Future Music Interview, February 1994
© Future Music 1994
And then there were two.
First to wander was Peter Hook with his band Revenge, then Barney Summer with - the sublime Electronic and, most recently, the other two, calling themselves... erm... 'The Other Two', who suddenly popped up with a single by the name of Tasty Fish. It's a zesty pop blast that owes a great deal (unsurprisingly) to New Order and which, at the time, was a promise of things to come...
"We started using it as fast as it was invented, really before MIDI, even!" remembers Stephen.
"As New Order, the first thing we had was a home-made Transcendent 2000 and a Transcendent sequencer on which we managed to triple the memory by piggy-backing some RAM. That was 1979, before MIDI was invented. The first drum machine we had was a Boss Dr Rhythm.' It was all plugging little mini jacks into little mini jacks. It was all CV and gate."..
Gillian joins in the reminiscences: "When we started taking all the gear out live, we would have to test it on stage before we played. That was my job. It was a bit weird, but it was the only way you could check that it was working.".."By playing the set before we came on!" laughs Stephen...
Synthesizer technology had always fascinated Stephen, and it was an EP by electropioneers Can that first tickled his fancy. "What got me interested was the cover of Tago Mago which is a photo of the drummer Jaki Liebezeit. He's got these things that look like radiators all round him. A mate of mine, ever eager to bullshit, told me they were drum synthesizers. The concept of it appealed to me and I thought 'I've got to get one of those'. I had no idea what they were, I just thought they'd make you sound like Jaki Liebezeit...
"When I eventually got a drum synthesizer and it made that 'boo boo' noise, you can imagine my disappointment. I decided to make it do something else. With Joy Division, there's a sound that's on Atrocity Exhibition that sounds like feedback guitar with a pig being slaughtered in the background - that's this tiny little drum synthesizer put through a fuzz pedal."..
When the first digital drum machines started to appear, like the Linn, life got easier; but only gradually. "We also got an Oberheim DMX [drum machine] and Prophet V [synthesizer] with its polysequencing," explains Stephen. "It had a digital interface - it wasn't MIDI but getting that way. Another fun thing was that all the stuff on that was stored on micro cassettes, not the same ones as Dictaphones use, but these very special ones that I don't think you can get any more. The drum machine was brilliant because it was the first thing you could program in real time. You actually played a rhythm into it rather than stepping through...
"The poly sequencer was like Morse code programming. It was in 32 clock steps, so you had to count through every click. If you made a mistake there was no way you could just go back a few steps, you'd have to go all the way back to the beginning."..
"We'd have a huge sheet of paper and every little tick on it was a clock step," says Gillian "But when we loaded tapes and the data wasn't there, we just wouldn't believe it." We all know the full horror of losing acres of carefully put-together data in the blinking of an electronic metronome. Thankfully this is a rare occurrence now, but back then erroneous memory crashes were commonplace, even the norm...
Did the group ever have the situation where you were actually programming during soundchecks?
"One time I was doing that in the middle of a gig," laughs Stephen. "It was in Chicago. The room was so hot that the memory just dumped itself spontaneously. It was literally a case of reprogramming the unit as the song was playing. And I was playing drums, too."..
Gillian chips in: "The Prophets were already unreliable, so when the sequencers started getting that way as well, everything got wiped. The Prophet was wonky and playing out of tune and the sequencer wouldn't play back anything at all...
"You have to remember that this was all on tape. It was Sinclair ZX81 time, you had to back up on to cassette. With the DMX, the only cassette player you could use was a Marantz Superscope - the world's hardest-to-find cassette player. It was only available in America."..
Despite an almost constant battle to get everything working properly, New Order were never tempted to chuck it all in and play rock music...
"We'd started something and we wanted to finish it," says Stephen. "A large part of Power, Corruption and Lies had already been written with this gear and there was no other way to do it...
"It was only when MIDI was invented that things became more reliable - we waited ages for our first MIDI sequencer the Yamaha QXI, which was advertised two years before it came out. We knew it was going to do everything we wanted. The only other option we really considered was to get a Fairlight."..
Ah yes, the famous sampling wonder-machine, developed in Australia and responsible for door-slamming snare sounds on Kate Bush LPs and blown milk bottles on Peter Gabriel's. The Fairlight could do nearly everything the Akai S900 can do, for, ooh, about 27 times the cost. As Gillian points out: "One of them would have cost the same amount as all our houses put together. It just didn't justify the price - just to do something you'd written on cheap equipment."..
Always keen to try something new, and not disheartened, New Order started using computers.
"There were two abortive experiments with a Mac and the Mountain Music System," remembers Stephen. "We took it to a rehearsal hoping we could write something with it. You had a light pen and drew notes on it, but all it could do was play the Moonlight Sonata. After that someone did an add-on keyboard which was supposed to turn it into a poor man's Fairlight...
"We spent ages and ages trying to make it match the sounds on a Moog Source by using waveforms. Everything it did sounded like a Hammond Organ. I remember, we'd been trying to get this thing to work all day, it was getting really late and suddenly we got really excited because it was starting to sound right. Then we realized that all the inputs on the amp were turned up full and all we were listening to was distortion. We turned it back to normal and it was shite."..
A shopping expedition to correct the situation bore no fruit. "We were going to get a Fairlight, a Synclavier or a PPG. We took the SCI Pro One down there and said 'Make it sound like this, take that reverb off'. It couldn't be done."..
They abandoned computers for a while and relied instead on QXls and a TX rack with an American 8-voice analogue synth called a Poly Extra...The Poly Extra had a cassette dump," says Gillian. "The QXs were pretty reliable, The only thing that ever went on them was the drive...The nail-biting thing with the Poly Extra was that when you verified the programs it counted through them. It would always decide to crash when it got to 97, so you'd have to do it all again. But we started using computers fully fledged around the time of True Faith."..
Totally hooked. Glowing away quietly in the corner I can't help but notice an Apple Mac Quadra 950 with a screen the size of a football pitch. It's an awesome beast with an almost frightening amount of memory stuffed into it, but still a relatively rare sight, with most studios plumping for the vastly inferior (and almost supernaturally cheaper) Atari...
"A friend of ours in America was using Macs with a program called Total Music, which we got. Then when we went into the studio, Stephen Hague was using one too. And that was it for us, really."..
They've crunched through quite a bit of software in their time, too...
"We've got through most of them," claims Stephen. "We stared with Total Music, then Notator and Performer, but that clutters the screen up. "For a long time we used Master Tracks' Pro, right up to the time we did Technique. It was only when we updated that it stared falling apart, jamming, and sticking odd notes in. Now we use Cubase Audio."..
Have they managed to get through a lot of versions of the many-times-modified Cubase?
"No," claims Steve. "Version 1 for the Mac was version 5 or something for the Atari, so we've been spared quite a lot of grief there. Before System 7 on the Mac came along we used Sound Tools quite a lot, but running it with the sequencer didn't work. So we drafted in an Atari running Notator but discovered that Cubase Audio does all that in one program...
What samplers do you use?..
Steve: "We started with the Emulator Is, the IIs and the Emulator III are still in there. The only way you could get those things working half the time was by whacking them with an iron bar. They were really expensive and very unreliable. We'd pick one up in two halves and drop it on the floor and it would come to life. But then we got Akai S900s when they came out and we've just got the 3200, which is very good. They've got filters on them which seem to be a tribute to analogue. You couldn't sample anything low like bass drums on the S900 - you always got that click. The 1000s were fair enough and the 3200 is like a brighter 1000, but there's a little dip on the high-mid area. It's not too bad and I haven't really used it a lot, but it was noticed when we loaded samples in that were done on the S1000s."..
Their studio sprawls over three rooms, one containing the studio itself (with New Order gold discs propped against a hack wall), one with a drum kit lurking in a corner and dotted with keyboards, and another, smaller room with a comfy sofa for chilling out in. It's a magnificent barn conversion (though lacking in central heating - Calor-gas fires do their best in that department).
Do they do all their recording here?..
Gillian: "With The Other Two stuff we tried writing, engineering and mixing, and even though the results weren't that bad - it got a bit silly. We thought we'd try to do everything dead cheap. But it wasn't possible. It's nice demoing here and then going somewhere serious to finish it off."
"The trouble here, continues Stephen, 'Is that because it's costing you nothing to carry' on and on. If you go somewhere that's costing you a mint you get more disciplined."..
Old habits die hard and, like New Order before them, The Other Two went to Peter Gabriel's Real World studio just outside Bath to finish off the LP. At 1,450 pounds a day, I reckon I could find enough discipline to record an LP in about forty minutes. I didn't write Blue Monday though, did I?
"It's all right here for soundtracks," Gillian says. The quality is still good, but it's not the same as doing a record. We haven't properly worked out the power. I quite like the limits that puts on us. If it was a proper studio we'd have to sort out many more things and I don't want that at home."
Television man, Stephen and Gillian's cosy set-up is one direct result of the amount of work they found themselves doing for television. The first program they worked on was the BBC's Making Out...
This in-at-the-deep-end introduction to working for TV fascinated Stephen and Gillian. As Gillian says: "We got interested then. It was good to be able to do music and not have to bother about the sound quite so much. We did things like an exercise-video music pastiche, a Pet Shop Boys bit and music for a male stripper - it was dead good fun."
"The daftest one, though," says Stephen, "I mean the weirdest way of writing a song I've ever come across was when a company song was needed in the program. The writer, Debbie, had written the lyrics and gave them to us to write the music. We sent them a DAT of it and we had no idea how they were going to sync it...
"We also sent the music and the melody line for how we thought the singing should go, but we never met. The whole cast sang it and it's brilliant! We did the music on one track of the DAT and they did the vocals on the other and then we mixed it up here." After turning down the somewhat grim proposition of doing a soundtrack recording for a TV documentary on female circumcision, Stephen and Gillian found themselves with a lot of material on their hands and not much to do with it...
"That's really why we did The Other Two," explains Stephen, "because we had all this stuff, a really large collection of tunes. Some of them were really good songs. When we were working on soundtracks, we missed being able to get people's reaction to the music. With TV, nobody ever pans you or anything and we didn't get a BAFTA - ha ha. So we thought we'd try another angle."..
A less than enjoyable experience with an American TV network helped towards a need for a break from that world, too...
"We did the music for this show called America's Most Wanted. It was just dealing with bureaucracy. It ended up with the two directors on a conference phone and we'd have to play an orchestral stab down the phone for them. They had to say whether it was good or not," explains Gillian.
"Making Out was good because, although we were still having to work with directors, they were more tuned in. The Americans just wanted cliches. With Making Out we had themes for everybody. It was so exciting. Every week we'd look forward to it."..
Finally, Stephen ruminates on the hassles that have dogged the appearance of this LP and looks to the future...
"After all the problems we've had with this LP, it's weird that it's coming out at last. There's been a delay of two years. Doing something like this takes up a big chunk of your life; we've put a lot of work in but it seems never-ending - like whittling wood - there's always more you can do, but if you're not careful there'll be nothing left!..
"It was impossible to release this album previously because of problems at Factory [Records] and we were also trying to sort out Republic at the same time - that was really the priority project. But now it's out, we'll start writing a new one."..
Any plans to play live at all?..
"We're thinking about it. We've got to get some new stuff out the of way." With a new TV series (by the same team that brought you Making Out) in the pipeline, The Other Two look set to be busy over the next year...
Oh... and I, uh, forgot to ask, does this mean New Order have split?
A fateful and playful live performance of Blue Monday on Top Of The Pops back in 1983 (yes, live on TOTP!) had New Order sounding a tad, well, shambolic. Fans countrywide, however, applauded their stance...
"That was a big mistake," says Stephen. "It was a complete struggle. The crew came round and took every plug to pieces to make sure it was wired upright and stuck 'BBC approved' on it. There was one time we were on with U2 and Bono said, 'I really wanted to do it live, but I've got a bad throat'. ha ha ha."..
What equipment was used to put together New Order's mega-selling release of 1983, Blue Monday?
Stephen: "That was a Moog Source and a bit of a prophet."..
Gillian: "We tried to update it when we did the '88 version but the new equipment couldn't improve on it."..
Stephen: "I think a lot of it was down to the nice little accidents, like the knob twiddling, and Gillian starting the sequencer off in the wrong place. None of those things really happen any more. Like when you're editing a synth now, you've got to know exactly what you want and how to do it. If you want to make it wobble a bit more you've got to know which parameters to tweak."..
Gillian: "you never knew why things wobbled then, but now you've got to find out why and go into it more."..
Later blue Monday earned them $200,000 when they re-wrote it for an American Sunkist commercial.....
WE'RE PLAYING FOR ENGLAND, ENG-ER-LAND.
With the possible exception of Norwich City's Never Mind The Danger, New Order's laconic dance attempt World In Motion, written to stir the lads to victory in Italia 1990, remains arguably the best football song ever. It is most definitely the best England has ever had to get its tonsils around...
Granada had already been using New Order snippets on its sports programs and NO had provided the music for a Granada show with Rodney Marsh and George Best ("probably Pints I Have Known," says Stephen). Eventually it was a far-sighted man from the FA who got in touch and asked if they'd do the business. Barney had terrible trouble with the lyrics, eventually leaving them to that hard man of comedy, Keith Allen.
"When you've not met any footballers," says Gillian, "you have this image of what they're like. We were really disappointed. It was like having a load of lager louts let loose in the studio making jokes about the size of our organs."..
Still, a number-one hit single is a number-one hit single, and the semi-final of the World Cup is something England won't be enjoying this time around...
SOUNDTRACKS & TV THEMES.
Making Out series 1 and 2..
America's Most Wanted..
Otari MTR 90 Mk II multi-track.
TAC Magnum 36-input desk.
Panasonic SV 3700 DAT player.
Lexicon LXP 1.
Lexicon LXP 5.
Eventide H3000 SE.
BBE Sonic Maximiser.
Yamaha 2020 B compressor.
Drawmer DC221 compressor.
Drawmer M500 compressor.
Drawmer dual gate x3.
DBX 263X de-esser.
Yamaha PS 2040 amp.
Yamaha DMP 7.
Yamaha NS 10M monitors.
ATC 50 speakers.
Summit valve EQ.
TC 1128 graphic.
Macintosh Iifx 8/80 with 600 MB external drive, Macintosh Quadra 68/400, 3.5
Sony optical drive.
E-mu Vintage Keys.
E-mu Proteus I.
E-mu Proteus II.
Kurzwell K2000 with 5MP-K option.
Roland Juno 106.
MotU MIDI Time Piece x2.
SRC AT synchroniser.
Digidesign 4-channel Pro-Tools.
Digidesign SMPTE Slave Drive.
Digidesign Sample Cell.
Oberheim Matrix 12.
Oberheim Matrix 1000.
Studio Electronics Obie Rack.
Studio Electronics MIDI Moog.
groove Electronics MB303.
Sony VO 9600P U-Matic.
Yamaha maple custom drum kit.
Z-shaped piece of copper wire.
„ Future Music 1994