The Man In The Locked Room: 1980-1991
The 1980s were my years of education and first forays into music production. I built a small studio in my basement with gear scraped together over years of saving and spending, eventually building a pretty big setup with analog and digital MIDI synthesizers, effects processors, and a good-sized mixing console to bring it all together.
But students of the “way it was done” in that era would have noticed two very significant omissions. First, there was no computer or other MIDI sequencer in my studio, aside from some very simple ones built into my synths. Second, there was only very primitive multitracking via a Fostex 4-track cassette recorder.
These omissions defined my workflow. I spent the 1980s recording simple pieces on my 4-track, quickly growing frustrated with the bad-sounding and very limited tracking and overdubbing/editing capabilities of that medium, and turned my attention to creating live performances with multiple synthesizer layers in real time. These could then be recorded to a much better-quality stereo recorder: first a Nakamichi cassette deck, then a Sony PCM-501ES A/D converter striping digital audio to videocassette tape, and finally to a DAT recorder. This process was further restricted by the lack of a MIDI sequencer to automate my work; I could create and play loops of notes, move from instrument to instrument in the course of a piece, play live… but I couldn’t pre-compose anything complex for a computer to play back. This forced me into a composition methodology that I still follow, to some extent, even today… what I called my ‘metric’.
All but a very few of my performances were recorded live to 2-track tape, using an elaborately synchronized network of drum machines and control voltage and MIDI sequencers driving relatively simple keyboard patterns with my
own live playing over the top. There were no edits or overdubs; I played live, and if I made a mistake, I either redid the entire take from the beginning or left the error where it was.
The culmination of this period of solo work was the 1991 song Band Of Fire, which I created for the Synkronos Music cassette label run by Chuck Van Zyl; years later I re-released the track as a limited-edition CD EP. Of all my work from this first decade, Band Of Fire is the only piece that remains widely available.