Mark Tinley tells Nigel Humberstone how he landed the gig as Duran Duran's programmer and what the job entails.
Mark Tinley has so far had a varied musical career; he's had record releases with his own projects, worked on writing collaborations with his brother Adamski, Glenn Gregory and Gary Numan, and has also dabbled in writing music for adverts. But as MIDI consultant for a number of artists and music shops, he's now establishing his name as a programmer, most notably with Nick Rhodes. So how did the Duran Duran connection come about?
"A guy I know at Blade had done a lot of things for Warren, Duran Duran's guitarist, and he asked if they knew of anyone who could programme keyboards. Blade passed on my number, I did some programming for them, and then they asked if I wanted to go on tour with them as their keyboard technician."
Were Duran Duran a group with whose material you were familiar with?
"Well I was from the point of view of having heard their stuff on the radio, but I'd never bought a Duran Duran record. In fact when I started working with them I found it quite frightening how many of their songs I knew."
I approached my next question with a certain amount of trepidation. Did Mark feel that people like Nick Rhodes needed a programmer and how could he justify his job?
"A lot of people say 'Why do you need a record producer?' which is what I want to do eventually, or 'Why do people need re‑mixers?' And I feel that people use a programmer because they quite often can't see the wood for the trees — it's always good to have another person there. I mean, I don't 'need' an engineer, but I always work with one 'cos it's another input and from someone who's really good at what they do. You choose to work with people who are the best. My brother (Adamski) needs a programmer because he needs someone to translate what he's trying to say musically into something that can be sold to people. But if people are good enough they don't need anyone."
Surely you're not saying that Nick Rhodes isn't good enough?
"Nick Rhodes is a lot more than just a keyboard player, he's got a whole vision of being in a pop band and he doesn't just think about what keyboards he's playing. He's controlling so many aspects of Duran Duran that he hasn't got time to sit in front of a K2000 and learn how to use it, but he has got time to decide what it should sound like."
That led me on to asking about the kind of equipment used to provide the backing tracks.
"They don't really require that much sequencing," replies Mark, "especially with the new album where we're only sequencing one song. Some of the older stuff like 'Reflex' and 'Wild Boys' need it, but even if the whole system crashed they're quite capable of playing all the songs with no sequencing at all. The sequencing is just like the icing on the cake."
The sequencing system has been in operation since March '93 and is handled by an Atari Stacy 2 laptop computer running C‑Lab Creator software and driving a rackmount Kurzweil K2000.
"The K2000 is the only sound tool and I've got it doing everything 'cos you can put so much sample memory in it (maximum 64Mb). We've got 32Mb in it along with the sampling option."
Two ADATs are also employed as a back‑up, with a BRC controlling everything. So how is the whole system synchronised?
"The main controller is the Alesis BRC which sends MTC (MIDI Timecode) to the K2000, SMPTE to the Stacy computer and whatever the tape code is to the ADATs."
It's an interesting way of going about it — the ADAT's are playing a recorded version of the live sequences?
"Pretty much, yeah. Either way it's backed up, although I'm not really sure what is backing up what! It's nicer to run it from the sequencer 'cos then you can change things around if you have to. If I need to change the set around, I do it within the sequencer and run the system without a backup — with crossed fingers."
Nick Rhodes' Setup
"Nick has an Ensoniq SD1 which is good for metallic 'whooshy' noises and more 'film'‑type sounds. But Nick also uses the pianos 'cos he likes those sounds, and the strings. The JD800 is pretty good for weird sounds as well and a lot of the sounds are basically modified presets. He'll say 'I like this sound, but can you make it like this?' So when we first started he went through all the sounds on all the keyboards and decided what sounds worked for various songs, then asked me to modify those that weren't quite right. And sometimes he'll just describe a sound and I'll sit down and make it for him.
"All of the other sounds came straight off the master tapes, especially from the new album, which was all recorded in Warren's front room using an Akai DD1000 and two ADAM 12‑track digital recorders (see Recording Musician April '93). The master tapes were all little Video 8 cassettes, DATs and S1000 backup files."
How does Nick control his on‑stage setup?
"With a Digital Music MX8 MIDI patchbay. The SD1 always plays itself, whilst the K2000 is set up as a master keyboard with the JD800 so they can play each other, and it's all routed through the patchbay. Nick likes the MX8 'cos it's got big buttons on it — just press it and you're in the song and everything's set up. It's terribly unreliable but it's simple and Nick likes it. I also tried to encourage him to use more elaborate master keyboards but he doesn't particularly like the feel of weighted keys. With the K2000 you can use three different patches on three different MIDI channels so you can layer stuff really nicely."
Mark operates a totally separate rack system off‑stage because he wanted the two to be entirely independent.
"I didn't want to have to put any sequences through a patchbay, because in my experience the timing falls apart, and as I'm working with lots of loops and big chunks of sounds taken from the master tapes, it just isn't worth doing. People have these patchbays with their sequencing setups and I just say 'Why?' When I'm working, I also try to run each keyboard from a separate MIDI Out on the computer. People say I'm obsessive and excessive but I always run the sampler on the 'A' or main MIDI output from the Atari because that's apparently the fastest one."
You've seen the car I drive. I don't want to spend a lot of money on a car; I'd rather spend it on what I do.
Another part of Nick Rhodes' onstage rig is a little Kawai PH50 keyboard with a wireless MIDIman taped to the bottom.
"It allows Nick to walk around the stage and play if he wants to. It's all routed back to the MX8 with specific patches set up and normally it'll work fine, but at times, like if we're near airfields or whatever, it tends to spit out notes that aren't being played — which can get rather embarrassing! So the MX8 allows us to quickly switch between the two."
Mark's favourite piece of gear, and his main workhorse, is the Kurzweil K2000. Being a regular visitor to the States he also finds that he's able to keep ahead with all the new developments for the machine.
"I recently discovered that I had access to all sorts of things that people can't get over here in England — like programme RAM update boards and sample input boards. Apparently the company is servicing all of America before they send anything here, which is terrible because the K2000 has the potential to lead the market because of the things it can do. It's absolutely brilliant, but if they're not marketing it properly, then they're fighting a losing battle.
"The K2000 loads EPS files, Akai and Roland S770 (from hard disk). You can put 64Mb of memory in it and it uses standard SIMMs so you can upgrade it cheaply. In fact there's not many things that it can't do that I'd want it to do! All the eight outputs have send and return loops, so I use a Boss SE70 on the B output and the internal effects on the A output. Drum loops I send dry to the front‑of‑house along with any vocal effect parts."
Mark's choice and collection of equipment is now based around similar gear to that owned by Duran Duran. This compatibility means that he can work in his programming room at Camden Lock Studios in North London while the band and their equipment are in America (which they are most of the time). In the past he seems to have tried just about everything.
"I started off with a drum machine and realised that I didn't need a drummer any more. Then I got into sequenced keyboards and realised I didn't need a bass player any more — which was even more brilliant. After that I sold the drum machine and bought a computer (Sinclair ZX Spectrum) and built my own sample interface for it, which had 48K of memory with 32K for samples. It had this insane quality that was so 'grungy'; there was something about that sound and I've been trying to get it ever since I sold the thing before buying a Casio FZ1 in 1987. Basically it was all about having no output filtering on the sample and it's something that Kurzweil are working on at the moment."
What followed the FZ1?
"Everything really — I like buying and selling things, trying them out. The Fender keyboard (Chroma Polaris) is the best and worst thing — I've had it for ever and have been trying to sell it for just as long! I bought it 'cos I'd got a Roland TB303 and had no way of making it MIDI without spending lots of money. When I tried the Polaris I discovered that I could make it sound exactly like a 303 and it was one of the first keyboards fitted with MIDI. You can also make it sound like a JX3P and it gets close to a Juno 106, but doesn't have the chorus."
In addition to these items Mark has recently bought an Akai DR4d, a Mackie CR1604 mixer, Boss SE70 and Sony R7 effects unit.
"You've seen the car I drive (a beat‑up A‑reg Fiat Panda). I don't want to spend a lot of money on a car; I'd rather spend it on what I do. It's more important to me to have this stuff than it is to have a nice car."
Nick Rhodes' Keyboard Rig
- Kurzweil K2000 keyboard (32 Meg memory)
- Ensoniq SD1 (32‑voice) synth
- Roland JD800 synth
- Yamaha SY85 synth
- Kawai PH50 keyboard (fitted with wireless MIDIman transmitter and encoder)
- Yamaha DMP7 mixer
- Boss SE50 stereo effects processor
- Digital Music MX8 MIDI patchbay
MARK'S OFFSTAGE RIG AND RACKS
- Atari Stacy 2 laptops (x2)
- C‑Lab Creator software
- Alesis ADAT (x2)
- Alesis BRC remote synchroniser
- Kurzweil K2000RS (32 Meg memory)
- Kawai RV4 stereo effects processor
- Boss SE50 stereo effects processor
- Yamaha MDF2 MIDI Datafiler
- Acoustic Research Red Box monitors
- UPS (backup mains supply unit)
MARK TINLEY'S PERSONAL SETUP
- Kurzweil K2000RS (10 Meg memory)
- Akai DR4d hard disk recorder
- Sony 128Meg Optical Drive
- Boss SE70 effects
- Sony DPS R7 digital reverb
- Mackie CR1604 mixer
- Chroma Polaris keyboard
- Atari 1040STE (4 Meg)
- Atari SM147 14‑inch monitor
- Unitor 2 Synchroniser/port expansion
- Emagic LOG3
Other travel essentials:
- Psion 3a Organiser
- Canon portable printer
- Yamaha QY20 Walkstation
- Sony TCD‑D7 portable DAT
"I'm upset to hear that the UKMA (United Kingdom MIDI Association) is now no more due to a lack of subscribers. I used to run the FZ1 Users Club and it really annoyed me that people were so unwilling to pay for information — they all expect it free. But all that kind of information is so important because it makes the difference between someone being amateur or professional. The UKMA meant that at any time during a tour I could ring England and find out any information about MIDI on their helpline. In America all those user clubs keep going 'cos people are interested in having that information at their fingertips."
- YAMAHA QY20: "It's brilliant — I use it on tour now as a master keyboard for programming. It's so easy to sit in front of the rack with the QY20 in your lap and program, rather than go to all the trouble of setting up a keyboard. And because I'm not really a keyboard player (Mark was originally a guitarist) it's easy to play all those 'big' chords on a little keyboard."
- KAWAI RV4: "It's got four individual inputs with four stereo outputs which I actually use unconventionally as a mixer. I take feeds from the K2000, after the stage DI boxes, into the RV4 and monitor the sequences on headphones, changing the levels if necessary. It's great to have it as a programmable 1U rack‑mounted mixer."
- AKAI DR4d: "I've just got the DR4d and it's brilliant. I'm using it for a Duran Duran re‑mix that I'm doing at the moment. I recorded the vocals on it, and then on track four I recorded a mono mix of the track, then juggled everything until I got them lined up. It generates MTC (MIDI timecode) which I connect to my computer and map out all the tempo changes, then I can write all the parts in the sequencer, in time with the vocals."
- PSION 3A ORGANISER: "I've really got into this whole thing of being completely mobile. All the other technicians had got Psion organisers on tour and I couldn't see the point of having one until I actually bought one. Now I've got the latest model and I'm showing it to everyone!"