead of pummeling you into the ground with a big thump every few milliseconds.

JD: Have producers been very important in your music?
FOXX: Less important to me than other musicians, but that was mainly because I could never find a producer that was good enough to work with. I didn't respect any of them apart from (Brian) Eno and Conny (Plank). Steve Lillywhite (producer of Ha-Ha-Ha) has become a very good producer since we worked with him. He was very young then, well, we were all very young together and we just went into the studio and hardly knew what it was for at first. But now he's very experienced and he's a wonderful producer indeed, one of the best in England.

But Eno was the good one because he had a more outrageous sense of how to use studios than anyone else I've ever met. He wasn't conservative at all in the way he did that. We used a Phil ColIins bass drum on "My Sex" (from Ultravox!). It was on an old Eno track. I said we need a pulse and he said, "oh, I've got this old bass drum part by Phil Collins." So we put that on and we did it. I hope he doesn't come back for the royalties.

JD: Do you write the lyrics before or after the music?
FOXX: It varies. I think the songs are really like little movies... sort of mood pieces. I find a musical or verbal phrase that typifies the mood and that becomes like the title or theme of the film. I organize it like that with the theme and characters being announced, then the themes rejoin them and that's it. I hope that's not too cliched but that's the way it happens.

I collect phrases that people say around me or read in newspapers or see on film. They kind of attract each other into songs without me doing that much about it. They just shuffle themselves together. It's quite fascinating to watch. I'm always surprised by it because it does seem that I don't have a lot to do with it. I just say "Oh, that's great! Play it again!" 

(This John Foxx interview is taken from the "Metal Beat" segment of Totally Wired: Artists in Electronic Sound, a 26-part radio documentary examining the artistic development of electronic music through interviews and music of the artists. The series is currently running in most major markets on public radio stations through the fall and winter of '83-'84. Totally Wired was produced by John Diliberto and Kimberly Haas. It was funded by Sequential Circuits, Inc., makers of Prophet synthesizers, Yamaha Corp., manufacturers of electronic and acoustic instruments, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts. For more information about Totally Wired, or to obtain cassettes of the programs, write to: Totally Wired, Box 5426, Philadelphia, PA 19143.)

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Secrets of Synths

I finally managed to digitize some of my video tapes, which I found really difficult for some reason. This one is from a 1985 video called The Secrets of Analog and Digital Synthesis by Steve DeFuria. This is a nice bit where he does his version of 20 Systems only 25 years before me


01 - Roland Juno 106
02 - Roland JX 3P
03 - Sequential Circuits Six Track
04 - Sequential Circuits T8
05 - Oberheim OB-8
06 - Moog Memory Moog
07 - Fender Chroma Polaris
08 - Oberheim Xpander
09 - Korg EX 800
10 - Casio CZ-101

And I want a pair of grey leather cowboy boots like his

Home Music

These pictures were taken in 1996 when I had a studio in my front room. Since then the cottage has been knocked down and rebuilt due to subsidence [and sub-size-ence], and the studio's gone up to London. Not only has the house gone, but the tape machine you can see at the left of the top picture - a Scully 1 inch 8 track which I paid £90 for -  has also been lost forever [first it broke down then it got left in a garden shed for 2 years, then the shed decayed around it, then it got skipped when the new house was built]

Look at this picture of the Moog studio in Trumansburg from 1968, Scully and Moog together

Here's a track from Home Music, made on the Moog