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Chris & Cosey: 2 Unlimited

Interview | Band By Derek Johnson
Published March 1995

For over 10 years, Chris & Cosey have been treading their own idiosyncratic musical path, changing with the times but still maintaining their individual and influential style, and continuing to find a worldwide audience. Derek Johnson visited them in their personal studio.

For some of you, Chris Carter & Cosey Fanni Tutti will need no introduction; but if their names are unfamiliar, the story goes, briefly, like this: during the late '70s, experimental beat combo Throbbing Gristle released challenging records and staged challenging concerts. The term 'industrial' might have been invented for Throbbing Gristle, who experimented with sound for sound's sake and in the process pushed back a few boundaries, upset a few people and were very influential — and have become very sampled. However, it didn't last.

TG split in the early '80s, with the band splintering into two camps. Chris & Cosey's path led eventually to the wilds of East Anglia where they set up Studio 47. From their first release, Heartbeat, in 1981, they have continued to experiment, while producing challenging, approachable and influential music — techno and ambient musicians cite them as an influence, as well as sampling their back catalogue. Recent releases have certain superficial points of contact with the current electronic underground, with the last proper studio album — Musik Fantastique — showing that older technology can be used to create fresh, new music that doesn't have to be labelled dance. Other more mysterious areas are explored in the Library of Sound series, which so far includes Metaphysical and Chronomanic, a collection of pieces based on a series of pagan festivals.

Sound Gear

Chris & Cosey's studio, where all their recording and remix work is done, is located inside their village home, in a large cosy room at the back of the house. Although recording hardware has been regularly upgraded, the C&C back catalogue maintains a surprisingly consistent sound, due in no small part to a consistent line‑up of instruments, collected since TG days. Still very much in use are a Sony ECM56 ribbon mic (for vocals, perfect for their needs and forgiving of the extremes of Cosey's technique), a rare Roland MC8 Microcomposer, a System 100M modular synth (with home‑constructed Digisound modules), and a TB303 Bassline, TR808 drum machine, and SH101 and Wasp synths. Recent additions to the arsenal include a Mac Quadra 660AV running MasterTracks Pro sequencing software (which Chris praises for its ease of use), Akai S1000 and S1100 samplers, and a Korg Wavestation AD. Regular readers will have spotted Chris' recent two‑part feature on using this instrument in SOS, and it is definitely a much‑used favourite.

The duo's work is not a 'Chris on keyboards and Cosey on vocals' split; Cosey does a lot of keyboard and sound work, while Chris tends to work on samples, sounds and mixing. Cosey also adds Roland SPD8 drum pads — responsible for a lot of the rhythmic impulse of C&C tracks — cornet and guitar: "Rhythm is so physical; I play the drums, sing and dance around at the same time. I couldn't do it in any other way — there's nothing quite like drumming out a rhythm. It's not the same on a keyboard."

The Chris & Cosey soundscape, which features driving, organic electronics, intermingled with Cosey's vocals, includes heavily‑processed found sounds from film and TV (Chris: "We use sound effects or background ambience from film and TV.") and loops sampled from the modular system. Chris is also a big fan of filters: "A lot of our sounds that seem organic are actually synths. I love using filters — notch filters, bandpass filters and all sorts. You can get some really weird effects with them." Many instruments in the studio are also modified — for example, the SH101 has external filter inputs, the Boss DE200 delay has a CV input, and strangest of all is a Casio MT30 home keyboard modified by Serge (the LA modular synth company) to produce a wide range of outlandish noises. The older equipment is controlled over MIDI, either via a MIDI‑CV interface, or sync'd live during a mix (in the case of the TB303 and TR808).

No Tape Vocals

It was a surprise to discover that Studio 47 is no longer equipped with an analogue tape recorder; I wondered how vocals and other non‑synth sound sources were recorded. Chris says: "We haven't had tape for a while, although I've got a little cassette machine that we use for odd things — but I hate cassettes! We record vocals straight onto the S1100's hard disk — this gives us up to 24 minutes recording time." The S1100 features both the direct to disk recording software and a massive 16Mb of RAM; the duo's EMC56 mic is plugged straight into the front: "We sometimes use a preamp, depending how low Cosey's voice is. Actually, we have an Alesis 3630 compressor, but since that has to go through the mixer first, which adds a bit of noise, we like to go straight if we can."

Chris has never had a problem keeping the vocals in sync with the backing track: "As long as you start at the right point, everything just seems to lock in and stay together — anything up to six or seven minutes is OK. The S1100 does have SMPTE, so we can lock it to the sequencer, but we often don't need to. I actually quite like things drifting in and out; when we sample the modular system, we sample sequences — 16‑bar chunks, for example — rather than notes, and I quite like it when it drifts in and out of sync slightly."

With regard to vocals, Cosey is a 'first‑take' person: "The more we try to make a track into a song, the worse it'll get. The beauty of the hard disk system is that we can keep two or three takes — more than that and it's not fresh any more — and we'll do a lot of cutting and pasting afterwards."

Since so much tends to be done within the samplers, backup and storage is obviously important, and Chris & Cosey currently favour DAT for backup. Chris: "We have a cupboard full of DATs! Backing up to DAT is slow, but it works OK now. When we first got a DAT machine, we had a lot of trouble with drop‑outs, and when we first started recording vocals to hard disk, we had a lot of trouble backing up. We backed up one project without checking it, and when we went to remix, it wouldn't load or it would drop out. We had to redo two whole tracks." After researching the blank DAT market, the duo stick with Ampex and HHB tape: "Now we have no trouble at all."

They haven't been tempted to go all the way and integrate everything onto a single Macintosh, however. As Chris says: "A friend of ours went that route a couple of years ago. He bought a Mac IIci and spent a fortune on all the NuBus cards and gigabyte drives to do hard disk recording and sampling. Basically, everything relied on the Macintosh... and one day it crashed. He was totally stuck: it was during a holiday, and he couldn't get it fixed for a week. All his word processing and graphics were on the computer, as well as well as sequencing and hard disk recording and graphics. I'm definitely not going to do that. If we get another hard disk system it'll probably be completely separate — we've been looking at the Akai DR4 and the new DR8. At the moment, sequencing and graphics and some sampling are on the Mac, the main sampling is on the Akai S1000, vocals go direct to S1100 and sounds come from the synths. If one thing breaks down, we can still carry on — we're not totally tied up to one piece of gear."

Mixing & Album Compilation

The final mixing of projects, not surprisingly, is direct to DAT, and final albums are compiled between two DAT machines. Chris adds: "We just do it on the two DAT machines and we've never had any trouble — people come here to compile their albums and we don't get any clicks or anything. It just works."

If the lack of multitrack seems anomalous, how about this: no mixing desk. Well, there is a mixer — a tour‑scarred Tascam MM1 MIDI mixer. Listening back to recent albums — Musik Fantastique and Chronomanic, for example — there is a real feeling of detail, depth and layers, rather as if very clever things were being done with EQ and crossfades, but given that the only mixer is the MM1, something else must be going on. Cosey: "We do a lot of preparation before we mix." Chris: "Almost everything we do, we mix live. The only extra EQ we've got is hi‑fi graphics, and that's it. The EQ on the MM1 is terrible! So we try to get the sound right before it gets to the mixer.

"We did some Erasure remixes, the whole of Chronomanic, half of Fantastique and some of Metaphysical in this way. But the MM1 is really showing its age now; it's been around the world about three times, some of the pots don't work and it's getting crackly, but the MIDI muting is invaluable; we use the mutes like noise gates and for chopping sounds up. The Wavestation has really good EQ built in, so I use that quite a lot."

Do they use the Wavestation's audio input? "We do; in fact we used the vocoder on Andy Bell's voice during the Erasure remix and messed about with it in the middle of the track. It was being a synth and a vocoder all at once, because we were mixing live."

When it comes to effects processing, the lack of auxiliary sends and mixer channels presents no problems; Chris: "Quite often we patch one effect in‑line with each synth rather than using sends and returns. The good thing about the S1100 and the Wavestation AD is that they both have their own effects built in, so we use them. But you can never have enough effects... I'd love even more in the rack." And the rack already includes a healthy complement — like the sound sources, modern devices such as a pair of Alesis Quadraverb+ multi‑effects units are joined by home studio classics such as Boss' DE200 digital delay, a Tantek modular rack, Roland Dimension D, and Accessit Autopanners. The DE200 also saw action on the recent Erasure remix: "We sampled Andy's voice, enhanced it and sped it up and slowed it down. There's nothing really like it any more for doing twiddly bits like that." A comprehensive patchbay system allows for maximum flexibility for repatching and making the most of the MM1.

With a lot going on during a mix, you'd be surprised if MasterTracks on the Mac wasn't used to the utmost, and Chris confirms that: "we use a lot of MIDI controllers and program changes to semi‑automate the mix. It gets quite complicated and very hairy sometimes."

The final mix goes through a BBE Sonic Maximizer: "But we always prepare the mix without the BBE, and switch it in before putting it to DAT. It really brings things alive, but if you leave it on too long you get used to it and keep turning it up. I find that I have to ride it sometimes, because if something like a really sharp synth sequence comes in, you have to actually turn it down."

The studio is due for a bit of a facelift — a replacement for the MM1 is on the shopping list, and a trusty pair of Tannoy Stratford monitors are approaching the end of their useful life. A recent attempt to reorganise the studio, which had been in place for 10 years, actually caused a few problems, as Chris explains, "Moving was the biggest mistake we ever made. We moved the speakers and all the other stuff around by about 90 degrees." Cosey adds: "It sounded awful, and we felt really disorientated." The move accentuated a bass trap in the room; what took a week to move was back in place within a couple of days.

Is It Live Or Is It Video?

Since splitting from TG, Chris & Cosey have been known for their live presence as much as for their recorded works, notching up several hundred gigs over the years. Perhaps understandably, gigging eventually became a grind. The under‑promotion of their last 'proper' album, Musik Fantastique, was the last straw. Chris: "It's soul‑destroying; we put a lot of work into that album, and we were really pleased with it. We even did a tour for it and everything." Cosey: "I think that's what decided us against touring. We decided to centralise everything and get full control again; if we only sell a fifth less albums, we'll probably make as much money, if not more, and we can continue. At least we'll have the satisfaction of knowing we tried to get the music out there."

The duo's last gig (February 1994) took place at the Milky Way in Amsterdam, coincidentally the venue of their first ever gig after TG. Chris takes up the story: "We were really in two minds about doing it. After the last big tour we did of the States, we decided it was too much — doing an album, then a tour, another album, another tour. It was awful, like a rock band or something!

"Normally, we take a DAT tape with us, and a load of gear, but this time we decided to just take gear. We took Cosey's Mac Power Book, the samplers and the keyboards, and got the ferry to Amsterdam with all the lager louts. And it was just all too easy! Nothing went wrong, nothing crashed. We set everything up, everyone clapped and they loved it. Afterwards we thought, 'Well, is that it?' There was no buzz, everything just happened by the book..." Cosey continues: "I think you get so used to doing gigs where you don't want anything to go wrong, but you still expect some kind of little hiccup or something that gives you a bit of a kick or a buzz".

Chris: "After that, we thought it was a good one to end on. We won't do any more." So after gigs, what is there? The answer appears to be video — an area the duo have always been keen on, with a corner of Studio 47 featuring a compact but comprehensive video editing suite. After declining to appear at the Sonár electronic music festival in Spain last June, C&C provided the festival with Select Reflections, a 30‑minute video piece from Chronomanic. A commission has also recently arisen for a French satellite station. But if you have any memories of C&C's live presence, you may well be able to relive them when a planned live compilation video is completed, which will feature material from most of their tours — considering the interesting and controversial video backdrops that accompanied C&C live, the video should be worth a look.

Sampling & Remixing

Chris & Cosey's recently appointed publicist, Jill Mingo, has a lot of contacts on the remixing scene, and they've discovered that quite a lot of people want to work with them; Cosey continues: "I'd heard of all these people, and wondered why they hadn't got in touch. She said that they thought we might be a bit precious about the fact that they sample our work, or that they use it when they remix live.

"The thing with sampling that I object to is when someone takes an actual composition, whether it's a melody or a drum pattern or something like that. They haven't the talent to create or compose something of their own, so they nick somebody else's. That's what I call stealing. But using sound, and manipulating it, whether it's rhythm or melody, using some other sound that we've produced, that's fine by me. But I don't like it when they blatantly lift something that is obviously your creation and put their name to it."

Chris adds: "Some of the TG remixes we've heard are really cover versions; I don't like that at all. But then you get people like Andy Weatherall doing 'United' [an old TG track] it's different; if someone had played that to me blind, I wouldn't have known it was 'United' and we wrote the track! I quite like the idea of that, where the new track is so far removed from the original — I thought that was brilliant."

Chris is philosophical on the subject of credits: "We're always hearing of our stuff being sampled... we can't keep track of it. It's good that people are listening to us, and it's nice when we read of people citing us or TG as an influence. I would like a credit every time we're sampled, but I'm realistic; I don't think it'll happen. It'd be nice if people buying a record knew where the sounds or samples came from, but that would make the credit list for some tracks really long."

Chris & Cosey do have experience of the other side of the remixing coin, albeit officially: the duo have moved into remixing other artists. So far, their most significant jobs have been for Mute Records (home of the Throbbing Gristle CD reissues), more specifically a couple of remixes for Erasure — a track from the Abba‑esque EP and a version of 'Run for the Sun'. While the duo's lack of a multitrack tape machine may seem problematic in the context of an official remix (multitrack masters are usually made available to official remixers), the solution is simple, as Chris explains: "We ask for a track sheet of what's on the multitrack and get a DAT transfer of the tracks we want. We then sample those tracks and start remixing."

An album of official remixes of C&C tracks by other artists is currently being planned. It's an area that the duo find exciting, and for the album project are going through old multitrack masters to extract vocals and sound effects for remixers to work with. This has not been without its problems: a lot of their old masters were on tape stock of just the right vintage to cause problems with tape jamming, falling oxide and so on — problems also encountered during the remastering of the TG back catalogue for CD release.


For the future, there's a lot on the boil — the weirdest project is Chris & Cosey's contribution of a Van Der Graf Generator cover version to a '70s pomp rock cover compilation. Chris notes that they hope to reactivate their label, CTI: "We had the label when we were with Rough Trade. We're doing a similar thing with a company called World Serpent: they cover all the production and distribution, but it's our label. The first two volumes of the Library of Sound and Cosey's Time to Tell [a plush, limited edition CD reissue of a cassette release from the early '80s] have been released on these terms. And we want to do another Core album." The original Core project (1988) featured collaborations between C&C and the likes of Coil and Robert Wyatt. "We want to work with some of the people that we couldn't fit in last time. We have a list of people that we want to be on it and their are other people that want to be on it. Daniel Miller [founder of Mute Records] was going to be on the first one, but he was just too busy; Coil will probably be on it again. That'll take a while to put together." There's also a new C&C album, the next instalment of Library of Sound and the C&C remix album project. With video work and further moves into the remixing arena, there's going to be plenty to keep the duo busy.

Further information regarding Chris & Cosey's activities and mail order service can be obtained from: BM CTI, London WC1N 3XX. Another interview with them can be found in Charles Neal's Tape Delay, available from SOS Bookshelf, Code B208, price £11.95 plus postage. It dates from 1987, and offers a good snapshot of a 'scene' at that point in time.

Recording A Track

It's an SOS tradition to ask an artist, wherever possible, how a typical track is put together, and coincidentally, Chris & Cosey had actually put together something just before the interview. Chris explains: "Today we started off with a sample on the S1100 which sounded good; I started playing around with the Wasp and there was another sound in the Wavestation that seemed to fit and it developed into a little track."

This was essentially the routine for Chronomanic; this album features pieces that are meant to evoke certain pagan festivals, although Cosey is the first to admit that the result is entirely subjective. There was a lot of pre‑planning and careful selection of sounds. A typical track, 'Devash' (festival which takes place on May 10th to celebrate a partial solar eclipse), started with a couple of rhythm loops. Chris takes up the story: "We started with two sampled ethnic loops, triggered from Mastertracks Pro. I set them running and started bringing in some synth noises — we wanted it fairly heavy sounding."

The synth noise in question sounded, to me, like a manic, earthy digeridu; Cosey comments: "It sounds like a dirty guitar to me!" Chris adds: "It's just the modular system, using loads of stacked filter modules." There follow a distorted synth sound from the Wavestation and a sequence from the SH101; apart from the loops and a sampled guitar slide from an old track, all of 'Devash' is synths. Cosey notes that there were about eight different little melodies; she'd play them into the sequencer in one go, and then the bits they liked were cut and pasted to create the final track. Cosey comments: "I remember sitting at the Mac and doing this track. We had a lot of trouble with it. With a lot of tracks on this album, we decided on beginning and end sections before filling in the bits in between. Sometimes an outro became a middle bit, and we'd do another outro. We had to build up to something, so that's where the intro came in and while we did the intro, because it was leading you in somewhere, we also did the outro because we didn't want all the tracks to end abruptly, but to sort of drift away." Chris continues: "Sometimes we'd get sort of mentally and creatively constipated. If we were trying too hard, we just dumped a track." Cosey again: "Or we'd take a chunk out of the middle of a track that we did like and work from that."



  • Akai S1000, 8Mb
  • Akai S1100, 16Mb and 24 minutes hard disk recording (both connected to a 128Mb removable hard drive and an Apple 300 CD‑ROM drive)
  • Akai MX73 master keyboard
  • Casio CZ101
  • Casio SK5 sampler
  • Casio CSM10P piano module
  • Casio MT30 home keyboard (with heavy Serge modifications)
  • Clap Trap percussion synth
  • EDP Wasp
  • Korg Wavestation AD
  • Roland D50 and PG1000 programmer
  • Roland SPD8 drum pads
  • Roland D110
  • Roland System 100M (with nine Roland and 10 Digisound modules)
  • Roland SH101 (with external inputs)
  • Roland SPV355 pitch to voltage synth
  • Roland TR808 drums
  • Roland TB303 Bassline


  • Accessit Autopanner (three)
  • Akai A22 12‑band EQ
  • Alesis 3630 compressor
  • Alesis Quadraverb+ (two units)
  • BBE 322 Sonic Maximizer
  • Boss DE200 (with CV input mod)
  • Boss pedals (distortion, flanger, phaser and micro amp)
  • Eventide HM80 Harmonizer
  • Korg SDD3000
  • Roland SRV2000
  • Roland Dimension D
  • Roland DEP3
  • Tantek rack (12 modules)
  • Technics 12‑band EQ
  • Yamaha SPX90
  • Zoom 9002 guitar multi‑effects


  • 128Mb optical drive
  • Apple Mac Powerbook 145 (12Mb RAM)
  • Apple Mac Quadra 660AV (24Mb RAM and CD ROM)
  • Amiga 500
  • Atari STE
  • Macman dual MIDI interface (two units)


  • Elmwood VMS20 video mixer
  • JVC S1000 studio camera with genlock
  • Panasonic FS100 SVHS recorder
  • Panasonic MS50 SVHS camcorder
  • Panasonic AVE5 Digital AV mixer
  • Panasonic, JVC and Akai VHS recorders
  • Sony 4000P video camera
  • Sony HVS 2000P video effects unit (two units)
  • Sony U‑matic recorder


  • Aiwa HDX1 portable DAT
  • Auratone 5C speakers
  • Groove M2CV MIDI‑CV interface (with Wasp mod)
  • Roland A220 MIDI separator
  • Roland MC8 Microcomposer (with sync mod)
  • Sony 55ES DAT
  • Sony DTC1000ES DAT
  • Sony WMD6 Pro Walkman
  • Tannoy Stratford speakers
  • Tascam MM1 mixer
  • XRI XR300 synchroniser
  • XRI XR400 MIDI patchbay



  • Heartbeat Rough Trade, 1981; Play it Again Sam CD 1990
  • Trance RT, 1982; PIAS CD 1990
  • Song of Love & Lust RT, 1984; PIAS CD 1990
  • Techno Primitive RT, 1985; PIAS CD 1990
  • Take Five Mini‑LP, Nettwork Productions, 1986; PIAS 1987
  • Action PIAS 1987; CD 1990
  • Exotika PIAS 1987
  • Pagan Tango PIAS 1991
  • Trust PIAS 1989
  • Musik Fantastique PIAS 1992


  • Core 1988
  • Library of Sound: Metaphysical CTI 1993
  • Library of Sound: Chronomanic CTI 1994
  • Time To Tell CTI 1994

Subliminally Speaking

One technique for which Chris & Cosey are famous — if not notorious — is the use of subliminals. Chris: "We haven't used actual subliminals for ages. People started listening for them, which sort of defeats the point. We still do subliminal textures, little sounds and effects, but not actual phrases, not since Musik Fantastique, which also used a lot of Roland RSS 3D processing. We started trying to get a similar effect by mixing around and putting things out of phase, and there's a really nice rotary effect in the Wavestation that can produce a very similar effect — it makes everything sound like it's coming from behind the speakers."