|HEADSHOCK interview 2014
You're still at it then?
PN: Aye. Headshock has given me a new lease of life. Working solo is far less fun, sitting at a computer and working out every note becomes very dull as the years pass by. Without the interaction or the sense of wonder where anything might happen, I'd probably not record anything, just play for my own amusement. This feels worthwhile and rewarding, therefore we'd be fools not to do it.
TR: Yes, we’ve got to do something with all this great gear. In fact I enjoy playing the synths so much I find it hard to sit down and explore them more technically. We’re evolving all the time, it’s great and addictive. It’s bewildering and exciting how we manage to conjure up this stuff.
Could you tell us a little about the recording process?
PN: We're a little more sophisticated than we used to be. We still record live in one pass but now we have multiple stereo streams, one from each submixer, going into Logic. It's not true multitracking - there are just too many synths for that to be feasible - but it gives a lot more flexibility. For example, I have one mixer almost entirely devoted to my Tanzbar drum machine and all its individual outputs! We also add overdubs now when they're warranted. I bought a decent mic (at last!) and we have quite a collection of percussion, woodwind, guitars and so on. Doing overdubs is a lot of fun and allows us to be more elaborate and add fresh structures over live improvisations. Something we'll definitely continue.
TR: It’s starting to sound pretty good but I am looking to improve by getting a better mixer for my stuff and separate the rhythmical stuff from the keyboard playing. In an ideal world we’d be recording and mixing to analogue tape as I’m into atmosphere, feeling and soulfulness – the old methods seem to capture that better .. but there are many aspects of modern recording techniques that are so useful too, so the aim is to keep a nice balanced approach.
So how would you describe a typical session?
PN: We just play. Seriously, it's as simple as that. We sit and play together, following where the sounds lead, setting up each synth until something interesting is happening all around the studio. We don't discuss things like key, it's never been necessary. Time passes and sooner or later something magical happens, stimulated by the sounds we're making, our mood, or anything really.
At the start of each session we find a random word we like from some webpage. This gives the Logic song a name, which has been such a blessing in terms of cataloguing all the stuff later. Dates are so boring and so easily forgotten. Since we've been giving them names first, the sessions have gained personality and meaning. It's hard to overemphasise how such a simple idea has made a huge difference. Names so far include Radiopticon, Watteau, Delsarte, Coronium, Scrimption, Levant, Mesoblast...
So when you see duplicate names on Tales of Summers Past, this simply indicates the tracks are taken from the same session. The individual sessions may be released in their entirety sometime as they stand up pretty well by themselves. There are a LOT of them and they represent some of the best, most interesting and long-lasting music I've ever been part of. Tim coined the phrase 'Progressive Radiophonic Jazz' to describe it and I think that's pretty good.
TR: Add to that Witcraft, Snuffbox, Folium, Adjuvant, Wesh, Myxine and Naufrage. It’s hard to keep track of so much stuff and these names are a good way of doing it. Sometimes we find ourselves well into something and realise we’re not recording it – these are the “ones that got away”. Whenever we stop, hit record and go back into it we seem to lose the vibe, so we just let them go. We lost a couple of good ones at the end of our last session.
How much editing do you do?
PN: As much as necessary. Having the different submixes and a record of the tempo (from Cirklon) means we can line up bars, rearrange, trim and replace entire parts. However we rarely do this - in fact there's only one example so far of extensive editing. Other edits are for level, noise, EQ and so on. Although I complain a lot about Logic, its automation and effects are really good and ideal for making a good recording even better.
How would you describe your playing style?
PN: Naive and willing to try anything in pursuit of sound and expression.
TR: Well mine is naïve too, much more so I think. I am deliberately non-music-literate, having been brought up during the new wave/punk times. Not being musically accomplished doesn’t mean you can’t produce nice melodic stuff though, it just comes about more accidentally. Sometimes it’s like jazz I think, in the way we play and put stuff together. You just listen and react to whatever’s happening, soulfully.
Why a physical CDR and not download?
PN: The music takes some listens (at least four) before it seeps in. Heck, after we record it and make our first rough mixes, we listen, then we listen again, then again. Finally it starts to dawn we might have something. This isn't for the casual listener, we aren't interested in those (to paraphase David Simon). We wanted more of a feel of getting an album from, say, Lotus Records once upon a time. You'd put it on, listen, ponder and then try and decide if it was one you were going to like. I always tired of albums that gave me an instant rush, a sugar hit, and wanted to make something that would reward repeated listens. I think we've made something that demands repeated listens! This is why it isn't really suited to bandcamp and the rapid 'listen, skip, hey these laptop speakers are adequate, ooh look a picture of a cat' approach. If that sounds elitist and nobby, tough.
TR: I’d go along with that. Ideally we’d be releasing tapes or vinyl but, for now, putting out a physical CD with printed artwork still seems so much more of a statement than just bunging it on Bandcamp. This is something to be listened to right through, and in sequence, preferably alone, in a relaxed environment. And, to provide some old, wise advice … “play loud !”
What's the music actually like then?
PN: I can tell you the kind of things it has in it - synth solos, mad drum machines going through Roland tape delay, weird sample manipulation, loopers, strange, ethereal organs and spooky gongs but it would take thousand of words, lots of similes and other stuff. If you enjoy early Tangerine Dream, any Cluster or Roedelius, early Cabaret Voltaire, stuff from the Warp label, then I think you'll like this. I can hear bits of Stravinsky, Gustav Holst too...
TR: I always find it very difficult to say what we are like in terms of other bands and genres or whatever. I know I’ve been influenced by lots of things – 90s Warp definitely (Artificial Intelligence), Detroit techno (Derrick May, Carl Craig), lots of old TV themes and soundtracks and stuff from the 60s/70s (Radiophonic Workshop, Watch With Mother, Ennio Morricone, Edwin Astley), prog rock (Yes), new wave (Cabs, Joy Division). Also musique concrete and very early electronic music like Kid Baltan and Tom Dissevelt. It’s all in there somewhere I guess.
Why did you decide to launch the album as a Facebook event?
PN: It seemed a good idea to reach a lot of people. I seem to have acquired a lot of friends on Facebook and the majority don't communicate much, at least with me. Trying an event was just my lame way to explore the whole social networking concept and to tell as many people as possible about something I'm really proud of.
TR: These things seem to work for other so let’s give it a go !
It's mastered by Dean Honer?
PN: Yes, we both felt the music deserved it and I met Dean a few years back when I was selling a vintage synth. It was a lucky meeting for me as I was then introduced to the illicit joys of Sonic Weekends and Dean's band I Monster (check them out). We're very pleased with the end results.
TR: Dean’s name cropped up just at the time we were compiling the album and he seemed like a good person to cast his ears over it. He’s been involved in some great projects and he likes vintage synths. I think he did a really great job.
How did you decide on the tracks to be included on the album?
PN: We tried a number of different tracks in different running orders. Actually we dropped one track at the very last minute. Ultimately, w e could have put together a different compilation using totally different tracks from the same sessions and I'd still have been pleased but after a number of attempts, we liked this and the way it ran together.
TR: It’s a very painstaking process hacking it apart and putting it together again but well worth it. We basically both choose potential favourite sections of our sessions then bunged them all together and chopped out the stuff that didn’t quite stand up in context. You have to be brutal. I hope it’s worked.
Some people are interested in the gear used... could you give us an idea of your favourites?
PN: We like stuff that's immediate, intuitive, sounds great and just works. This usually means old classics, funnily enough. Live we'd struggle to replicate what we do as it depends on having everything to hand ready to go. You really can't do that on stage without a huge budget, not if you want to trust it'll all work.
Here's some lists:
Korg ER-1 (usually processed through Oto Biscuit)
Eventide Time Factor
Eventide Mod Factor
EMS Synthi AKS
Korg Kaoss Pad 3
Vermona Perfourmer MK2 (processed by Sherman Rodec Restyler)
Waldorf Microwave 2
Moogerfooger Ring Mod
Emu Proteus 2000
Xone VF-1 filter
Moog Minimoog (recent - I saw Tim's and lusted)
New stuff to be worked in soon:
Roland RC-505 looper
Elektron Analog Four
Roland Alpha Juno2 (my first synth)
Moog Minimoog (recent, not on TOSP)
Roland Jupiter 6
ARP Odyssey Mk III
Roland Space Echo
New stuff yet to try:
Vermona ER9 drum machine
Hammond Auto Vari drum machine
Clock is sourced from the Sequentix Cirklon to the whole studio. It drives various other sequencers, drum machines and effects, plus its DIN Sync output drives Tim's CR8000. We use Cirklon's CV/Gate interface to sequence things like the CS30 or Digisound and also the sequencer in Tim's JX-3P, the arpeggiator in his Jupiter 6 and so on. I have a small blue box that takes clock from any MIDI source and creates an analogue clock to drive the SH-101, which is brilliant because the only annoying aspect of Cirklon's clock transmission is Cirklon must be started before it runs. The little blue box doesn't care. Whenever recording into Logic, all I do is note the tempo in the song (assuming tempo is relevant, it often isn't) and this allows us more flexibility later if necessary.
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