Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Rise Of The 2nd Hand Machines

When im chattin with people that don’t have a clue about music or production and the word “Studio” gets mentioned I can immediately see them conjuring up in their head a large fabric covered room in my house with a 64 channel desk in front of a massive window that looks into another larger room filled with mic stands and instruments. Actually the word “studio” is a tricky one as I too instinctively imagine this utopian workspace when mentioned.  The truth is 80% of "studios" are a room in a house with some keyboards and a laptop. Some studios are just the fukin laptop so the next time an 18 year old spouts off to you about his studio he’s probably on about his fukin rucksack. Some studio’s however are a collection of music, equipment and instruments gathered over time by various means of canny purchasing and lucky acquirements and it’s these workspaces that are very interesting places indeed. These collections of caliginous crap define an artist’s style through a “making the best of what I’ve got” ethos and will often lead to a distinctive sound as a result.

In my early 20’s I was encouraged to start making music by top Geordie crackpot Mark Rae. Mark was then one half of the very successful Manchester based production outfit Rae & Christian and Bossman of GrandCentral Records.  He helped me purchase my very first piece of kit and it was this machine that the rest of my studio would be built around over the next 15 years. It was an Akai MPC2000XL. Everything I have ever made and still make today is done with the MPC and I never learned to use a computer as a result to which I regret but many computer based producer friends seem to envy.

So at one time my “Studio” was a solitary MPC on a table in the corner of my living room that then became an MPC and a Korg MS2000. And then a year later was an MPC, Korg MS2000 and a Yamaha O1V Desk and so on until I obtained enough bits and bobs to warrant its own workspace which was sometimes a rented studio and the rest of the time a spare room in my gaff. The following is just a small selection of the bits 'o' shit I’ve accumulated that has been  quite special to me and I still find useful today


When people with a passion for music production technology realise I make music they often start to talk shop using words like “Interface” and what Hertz or Frequency’s they like and don’t like (Yawn). At this point I know from how they talk at me that I’m suppose to understand this language. When I try to explain I do not have a clue what they are on about their brain will refuse to compute such a ridiculous suggestion from somebody that releases music and more often than not they will carry on talking shite and spouting codes at me like all I do with my time is read ‘Sound on Sound magazine’. My studio set-up and style of making music is “Go in, switch on, move some stuff around, press some buttons, make some noises and record” The MPC is perfect for this scenario. When I bought my first one i plugged it in, threw the manual behind the couch and worked it out. The MPC really is like a kids toy for making music. You can sample music, sequence those samples and organise them into fully finished musical arrangements knowing 5% of the machines capabilities and you can learn the other 95% at your leisure as the years roll by.  Classic Piece

Memory Moog

8 years ago my girlfriends Dad had this broken unit in the cellar and I was allowed to rescue it and get it repaired and it has lived in the studio ever since. The sheer power that blasts from this analogue bitch is unreal. I love seeing people use it for the first time as their facial expressions are always the same ’open mouthed joy’ at what they are hearing. It is really difficult to fit the Memory Moog into compositions that use samples or digital synths because the Moog sounds just wipe everything else into the distance a bit like putting chillies on your fruit salad. You like all the elements but the chillies overpower everything else so much you might as well just of had chillies. In fact scrap that analogy. It’s more like putting concentrated hydrochloric acid or your fruit salad. It dissolves the fruit instantly and melts your face with the 1st bite. As a result you have to use as much of the moog as you can in one track and if you get it right “FIYA!”. The Moog does have one massive setback tho. Every Memory Moog made is an absolute nightmare to control regarding the tuning. I’ve become the ‘Hulk Hogan’ of the studio after years of wrestling with the bastard. You can however have your Memory Moog modified. There is a company in Germany called Lintronics that will take it apart, replace all the pots and terminal components for solid gold ones, make various modifications and rebuild. I received an email reply after I enquired about this modification. The last line of the email said “The whole process will take a year and will cost £5000 but in the end you will be the owner of the most powerful synth ever made!” Anybody got £5000 they can give me?


If im not with the family, in the studio or at work and I have some spare time and money there is nothing more I like to do than dig through piles of shit in second hand shops. The anticipation of unearthing a forgotten record collection or a piece of music equipment so obscure the smart arse shop owner can’t get an instant evaluation online. This little fucker turned up on a shelf in a grotty little cave in Chadderton, East Manchester. I instantly new it would be great find if I could get the right price and so a spaghetti western style standoff between me and damp hovel owner quickly followed. I went up to the counter with excited enthusiasm for some records that I was handing over for an evaluation, my plan was to confuse the shop owner by taking the heat away from my hidden agenda via the records , I then nonchalantly waved the echoman and said “oh and this thing, How much for this?” And while shop owner wasted his time ebaying every record as to not be outdone by what he thought was a clued up vinyl dealer more punters entered the shop and queued for his assistance. By the time he got to checking the Echoman on ebay he was getting flustered and I found myself ready for the kill. I waved £25.00 at him, He quickly came back “Give us 30 and its yours” Booooooom “YOU LOOOSE” “MINE” “HAHAHAHAHAHA” When I got it home my old mate Jim Holroyd aka Begin popped over and we fucked around with it in the front room with a minidisk of noises and chuckled at its simple ability to take you into the cosmos. Great little twist and go tape echo. Deep Space tackle

Baldwin Electric Piano

Sometimes you end up with equipment by absolute chance.  About 10 years ago I moved into a block of flats on an estate at the edge of the city centre. The guy who was moving out was off to live in Paris and had nowhere to store this 70’s analogue piano. “It’s yours mate” “Nice one one ar kid!” I didn’t really get excited about it at the time. I just thought it was cool to have a piano in the house but it turns out over time that this piano has an amazing unique warm sound that is instantly noticeable to anyone who has played many different pianos. The fucker weighs a tonne and sounds absolutely amazing.  Not only does it have a large speaker under the pink fabric it has an output jack so you can plumb it straight into the desk. No matter where I look on the internet I cannot find something similar to get an evaluation so I don’t have a clue how much it’s worth but I know for sure it’s a keeper. 

Il Bosco

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