"Let's Get Technical" - Anthony Phillips talks to Stuart Barnes about his new recording studio set up and other technical trivia. Interview conducted at Vic Stench's Tea Room and Flayed Otter Emporium on Saturday 10th December 2005.

TWR: So what has changed in the studio?

AP: Well, this place used to be carpeted and I used to have a big analogue desk; a big Mackie desk which a friend of mine now has and it still works!

TWR: What prompted the change then?

AP: It was just too much gear being put into a finite space in a disorganised way and the other aspect was the screen dominance business. Most things, as you know have got to be based around screens these days and it just wasn't set up for that. I had a very strange set up for a while with a little Quadra screen in the corner there and the G5 here and I was swinging around and things have moved more towards being computer based and visual formats and it became vital to base it around that but I still insisted on working in the old way with a lot of master keyboards to use simultaneously and that meant planning because I wasn't just prepared because of the new systems I wasn't prepared to alter my basic physical way of working or writing which is having lots of different ideas going in and some people just work with one keyboard; they have the idea and then they add this and they add that and I could work like that but maybe I am very indecisive but I love having a lot of different parts going and you might find two or three sounds suddenly gelling together.

I actually had five keyboards before if you can believe it and so I have a drum loop going on that with basically chords and melody and I am actually finding that I am one keyboard short at times, actually! I had a separate rig over here at one time with all the Korg stuff and I have one master keyboard now which is fantastic, really, really good. I am not used to weighty pianos though and that is taking a bit of getting used to so I have a remote for the computer so actually I can come over and use this rig as well which is nice and also if there are two of us working; which has happened in the past with my Japanese friend Joji Hirota who is a percussionist that means there are two separate areas where we can play so it is really good from that point of view too. So, it is pretty much the best of both worlds and this is significant in terms of being able to memorise things.

In the old days, with the last desk; the Mackie analogue which was very good but it was always a question of having the right number of settings and it was pretty unpredictable and I know a lot of people who do all the mixing based on their computer but I m somewhere in between the two; I will do some pre-mixing and I have quite a lot of plug in but over the years I have bought a fantastic array of outboard gear and there is no way; you can argue but I don't think that most of the sounds from the effects plug-ins are… they are good; but I don't think they are as classy as these things. I have got stuck on this Black Hole sound on the Eventide Orville and I have virtually used nothing else and everyone who comes in and hears it is completely seduced by it. I am a mixture of using some of the effects plug-ins and I have a lot of outboard gear still but this is now computerised so it is going to be great although it is still early days because one won't be able to remember and instantly call up different tracks. You are switching from; I find I an switching from a lot of different library tracks and what I would end up doing is having these dead channels because say I was mixing five or six or even more at the time and have an engineer coming in and I didn't dare change some seminal sound on fader 31 because it was the KEY sound and I would have liked to have freed that up for one of the other tracks but I didn't dare touch it. Whereas now; obviously there are still things you have got to remember you have to be careful of things like the volume controls on the synths and there are things you are not going to remember and I find it exciting and so practical really.
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Ant's old studio setup...
Photo: Jonathan Dann/TWR

I haven't got into automation yet; that is going to come, eventually. Just being able ton go from one track to another and being able to instantly call things up is going to be fantastic. You have got to be careful; if you switch from group to group you can't see … a lot of stuff you can't see and I thought you had to see what was going on and you have to be careful because you could have on the second bank some gremlin going on which you might not be aware of or just channels open which are causing hiss and they might not be so obvious that you notice it but afterwards you might say; 'Oh I missed something' and so it is kind of wheels within wheels. It's not ideal but if you are going to have 72 channels! (laughs). You would be out into the street so… It's great; it's really, really good.

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How do like them apples...?
Photo: S Barnes/TWR
These are quite new and so there have been some problems I think the answer with this stuff and I made a mistake last year of updating my G5 operating system software and they had a stand off and refused to talk to each other and everyone was passing the buck saying it was so-and-so's fault but I was encouraged to go for this because it was so much better than the previous MK I but this has had some gremlins. Actually, the big shock was and I didn't realise was that the old Mackie had a separate power supply which was in there and so you could go completely quiet in here for microphone recording now there are a few odd ones but the main noise is coming from this and there was a lot of talk about having a separate live room in the house and stuff but it all got too complicated in the end.
So, when this desk arrived I got quite a severe shock because no one actually told me about any idea of a separate power supply and it was bloody noisy! It's now quite noisy; it is acceptable now for overdubs on a medium to loud track and so the Mackie chaps; the boffins were working on it and I think they have got it sorted out and I would say they have got it down to about half of the noise it was before; which is good. So, once that is all sorted out we shall be there, really. All of this is properly organised now; before there were shelves all round here with bits of gear and it was absolutely chaotic!
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Not one, but two, Mackie Digital XBus consoles
Photo: S Barnes/TWR
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Mmm, TFT screens...
Photo: S Barnes/TWR

The other thing which has changed is the carpeted deadened sketch which was the thing to do but now everyone is going for the live; don't worry about the reflection and stuff and don't worry about strange Scouse gits who wonder into a room and break your concentration in the middle of an interview (laughs).

TWR: So, you have gone completely digital, as I can see from the Radar set up and the recording is digital now, how long has that been in place?

AP: I have had that for a while now, since 1997 and that is really good and you can't change lots of aspects of it. I am still quite primitive when it comes to recording real instruments; I don't do that through the computer yet. I have not really wanted to in some respects. I think if you have a professional studio it is fantastic because if you have a great part with a couple of notes out of tune you can get it right after the event without having to go back. Here you can move things around tempo wise with verses and choruses and the pace but you can't change the velocity of the notes and also you can't change the tuning. That has been a bit of a problem at times and so I might have to investigate doing this.
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The remote for the Radar is on the right of the keyboards...
Photo: S Barnes/TWR

I am actually quite glad in some ways that in some respects I haven't learned because the spectre of having recorded any of Field Day onto that would have been a complete disaster because of the ability to change and once you have that ability to change it is a case of having the self discipline of knowing when to stop and at what point does the search for the correct become one for perfection and of course nobody plays perfectly and if you create the perfect take then it really sounds like the machine; doesn't it? We have all done that; spent an hour and a half on a computer file thinking it sounds brilliant and then you come back to it and it sounds like clockwork and all the natural quality has been taken out of it. It is very difficult to keep objective unless there is someone coming in occasionally who has got an overview and who can say 'You've gone too far' it is almost impossible to know with that and so I don't know if I could have the discipline to record acoustic guitar like that and be able to know when to stop. I felt it was almost best to have it or not have it, I mean obviously on Field Day I would edit between takes but everybody does that and you take the first half of one and the second half of another because there might have been a noise; nor necessarily a mistake it could be a crackle or any number of things.

I recorded it pretty much in an old fashioned sort of way from that point of view and the fact that I was editing on that and was able to get it frame perfect most of the time as opposed to hit or miss was about the only concession if you like to and Field Day went through an analogue desk and through some quite primitive microphones as well and I did think about… there was talk about duplicating it on the Studer next door because it was so low but it seemed a bit too fiddly at the time. To be honest, if I was a full time album artist selling millions of records then I might have done that and got teams of people to come in and say ; 'is this warmer?' But this is such a good set up and the sound is pretty good. I didn't really cheat and a few people have said to me about the album' 'are there any overdubs?' and technically speaking there is one overdub and the only concession was overlapping sections but they do that in Classical recordings and with them you would think that the performance is paramount but it isn't.

The thing is you don't get the vibe listening off record no matter what anybody says, you are NOT there live to have heard it and so you haven't got that part of the occasion and so any slight error or mistake is really going to count to you so I think the quest for that correct performance is absolutely right. Whereas if you were actually at a concert it wouldn't matter. And the bagpipes of course, I could see that you were leading up to the bagpipes (laughs).

TWR: So with the tracks on Field Day, how many of them were cut and paste jobs?

AP: Not many I don’t think. I would have to go through the list and obviously some of the longer ones it is inevitable that you are not going to get a perfect take in an eight to tem minute piece and so the law of averages the longer the piece you are going to have more sections maybe two or three but actually I think there was a track called White Spider which was actually two takes; literally the first part, then stop and the second part and they do slightly overlap so it had to be done in two parts with a held chord and then the other part comes in and I think that was pretty much straight through. I certainly wouldn't have done a lot; maybe in chunks two or three maximum. There is the odd bit where you replace one note but I didn't do an awful lot. It wasn't always because of mistakes; I am triple glazed here but it is not perfect and so a couple of times if there is a pause and a heavy van goes past or a plane, you would hear it. There would be the odd creak as well partly because the old system … I am not aware because I haven't been listening but the creaks seem to have gone but you sometimes would get creaks because of the carpeting; I don't know. I wouldn't say a lot but it was good being able to edit in terms of you used to jog well and then you would get it … you make your mark and then you just nudge it; you nudge it frame by frame until you hear the opening note of the next part and so you know you are in the right place and then you back off one from that and you are in exactly the right place.

Some people might say that you are losing the skill of the old editors and they were fantastic when you think of the responsibility they had to destroy somebody's master and they didn't always do safety copies. It’s a bit like the analogy with sport really; once it has been invented why guess? I think there is still a lot of skill involved; I make out that it is easy in terms of the frame thing but there were moments where you had to take so much into account; volume; pace; release; overspill and notes that are hanging that weren't hanging and so you would edit. I have always enjoyed editing actually, I find it fascinating.

AP: What kind of set up do you have by the way?

TWR: it is a very basic set up; a PC with a basic audio card and seven or eight keyboards.

AP: Oh, right so you are quite old fashioned in that respect.

TWR: Yes.

AP: What about plug-ins, have you got any of those?

TWR: Yes, I have some synth plug-ins most of the Arturia stuff; the CS80, the Moog.

AP: Actually I have got that but I haven't used it yet, what's it like?

TWR: The CS80? It's very much like the old keyboard it is very big and a lot of the sounds you get out of it aren't really that useful. At the moment when I plugged it in and started playing with it I thought; 'Wow, that's Doctor Who from the late Seventies' all the sounds were from that era.

AP: It's funny because I haven't used it yet.

TWR: It's very big but I can't say I would use it for a lot of sounds.

AP: What else have you got?

TWR: I have the FM7, the DX7.

AP: I never had a DX7 that sort of passed me by and I don't know much about that.

TWR: It is one of those retro sounds and the electric piano on it is probably the only useful sound out there. Apart from that I much prefer real synths; something I can PLAY and sit down rather than all modules and plug-ins. It's the way I learned to play; the keyboard you are playing is the one that's making the noise and that is the way I have always wanted it to be.

AP: Well, to be honest I have had endless discussions with people about this and what it really comes down to is what you HAVE to do and what you are obliged to do and if you ask any jobbing composer;' whether it is a guy doing library music or right up to the film guys ; they will tell you that you have no choice but to have this stuff. Because what is happening now is that you cannot physically get hold of these sounds in any other format and you are not going to get a dedicated synth with a top of the range string sound; you are just not going to get it. And now that they don't make CD Roms anymore or they probably do but it is a diminishing market; and all the best people have gone over to the Internet and virtual instruments you are forced into it. If you are an artist then you can surround yourself with your favourite sounds and people buy that then they don't give a shite about how it is produced but if you are a jobbing composer… I am always getting stuff from people at the library company because they have heard about this from other composers and they are saying; 'This is the new…' and of course you have got to try and transcend that and try and produce the stuff yourself but because people aren't buying the music because it is your own innate music; they are buying it because they want it to sound contemporary and fit into a certain mould and there can be a wide range of moods perfectly decent music but you are very much; you have to have access to that full palette if you like. As wide a range as possible and there are some fantastic sounds; the Spectrasonics stuff is absolutely astonishing. The truth of it is that on every dedicated synth you will get a few good sounds; I am regarded as being a bit of a dinosaur because I use the Jupiter for a lot of key sounds and to a certain extent the Casio but I love using the old rich analogue sounds with the virtual instruments and it is a good idea anyway the Mackie guys were saying because if you use the virtual instruments you end up with a very similar sound but if you mix the analogue with them the warmth of it is good . the Spectrasonics sounds are quite astonishing; you won't find; just as in the same way you won't find a really brilliant uniform orchestral collection on something like Triton; you won't find whatever you want to call them; ethereal ; other worldly sounds in a short space of time on any of them as well. Whereas if you get something like Distorted Reality 1 & 2 then you have sound after sound and it is absolutely astonishing. It almost doesn't matter at that point if it is if you play that keyboard and the sound comes from a bank of sounds over there or from over there it doesn't really matter does it? Now, I think having the old synths for their sounds is fantastic.

TWR: The old ones had character...

AP: Yes, I think that's the point. That's why I fought hard and I have got a reputation for being… I have got all this cutting edge stuff and yet I have got these really antiquated synths which most people have chucked out. For a while people were a bit iffy about it but now one or two people. Like my 808 drum machine which I have given to my sound technician because it went through a terrible accident. Did I ever tell you what happened to the 808? No? I vaguely remember something got spilt on it and I made an attempt to clear it up but only an attempt and so when we were clearing out all the stuff; and I knew there was no way I would ever use it again but he was saying it could be worth a bit and so I gave it to him and of course I forgot to tell him (laughs) and so he plugged it in and sort of stood well back! (laughs). Apparently Polymoogs are worth quite a lot now as well?
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And that's only half the keyboards in the studio!
Photo: S Barnes/TWR

TWR: Yes, but they're crap!

AP: Oh? But that's not the point! I thought that at the time the polymoog strings were good. Funnily enough the first Jupiter hasn't really dated and you wouldn't use it with authentic strings but it is the character thing again. I do like the Polymoog strings just as the same with the CS80 brass; not that I was ever that familiar with the CS80.

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Ant with the other half of the keyboards...
Photo: S Barnes/TWR

TWR: the thing is that nowadays most of the keyboards that come out; they have all got a stock set of analogue sounds and most of these things in here will have a set of the 808 drums in them which means you don't need to keep the originals.

AP: They are for collectors, aren’t they? Actually my Polymoog is somewhere in Nottingham. I was shocked to hear that it could be worth a thousand pounds! But it wasn't working properly. The Hammond organ is up there somewhere too; Roger Patterson's friends came and took them away because there was just nowhere to put them and one of Rog's long haired and long coated (laughs) friends came in the middle of the night and took them away (laughs). I don't know where they are; they are somewhere in Nottingham…

TWR: "I Lost My Polymoog Somewhere in Nottingham" Now there's a song title for you!

AP: I left a hat on a plane in San Francisco and so you have the song I Left My Heart In San Francisco? Well in my case it was I Left My Hat In San Francisco…. (groans)…. The Jupiter and the Casio are the two oldest ones which have survived . the Casio is very good for sort of bell-like sounds and electric piano sounds, very good on that and very distinctive. A lot of the wildlife programmes we did where you would have a kind of a washy kind of Amazon rainforest thing and he would use this as the magical electric piano and it was something between an electric piano and a celeste with a bit of bell thrown in for that indefinable quality and I could always see it when these TV blokes were listening to it, they were seduced by it and I was thinking amazing, here's a dodgy old CZ5000 and it is still doing the business! It has got something in that area that these other things haven't quite got.

TWR: Do you not find it noisy? I used to have one and it is and it has the noise control on the front and which they labelled "chorus" to try and confuse you.

AP: Yes, it is noisy yes, if there's not much going on in the track then it can be but it is a great creator of magic especially for night sounds and all that sort of tinkly effects with a lot of reverb. The Jupiter (8) is still dynamite really. I tend to use these a lot with not much straight sequencing so you don't get the older sort of more electronic rougher edge and that's why I think it probably comes off better because they are just flying around in the black hole which means I don't tent to use it for anything kind of rocky you wouldn't use it with brass and stuff.

Also, for creating sounds that is the other key thing and all the knobs are there so for the wildlife programmes if they say; 'create a kind of tarantula sound' I would go to that it is that much and if you are not that technical then it is all there in front of you to see.

TWR: Its more immediate than using a menu system. Did you find the JD800 easy to use?

AP: I have always been funnily enough I never used it and I should have done. I do basic things to it like mucking about with the palette and obviously some of the ADSR I'm not good with this stuff I have to be honest I'm a guitarist and so some of this stuff is… I have found these very difficult to edit and I never found the sounds in these and the sounds in these sounded the same multi-timbrely and when the Mackie guy was down here, because Chris my technical friend he is pretty good; he is a drummer and a good keyboard player and has studied music and has played percussion in orchestras he is a really good mix and I think he was a bit freaked out when this Mackie guy was saying that these sounds DID sound the same multi-timbrely and if you KNOW how to… and I was thinking thamaybe t maybe he saw me as a bit of a dilettante because I had three of these things and I could never get them to sound the same, I tried and I tried. Whereas I think the architecture of the Proteus II is so easy to use multi-timbrely. The Proteus II was good and in the late '80's an dearly '90's it was before a lot of the samples and samplers and early days of those things and those sounds were as good as anything I had heard in a long time although some of it was a bit toytown because often you would get the cor anglais sounding like an accordion because the rhythm was too fast but it was very, very good. The architecture was so easy you just stepped through the midi channels were one, two; three; four; five. The sinus sounds were hand to volume , internal volume and hunky dory. This guy its patch; tone; layers and I struggle with it I don't think that some of Roland's architecture is very easy to understand actually. I just think that… and everyone will disagree about this but I think it is well known that there are certain bits of gear that are more user friendly than others. The Radar is very easy to use ; pretty straightforward and well explained but I sometimes wonder about the guys who designed some of this stuff because if you are a boffin its terribly difficult to put yourself in the shoes of the average bloke because you are trying to achieve perfection with the maximum amount of facilities that people can use and yet in searching for that you can disappear into an area where it becomes so obtuse for the average bloke.

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And some samplers...
Photo: S Barnes/TWR
My understanding of science is very basic; Tony Banks was the maths and science man at school I was very much an arts guy and I wasn't allowed to … I didn't even take a science A level I was so bad at science that there was no point. Literally I was awful at it and maths I got on the fourth or fifth time and so really struggled with the physics really it didn't interest me. I never had any in that kind of thing or how things work either, gadgets it just doesn’t interest me at all. My father was exactly the same he would make a cup of tea because a cup of coffee had too many elements for him (laughs) it's true! I had no interest in science and in the early days of the guitar synths and stuff I struggled. The "envelope"? What's an "envelope"? And then when I got a publishing contract with Virgin there was this business of film and TV companies I thought come on man you really have got to get this sorted out! So I forced myself to stop pushing buttons and hoping which is often they way to get a sound actually! I really do believe that ignorance is bliss in some respects and naivety and I forced myself to kind of get to grips with it.

TWR: The thing is each one of these is programmed differently and so every time you get a new piece of equipment you have to learn a new language with it…

AP: Well that's true. I would like to be able to understand these things better and I do sometimes wonder and I know it is the refuge of the idiot but I do wonder if too much understanding can make you go down less fruitful paths and untechnical people can be the most inventive. Mike Rutherford is a classic example of somebody that wasn't very technical at all and he was very, very originally creative and inventive. Overall I have got no choice really or relatively so. Library music you are not under immediate pressure whereas commissioned stuff you can be under very great pressure to produce specific things and types of sounds and you can't be spending three hours mucking about trying to get some sound you need to be in there very quickly so to be honest in a way I am quite relieved to have been able to move away from commissioned stuff although it is much more glamorous and at the top end I am sure it is much better paid and my experience of it was that you were not very well paid and there was an enormous amount of hassle because you would get things running late and deadlines were tricky and I think that is what happens a lot of the time; particularly a lot on films. I mean how can you work so fast; that is kind of scary and you would need to be really, really quick like these guys at the jingle sessions where you have got guys barking ideas at you and you have just got to do it and I know that I haven't got that kind of skill or understanding and that is why library music is an absolute dream because you have a flexible-ish deadline to mooch about and come up with nice stuff not with somebody watching over your shoulder so… I have been pretty lucky actually.

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One of the curiosities has been that I have never got my guitar side involved in library music; partly by choice and also partly because I think that if you listen to most of the music on TV there is not a lot of solo guitar ; you hear the odd thing; there is the odd sort of classical well known tune such as Cavatina from "The Deerhunter" but generally speaking guitar is; you hear something on a advert sort of bright and merry but there is not that much of it. It is interesting because the library company are quite taken with a couple of the things on Field Day and they are suggesting maybe doing things like that with an orchestra and I am not too sure about this because I have never minded anybody criticising my keyboard skills because I have never had a great pride in it but I have never really wanted somebody else to start telling me how to play the guitar (laughs). So, in that sense I have been lucky. It's always been kind of curious because they have done guitar albums but it has probably been more electric but I have never been involved.

TWR: just looking at the amount of Roland stuff the JV1080's you have got there you have got multiple units to sort out the multi-timbrelity rather than trying to layer the sounds internally you bought another machine…?

AP: Yeah, it all happened very slowly over a couple of years and I am also putting in; there was a finite amount of card you could put in early on as well which got bigger later so that was another reason. It sounds appalling doesn't it? But I am not the only person who couldn't do it actually! Also they became much cheaper as well as time went on which made it easier. I am almost full with cards in that one and also the physicality; the amount of notes was the other factor as well if you were playing big chords which I tend to do a lot of and if they are layered obviously you have got chorus and stuff and when the sounds aren't the same you have a midi patch and so I guess that was the other reason. I still do use those a fair bit not so much for orchestral samples. I have got this Vienna Symphony library which is obviously the all singing; all dancing …

TWR: Is that the DVD one?

AP: Yeah, it is an absolute monster actually, an absolute monster. It is kind of running away with stuff, I could spend 24 hours a day in here working all this stuff and listening to all these samples and I actually got one from Andy Blaney who just does orchestral stuff and his stuff sounds very authentic and very orchestral and he just devotes himself to spending all this time going through samples running through this programme called Contact and it is unbelievably time-consuming if you are going to get on tip of all this stuff. I haven't done much… I did a proper orchestral project about six years ago and I haven't done anything even quasi orchestral and if you are going to do it the standard is so high now. So, I have a big date with all of this in the new year to try and get to grips with all of it. I have used some of the sounds from this Vienna thing because there is this new programme called Contact and there is some sort of performance tool in it which gives you access to samples in a different way so yes, there's a lot to do really. I can understand how great it must be for some of the top composers to just have these programmers who they can employ to do this stuff not because they are lazy but because of the amount of time it takes to write the music and understand this stuff as well its as if you are having to divide your brain into four or five different zones.

It is weird thinking back to the way of recording back in the 1960's we are expected now to be able to do the jobs of about five or six people when you think about it. In those days you would have a composer; an arranger; a conductor and an engineer; a producer and then you would have the players and yet we are trying to cover it all and it is pretty unrealistic to expect that you can do it all equally well really. I can understand why people end up this amount of stuff in the studio because the amount of new product that you are being encouraged rightly or wrongly to incorporate is terrifying. Keeping up with the musical Jones's is necessary if you are not a self-sufficient artiste.

TWR: Do you find yourself coming back to the same units for sounds rather than trying to explore each one…

AP: Yeah, I do explore but there are always old favourites which you are going to come back to and the tried and tested ones. Particularly with the wildlife stuff and you have to move quickly I would always come back to a sound called "Slow Rain" I have never actually known where that came from because I had it on an optical and it was loaded into the Roland sample and I presume it came from one of the Roland synths and it is a beautiful sort of washy slow thing with a bit of electric piano tinkling on top and then you are in the jungle and it just worked every time and I think for new library albums you have got to be careful about that repetitive thing because they will say that they have heard it before and I suppose it is about coming up with a sound that is different but arresting and just to catch people's imagination that’s why I think getting some of these new things is important because what happens after a while is that everyone starts to use the same sounds.

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That was why I was happy to have done Field Day really because there was really nowhere to hide coal face stuff whereas library you can almost feel a bit of a charlatan because its almost as if you have come along and touched up somebody else's work.

TWR: I found that with the Triton, you just touch one button and it does the arrangement for you.

AP: yeah, and I have always thought well, doesn't this guy deserve some of the credit? I feel that I have paid my dues here with an album which has come in at more hours than The Geese & The Ghost I did a rough tot up which kind of freaked me out because I had never really thought of it so there you go. The amount of money I would have earned per hour on that album is not going to be one of the great hourly rates really, is it? I think the Minimum Wage won't even come into it! (laughs). I don't feel to guilty about it after that and also the amount of time I spent in physio because I knew something was wrong and it was putting in the work there.

TWR: What influenced your choice of that desk over the other ones which are available?

AP: I was conned by the two guys who were selling things stuff, basically! (laughs). Bryn Wildish otherwise known as Birn Dishwily and Chris White; they are great guys actually. The thing is they came down when I was really struggling last winter with things that were going wrong on the G5 and all sorts of things when they did the total revamp and all the virtual instruments didn't save any of the varied sounds that I had done and nobody told me this which was unbelievable and they simply assume as you move on to the next thing that all your old music suddenly isn't important any more and suddenly it won't read your old files and it has dumped all your varies to your sounds and only because I had sold my old G4 to a friend was I able to access this stuff but it cost me a lot of money to get him to do the transfer and I couldn't believe it. I had bad times with the G5 and Bryn and Chris were great; they came down and I was really struggling. I had a really nice guy called Simon Forsyth who came to help me but it was impossible he was living in Holland part of the time and working nights for one of the tv companies as their sort of boffin in charge of all the machines and he would roll in here either just when he was going to work at six or seven in the evening or when he was coming back from work in the morning. It was hopeless, and I was sort of 'thank you Simon for an hour of your time' and it was just ridiculous I was trying to run a recording studio! Anyway I called the guys at Music Track in the end the performer guys because that is the thing that I run for my sins and they suggested Bryn and Chris and they came down and I think they didn't quite know what to make of this place really because there was all this cutting edge stuff and there was all this… and it was very Heath Robinson and they realised that I could make life a lot easier for myself. Its always a bit difficult with people trying to sell you stuff like anybody; like a financial adviser you can't be 100 per cent certain because they are trying to sell you things but I trust these guys as much as I trust anybody and they looked at my set up and suggested things that would ultimately make my life easier. They saw the way it was going with the Virtual Instruments and the screens and needing the headroom because that is the other problem trying to get the headroom now its not the sample memory; it’s the amount of notes that these Virtual Instruments take up and they also saw that I needed this ability to flick from track to track. The only error which they probably should have found out about was the nose from the …given that I was going to be in the same room. I don't know whether they knew about that or whether they didn't know and actually, the truth of it was that I wasn't that bothered because after having spent the best part of four years doing Field Day it was pretty unlikely that I was straight away need to start doing stuff on acoustic guitar again and so obviously that issue about the noise was not going to be a critical one straight away. And if in the New year there is any stuff involving guitar and orchestra which they are talking about it wouldn't have to be done here so that wouldn't be an issue.

Anyway, they pretty much suggested; they guided me in the direction of things that I knew I needed. I knew I needed to have the screens because there was no way round this as much processing power as possible because I do tend to be quite a big chord man and big chords are unfortunately a kiss of death on there aren’t they? They just chew it all up and so I think they took a pretty good look. They were…it was this time last year; a bit earlier the middle to end of November. They pretty much saw me through my last library album or about five or six months in and out with the same things going wrong. They understandably tried to break me down a bit on this because of the fact that it was quite difficult to get all these different elements in you know; of having the mice; this; and two keyboards and not be too far away. Even Chris has come around to my way of working now. I have found Chris in here mucking around with different sounds and so I am making people go back the other way!
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The Orville is in there somewhere...
Photo: S Barnes/TWR

One thing I haven’t told you; would it be interesting for people on the technical side to know what type of microphones I use? What do you think? It is quite interesting actually because I used a mixing engineer called Crispin who I have know for years an dhe was with the library company to start with and then he went to Erodel and he did a lot of jingle sessions and orchestral stuff; the whole lot right across the board with drums right through to orchestral and I always get him to come and do my stuff and he is very, very good he is very quick; you know a lot of rock based engineers will spend hours fiddling around with the bass EQ and with this being a double album it was going to take five years! (laughs) you know wen you have got to get on with it and he was really good and I have done odd piano tracks live in the past for Atmosphere and I have got the grand piano down stairs and he set up the sound downstairs and it was really good and so I just got him to come and set up the mic sounds.

It was quite interesting because I have got some quite good, more modern; very good mics but yet it was interesting because he was saying that for acoustic guitar that he still thought that the old 451s are still very good and very natural. They don't have that huge sort of ultra top to bring out the deepest sound but they just sound very natural and I have been thinking about it over the years and some of the Tarka recordings with Harry and it really does sound as if the guitar is right here, doesn't it? Very natural very uncoloured and I thought that he was going to say use the Neumanns or use the… AKG414 which are toppier and they are brighter and I used those on my piano album (Soiree) and I am not sure if that was right because I find that the last piano album is a bit harsh maybe compared to its predecessor. I just wondered if maybe 414s just didn’t have that warmth maybe and maybe it was bit brittle the mics might have been too close but Crispin… basically we got a sound using; we didn’t use much compression. I didn’t want to use much compression. What he did was; he set up a thing through the TLA where we set up a thing which was just a limiter on anything that wen t through the roof and I didn’t want to have a huge amount of compression but if there was suddenly a quite piece with a sudden surge in level we had a little bit of that and I can't remember if we used three mics or two and that has only got two in but then I got paranoid as I always do and set up three more mics so there was another AKG; a Neumann on the sound hole and a 414 for the neck and when it came to mixing it I just did odd combinations of all of them. His basic two or three was very good .

There were a couple; and we did it all flat as well which meant that afterwards there was…. There were a couple where unfortunately where I hadn't realised and what I didn’t want to do was the stopping and listening : I just thought we had a reasonable sound which is very risky actually because you never know what is going on when you might have hiss on one channel and what did happen was that I didn’t realise that the mic stands were…and there was a lot of thumping going on and there were a couple of tracks where I couldn't use the best sound because there was a low rumbling on the mics.

It was basically three 451s a Neumann U87 for the depth on the sound hole for the classical one. That’s an interesting point that; he set the sound up for me on a classical one and I think the sound on the album is better on the classical ones on the finger style ones than on the plectrum ones and we did an all purpose sound and it was set up not doing finger style and I felt that there was a little too much plectrum on it and I got a bee in my bonnet about it from when in my early days with Robin Cable saying 'that doesn't sound like a twelve string' and I said 'It DOES sound like a twelve string' because our approach was different not just the washboard plectrum sound; trying to make it sound like a proper instrument; a harpsichord if you like and I felt we didn’t set it up for and I felt that the sound wasn't quite so good on the plectrum but that may have been a bit of the old 414 legacy.

TWR: You say you recorded flat so that you could do stuff later. That would have been mainly reverb I take it?

AP: Yeah but I also did muck about with the EQ as well. I did actually mix it all myself and it would have been nice to be honest to have been able to get somebody in but there were so many tracks and it just would have cost a fortune and I thought if I keep it reasonably flat then unless there is a disaster with any nasty frequencies or spiky things then I thought I would leave it to Simon Heyworth who really, really is good. To be honest Simon actually didn’t have to do a lot. What we wee doing was listening to infinitesimal different systems that he was going through one which was valve and one which was digital and some tracks with a bit more warmth and some a bit brighter but he was rarely having to get rid of any unwanted sounds. Particularly I think the finger style ones came out sounding really warm and really, really nice and I think I pretty much took it flat, actually. So, hurrah for the 451s which I bought in 1972 for £70 each but then if you think how much of the old gear is coming back . I picked these up a while ago; these are those old Pultek and you can get Pultek plug-ins which I am sure you have seen and I have got some of them in here but these are the original guys; I mean that is a PROPER knob, that IS a proper knob (laughs). That really is fantastic isn't it? The reason that has always had magic for me is that I was told that The Beatles (adopting best Ringo Starr accent) recorded through a Pultek machine. These guys, people still say that if you put these guys over a mix they just give it a lot of warmth. So, we are back with the same thing; mics from those days a lot of the new facilities are great but clearly there is a warmth.

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Photo credit: TWR Archive

TWR: What did you mix down to? With all these multi track systems what did you use?

AP: I didn't mix… what did I mix down to? Effectively I was going down the analogue domain.

TWR: Is that where you are going to work with the set up you have now; keep everything digital…?

AP: I think that to be honest I am not quite sure; probably keep everything digital. The reason I am going a but vague there is that the problem I had with Field Day was I had so much music that I had to keep changing the … I had to …. I couldn't have all the information in the Radar at the same time and therefore I had to keep loading in effects supplies which was taking hours and it hadn't been made clear to me being the ignoramus that I am; that of course what you could do was pull out the hard drives and have all the other stuff on a different hard drive. It took me quite a while before I realised and then I bought a second hand one which was duff and that didn't work it was quite an old one and I ended up with three different ones and the reason I am getting confused is because I did some digital transfers but I think the digital transfers were done when I came back in, in order to test up the running order and then just swapped things around but yeah, the actual basic mix was done on analogue and then flown back into the Radar to digitally test a rough assemblage of a running order.

And there you have it folks, we hope you enjoyed this interesting look behind the scenes of Ant's studio and our thanks as always to him for giving up so much of his time to talk to us.