To help you get into the festive mood, we asked a few artists and producers, and a handful of our regular contributors, what they'd like for christmas this year... In a hi-tech music kind of way. Paul Tingen collected the wish-lists.
Oh dear. Christmas is drawing nigh again — too nigh for comfort.
But then, at least in England, it will be over and done with very quickly. As a Dutchman I will remain forever amazed by the stubborn single-mindedness with which England approaches this event. I mean, it makes sense to have some rituals to brighten up the darkest month of the year — it's an old pagan practice, happily seized upon by the Christian church, who, rather conveniently, assumed that Christ was born around the shortest day of the year — but why are you people selling yourselves so hopelessly short? One big bang and it's all over. One big orgy of gifts, turkey, alcohol and family stress, and you've had it. For the whole year.
In Holland we do the whole thing in three stages. First of all we get our gifts on December 5th, handed down through the chimney by our mythical Saint Nicholas. Then we have Christmas, consisting of two days of turkey, alcohol and family stress, and finally we celebrate New Year's Eve in suitably excessive style (like the Scots, but worse), and then comes New Year's Day. The last bit is great fun. We take our time to say goodbye to the old year and salute the new, and in the process get laid and get drunk. Which is not generally a family affair.
But here, you splurge all the fun in one day. Which probably explains your manic Christmas mêlée, and the diabolical amounts of money spent on presents. It's as if everybody's afraid to lose out: "This is it, our one and only chance, let's not waste it." Would this in part explain, I wondered, why the artists and producers I rang to find out what they want for Christmas didn't hesitate, and went straight into impressive realms of creative wishful thinking? Many needed only seconds to come up with some baffling ideas, given the suggestion that their Christmas present should be professional (ie. having to do with music), and could be anything they could possibly think of, real or imaginary, utterly ludicrous or impossible, or tantalisingly mundane.
Take JJ's flight of fancy. The eminent Fairlight programmer, producer, and former half of The Art Of Noise had this in mind: "My desire for Christmas is something that doesn't exist yet, and if it does, I wish somebody would tell me. It's basically total mental recall, by which I mean that I want a machine that records everything I see, hear and think. Whatever it is, I want to be able to instantly replay it and store it. I want a portable mind-and-world-encompassing dictaphone. Sometimes I carry a rhythm around in my head for quite a long time, and then somebody says something or something happens, and it's gone. That's one problem the dictaphone would solve. The other big thing about it would be that it could record all the dreams that you have. That would be amazing."
Mike Pela, producer and engineer of Sade, Fine Young Cannibals and Working Week amongst many others, was also not interested in anything half-hearted. "A Synclavier and a radio station would do nicely, thank you very much. The Synclavier should be an intelligent auto-amend version, so that it knows when things need altering. I should be able to supply it with my own criteria of what's musically right — train it to think like me. I could then instruct it simply with commands like: 'Hey, look, this bit doesn't groove. Please make it groove better,' without having to specify anything else. That would save a lot of time. And if I had my own radio station, I could get to the public, and hopefully play more intelligent music than Radio 1."
The interface between human and machine, as well as that between artist and audience, seemed to be a predominant topic. Songwriter, artist and producer Rupert Hine (Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Bob Geldof, etc) came up with this: "I have loads of wishes! But the one I would most like to see happen is a new national radio station that played music for the mind as opposed to music for the feet. It doesn't have to be intellectual music — it could be passionate, emotional, communicative and so on. Music for the feet is jolly good too, but it's only such a small part of what music is really about. Music in the UK is dying on its feet (pun not intended) at the moment, and unless someone reminds people of the fantastic range of experience that it's possible to express with music, it will die even more.
"My second wish is for a human interface with the music computer. At the moment the only option is using the QWERTY keyboard and the mouse, those ridiculous computer peripherals. To have to access your computer through them whilst you're in the middle of playing is a ludicrous concept. They're two completely different states of mind. What I want instead is a piece of hardware that you can connect to your computer, that has big chunky buttons to dive for, and facilities like being able to drop in and out of record on separate channels without having to move a mouse about or having to look at a screen. Opcode are developing something like this. They picked my brains about it earlier this year. I just can't believe that it's taken so long before someone finally had a go."
Someone else who wants to break down barriers between artists and audience is Howard Jones: "What I would like to see is a separate dance chart. It's ridiculous that everybody's held under the tyranny of dance music. I like dance music, but the way the charts are set up at the moment there's no chance for other music to come through. Some people are making fantastic records and there's no platform for them. If this country wants to maintain a world lead in music, it's going to have to create a platform where its talent gets a chance. So a few more radio stations would be a good idea too "
Wally Badarou (producer, artist, composer, and synthesizer maestro), described in last month's Sound On Sound his configuration of 12 DMP11s in place of a standard single console. He would like to have: "A new, modular board. The DMP11s are great, but not of as high sound quality as I would like. The board should be fully MIDI, and have more than one aux send. Another thing I'd like is a digital patchbay that can accept more than 30 points and which you can run off a computer. That would be great."
From the other end of the musical instrument spectrum come the Christmas wishes of Simon Jeffes, leader of the completely acoustic Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Laughing: "I would like to have the next PCO album in my hand. I know exactly what it's going to be like, but this recording process is so bloody difficult. If having the new album in my hand is too much to ask for, I'll opt for two months recording time with my orchestra at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studio. I don't like the smell of technology, but I like what can be achieved with it, and Real World seems to have a rather nice version, with nature all around it, and this big room. That will be my Christmas present."
And lastly, the other former half of the Art Of Noise, keyboard player, arranger and producer Anne Dudley has a very simple wish: "A good long holiday please!"
I'll second that. And as for my other wishes, I won't bother you with my big personal one, although I can reveal that I wouldn't mind a record or publishing deal for Christmas. And for Christ's sake, I'd love to see a new, young, Western artist on the scene who's musically innovative and genuinely moving and inspiring. An artist with real character and something to say, and who can play too. An artist who finally makes one of those records again that you play over and over and over I wonder... did the saviour play guitar?
Feature by Paul Tingen
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