interview extracts & discussions on recording 'slope'


Modern technology has affected recording a great deal and, I think, in predominantly a positive way. The traditional method of renting a studio and getting 'the' performance on the day can pretty much be considered a thing of the past, as long as the artist is able to self-produce, or at least have a colleague that will help them. Now we can send files to people anywhere in the world and ask them to contribute in their own time. Often the results are much better because the artist is able to work on the music when it suits him/her rather than when the date is fixed. And, they will often offer up a variety of choices as they have the freedom to express themselves that much more. The process opens doors, people are less inhibited and willing to experiment, confident within their own environment and in the knowledge that they haven't actually committed themselves until the files are sent. It also creates a certain mystique and romanticism that is all too easily lost in the studio environment. I think that in general people are more comfortable with the written word as a pre-emptive approach to working together (maybe within my age group at least) as it gives you the chance to opt out at any given time. Consequently there is less pressure, more freedom and in the final analysis, a more selective process.

I started working avidly with computers in the late eighties when I owned my first Mac, trying to implement midi programs in a useful way, therefore programming has always been an interest of mine. I feel as though I've been waiting an eternity for technology to catch up. To integrate computers effortlessly within the creative process without issues of expense, cross-platform compatibility and limitations that are impossible to live with. Now I feel we're finally getting somewhere. The visual and audio arts can really tie in and work together in such a way that is both affordable and practical - it's an exciting time in that respect.

I used Pro-Tools and Digital Performer as the recording platforms. I didn't use a sampler as such for the making of the album but the two common methods that I did use was to either import samples into the program (DP or PT) and manipulate them by programing or using Reason synced with Digital Performer as it's got a very user friendly drum machine that imports just about any file format, (doesn't have to be drum samples, could be any type of sample) and allows you to quickly set up playback via a step sequence, (selecting beats in the bar to trigger sample playback). I also made use of some Wave and Focusrite Plug-ins. Mixed on Earthworks Sigma 6.2 speakers and Yamaha NS10M's

I didn't play so much on 'slope' - it was mostly programed. I find it gives me greater flexibility and choice as many of the arrangements grew over time. I wasn't so interested in capturing musical performances as such. Apart from Theo's contribution there was no improvisation involved in the making of the album - it's almost entirely methodical. I enjoy the process of finding interesting sonic combinations and sound designing therefore it was a much more cerebral approach. In truth, there was very little musical delegation on 'slope', and the contributions I did receive I was able to chop and change to suit my needs.

I find 'concepts' are too restrictive when composing, I have tried but it's not a good starting point for me. Initially I work in an altogether more instinctive, intuitive way, gradually forming a bond with each composition. I'm an introverted person, I tend to internalise many of my emotions so I suppose there are hidden agendas that surface through my music.

Personally I enjoy albums that allow you to drift into another place. When vocals are present all the time it becomes too demanding with a continually fixed focal point. Since very early on, as a band, we started including instrumentals as a way of creating a bit of distance, a chance to reflect.

The main criteria was to find vocalists that could deliver a performance with a good deal of conviction and intensity and that would sit well within the musical content. David (Sylvian) helped me progress along the road. Apart from his contributions as a musician and vocalist/lyricist, he also helped me to find and select vocalists for the album as his insightfulness as a vocalist made the decision making that much easier.

Thomas Feiner is a vocalist I've very much admired since the first time I heard his voice (which David introduced me to quite a few years ago) on his own recordings with his group Anywhen. I thought his rich texture and wonderful gravitas was ideal for 'Sow The Salt'. He did an amazing job. This seemed to be one of those pieces that deemed to remain instrumental because it was so difficult to imagine a vocal or a vocalist that could make this work. My hat comes off to Thomas!

When I played David Sylvian the music of Ballad of a Deadman, to my surprise he sent it back with a vocal on it. I hadn't expected this since I felt it wasn't particularly his style of song but it worked great and we agreed it could make an interesting duet. David had expressed an interest in working with Joan Wasser. Her voice has a strong character, matching David's in that sense, as well as offering the flavour of America that is depicted within the lyrics. An interesting coincidence is that David mentions a 'Joan' in the song, however this is in fact based on a novel he was reading at the time and well before Joan Wasser was considered an option for the song.

It wasn't such a dissimilar story with Playground Martyrs except that I originally wrote the music for a female vocalist, (a french singer), but it turned out that her schedule was too crazy. I later sent a rough mix of the track to David - (we often exchange files over the internet), and to my surprise he sent it back with his vocal as a suggestion for whoever the female vocalist might be. During the search I became very attached to David's version. Having found Nina Kinert and recorded her vocal I then had two wonderful versions of the same track. I felt that there was a poigniency to both the male and female perspective of the lyrics (concerning childhood trauma), therefore, with differing arrangements, I thought it worked well as a reprise.

Tim Elsenburg was someone that I wanted to work with. He crosses that line of accessibility with great taste, in a similar way that David Sylvian does. He's a very interesting songwriter and very true to his own musical proclivity. He's also a great person to work and socialise with. We performed some shows together in Japan a few years ago and even though it was just the two of us there was a perpetual high level of ethic for both work and play!

I've worked with Anja a few times over the years. The last time was on Luc Besson's movie 'Angel-A'. We get a along very well and I admire her unorthodox approach to songwriting. Not many vocalists could have extracted a song from the music of Cancelled Pieces. She is amazing in that sense, and often, the more challenging it is the more she seems to want to achieve a result. She's a very intelligent girl and extremely sensitive. She brought to it a sensuality that was perfect for such a punchy, electronic piece virtually devoid of any human quality, and it's interesting to me how the sterility of the music compliments the epicurean nature of the alter ego she created for it.


The mixing is systematically done in the writing/constructing process. This is one of the most beneficial things about computer based recording in that it allows you to work towards a finished mix right from the outset.

Mixing isn't as easy at it seems especially when the musical ingredients are sonically so varied. If I've remotely succeeded in making it listenable in most environments then I'm not complaining. Key factors for me are vocal levels, separation, presence, nothing too 'muddy' in the low end and nothing too harsh in the high. I can only really tell if a mix is on the right track when I listen to it in my car. This is the test!

Good mastering is essential. As a modern recording artist it is tempting to limit the amount invested in this element of the recording process, especially with so much great mastering software on the market now, and in some cases it's a good call but with sonically dense pieces and various vocalists on my album I didn't want to go that route. I chose to work with Tony Cousins at Metropolis Studios in London because he is opposed to the typical style of mastering these days whereby everything is pushed to the maximum level achievable until it's all virtually flat-line. He manages to find the spot where volume and compression are acceptable and he uses equalisation to bring out the tracks natural dynamic as opposed to overall compression. Sometimes we compressed only certain narrow band widths in the low end so that we could achieve better levels and still sound natural. Tony takes his time and gets to know the material too. We spent a long day mastering the album together and afterwards I felt more confident about the mixes and pleased that they could be monitored on any system.

Finding the right artwork for the album sleeve was quite difficult. David and I trauled the internet for the right content. I preferred to avoid anything too abstract. When David found Dan's images they evoked such a sense of odd familiarity and were so pleasing to the eye. A kind of parallel world where things are almost, but not quite, what you expect them to be. Beautiful 'machines' that don't actually make any sense. They are a fascinating paradox in that they are vivid and clear yet mysterious and intriguing.

Pushing further, remaining inspired and excited by new endeavours. The danger is to become stagnant. I try to keep my sites open and to apply myself to music making without complacency. Always giving great attention to detail. If there is one underlying ingredient in the work I would have to say that it is this. It's within the detail. I hope that the result is that with repeated listens new things can be discovered. I like this degree of depth and selective placement in music.

I don't worry about the demands of the music industry. In the 80's I made a record with Richard Barbieri under the name of The Dolphin Brothers, for Virgin Records. I sung all the songs and wrote all the lyrics and yet it was a far less rewarding experience than making 'slope', primarily because I wasn't being true to myself with the work. It wasn't the sort of music I wanted to be making (even though at the time I thought it was), but it's where the industry led me. I learnt my lesson. Now, I'm pleased to say, with the advancement of technology, that element of the industry is dying somewhat as new artists can find the means to record and release material without the bank-rolling of record labels whose only real concerns are making as much money as possible whilst leaving the artist with as little as possible. Such are the demands made by, what is essentially, a loan company.

It's certainly much harder for a singer songwriter to live with compositions from the past that were in a way representative of a state of mind back in the day, which is why I completely sympathise with David's outlook on past releases. Since I wasn't represented in quite the same sense it allows me to feel less affected by it, however.. saying that,  I'm not terribly impressed with the work overall. I appreciate that we did things our own way musically, (even though there were certain influences being played out), that there was extreme integrity and conviction towards our music and the fact that we lived the part, not as an image but as a way of life. For that reason I believe it has more value than a lot of pop music of it's day.

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