It is the morning after England's 5‑1 drubbing of Germany as a hoarse and slightly hung‑over Adie Flute, multimedia programmer/composer, opens his front door to an unforgiveably cheerful SOS writer and photographer. Several gallons of tea later, he's ready to brave the rigours of a photo session and a Sound On Sound examination of his home music setup.
Brought up in deepest Suffolk, before settling in Barnsley after college, Adie had a resoundingly classical musical background ("The first LP I ever owned was Handel's Water Music."). Playing both piano and violin, he was an active member of the local youth orchestra. "I used to go to a Music School group which was based at the local upper school on a Saturday morning, so when everyone else was watching Saturday morning telly, I was working!" Although bored with his classical lessons, Adie found himself doing the recently introduced music GCSE. At the time when pioneering cut‑and‑paste dance records such as 'Pump Up the Volume' were beginning to make an impact, Adie found the music course a little restricting. "I was using multiple tape recorders to make crude loops, and I tried to use that in my course work but was advised that it would be a good idea if I didn't. Funnily enough, at the same time I also wrote an orchestral piece, a full‑on composition, and was told the same thing!"
After his exams, and disillusioned with making music, Adie left school and did a couple of years of nine‑to‑five retail work, before stumbling over an advert in the NME for a creative music technology course at Barnsley College. "Although I hadn't done any proper recording as such, it was something that I really wanted to get into. As I was looking for a new job anyway, I rang Bob Davies, who was head of music, for a chat and the next week I was in Barnsley." After passing and thoroughly enjoying his HND course ("Everyone on the course was a musician and the teachers were a lot more on my wavelength"), Adie wanted to continue at Barnsley and do the corresponding degree course. Unfortunately, the course wasn't yet up and running, so he took some time out back in Suffolk before returning to college the following year.
It was while doing his degree that Adie really found his feet in composing for multimedia (which was included as part of the course). "The fantastic thing about multimedia was that it proved a great outlet for my less structured compositions." After passing his degree and returning to the college for a spot of teaching, Adie fell into his current job at HMA New Media: "A mate of mine who I'd taught multimedia to told me there might be a job going and said that I should give it a shot. I went to see them and got the job."
Although his multimedia work entails both design and programming, Adie also gets to soundtrack the company's projects, a job that he does on his compact home setup. I wondered how he went about composing for such work.
"If I'm writing for a web site I'll have to come up with a very short piece of music, definitely below 30 seconds in length, that loops nicely. I'll try not to go crazy with the bass or the top end, as it's got to be re‑sampled at between 11 and 16 kHz, and will lose a lot of definition anyway."
Most of Adie's ideas start with a piano and bass loop recorded into Cubase and built up gradually. A quick scan down his kit list reveals a lack of any kind of mixer, so how does he combine all his sound sources? "I've never got around to buying a mixer, so basically I feed the computer, sampler, Korg module and Hammond into my amp which, luckily, has enough inputs. I'll compose from there and then when I'm happy I'll record parts one by one back into Cubase as audio tracks. This method does hamper me in terms of time, re‑sampling the tracks and mixing them down, but it's the way I've always done it. It's a pain, but I get by." The finished composition is then burned onto a CDR as a 44.1kHz WAV file, ready to be re‑sampled and used.
As well as creating loops for web sites, Adie works on other projects that offer a little more scope in terms of length and sound quality. "Some multimedia work allows me around a minute's loop time, sampled at 22kHz." This may still sound quite restrictive, but Adie points out why the restrictions are necessary: "Because a lot of the projects I write for are business‑to‑business, people don't have the time to sit and wait for stuff to load. As for the 22kHz sample rate, it doesn't really impose that many constraints on the sound, and at the end of the day the material is going to be heard on computer speakers anyway." Working in this way means that Adie has to constantly juggle size and quality, as he explains: "I use Cool Edit Pro a lot for re‑sampling, as it works wonders when going from a 44.1kHz stereo file to 22kHz mono. It's all about trying to get a track that is short enough to be loaded quickly but doesn't sound too obviously looped."
Perhaps the nearest thing to standard soundtrack work that Adie does is his scoring for digital video, although there are obvious differences: "Video work is normally a company promotion‑type brief, so it's not like scoring a film — it's more of a pop promo style. It has to be punchy and 'in your face', not staying with any one angle for too long." Such work often means that Adie works closely with artists or 3D modellers. "For the last project, I wrote a loop and gave the timing between each beat/bar to the 3D guy and he did his work to that rhythm. We constructed the whole video to that loop, then I brought it back here and finished off the tune using visual cues."
Adie's home setup is well stocked with keyboards, including a Hammond XB1, the modern digital recreation of a classic Hammond organ. Was there any master plan behind the accumulation of gear? Adie: "Not really. The only things I've set out with plans to buy are the Korg 05 module — for all those bread and butter sounds that you use time and time again, like pianos and strings — and the Hammond." Needing little excuse, Adie fires up the organ and plays a few bars. "It's a very good emulation, and well thought out; for example, it's great that the reverb and overdrive controls are on the front panel instead of being tucked away behind a menu." I wondered if he'd ever considered buying a classic rather than a modern version? "Not really. Money's obviously an issue, but so is practicality. Old Hammonds are big bits of kit and a Leslie speaker is a ridiculously weighty thing to lug around."
What does he think of the trend towards creating plug‑ins of classic instruments like Native Instruments' virtual take on the B3 organ? "I really haven't gone down that plug‑in route. Apart from the fact that I need to upgrade my computer to run them properly, I like to have something tangible in my hands. It probably comes from my love of the '80s, where a keyboard player on Top Of The Pops would have ridiculous racks of gear. That's why I don't like mp3 as a format. I want to have the CD or vinyl with the artwork — the whole package."
Talking of the '80s, you can't help but notice Adie's personalised Casio CZs, a 101 and a 1000. "The CZ's were the first bits of serious gear I ever bought. I got them in a shop in Ipswich. I remember that the Korg M1 had just been released and I saw someone playing one in the shop and it just blew me away." However, the M1 was way out of Adie's price range, so the CZs had to suffice. I venture that the passing of time hasn't been kind to them, but Adie disagrees: "They've got a great sound! I still use the 101 live and it's fantastic. It's got a very harsh, cutting, synthy sound. The only problem with them is that they only have two oscillators each, so if you want a decent, thick sound you've got to be using them in solo (monophonic) mode. But that's OK. Whack some portamento on them or kick them through a wah‑wah pedal and they sound great."
In tune (pardon the pun) with an emerging '80s fixation is Adie's Roland G707 MIDI guitar. "I first saw one on Rock School, a dodgy 'let's learn how to be pop stars'‑type show. I remember thinking at the time that it was the most amazing thing in the world — he's playing that keyboard with a guitar!" So how does it shape up against today's technology? Adie laughs: "The other part of the system that you don't see is the big, lumpy, metal pedal. It's got some mad sounds on it, but the MIDI response time is pretty dire. I still use it a lot, but just as a straight guitar. It's actually very well made."
Although the vocoder has been through a recent revival (to the point of it becoming rather passé), it's a surprise to find Adie owns not one talkbox, but two. "I bought the Dunlop one first, and you can get some mad sounds out of it, but I kind of wanted that classic talkbox sound which I found really hard to achieve with it." So he shopped around for something more suitable and decided on the Digitech Talker. "The Talker is a superb bit of kit — you just plug a mic straight in rather than having to use a tube, and it's much easier to get some instantly good‑sounding results." The Talker finds its way into both Adie's live and production work. "I use the Digitech live as a straightforward vocoder, with the CZ101 as the main synth source, but for production purposes it's got other settings that add some amazing noise to whatever you feed into it. I tend to throw beats through it. You end up with some really nasty drum loops to sample back into the computer."
Adie's favourite bit of kit is undoubtedly his Yamaha PF15 electric piano. "It's getting on a bit, but it's got a beautiful sound and the keys have a nice bit of weight to them. It's also built like a brick shithouse, all wood and metal. If you look inside, the speakers are mounted on blocks of wood — it's just six bits of chipboard with a hole cut in them and a speaker dropped in!" And if money was no object, what would he buy? "I'm trying to get hold of an old Rhodes piano through an online auction, but if money was no object I suppose it would be a really nice grand piano. It's just such a huge expense. The emulations are really good now but it's just not like having the real thing."
They've Got The Funk
As well as writing for his day job, Adie is also the driving force behind an eight‑piece Prince/George Clinton‑styled funk band, Sister (web site www.fullfatfunk.com), consisting of a three‑piece horn section (one horn player doubling on lead vocals), DJ, drums, bass, guitar, and Adie on keys. I asked him how the band, for which he writes and arranges, came about. "When I came back to Barnsley to do my degree course, my friend Dan, who plays guitar, said he was in a band called The Only Tree [laughs] and did I want to come along and play keys? So I started playing and writing the odd song for them — kind of indie, Wonderstuff‑style songs. All the type of songs I hate, actually! Basically, we got fed up with it and left, taking most of the band with us." Thus Sister was born, though the band was put on the back burner for around a year due to work commitments. However, Adie has recently been putting the finishing touches to their debut four‑track EP, which has already stirred some label interest.
Rather than using his home setup and Cubase VST's facilities to record the EP, Adie decided to go into a commercial studio, to ensure that the recording quality and standard of engineering would be top‑notch. He turned to another friend from college. "We recorded the EP at Steve Ellis' studio in Rotherham. Steve's a really good up‑and‑coming producer and has got an excellent ear. It really helped that we were friends, we understood each other, and he was happy to let me co‑produce. I went into the studio with a handful of Cubase guide tracks and we started to replace these one at a time with live takes." But even though Steve Ellis was prepared to give Adie 'mate's rates', commercial studio time still costs money. "The restraints put upon the band were as much financial as anything else, but we got to a point where I said 'we've got to do this.' It was always at the back of our minds that we had to get it out. We wanted the EP to be properly mastered, we wanted the artwork to look the business. Everything had to be right."
- IBM‑compatible PC, 166MHz, 96Mb RAM, 4Gb HD, running Steinberg Cubase VST MIDI + Audio sequencer
- Hammond XB1 drawbar organ keyboard
- Korg 05R/W synth module
- Casio CZ101 synth
- Akai S20 sampler
- Audio Technica ATH‑M40s headphones
- Casio CZ101 & CZ1000 Phase Distortion synthesizers
- Casio electric piano
- Digitech Talker vocal synthesizer
- Dunlop Cry‑baby wah pedal
- Dunlop/Heilsound talkbox
- Fostex DE1 multi‑effects
- IBM‑compatible PC, 166MHz, 96Mb RAM, 4Gb HD, running Steinberg Cubase VST MIDI + Audio sequencer
- Hammond XB1 drawbar organ
- Hi‑fi amp
- Korg 05R/W synth module
- Laney 80 Watt keyboard amp
- Roland MT32 module
- Roland G707 MIDI guitar
- Sony hi‑fi speakers
- Sound Tech PA
- Tandy toy megaphone
- Yamaha EMP1 sound expander
- Yamaha PF15 electronic piano
The Case For Sample CDS
Although sampling does enter into Adie's productions, he finds his Akai S20 phrase sampler is more than adequate for his needs.
"For most things I'll sample in Cool Edit and transfer to Cubase, which is great for loops, and also for seeing the waveform up there on screen."
One sampling issue that Adie feels strongly about is sample CDs: he wouldn't be without them. "I've always approached this from a composer's point of view. I just can't be arsed to sit down and go through a stack of records for a break, or mess with one sound for hours on end. I need to get to the composition process as quickly as possible." In particular, Adie is a fierce defender of using commercially‑available drum loops. "When I started out I used the basic MIDI sequencer version of Cubase and programmed all the drums and sounds myself. But now, with so much choice, why would I want to spend time programming a drum loop when I can use something off a CD that will sound a hell of a lot better? If I could afford it I'd hire a proper studio and have a drummer in, as I'd much rather hear real live drums than programmed drums." As this isn't a possibility for Adie at the moment, it looks as though the sample CDs are here to stay.