Gabor 'Pici' Presser
Keyboard composer/player and leader of Hungary's top rock band, LGT
GABOR PRESSER has been the driving force behind Hungary's top rock band LOCOMOTIV G.T. (L.G.T.) for the past 10 years. In '82 L.G.T. released their 10th album 'Too Long', just released in the UK by EMI Records (EMC 3430). Despite Hungary's total population of 10 million, records must sell 100,000 copies (the same as in Britain) to qualify for a gold disc. All ten of L.G.T.'s albums have received gold discs and several have gone on to attain double-gold status.
GABOR - born in Budapest on 27th May 1948 - is known by friends and fans alike as PICI (the equivalent of the English nickname 'Tiny'). His early ambition to become a classical pianist looked like being realised when he was accepted by the Academy of Music in Budapest. However, it wasn't long before the Academy authorities became aware of Pici's passion for Western rock music and, despite his protestations that he was capable of continuing his classical studies while being merely interested in rock music, he was forced to resign.
He soon joined one of Hungary's first full-time rock bands, 'Omega', whose debut album sold 120,000 copies within three weeks of being released. Its members became stars overnight and although Pici enjoyed the ensuing months of excitement he was unhappy with the band's musical direction and left prior to the recording of Omega's third album.
The year was 1971 and at Christmas, Hungary's first ever national pop poll was organised. Pici was voted 'best keyboard player' and joined 'best guitarist', 'best bass player' and 'best drummer' for a one-off poll winners concert. Together they formed L.G.T. Since then there's been a change of drummer and guitarist but the current line-up has now been together for 7 years.
Pici has undertaken many solo projects during his career with L.G.T. One of his first was to compose the score for a rock musical which has now been showing at the same theatre in Budapest for the past 9 years. He's won many awards but ironically, after his experience at the Academy, he cites the Ferenc Erkel award he won in 1978 as the most important. It is presented annually by the government for 'an outstanding contribution to Hungarian music'. Pici was the first and so far the only rock musician to receive this accolade.
In 1981 Pici began work on a solo project. It was to be an album of electronic music but he'd hardly begun when he was approached by the State Opera Company to compose some music for a ballet they were preparing entitled 'The Rehearsal'.
The ballet was inspired by a Greek author's (Kazanzakis) interpretation of the Crucifixion - The One Who Got To Die. It portrays a group of actors rehearsing a passion play and the accompanying music is by Bach. Throughout 'The Rehearsal' we are given insights into the actor's personal relationships with each other and these are highlighted by Pici's specially composed electronic score.
'The Rehearsal' was first performed at Budapest's Opera House in June last year and was later filmed and shown on Hungarian television. The BBC is currently showing interest in screening this ballet.
An edited version of Pici's ballet score - ELECTROMANTIC - was released in Hungary in June last year. It was to meet with much critical acclaim as well as commercial success. ELECTROMANTIC (EMI EMC 3428) has just been released in the U.K. and at our interview with Pici we asked him how the LP was conceived...
"About 2 years ago I decided to make this album and although I already had my ideas, I had to wait a while to get into a studio. It's not every easy in Hungary - there are not so many good studios. Most of them are centered round Budapest. Just a few days before I started recording, I got a phone call from the director of the Hungarian State Opera, Andras Mihaly. (He had been teaching me at the Academy - I call him the 'father' of modern Hungarian Chamber music.) He wanted to see what he could do with my music and the ballet!
At the Academy I studied piano and did a lot of vocal accompanying, but I never learnt to compose, so I was really surprised at his offer. First of all he wanted me to use the Opera House orchestra and possibly rock band instruments too. I realised that my music I was playing could be used for both the album and the ballet. I suggested to the director that instead of using the orchestra or other musicians, I made a studio recording. He agreed and I began the work. He was familiar with electronic music of course, and in Hungary there are many young composers using this medium, the Hungarian radio station has built a special studio especially for electronic music and there is a lot of support for it on the radio.
All kinds of music are broadcasted so it is quite possible to have your electronic music played if it was recorded in their studio. (We have our own Radio 3 in stereo as in the U.K.).
It took about 500 hours in the studio to put the music together. Sometimes I'd be working for 3 or 4 days continuously with an equal break, other times I'd have to record every night over a period - I had to fit my time in when I could over some 3½ months. I didn't have to pay because the work was commissioned for the radio. I did not use the electronic music studio, just the usual kind of recording room, and brought my own equipment in - and took it out every time too!
On my 'Electromantic' LP, believe it or not, there was only a Jupiter 4, a Yamaha electric grand, and a very old Korg polyphonic - the big one (PS3300). I have two friends, Andras and Sandor Szalay, who make synthesisers and are crazy about computers. They built a micro-controlled instrument for me to use as well that worked from the Sinclair ZX81. Their small unit (MUZIX81) connected to the Sinclair to control synthesisers. Using this and the special programs they've compiled, you can compose, edit and replay music with your own analogue synthesiser.
Full screen cursor editing shows several lines of your musical score simultaneously. Notes are entered from the external keyboard and can be moved around afterwards to make 24 different 'verses'. Then you can save it on ordinary cassettes.
I found it useful, because I could multitrack with it, using its sync output on tape. One program will 'loosen up' the notes you've entered, and another lets you program your own rhythms to control an external drum box (the E&MM stereo percussion board would be ideal).
I had only a 16-track Studer in the studio, along with an MCI desk and other items such as Lexicon delay. Istvan Kiss, the guy who recorded the album for me was very enthusiastic. We've worked together before and he contributes a great deal. Sometimes we'd wait 5 or 6 days to get hold of a Harmoniser, and I also had to wait several months to hire a very good Sony digital reverb.
Equipment supply is generally difficult, although the record company now help me with lots of things. It's nice to be able to work at night at the radio station because nobody disturbs me, but there were times when I'd fall asleep by 6 a.m. and the studio police would have to wake me up!
I created the pieces layer by layer. I don't call it electronic ballet music - I call it 'my album.' It's not easy at all to get a contract with a worldwide record company because they don't believe that something can come out of Hungary. It was a very lucky thing that we could send the cassette to EMI - at first they couldn't believe that it came from Hungary! I have found no other record companies who give a little trust for new musicians. The Hungarian record company was really behind the thing and put a lot of money into making it successful.
We formed the group in Budapest in 1971 and since then there have been several line-up changes, making me the only original member. 'Tamás Somlo', the bass guitarist, came for the second album and in 73, after recording our third album 'Bummm', we got a contract with Jimmy Miller (who produced Rolling Stones, Traffic, Spooky Tooth and Blind Faith) and had record deals with CBS in the U.K. and ABC records. At that time everything went very well and we did a three month American tour.
I've always been the keyboard player and also do the vocals with guitarist Jalios 'James' Karácsony and Tamás. On percussion we have Janos Solti. The high vocals come from James or Tamás.
With the help of our new manager, Dr. Henrik Schonthal, we were being promoted internationally and then recorded our ninth album in English and Hungarian, produced by myself. This brought a deal with EMI records in the U.K. Shortly after, Pete Wingfield was approached to produce L.G.T. and did the 'Too Long' album with us.
The lead guitarist uses three or four guitars - a Gibson, an old Framus bought very cheaply in East Germany that sounds fantastic, a custom built white 'Gibson'-style instrument, plus a Spanish acoustic guitar that's mic'ed up.
The bass guitarist, Tamás, has a Gibson - he originally came from the circus and played sax and violin and was also a juggler and clown. I forced him to learn bass because he's a very good singer and I wanted him in the band.
Our drummer has a Gretch drum kit as well as a Sonor kit for playing jazz with his friends. There's no electronic drums, although I'm hoping to buy some. I play drums a little - we used to do a drum piece with 3 kits on stage (the guitarist played the third kit). I have my own kit because if I play on Janos' drums he goes crazy - I play very heavy!
On stage I have a Yamaha electric grand, a Rhodes piano, a Jupiter 4 and a Hohner Clavinet. I also sometimes use a Korg Vocoder that was used on Electromantic and I bought a Juno 60 a few weeks ago and I'm still trying to get it through the Hungarian customs. My contract with the publishers should allow me to have some synthesisers to take back to Hungary after the L.G.T. tour.
I don't use any effects. Of course, the guitarist uses pedal effects, distortion and so on. Our sound engineer uses a Roland Space Echo, a Korg delay unit, and a Midas desk and does most of the effects processing for us.
I'm really interested in the computer type of instrument, but as an individual - the band want to keep their present image. I think so, too - you know, the beauty of synthesisers is that if someone can really use them, it can be a fantastic background for the traditional line-up of guitar, bass and real drums. We play in stereo and are not as loud as a Heavy Metal group, for example.
It's interesting I think that in Hungary we do not have the same kind of dominating situation that current trend pop music has in the U.K. charts. This new wave as far as I know comes from punk, and there is no social background for punk music in Hungary. That's why new wave came as a part of modern music - there are just a few real new wave groups who were formed by artists and painters, none being true musicians. They make a very interesting 'cabaret'! They play radios on stage and get over their poor instrumental playing by being humorous.
The 'Too Long' single just released is not the single put out in Hungary. That was 'Music Express'. But I have to tell you that the English version of 'Too Long' is 10 times better than the Hungarian version. Both LPs were actually mixed at Marcus Studies in Kensington, London.
As far as my work with L.G.T. is concerned, we are currently touring with 10C.C. for the whole of March and will then return to Hungary in the first week of April. We shall then play in Budapest on the 1st May - we do this every year. We play the opening gig for a festival near the River Danube. Each year the audience gets bigger - reaching 80 thousand people last year. It's really an L.G.T. Festival! There is another group who used to play almost 10 years ago with us - they will be taking part again.
It always took me an hour and a half to set up the electronics. I always go first to my Roland Jupiter 4 and feed it to the studio quarter inch Studer. Then I start to work on some of my ideas in my mind. The programming for the ZX sequencer would have been already worked out. The large Korg proved difficult because it has no memory and took a long time to patch. I never use it to imitate an instrument, though.
I composed a further 25 minutes for the ballet performed at the Hungarian State Opera, which I don't use on the Electromantic album. I'm hoping to include that on my next album. There were two pieces not used in the ballet - 'Valvola' and 'DD'.
I've written 3 musicals already and a lot of pieces that have been a hit for the group over the years. I wrote the first musical ten years ago - it was a rock musical called 'Imaginary Report of an American Rock Festival'. The story was written by a fantastic old Hungarian book writer, Tibor Dery. I've also composed 17 scores for Hungarian films.
I don't have a studio at home, but I do have a beautiful Bosendorfer grand piano. (I'm aged 34 and I'm not married). Of course, my first music was not really electronic - I only had a Fender Rhodes piano in the early days.
I think that music is a complex thing - I don't like to separate it into harmony, melody and so on. I don't like composers who write a good melody and then let the arranger take the harmony. I do everything myself. Sometimes I will begin with the sequencer making a bass line or pattern. I often use a click track and build up some harmonies on tape which we would probably wipe off later, but it gets us started. I like to choose the sound of the melody from the beginning.
I hate writing out scores, because I forget my ideas! That means I might record more than one version. I did this for the '2000 Dioptria' track. The first one was played by the Sinclair sequencer, but it was too rigid, so I did another version with just a few sequence lines and added the rest myself to give it more life. This piece uses the Korg Vocoder - I add just a little white noise from the control, but find the chorus too noisy and prefer to use the vibrato effect it has. I don't speak words into it either!
I used quite a lot of short echo from a Lexicon unit on this album, plus reverb from a chamber at the Hungarian Radio.
I can hardly talk about my music - even in Hungarian! I really can't explain what happens. I don't really practise, but I do play a lot. I think I had a better technique when I was in the conservatory. The Yamaha electric grand helps me a lot to keep my fingers agile. I'm not happy with the tuning of the Yamaha because its short strings mean I have to get the instrument tuned just before every gig. Our sound engineer has learned to do it. I don't use the tremolo effect on it too much - twice a gig!
What you won't find I've done is used thousands of pounds of instruments on this album - it's all based around the Korg 3300 and the Roland Jupiter 4. I almost killed the JP4 trying to bring out the last bit of colour from it! I used its arpeggio function on 'Adagio Electrico', done in stereo through a delay split that's panned. Also on 'Electro-mance' I think.
I managed to get a very clear sound onto the tape, although we used Dolby noise reduction as well. We had to mix down some pieces to get as many as 26 tracks. The drums are all live. I wanted to use electronic instruments, but with orchestral drums: real gong, bells, orchestral snare drum and timpani. I only played a few of the easy parts - with my drummer and other musicians doing most of the percussion. I really love to use an orchestral kind of score - a lot of this did not appear on the album.
I still regard my music as synthesiser music, even though it takes on an orchestral soundscape at times. I'm not trying to get a trumpet sound from a synthesiser. I try to prepare new sounds with a bright, multi-textured quality.
I'm not interested in drum machines - just electronic drums which I'll be considering for future music.
I've been thinking about performing my music live, but I don't want to use a tape and just play some of the parts with it. They've asked me to do this to promote the album. I really think the Sinclair controlled sequencer that my friends have made for me is better than the MC-4 Microcomposer. They also have been working with the Spectrum and are preparing a score writing system for the IBM machine.
If you ask me which instruments that I would like to be getting I would say 'every one'! I know about the PPG Wave 2, but they won't give me a good price! I'm not interested in their new 2.2 version with the Waveterm because we can do the same with the IBM. I've never seen the Fairlight CMI. I've tried the Emulator which I like very much and I like the idea of sampling sound. I tried the Synergy in Hamburg but I'm not sure about that one. I'm looking for the more sophisticated instruments that are still portable enough for touring with. I would probably go for an Emulator rather than a Fairlight and I'd like to be able to add natural sounds to my music.
I never think of a set structure, such as Rondo (one track is called 'Rondo a la Terror'). I just start to play and see what happens. Fortunately my sound engineer keeps a lot of things that I would like to wipe off, but later find okay to use. I like to work very quickly, but if nothing is 'happening' I try to use all the instruments to get a new starting point. I'm never really planning too much. The sequencer has polyphonic memory storage and I can sync it to the Jupiter 4 arpeggio and the Korg LFO. As I experiment with sounds and notes, my engineer is also looking for treatments he can give. We then agree on tempo, notes, arpeggio and we lay a first track. I would then improvise over this - I improve the melody, the harmony, and try to find the right musical balance.
I think that Electromantic does represent my overall style at the present time. This is my first solo album, after 21 albums in Hungary. I did a couple of albums in the States and one in Europe and now I've done one without any compromise because I did it alone. This is the most important lesson - nobody should have to compromise their music - and that's why I'm very happy with this album."
For details of the Sinclair MUZIX81 system contact Andrew A. Szalay, (Contact Details).
Interview by Mike Beecher
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