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How I Got That Sound: David Bottrill

Peter Gabriel ‘Passion’ By Joe Matera
Published April 2024

How I Got That Sound

David Bottrill’s vast credit list runs the gamut from artists such as Peter Gabriel, Smashing Pumpkins and Tool to Muse, Silverchair, Rush and many others. Asked to pick a favourite sound from that catalogue, he chose the drone that underpins ‘Passion’ by Peter Gabriel, from the soundtrack to The Last Temptation Of Christ (1989).

Building The Drone

How I Got That Sound: David Bottrill‘Passion’ by Peter Gabriel, from the soundtrack to The Last Temptation Of Christ (1989).“The track starts out with the drone, which was the main building block of a lot of the pieces on the soundtrack. Because it was back in the analogue tape days, I used a 24‑track tape to build multiple drone sounds. I used a Prophet‑5 synthesizer as one of the main sound sources. I built a low pad‑like sound and put that on one track and in a specific key. Peter often liked to work in the key of B or B minor, but if the track was to be written in another key, we could just varispeed the tape and tune it to the desired key. We had a reverb unit called the Quantec Room Simulator and it was one of the first reverbs that had a freeze function on it, so I would set up a long reverb sound, Peter would sing a note into it, and I’d hit freeze. Then he would sing a second note, a third or fifth, and I would open the freeze switch and then re‑freeze it and keep doing it ’til we had a chord built up.

“I had an old Vox bass guitar, and I would tune it so all the strings were either B or F#, set in front of an amp and get it into a stable feedback and I recorded that on a track. Then I would do the same with my Stratocaster. I had a lot of tools to use, so I would switch to other keyboards to make different drones or use different sources for the Quantec. I also made more drones out of some samples in the Fairlight. I would build drones on all 24 tracks, all in the same key, and then took that 24‑track and used it as it was, or used varispeed to tune the tape to the key desired. Then, using all the 24 faders, I would bus the output of those tracks to another tape machine and ‘play’ the sound, bringing up each one separately and blend different tones to build a living drone for around 10 minutes or so. We built long pieces because we didn’t know how long the cues would be, so better to be too long than too short. I then had this stereo track of this moving drone that gave you this whole atmosphere for the entire length of the track.”

Jon Hassell Trumpet

“The first melody you hear is Jon Hassell playing trumpet, using a phrase Peter wrote for the piece. He has a very definitive sound, using a lot of breath in his playing, so it has a very unique and organic feel to the tone. I think he would blow into the trumpet as well as using his embouchure to make a breathier note.

David Bottrill: We would often record musicians together when improvising, so that they could feed off each other’s performance.

“Then Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang his part. I had never recorded him, and had no idea how loud or quiet he would be singing. He was sitting on the floor, and we had a U47 positioned on the floor with him. At the end of the track, I froze his last note into the Quantec and it holds his last note out for a much longer time and blends into the whole sonic texture. At the same time, L Shankar added his double violin. We would often record musicians together when improvising, so that they could feed off each other’s performance. I recorded Shankar through a DI and put his signal through a Roland Dimension‑D and then into a Delta Lab DL‑2 with a stereo delay, often an eighth and dotted eighth note.

“To build the keyboard sound Peter was playing, I again used the Prophet‑5 on a pad sound, often with the filter cutoff low and warm. I sent that off into an AMS DMX 15‑80S, set on both delay and an octave up and an octave down with internal feedback, to get these octave regeneration sounds. That gets sent to an AMS RMX 16 reverb, and the whole thing sounds heavenly. It took hours to build that, so after we recorded the track, I sampled each note on the keyboard into the Fairlight CMI Series III, so we would always have that sound to play. You can hear it all over the soundtrack.”