Talking about improvisation and The Moody Blues
This month, in the third and final part of our series on our keyboard consultant Patrick Moraz, we look at Patrick's stage equipment with The Moody Blues through the eyes of his road manager Pat Buckley, and at his approach to live improvisation and musical philosophy in his own words.
A typical Moody Blues concert will use three sound desks, for PA, foldback monitors, and keyboards. Pat Buckley usually balances the keyboard sound on headphones, dealing with around twelve keyboards which use five channels on the main PA mixer. The keyboards are almost entirely in mono, with each one needing slight volume adjustments at different points in the set.
Since Patrick has too many keyboards to allow him to do his own mixing, and the Yamaha CS80 in particular needs close attention due to the wide variation in volume of its different programmes, Pat Buckley needs to stay on his toes. Sometimes, however, everything takes care of itself; "some gigs I'd virtually touch nothing all night, maybe making a couple of adjustments".
The situation depends largely on the position of the 40,000 watts of PA speakers supplied by Claire Brothers of Pennsylvania. Many of these are 'flown' above the stage and can tend to drown out Patrick's 1,000 watts of monitors. The monitor amps are two Crown PS2's, the bottom one in mono for two bass drivers and the top one split between two mids and two trebles, with a passive crossover to a pair of tweeters and the whole assembly mounted in two large cabinets.
The keyboards and monitors take about three hours to set up with the help of a wiring harness divided into four or five sections. The keyboards are always set up in a circle, although their numbers are being reduced of late; during a recent Moody Blues tour three keyboards, including the Polymoog and a Minimoog, were replaced by a Jupiter 8.
In addition, there's a dual manual Mellotron needed for the older Moodies numbers, a Yamaha CS80, a special dual manual Oberheim 8-voice for strings on numbers such as 'Nights in White Satin', a Novatron loaded with special effects tapes, a Roland Vocoder Plus, and a Roland Jupiter 4.
Additional effects are provided by a Roland CSQ 600 sequencer linked to a CR78 rhythm unit and Roland SH2 synthesiser, a set of Moog Taurus bass pedals, and a Clavitar with an Oberheim 4-voice module. The guitar-like Clavitar allows Patrick to move about on stage, and he now has two, the older duophonic version and the newer monophonic which is simpler to set up and use on stage.
All the keyboards are DI'd through special Claire Brothers 48V phantom powered DI/splitter boxes and fed to the PA mixer and/or Pat Buckley's keyboard mixer. On stage the keyboards are only lightly treated with echo, usually an AKG Echo Tower or a Master Room echo plate on the mixer.
Gene Claire, who has engineered for the Moodies since 1968, takes charge of the PA sound, which although it isn't necessarily very complex has to reflect the symphonic style of the band.
Justin Hayward on guitars uses three SE30 amps, John Lodge uses two Hiwatt amps for his bass and a Roland Combo for his amplified acoustic guitar, and the band is completed by Graeme Edge on drums and Ray Thomas on flutes. Patrick doesn't need any kind of synchronising pulse from the other members of the band for his keyboards, although he does sometimes fill in for the bass guitar using foot pedals.
Usually this is during the more subdued tracks in the set, which give him his only chance to sit down! The set typically opens with a sequencer effect on the Jupiter 4 faded in on the keyboard mixer as the band take to the stage, with Patrick's CS80 mounted on a rolling riser at the front of the keyboard stacks to give him access. The Oberheim 8-voice is mounted on top of the left-hand stack to give access to the tuning controls of its sixteen oscillators. Normally the channel for the Roland Vocoder Plus, CR78, Jupiter 4 and SH2 is left open on the main desk and for tracks such as 'Gemini Dream' from 'Long Distance Voyager' Pat Buckley is responsible for bringing up the volume of these instruments on his mixer at the appropriate times.
Patrick explains that he doesn't take many solos during a typical Moody Blues set because his job is more to fit in with the production of an overall symphonic sound. "The Moodies music is simple enough, but some of it is very symphonic. I write most of my parts down, or the producer does it, but usually only after it's all on tape because during rehearsals I can memorize the keyboards parts. I discuss lines with the producer and come into the studio with various improvisations or various options, like a kaleidoscope of tone colours and echoes — although it's important not to let echoes take the place of inspiration."
"I'm writing music down more now, but don't have to, because I'm used to picking it up by ear. I did an interview in America and the guy took fifteen days to transcribe a piece of my music, so there's no point for me, when I can remember it. I don't think it's vital to be able to read or write any music."
"The next Moody Blues album should be out by March. 'Long Distance Voyager' was a magical album for me, but I think this one will be even better; I'm more used to working with the band now, and it's a winning team in the musical sense, and at least in the USA in the commercial sense as well."
"The institutional policy is that anyone can write songs, although John Lodge and Justin Hayward tend to produce most. For instance, I've got fifty songs I could offer now, but that doesn't mean one of them has to go on the album. We come along with chords, a melody line and words, which we then all help to orchestrate. In the studio I'm using the Yamaha GS1 with doubled, tripled or quadrupled programmes to get the sort of rich orchestral sounds the Moodies need."
"Some strategic points in the set need a string or a choir sound, but I'm trying to move away from those; I'm like a mirror, if I hear a sound I will reflect it and respond by putting my own contribution to it. I also did thirty-five film scores, including the Cannes Film Festival prizewinner 'The Invitation', and found I got a feeling from an image or from the words which told me what should go with them."
"My improvisations often work in the same way. The trigger is often a picture, a thought or a fantasy, such as a rose unfolding and growing, which would give something very simple but orchestral (illustrated on Demo Cassette 9 using Yamaha GS1, CS70M and other synthesisers); or a lizard, an iguana, which would give something more percussive and menacing, with fast swirling 'cello sounds to represent the heat of the desert and mirages" (illustrated on the cassette using GS1, sequencer and keyboards).
"On Future Memories, my set of live improvisations for Swiss TV, I didn't see the video, which was superimposed on blue-painted parts of the scenery by Chroma-key. So I partly took ideas from the clothes I was wearing for each section, mediaeval, or futuristic, and so on. We had six TV cameras in my studio, which has one enormous room and one small one for mixdown and overdubs, and we had all the TV trucks outside in the street, sometimes from nine o' clock in the morning."
"All the tracks on the first Future Memories LP (still available as part of E&MM's November 82 special offer) were totally improvised, although some of the others were based on backing tracks already on the 24 track tape which were synchronised to the video pictures."
"I use a lot more keyboards in the studio than on tour with the Moodies, and sometimes two drum machines running simultaneously, an ARP sequencer linked to a set of Simmons drum pads, and most importantly the Yamaha GS1. We told Yamaha about the Future Memories idea and they immediately said we could have one on loan, and asked where we wanted it!"
"We shot Future Memories in four days, and now we're hoping to have it shown on Channel Four — Yamaha are interested too. Each improvisation is based around a certain riff or melody, some of it is in a jazz or boogie style, but I don't want to be classified as a jazz musician. I love jazz, but I play in a classical style as well, I improvise, I play with the Moodies and so on."
"Also in the last year I've written fifty pieces of music including a piano concerto and a ballet. The School of Ballet in Senegal are going to produce my third album, Primitivisation, and I've started to write more songs and sing myself now."
"People don't know that I sing, but I always did harmony vocals on my solo albums, sometimes using the Vocoder after Herbie Hancock first showed me how to use it. I have a special way of writing lyrics in English even though it isn't my first language; I use a glossary of words for each song just as I'd use a selection of sounds for an instrumental, so for instance a song like 'How Basic Can You Get?' will use all the terminology of computers."
"In that song (also part of November's special offer) I talk about the 'Basic' computer language, and my 'Pet' computer and so on. Some of the vocals are done with a Vocoder, although the overall sound isn't intended to be mechanical."
"I also write songs in French and other languages; I've always been interested in a trans-cultural approach, using Brazilian drummers or Rumanian panpipes (as on Coexistence, the remaining LP in the special offer pack). It's only now that the UK record industry is becoming transcultural, but I've always has this approach because of my travels. I've been to Africa about fifty times, I lived in Brazil for five years, and I've played jazz festivals from Sao Paulo to Montreux. I love travelling, and I play with the local musicians whenever I can, or just listen to them. I don't notate their music, I just get the feel of it."
"I play percussion, vibes, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and alpenhorn as well as keyboards, and sometimes I end up playing all the Latin American percussion on a track as I did on some parts of Coexistence. Some of the time signatures and rhythms I use are quite involved, giving a jazzy fell or sometimes an Eastern feel, and I've been influenced by Japanese and Chinese music."
"In school and when I studied under classical musicians like Clara Haskil I had to learn to write music and study in a formal way, but I soon realised the academic approach would put me in a kind of bondage which would inhibit me from crossing musical boundaries. If you want to write music down you can even do it with a machine like the new Yamaha now, but there's still no substitute for listening to and playing as much music as you can from as many different cultures as possible."
"You should learn first to copy any kind of music you like, from the Beatles to Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Led Zeppelin, The Police or the Human League. Learn all the parameters, the sounds, the production methods; it's not like twenty years ago when you just had a Hammond organ and a piano, now you have to understand each different sound of a synthesiser, each different waveshape and so on. Machines can be programmed to make playing more instant, but you still need to know the chords in the first place!"
"I love the Yamaha GS1, which is all digital, but I don't have the Fairlight or Synclavier yet. I've seen them both, but at the moment I'm happy with the Novatron with one of my own effects tapes on each key; it's practical, cheap, and an integral part of my improvisations."
"Obviously we're entering a time of new technology, a new era for music, but I think even with machines to help you it's important to have a musical mind. I'm very lucky in this way; I have a sort of photographic memory for music which lets me reproduce my improvisations at once as soon as I've played them, or I could do an instant transcription."
"I don't think about particular keys when I'm improvising, about major or minor, because you could have a very menacing feeling played in a minor key or a major key; it's not important whether I play a cluster or an augmented seventeenth or whatever, it's the shape or the intensity of the sound, or even the spacing of a single note, which produces the feeling."
"I've had to put back a new studio album because of commitments with the Moody Blues, but I've got Future Memories II to put out, and then I'll just keep on working and composing. However much I use a particular style, like rock or jazz or reggae, or a particular keyboard like the Jupiter 8 or the GS1 or the Clavitar, I won't become cliched, I won't stick to a particular style or keyboard or formula. For me, it's important always to be creative; my music is an escape, it helps to keep me in balance."
Future Memories 1, Coexistence and the single 'How Basic Can You Get' are still available at the special offer price of £6.99 (inc. p&p, add 90p overseas).