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Birth of a Studio

CTS Studio 4 | Brian Gascoigne

Simon Trask spends a day in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, visiting a new dedicated keyboard studio successfully functioning within the confines of an established studio complex.

CTS Studios, home of the world's first Neve DSP digital mixing console and scene of more orchestral recordings than almost anywhere, has just added a hi-tech music facility to its recording armoury. We take a trip to Studio 4.

Wembley Stadium complex, second home of East European gymnasts (at the Arena), hordes of Japanese businessmen (the Conference Centre) and Scottish football hooligans (the Stadium itself), has just given birth to an extraordinary keyboard-based recording studio.

The studio is far from ordinary for several reasons. First, because its owners have equipped it with a vast, bewildering array of technology right from the word go, rather than accumulating gadgets bit by bit. Second, because it is only a small part of a much larger studio complex, long-established and currently boasting such niceties as a Neve DSP all-digital mixing desk and a main studio floor capable of holding 130 musicians. And third, because the extraordinary present has an equally extraordinary past behind it.

Stay in your seat, keep the magazine in your hands, and all will be revealed.

For 25 years, a recording complex known as The Music Centre has been in operation next to the East European gymnasts, the Japanese businessmen, and the Scottish football hooligans. In 1985, we find that complex operating under the fairly anonymous title of CTS.

Along with Abbey Road and Sarm, it's one of the best-known studio outfits in London, and as such, it's played host to huge numbers of rich and famous music people. Why, only last year that Neve DSP and 130-capacity floor were being used to record the soundtrack to the James Bond movie, 'A View to a Kill', Duran, Grace Jones an' all.

Strangely, it's in film music (or more precisely, the use of synthesisers in film music) that the origins of the new keyboard studio lie. In fact, since the inception of Studio 4 (so-called because it's the fourth at CTS, obvious really) in mid-September of this year, film work has been its staple diet.

Studio 4 is linked by tie lines to the other studios in the complex, and can be used in conjunction with Studio 1 for simultaneous keyboard/orchestral recording (there is also a video link between the two), in which case Studio 4's desk can function as a sub-mixer to the DSP desk in Studio 1. However, the studio is perfectly capable of operating in its own right, and is by no means limited to film work.

Our tale begins with one Brian Gascoigne, a composer and keyboard player who's worked in film music for many years in both capacities. His background includes study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and a three-year stint with brilliant Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta. In those heady days, Gascoigne's keyboard setup comprised the evergreen Fender Rhodes, an ARP 2600 ('a very fine machine'), an ARP Odyssey, a Hammond B3 organ and the quintessential grand piano.

An invitation to write music for a sci-fi film called 'Phase 4', which called for exclusively electronic music, resulted in Gascoigne searching for a studio that specialised in synth facilities. At that time there were only two in London: Electrophon, run by Brian Hodgson (now head of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop — see E&MM October '85), and Kaleidophon, which was (still is) run by David Vorhaus. Gascoigne ended up at the latter, and subsequently became a partner with Vorhaus for about 10 years.

Vorhaus is a maverick genius who built his own studio from scratch, with a 24-channel mixing desk and an improvising sequencer called Maniac, which actually creates sequences according to the sets of probabilities you feed into it. That studio's first polyphonic synth was a Prophet 5, but Gascoigne and Vorhaus were keen followers of hi-tech studio chic, and found it hard to ignore the Fairlight CMI. Thus, Kaleidophon acquired the first Fairlight in the UK when Vorhaus visited the '78 Frankfurt show where the instrument made its first appearance, befriended Fairlight's Peter Vogel, and ended up making room for the superpower instrument prior to Fairlight finding a British distributor. The studio subsequently bought the CMI 'on very favourable terms', and Gascoigne now considers its use second nature.

During the ensuing years, Gascoigne started getting work as a synth player on orchestral sessions — which often meant working in CTS' Studio 1. A lot of his work was for films, like the 'Star Wars' trilogy, the 'Superman' threesome and 'The French Lieutenant's Woman'.

Playing synth in duet with a full orchestra is never all sweetness and light, though, as Gascoigne reveals.

'First of all you have to set up all your equipment — which these days can be quite a lot — by 10 o'clock. The orchestra comes in, and you may have about 10 minutes with the composer to run through a few sounds. You then work at orchestral speed: you sight-read through the music, a couple of quick alterations are made, and then you record it. But of course, on the read-through you're assembling your sounds, making sure they're alright and that they fit with the orchestration. So by the time the orchestra's ready to record, you're ready to start sight-reading. And it can get incredibly hairy, because you can't get up in front of 120-odd people and say 'sorry, I'm not ready' when there's megabucks going down.

'So you have to scuttle through it. Sometimes you can sneak back into the control room afterwards and ask to put your track down again, but it's considered rather bad form.'

It was while working on the soundtrack to 'The Emerald Forest' (Martin Boorman's much-delayed West-meets-Amazon Jungle epic) that Gascoigne conceived the idea of a keyboard-based studio. His ideal was a facility for producing the synthesiser portions of orchestral filmscores, either before, after or even during the orchestral recording. And if you equipped a studio with that in mind, there was no reason why it couldn't be used for purely electronic filmscores, and for TV work, jingles and more run-of-the-mill musical things.

CTS didn't take much persuading before they responded enthusiastically to his proposals. The need was obvious, and the room was already available at Wembley.

The upshot of all this was that CTS provided the studio space, the desk, the outboard gear, the tape decks, the engineers and the overheads. Gascoigne's job was to supply the keyboards.

At the time he had a half-share in Kaleidophon's Fairlight, which he sold in order to buy a new one, complete with MIDI and SMPTE cards. He also had a Prophet 5, an Oberheim OB8, a Yamaha DX7 and some outboard gear — all of which have since found their way into the studio. A TX816 rack has since furthered the Yamaha FM contribution to Studio 4's gallery of possible sounds.

From the beginning, the Fairlight was intended to be an optional extra. That meant finding another sequencer (ie. something other than Page R) to control all the keyboards. There was also a pressing need for some kind of drum machine. Cue the Linn 9000, an impulse buy as it arrived at Syco on the very day Gascoigne was buying his Fairlight. The 9000 has since caused a few problems, but these have apparently been solved, and Gascoigne now feels it's 'a brilliant machine, very quick and intelligently designed.'

Kaleidophon had owned a PPG Wave 2.2, so it seemed a natural progression to equip Studio 4 with a Wave 2.3. Gascoigne considers the Wave to be infuriatingly designed, but he values it highly for its ability to sound strongly 'analogue' in spite of its digital origins. The studio's Matrix 12 came in conjunction with the Wave 2.3 as part of 'an offer I couldn't refuse' from Turnkey — though having owned an OB8 for some time and used an Xpander previously, Gascoigne was quick to appreciate the 12's potential.

A Prophet T8 was bought with a view to making it available as a master keyboard, but disposed of not long after when it turned out to be, in Gascoigne's words, 'the most desperate piece of junk'. The touch of the keyboard was wonderful, but the synth section proved to be not a patch (ouch!) on the Prophet 5's, and the velocity data conveyed over MIDI bore little resemblance to what was happening to the keyboard.

Most studio people would be happy with a line-up of equipment like the one I've just described, but not so Gascoigne's backers at CTS. Their first reaction when he presented his list of goodies was: 'Where's the Synclavier?' I guess there's just no pleasing some people.

In fact, there is a Synclavier currently resident in Studio 4. It belongs to film music composer Trevor Jones, who was putting the finishing touches to the soundtrack to a new film titled 'Runaway Train' when your reporter visited CTS. For a particularly emotive moment in the film (which is more serious than its Disneyesque title might suggest), Jones has used the slow second movement from Vivaldi's 'Gloria', synthesised on the Synclavier using string and vocal sounds. The resulting unearthly stillness is closely suited to the moment, in a way that an 'authentic' performance could not have managed.

Seeing as Jones is an enthusiastic advocate of using the Synclavier, Fairlight and so on in film music, it isn't surprising to learn that he was among the first to recognise the value of Studio 4 to the film composer. The facility allows music to be sequenced extensively before it's so much as put down on tape. This means film composers can show their ideas to directors and make changes without having to go to the trouble (and cost) of re-recording everything. And this holds good for orchestral scores, too, where as much as possible can be sorted out in a synthetic version before any expensive orchestral recording time has to be invested in.

Still, if the idea of a Fairlight and a Synclavier sitting next to one another in Studio 4 sounds a bit excessive, Gascoigne is the first to agree.

'In a sense it's absurd, an insane waste of money. But people are bound to have used one or the other, they'll want the sound of one or the other, and they'll bring in floppies relating to one or the other... I can see no way around it, but I do rather resent the duplication. The same thing is true of the PPG Wave sequencer. In a studio such as ours we don't need it, because we can use one of the other sequencers to run the PPG's voices. But I suppose for another studio that might be their sequencer, and they'll be very happy to use it as such.'

Ah, the perils of having too much at your disposal...

Studio 4 is staffed by Tim Pennington and Martin Ley, as chief engineer and assistant respectively. Both were working at CTS prior to joining Studio 4, Pennington being something of a veteran with five years notched up, during which time he's worked in all the other studios, including a spell with the DSP in Studio 1. Ley, who was a lowly tape-op not so long ago but now doubles as an all-singing, all-dancing synth programmer, is something of an antique synth collector, with a bedroom full of early machines including two Moog Sources, a MicroMoog and a MemoryMoog.

Despite his crucial role in bringing Studio 4 into being, Brian Gascoigne will be taking something of a back seat in its day-to-day running — though his experience will no doubt be called upon when required.

Unlike many Fairlight and Synclavier users, Gascoigne is fiercely critical of the idea of sampling to create perfect reconstructions of acoustic sounds. His own sympathies lie 'quite strongly' with the view of orchestral musicians that sampling in that form is in some way immoral.

'It's hypocritical that record companies should take people to court for copyright piracy and yet not think that they themselves are committing piracy when they use a sampled sound without the consent of the person who's played it', he says. 'There's definitely some room for more formal arrangements concerning ownership of samples.'

He's treading on dangerous ground, needless to say, but Gascoigne is far from being a paid-up member of the Luddite anti-sampling lobby. He's especially keen on the creative possibilities of manipulating samples, and of combining these with acoustic sounds.

As a direct result of this enthusiasm, the Studio 4 Fairlight isn't short of a sound or two. There are some 87 disks currently at the ready; even the Fairlight library disks have extra samples crammed onto them. Not surprisingly, many of these sounds come from Gascoigne's Kaleidophon days.

Studio 4 also has its own small isolation room, intended mainly for recording vocal and horn overdubs, whilst it's intended that a piano should take up residence there at some point, in much the same way as a Joanna found its way into Paradise Studios (see last month's E&MM). It seems acoustic instruments have a knack of sneaking in the back door of 'all-electronic' music, centres.

But back in the world of contemporary technology, we find a complex MIDI-based 'network' which interconnects all the instruments in Studio 4. It's been put together with great care by Gascoigne and his accomplices, and the result of their endeavours is the most comprehensive MIDI network I've yet come across. There are two Syco MI4 boxes, a Quark MIDI Link 999, and a custom-designed 10-in, 10-out MIDI patchbay.

It's a configuration that allows any piece of equipment access to any other, while insertion points allow for future updates, like a possible third stand of keyboards and the Synclavier when it receives its MIDI. Each of the two current stands has an MI4 allocated to it, and these connect to the Quark, which in turn connects to the custom bay.

Work involving films, ad jingles or pop promos sees Studio 4 make use of a Sony U-Matic video system, with the time-code burnt into the video picture and a time-code track on the tape, which is then recorded onto the studio's 24-track machine via a reshaper. The reshaper tidies up the signal, ensuring there are no drop-outs caused by generation loss. Once the time-code is on the multitrack, it can be read by the studio's Friend Chip SMPTE Reading Clock, which in turn can control MIDI sequencers and any pre-MIDI clock-based equipment. The SRC can cope with the 24, 25, 30 and 30 drop-frame implementations of the SMPTE standard, and allows up to 32 cue points to be entered 'on the fly'.

Each cue point can be given its own tempo (in absolute terms, this is expressed as the number of SMPTE frames per beat), and 'tables' can be set up for each cue point, to define which clocks are to be sent. In addition to the MIDI clock, the SRC can send clock pulses at any rate including the Fairlight's 384 ppqn - and it also allows cue points to be adjusted to a resolution of micro-seconds. Which gives you some idea of just how fine a degree of control a SMPTE-based system allows.

I've already mentioned the substantial amount of inter-linking between Studio 4 and the more established CTS facilities, but it's worth noting an operation using those facilities was to be attempted by composer Maurice Jarre (father of Jean-Michel). He expressed a desire to use Michael Boddicker, Ian Underwood and Brian Gascoigne playing multiple synths in Studio 4 simultaneously to the orchestra recording in Studio 1, but although this shouldn't have posed CTS any problems, the project ended up being done in Germany. Still, if you've just saved up enough pennies for that orchestral/synth concept album you've been planning all these years, CTS are ready and waiting for you.

Since its opening in September, Studio 4 has been used for a Channel 4 wildlife documentary, music for 'Holiday on Ice', and some jingle work (Tim Souster wearing his commercial hat), though most of the time has been taken up by the aforementioned 'Runaway Train' filmscore.

It'll be interesting to see how the studio fares, and whether or not it finds its niche purely in film or TV work.

Building up business is inevitably a slow process, so although the facility has been well publicised around the record companies, it's very much a matter of Studio 4 having to persuade companies out in their direction. As Pennington points out, record companies tend to have a set of favourite studios that they stick with for years, and old habits die hard.

DATAFILE - CTS Studio 4 Rates (excluding VAT)

Standard time £45 per hour
Overtime (6pm-9am weekdays, all day weekends) 20% extra
Synthesisers £100 per day
Fairlight CMI £175 per day
Programmer £75 per day

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Electronics & Music Maker - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Electronics & Music Maker - Dec 1985

Scanned by: Stewart Lawler

Feature by Simon Trask

More on:

CTS Studios

> What's In Studio Four?

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> Music On Tap

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