MARIUS DE VRIES: Launching A Massive Attack On Madonna

Interview | Programmer/Musician

Published in SOS September 1998
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People + Opinion : Artists / Engineers / Producers / Programmers

Are programmers musicians? Marius de Vries certainly thinks so, and he's better qualified than most to air an opinion. PAUL TINGEN meets the man who's lent his talents to everyone from Madonna to Massive Attack.

Suddenly Marius de Vries sounded almost indignant. For most of the interview he had been airing his opinions in a soft and friendly manner, but the issue at hand clearly stirred him up. The question was one which is central to the territory that SOS covers, and to Marius de Vries's work: is a programmer a musician?

Fifteen years ago, when sampling and sequencing still demanded expensive and monolithic machines like the Fairlight or the Synclavier, those who specialised in operating them became known as 'programmers' -- and some, like the Art Of Noise's JJ Jeczalik, were quite happy to declare themselves 'non-musicians'. Since then, programmers have become more and more involved in arranging and writing music, but many people would argue that there is still a big difference between their role and that of a 'real' musician. They would, however, get short shrift from de Vries, who is in no doubt that programmers are musicians: "Of course they are! Pete Davis, who programs for me at the moment, is both a consummate musician and a programmer, as are all the best programmers that I know and have worked with. Programmers who know the technology well, but who aren't very good musicians and don't get on with people in the studio, don't become successful. And there is a shortage of people who can work the technology, and who also have the right musical sensibilities and the right social skills... If you want to carve yourself a career as a musician in the record industry today, then the thing to do is to get right on top of the technology and learn how to capably run a good audio editing and sequencing system, and really master a few synthesizers."

BUZZ

One of the reasons why de Vries feels so strongly about this issue is probably because he started out as a musician, rather than an engineer or technologist. He was born in London in 1961, sang as head chorister at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir and received a piano and violin education there as well ("a wonderful general music education"). From 1984 to 1987 he worked both as a freelance music journalist (testing keyboards for International Musician & Recording World) and as a session musician, and played with The Blow Monkeys. He recalls: "I started out playing keyboards around the time when MIDI first came into the world. I remember going to a music shop in Denmark Street and seeing somebody play a DX7 which was connected to a Roland JX3P. There was this miracle of a cable allowing one keyboard to talk to another. It's something that seems so primitive now, but at the time it was a magical and exciting thing. When I was working with The Blow Monkeys, I met a technical assistant called Axel Kroll, who was the first person I saw who was what we would now call a programmer. He worked with a Linn 9000 and what he was doing crystallised for me the direction in which I wanted to go. So I became a programmer at a time when we were still very much regarded as kind of the magicians of the session world, because not many people understood what was going on under the hood".

It wasn't long before de Vries could dump his journalistic distractions to concentrate fully on a blossoming music career that would not only see him work with many household names, but also be instrumental in the creation of some of the hippest and most cutting-edge music made in the last 10 years. As a programmer and keyboard player he has worked on all of Björk's three solo albums to date, Madonna's album Bedtime Stories and the single 'Frozen' from her last album, Eno and U2's Passengers album, U2's Pop, Annie Lennox's Medusa and Diva albums, Massive Attack's Protection, and Bono's and Madonna/Massive Attack's tracks on the Marvin Gaye tribute album, respectively 'Save The Children' and 'I Want You'.

On top of this, de Vries has a notable production career. It started with modest co-production credits for the 25th of May, The Soup Dragons and the Sugarcubes in the late '80s and early '90s. He then went through a spell when he was too busy programming for the greats, with only incidental co-production work here and there. Recently, however, his production career re-ignited with a string of prestigious co-production credits: five tracks on Robbie Robertson's Contact From The Underworld of Redboy, three tracks on Craig Armstrong's The Space Between Us, three tracks on Madonna's Ray Of Light, and seven tracks on Neil Finn's first solo album, Try Whistling This. What's more, all these albums were released in 1998! As if this was not enough he also co-wrote, programmed and co-produced the BAFTA-winning score and soundtrack CD for the movie Romeo & Juliet (1997, together with Nellee Hooper and Craig Armstrong), was music supervisor, executive producer and album producer for the forthcoming The Avengers film soundtrack album (featuring Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, Sinead O'Connor, Stereo MC's and others), and also did additional production and mixes for PJ Harvey's forthcoming album.

PRAYER

When I met up with him in the idyllic surroundings of the residential Hook End Studios in Berkshire, he was spending more time in his role of the 'definitive '90s musician', producing and programming the debut album of The Lucy Nation, a new signing to Madonna's Maverick label. De Vries first cut his programming teeth on an Roland MSQ700, and then moved on to the Atari, initially running Hybrid Arts' Midi Track software, and then C-Lab's Notator. A few years ago he finally switched to Macintosh and Digidesign, on which he still runs C-Lab/Emagic software, namely Logic Audio: "I was quite slow switching from the Atari to the Mac, because I had experiences of working alongside people with Macs that appeared to be crashing all the time. But things are a lot better now, and I am really happy with my Macintosh, although admittedly the timing could be better on it. The timing of the Atari was probably more stable, but then, are you going to spend your whole life worrying about the fact that there is a millisecond delay on the bass drum, or are you going to listen to the music and try to make that sound good? The '80s ethic seemed very much to make sure that everything was very precise and glued to a grid, but there's room for things to be much sloppier now, and better for it."

FAVOURITE EQUIPMENT


"The core of my system are the Mac and Pro Tools 888s, driven by Logic Audio. All the Digidesign TDM stuff also works within Logic. The Digidesign hardware is the best available. There's no question about that. But it's expensive. If I was to collate all the Pro Tools systems I have into one system, I could have 128+ tracks into 64 channels.

"The Akai samplers are without question the most musical and best sorted out sampling devices on the planet. I have three 3200XLs now and I am waiting very impatiently for the 6000 series, which will be out in a few weeks, because it has a DOS-based file system. In itself that's a bit of a turn-off for me, because I am a Macintosh purist, but what it means is that you can have one huge hard disk attached to the sampler with all your sounds on it and a little laptop on the side with a database on it. It will finally enable me to begin to meaningfully organise a big sample library. At a the moment with my suitcase full of Syquests, it's impossible. All I can do is file everything carefully away by project and hope that one day the technology will allow me to do something meaningful with it. Until you get something where you can easily move large batches of data around and save and group them and manipulate them I don't see how it is possible to keep track of it all unless you spend your whole life being a librarian and forget about music.

"I often use BIAS Peak. It is sample editing software that speaks equally well to samplers and the computer, so it is like the central station from which you can grab samples from the Akais, and manipulate them in Sound Designer, Logic Audio, or Sample Cell. It almost works like a translation unit between all the different sample mediums and also gives you phenomenal control over the sound. They have a Premiere plug-in called FX Machine, which is a marvellous modular synthesizer-like plug-in. It has every sort of audio manipulation imaginable under one roof -- a fantastic effects unit, with a very deep architecture inside of it. I also use Recycle a lot, my one concession to the Steinberg empire.

"I must congratulate Antares on their Autotune TDM plug-in. It does what it says. It tunes your vocals (or instruments) for you. You put the vocal in it and it puts it in tune, no fuss, no bother. It keeps bends and vibrato -- it is really intelligent. You used to have to spend two days hunched over an S1000 over a lead vocal manipulating syllables when you were having problems with tuning, and now you just press a button or two and relax. You can go for getting performance and emotion and all those things that really matter in a vocal and not worry too much about the tuning. If in the end the second line of the third chorus is slightly dodgy tuning-wise, but the whole thing feels very good, you can keep the vocal and sort it out.

"I like using the RADAR hard disk recorder. I might soon be investing in one of the new 48 track RADAR systems, assuming it is going to interface well with Pro Tools. Having a dedicated multitrack machine at Blue Barn means I can do an awful lot of work here and I can whip everything I do in Pro Tools across to the RADAR and take it to whatever studio I am working in, plug it in and go. Once you start working digitally and you are moving from studio to studio a lot it can be very expensive and complicated to hire the necessary machines, and it can be a nightmare because some studios will have a Sony machine and others will have the Mitsubishi and some will have RADAR and every time you move you have to transfer the tapes to another medium. I love the RADAR, it still feels like a tape machine but it has all those wonderful things that you can do with random access hard-disk based recording. It sounds great, it is very easy to use, it seems totally reliable. I think the RADAR could become the standard within a couple of years."

De Vries explains that he learnt 'sloppiness' as an approach to programming from working with Nellee Hooper, initially on Björk's first album: "He has a real intuition for how space and untidiness can be a better approach to making music than trying to nail everything down." This, again, appears to touch on the dichotomy at the heart of de Vries's approach to music making; although throughout our conversation he de-emphasises the role of technology whenever we speak about things from a musical perspective, he clearly trips out on it when talking from a purely technological angle. A few weeks after our first interview at Hook End I visited him in his own studio near Cambridge, Blue Barn Studios, and when he showed me around the impressive hardware that he has collected there, he was as proud and excited as the proverbial kid in a toy shop. But he remarks that even though he did extensive programming when producing Robbie Robertson and Madonna, he now tries to take "less of a hands-on approach when I am producing. It's definitely possible to use technology to stamp the life out of musical performances. When you're programming you can spend a day comping and pitch-shifting various vocal takes and after having gone through every syllable you sit back and listen to it, and it is totally flat. In the beginning you often won't admit this to yourself, because you cannot believe that you just wasted a day making something worse. But the fact is there, you have taken all the life out of it. And the only remedy is to keep walking out of the room, and keep walking back in again once you have a clear head."

BLUE BARN STUDIOS EQUIPMENT LIST


Our photos of the Hook End setup show Marius's gear with other equipment belonging mainly to his collaborator Pete Davis. Marius's own equipment comprises:

KEYBOARDS/SYNTHS
* ARP 2600
* EMS Synthi A
* Emu Morpheus
* Emu Vintage Keys (x2)
* Korg 01R/W
* Kurzweil K2000
* Nord Lead rack
* Oberheim Matrix 12
* OSC OSCar
* Roland MKS50
* Roland JV1080
* Roland MKS80 Super Jupiter (+ MPG80 programmer)
* Roland MKS900
* Roland JP8000
* Studio Electronics MIDI Moog
* Yamaha VL1
* Yamaha SY77

RECORDING
* Alesis Quadraverb GT multi-effects
* Alesis Quadraverb multi-effects
* Alesis 3630 compressor
* Eventide DSP4000 harmony processor
* Mutronics Mutator compressor
* Roland SDE3000A digital delay
* Soundtracs Solo Midi 32-channel desk
* Tascam DA30 DAT recorder
* TC Electronics Fireworx multi-effects
* Yamaha DMP7 submixer (x2)
* Yamaha MV802 mixer
* Yamaha REV7 reverb unit
* Yamaha SPX500 multi-effects

SAMPLING
* Akai 3200XL (x2)

DRUM MODULES
* Yamaha RM50

COMPUTER & SOFTWARE
* Apple Mac 9600/350, with Glyph 9Gb hard drives (x2), plus Jaz and DAT backup
* DAC MD4000 shell with 2 Syquest drives
* Digidesign Pro Tools 888 (2x24-bit, 3x16-bit)
* Emagic Logic Audio Platinum

MISCELLANEOUS
* Dimension Beam MIDI Controller
* LA Audio Midigate
* Opcode Studio 4 MIDI Interface
* Pioneer CDJ-500II CD player
* Tascam 103 cassette deck
* Yamaha CD7120 CD player

These days, therefore, De Vries leaves a lot of the detailed work to programmer Pete Davis: "Programming is all about going in and dealing with the details of the track, whereas producing is about being able to step back and hear what is going on and deciding whether something is good or not. Those are two very different dynamics. But programming is in my blood, and so I can't keep totally away from the computer. We had three Pro Tools systems up and running in Hook End, and I still get my hands dirty. During pre-production it is often just me and the artist working and sketching out ideas in the computer, and once I have a clear idea of what the song is going to sound like, I'll give it to Pete who will develop it, label things properly and organise everything for me. He also does a lot of archiving for me. I tend to rely on prayer for backup." De Vries laughs. "I sort of think, if God wants the data, he can have it."

RIDICULOUS INTERFACE

This is another sign of the apparent dichotomy between de Vries's total fascination with music technology on the one hand, and something between healthy disrespect and reckless disdain on the other. The same thing shows through when he enters the debate about the merits of 24-bit digital recording: "It has to be said that basically most people won't hear the difference -- it's too subtle. Though personally I find that 24-bit has a better dynamic range, and crudely speaking there'll be less hiss on very quiet bits of an orchestra. So there are all these arguments whether to use 16-bit or 24-bit, or Neve or an SSL, or to mix to tape or DAT. There may be incremental differences in each case, but they are so marginal. When you have a great piece of music and a fantastic performance it doesn't matter what medium you're using. Though all credit to Digidesign for pushing the boundaries forward. And what's really great is that I can plug my new 24-bit TC Fireworks effects unit digitally into my 888, and that gives me a nice warm feeling because you know it's all talking in 24-bit, and so of course it sounds better, because when you feel better, things sound better." He laughs again.

These lines are obviously spoken by the technologist in de Vries, the man who loves state-of-the-art gear purely for its own sake. But he does not follow this philosophy to the exclusion of all other approaches. Answering the question 'how do you get the same sense of life and excitement when programming as musicians do feeding off each other?' de Vries offers "By getting musicians to play! Either guest musicians, or you get the people you're working with to play live. We started the Lucy Nation record by recording musicians live, and a lot of those recordings survived intact, and then some were chopped up, and some were mangled to such a degree that you wouldn't recognise the original performances. There are no rules about how to achieve a 'live' feel, but generally it is a good idea to get 'real' musicians in at some stage. The best ideas come from good musicians. But it can go either way, because sometimes you're lucky enough to program something that works perfectly, and may not be improvable. That's why you need to be a good musician as a programmer, because sometimes you'll be the main musician on a track."

QUANTUM LEAP

This is exemplified by de Vries's work on Robbie Robertson's excellent Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy. On this album Robertson has again gone back to his American Indian roots, following in the footsteps of his previous album, Music For The Native Americans (1994), which was a soundtrack. With his hands free to make a regular studio album, Robertson wanted to explore how to put native American music in a contemporary context, whilst avoiding the New Age pitfalls that have marred many other such attempts, like the abysmal Sacred Spirits. So Robertson enlisted the production assistance of a range of people with experience with technology, dance music, and hip-hop, such as Howie B., de Vries, Tim Gordine and Jim Wilson -- the latter three all being keyboard players and programmers. De Vries was involved as a co-producer on five of the album's 10 tracks, co-wrote the music on two tracks with Robertson, and did programming on six. In several cases the only thing played by a 'real' musician is Robertson's electric guitar, and the rest of the material is programmed and/or treated in a computer. De Vries & Co nevertheless get some excellent grooves and feels going -- and several of the tracks again highlight the issue of the blurring boundaries between technology and music.

De Vries: 'It's becoming harder and harder to distinguish between when something is a performance and when it's programmed, and so accreditation is becoming harder too. Robbie arrived at my studio here with a suitcase full of DATs, containing performances that he had collected over the last two decades and said: 'let's make a record out of this'. I spent two months just listening and cataloguing and narrowing it down to one DAT with what I thought were the most promising bits. It was a big learning curve, because I knew little of American Indian music, and I had been in the first instance a little wary of the project anyway, because I was not aware of any records that had successfully put American Indian music in a contemporary context. So the whole thing was a real challenge. Then I threw the DAT compilation into Pro Tools and started experimenting with treatments. In some cases we did very little to the original recordings, like the vocals in the track 'Peyote Healing' (which were recorded specifically for the album at an actual peyote ceremony in Santa Fe). In other cases they were heavily treated and re-worked. Like on the track 'Sacrifice', everything on that was me and my Macintosh, apart from the guitar and vocals. There, flute and drum credits were samples that I had taken and manipulated and incorporated into the framework."

There are many great grooves on Contact, and with no 'real' musicians in the rhythm section, the simple question (that de Vries is reluctant to answer) is: 'how do you do it?' De Vries: "There are so many methods involved. It is very difficult to pinpoint a particular way. How do you program a good feel? It's impossible to describe. People have written many articles about drum programming, and with all respect for the thoroughness of their approach, I have not resonated with a single one of them. It all seems a bit academic to me. It runs counter to my whole approach to music."

Further prodding elicits a slightly more specific response: "OK then, probably about 80% of the backdrops that you hear on the records I've programmed are constructed of samples of one kind or another. I try to avoid using very obvious samples, partly for legal reasons, partly to try to keep things fresh. I sample from the same places that everyone else does, mostly records and previous sessions. I'm not too keen on sample CDs. I own about 10 that I think are worthwhile, amongst them A Poke In The Ear With A Sharp Stick, Diffusion Of Useful Noise, the two Cuckooland ones, Fred Frith's Etymology, and a Gamelan CD.

MARIUS' FAVE KEYBOARDS

"Keyboard-wise, favourites are the Nord Lead and the JP8000 and some of the old dinosaurs that I still carry around like the Oberheim Matrix 12, which is an important instrument for me. I have been playing with the Yamaha VL1 a lot recently, I do not know whether that is a passing phase, but it's really good fun. Good training for the lungs as well, because it is all breath-control driven. The Kurzweil K2000 is also important. It's nice because it reads your Akai samples and it is also a little bit more deep as a synthesizer than the Akai sampling devices. Those are the things that stand out.

"The other brilliant things are the Roland JV2080 and JV1080. They are multitimbral sample-based synthesizers in the good old Roland tradition. They're very expandable, you can fit in cards for your specialist applications. Whenever I'm mocking up orchestras I use its orchestral card. It may not sound like a real orchestra, but it will make you realise what the orchestra will sound like. There is also a fantastic card called "Keyboards of the Sixties and Seventies", that has Rhodes sounds and Hammond sounds -- It's a good bread and butter unit. Also the Exclusively Analogue Aviator, which is a very obscure modular English synthesizer. It's a rack unit made to order by a guy in Derbyshire, I think. It is a unique sounding synthesizer, a little reminiscent of a very fierce sounding version of the Oscar, but much more controllable.

"The thunder sound on the track 'Glasgow' on Craig Armstrong's CD is from the Matrix 12. It's actually a preset. I think that synthesizer is still rare enough for me to be able to get away with using presets. When I first went down to Syco 15 years ago and tried out a Matrix 12 it was definitely the thing I most wanted in the world, and more than anything it was that thunder sound that sold it to me. It is one of those keyboards that I use on almost every record. I first saw it when I was probably 20-21 and just starting out as a keyboard player. At the time it represented the absolute Rolls Royce of synthesizers. There was no comparison, and to many people it still is the best analogue synthesizer ever made. For a non-modular system it is extremely deep, the modulation technology on it is extremely complex. The sound of it is glorious, it has the best filters and the best oscillators. They are very sophisticated filters for the time -- you get notch filters and phase filters and comb filters, and all that back in the days when normally you would have been lucky to get more than one resonant low pass filter. So for all those reasons, and also the multitimbrality of it, it was a revolutionary thing at the time.

"I use the ARP 2600 an enormous amount, mainly for processing sounds. I stick samples or instruments through it. I also use the VCS3 a lot for processing sounds and for generating ring modulated weirdness. And for its curious button-and-joystick user-interface. I also like the Light Beam controller that Roland have started incorporating in their new gear. That is a great piece of technology -- and my kids love it. I think anything that appeals to children like that is going to be a good instrument or a good controller."

"I also learnt a lot from the whole Bristol thing, from Massive Attack and Nellee Hooper, and also earlier on from working with Danny D. They are real rhythm people, with a seminal approach to making music. I already mentioned that I learnt from Nellee about using space and untidiness. If in the '80s emotions were being quantised out of records, then the hip-hop movement was a reaction to that, deliberately avoiding that precision. The method is very simple: when you hear a good piece of music you preserve it. There is still an awful lot of looking at grids going on, both in MIDI and in audio, but now it is combined with the best of the mix and match approach of hip-hop. And the computer technology has now finally arrived at the stage where we can really play meaningfully with all those elements in a coherent single environment, in my case Logic Audio and Pro Tools hardware. For me, the first time I could use real audio and MIDI tracks together on one platform was the single biggest quantum leap in my whole career in music technology. It may not have worked properly for a while, but now it works brilliantly. It's absolutely fantastic. Use of space is also important in the way I approach drums. It's about being aware of what happens between beats. The sound between hits, the ambience if you like of what is going on, in terms of perceived drum feel is often more important than what the quantise grid is telling you. You can radically change the feel of a drum part just by putting a blanket sound effect behind it, whether it is the standard thing of adding vinyl crackle or whether you paste in more abstract ambient material. You find that without changing the actual rhythm, you can create a different mood, and groove is as much about mood as it is about rhythmical pulses."

COMPLEXITY

True to his assertion that there are too many methods to list, however, de Vries does not always work by using samples to create soundscapes and hip-hop grooves. On Neil Finn's Try Whistling This he stayed miles away from any hip-hop feel, instead helping the former Crowded House frontman to expand on the "multiple-chord tricks that are so easy for him to do, being one of the finest songwriters on the planet. To create something that justified him having become a solo artist we tried to make him sound a little darker and make the song structures a little bit more simple without losing his sense of melody. It was interesting to sit down with Neil and run a loop for five minutes and get him to write something on top. That's how the track which we co-wrote, 'Sinner', came into being. One of the seeds for that you hear at the beginning of the song: it's a sample from the wonderful very early Mellotron that Neil owns, one of those Rolls-Royce-like Chamberlains with the complete original tape collection, from the days when they recorded rhythm sections in the studio to create a collection of rhythm tapes to accompany the melody sounds, just like with modern home keyboards."

The rhythm of the Chamberlain sample is rather at odds with the rhythm of the rest of the track. When queried, de Vries explains that this was "another rhythm trick" developed in hip-hop, namely to superimpose samples with different rhythmic feels and get a kind of polyrhythm going, which results in things that are "much more interesting than you could ever get by working things out mathematically." Another trick that he divulges is the use of filtering -- applying a strong low-pass on a sampled rhythm -- and using the rumble that you get as a kind of bass line. Conversely, he might apply a high-pass filter, or sweep between the two. According to de Vries, Massive Attack applied this method to much effect on the track 'Exchange' on their new Mezzanine album. Finally, the fact that de Vries doesn't rely only on samples to create rhythm magic is demonstrated by his work on Madonna's Ray Of Light album, especially on the track 'Little Star' on which -- with rhythm programmer Steve Sidelnyk -- he did some masterful drum and keyboard programming. He was called in to the project at a late stage, when William Orbit and Madonna had already finished much of the album, and ended up co-producing 'Skin' and 'Nothing Really Matters' with Madonna and Orbit, and 'Lit

"...the trick is to create and maintain a core to your system that is simple and consistent..."
tle Star' with Madonna. He also did some additional programming on 'Frozen' at a point when Orbit and Madonna weren't quite clear how to finish that track and wanted some new energy and input.

De Vries: "I had to be very sensitive with what I did, because the aesthetic of the album was already well established by William and Madonna. So I had to work within a well-defined framework. 'Nothing Really Matters' was almost like an older-style Madonna tune, and my work was to help keep the appeal of something that she might have done five years ago, and at the same time updating it and keeping it in sympathy with the stuff William had been doing. I did most of the handiwork on that track, though William was there with his ears and suggestions. 'Skin' was really a true multi-programmer situation, with both of us having our rigs in the studio and battling it out. The biggest challenge was 'Little Star' because it was a song that could easily have become sentimental. I wanted to keep the delicacy of the track above everything, but I also knew that it needed some energy for it not to be too fey. So what I decided to do was to create a fairly energetic double-time drum arrangement, but using very soft sounds. There were no loops on that track, instead Steve and I programmed everything by hand, using jazz brushes and brushed ride cymbals, ie. softly hit things, so that the whole track would have this gossamer, fluttery energy running through it. It was a fine balance. Whenever it got too heavy, it sounded like the track was weighed down by overproduction, and whenever it was too light, it just sounded sentimental. I orchestrated that track mainly with noises rather than keyboards, chasing the idea of things drifting in and out of focus to achieve a dreamy quality. I actually used a lot of the Waldorf Wave on the Madonna tracks. I borrowed one from Björk, and spent a couple of days generating hundreds of sounds which I fed into a sampler, and used one way or another for the backdrop for the songs."

De Vries's programming on 'Little Star' is a brilliant -- OK, let's call it 'performance' -- that would make any 'real' musician proud. It shows what modern technology, used in the right way, is capable of. According to de Vries, the trick is to create and maintain a core to your system that is simple and consistent enough for you to work it totally intuitively. "The issue of complexity is very important, because together with simple technical failures it is one of the most distracting things when working with music technology. The way seems to be to have a central working space that is essentially simple and focussed and where there is a limited amount of things going on. For me that is when I sit in front of my computer screen with Logic Audio on it, with my Pro Tools hardware and Akai samplers close at hand. Add a master keyboard and that's it. That is where 95% of my work happens, and handling it is totally second nature."

'Magician', 'Definitive '90s musician', 'Non-musician' or simply 'computer-musician'? You tell us. Answers on a postcard, please. Ooops, better make that email...

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Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: David R Ferguson

Inside Track: Johnny Cash | American VI: Ain’t No Grave

Thumbnail for article: Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: David R FergusonSometimes the simplest-sounding music takes the most work to get right, and so it was with Johnny Cash’s posthumous hit album American VI: Ain’t No Grave. Engineer and mixer David R Ferguson was on hand at every stage of Rick Rubin’s production.

Porcupine Tree

Steven Wilson: Recording & Marketing Porcupine Tree

Every new Porcupine Tree album sells over a quarter of a million copies. And with founder Steven Wilson in control of everything from songwriting to shrink-wrapping, there’s no middle man to take a cut. Read his valuable advice for SOS readers wishing to do likewise...

Phil Thornalley: Torn

From Rock Producer To Pop Songwriter

Thumbnail for article: Phil Thornalley: TornPhil Thornalley learned his trade as a rock engineer and producer in the ’80s. Then he co-wrote a little-known song called ‘Torn’...

Ray Davies

Five Decades In The Studio

Thumbnail for article: Ray DaviesLegendary songwriter and Kinks frontman Ray Davies got his first taste of recording in 1964, and he’s never looked back.

The Stargate Writing & Production Team

Mikkel Eriksen

From humble beginnings in provincial Norway, the Stargate team have gone on to become one of America’s leading hit factories. Songwriter and producer Mikkel Eriksen explains how their hard work and talent brought success.

Dave Stewart: Creating A New Album From Archive Material

Time Trial: Bringing Multitracks and MIDI into the 21st Century

Dave Stewart’s career has spanned several generations of music technology (from National Health band in the 1970s to hits with partner Barbara Gaskin. For his latest project, he faced the challenge of bringing his old multitracks and MIDI sequences into the computer age.

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Humberto Gatica

Inside Track: Michael Bublé ‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You’

In a rare interview, legendary engineer and producer Humberto Gatica explains how he and singer Michael Bublé breathed new life into big-band swing music — with stunning results.

 

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