Dave Stewart's Music Seminar (Part 9)
Part 9: Shadowland. More inside info on the compositional structures Dave adopted on this track.
In days of yore when synths had knobs but no dynamics, I used a combination of MiniMoog and Prophet V for bass lines. With my left hand playing the principal bass part on the Moog, I would use my right hand on the Prophet to add or double notes. This at least gave some emphasis and extra colour to a bass line played on a non velocity-sensitive instrument, and produced things like the riff in Figure 1, my easy bass intro to a certain classic Tamla Motown song I recorded back in '81.
The trouble with this sound combination was that it could often become overbearing. Both these antique analogue synths (which, I note with amusement, have now come back into fashion) have a big bottom end, and after spending hours gleefully programming a huge, buzzing Prophet sound like the one I employed for the aforementioned track, I'd often end up with a combined bass sound that sounded fantastic on its own, but was simply too big and powerful to work with other instruments. After a little work re-programming the Prophet (this done with a certain amount of regret), I came up with some relatively sensible bass sounds that blended more subtly with the Moog. This enabled me to play faster stuff like the 2-handed rhythm pattern in Figure 2, featured in a song called The Emperor's New Guitar' that I recorded in the early 80s.
With the more bestial side of the Prophet held in check, I got a lot of mileage out of this double-analogue combination, but was nevertheless relieved when the new generation of FM instruments came along a year or two later. At last I could begin to play expressive and dynamic bass lines without having to stand between two keyboards with arms outstretched, in the manner of Vic Savage in Spinal Tap. That's a great film, isn't it? Remember the bit where they're booked to support a puppet show, and because Nigel's left the group they have to play a 3-hour version of 'Jazz Odyssey'... sorry. I'm digressing.
Anyway, like Spinal Tap, I am unwilling to sever all my links with the past, and the old Prophet/Moog team, though almost entirely replaced nowadays by sampled bass guitars and the like, occasionally makes a comeback. You can hear it on The Big Idea (the latest Stewart/Barbara Gaskin CD), quietly thundering away in the choruses of 'Mr. Theremin', and also playing a more contrapuntal part (which I fear would have confounded Vic) all the way through the uptempo track 'Shadowland'.
Figure 3 shows the keyboard arrangement for the start of 'Shadowland', incorporating the 2-handed bass line. The Prophet sound I used was a fairly powerful, distorted, guitar-like program with the oscillators tuned in 5ths, and a bit of built-in release which meant I could play staccato but still get a legato effect. The MiniMoog was set to a standard kind of booming bass patch, oscillators set to 16' and 32' (ah, the old church organ terminology) and no filter resonance (which tends to take all the body out of bass sounds). Occasionally I needed the Prophet to change to a unison program, so I enlisted Barbara's help in pressing buttons at the right points, being personally rendered helpless in classic Savage pose.
For those interested in exploring other sections of 'Shadowland' and not just reading this article to savour the hip words 'analogue' and 'MiniMoog' before turning to the burningly crucial, fearlessly investigative software reviews, Figure 4 shows the chorus chords and Figure 5 the end of the song, a sort of accented chordal melody straight out of the 70s — goes with the synths, really. Good grief! Surely I didn't play those last couple of chords live, did I? They both use about 15 notes! I suspect that here I must have enlisted the help of Little Dave, the talented many-limbed performing sequencer unit brought to you by the Roland Corporation of Japan (pause for 5-second musical interlude, applause, and gasps of admiration). As the last chord hits, I introduced a sampled, breathy backing vocal loop of alternating minor and major triads sung by Barbara. There is a brief flurry of piano and mini-cymbal arpeggios in free time, but these soon subside and are replaced by distant twanging santurs and temple bells. The sustained chord begins to fade, and the vocal sample cross-fades with the same sample an octave lower, gradually making the music darker and softer as it all dwindles into a mysterious bass drone. Very tenebrous.
First published in 'Keyboard Magazine', Japan.
Excerpts from 'The Emperor's New Guitar' and 'Shadowland' courtesy of Budding Music. © Budding Music 1990.
'Shadowland' is tram The Big Idea, 'The Emperor's New Guitar' is from Broken Records — The Singles, by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin. Both CDs are available via mail order from Broken Records, to whom any correspondence to Dave and Barbara should be directed.
Broken Records, (Contact Details).
Feature by Dave Stewart
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