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Having written to us suggesting we extend our magazine coverage to include readers' own set-ups and experiences, Bruce Graham suddenly found himself the subject of such a feature. Read on and find out why...


Having written to us suggesting we extend our magazine coverage to include readers' own set-ups and experiences, Bruce Graham suddenly found himself the subject of such a feature. Read on and find out why...

Bruce Graham at home in his 8-track MIDI studio


Judging by the biography you included with your letter Bruce, it seems you've been around a long time in the area of television, recordings and films. Why is it that the general public don't hear more about you?

BG: I think mainly because I don't seek publicity. When you reach a certain standard of musicianship you tend always to get work, so there's no need to promote yourself. Musicians generally are too involved with the joy of making music to be good businessmen.

There have been so many changes in the state of the music business in the past few years that I feel now is the right time for my career to change direction slightly. I've spent so many years making other people's records sound good, it's now time for me to promote my own recordings.

SOS: When did you start playing electronic instruments?

BG: I started using synths around 1973, but I'd been playing with tape manipulations since the late 1950s and in 1960 I specialised on amplified Accordion and Vibraphone.

SOS: I remember reading your book Music and the Synthesizer, is it still in print?

BG. I'm afraid not. It was written originally in 1974, with updates till 1980, but two years ago they sold the last copies. Although it had been quite revolutionary at first, there had been too many new developments in the industry to update it further, and I felt that it would have needed a complete rewrite. I didn't have time to do it then so there was no follow-up.

It was the first book on synths that covered all makes, because previously books on synths were primarily written for one manufacturer's instruments and they didn't translate easily to any other instrument. Even today it is a good reference work for the amount of information collected and I still refer to it myself. Quite a few public libraries have a copy.

SOS: When did you first enter the session scene?

BG: Funnily enough, it was in Stavanger in Norway where I was doing a summer season in 1962. We recorded a broadcast for Norwegian Radio with equipment that nowadays seems very primitive. I remember it because there was a technical problem with the tape and we had to go back and redo it. You see even the pros can get it wrong sometimes!

After that I made a few series of programmes for Grampian TV, but it was in the mid 1960s when I first made London my permanent base that I developed a studio career. Most of the work then was band backings for solo singers, middle of the road LPs, broadcasts, television and film soundtracks, and concerts with touring international artists.

One TV show I've been lucky to do since 1966 is the international 'Miss World' beauty contest. It goes out live worldwide to over 500 million viewers so it's no gig for players with nervous dispositions!

I hope other readers got a chance to see it this year because the production was set in Macau, and we brought in lots of extra synths and percussion instruments to give a modern oriental flavour...

I've been very lucky in the work I've done because it has been so varied in styles. One day I would be recording with Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, and the next with Andy Williams, The Three Degrees, or appearing on Top Of the Pops with Tony Basil. It breaks the monotony when you work with different people all the time.

SOS: You've also done a number of top West End shows. Surely they must be boring playing the same notes night after night?

BG: Indeed they can be, and you eventually switch off your brain, or take in a book to read while you're playing. Very few shows can hold the interest of musicians.

I played in West End musicals for thirteen and a half years including 'Oh! Calcutta', 'Hans Andersen', 'Jesus Christ Superstar', 'Song & Dance Show', 'Travelling Music Show', 'Cats', 'The Magic Castle'... In fact, I don't think I can remember most of them. I was also on the original recordings for the Paris Opera Company of 'Les Miserables', now a big hit in London. We used three keyboards then, and I did mainly the synth work.

I came out of the West End scene two years ago to prepare new recordings for a record company I set up - Jingles Records.

SOS: How has the company fared so far?

BG: It is beginning to pick up now but I've had to rethink some of my early plans. Originally I was going to release the recordings on vinyl, but there were quite a number of problems with that. So I decided that I would only issue the recordings on high quality Chrome cassettes with Dolby noise reduction. This being the best quality standard I could expect for the majority of domestic tape decks. Also, for repeated listening, the quality doesn't deteriorate on cassette as it does on vinyl discs.

Another factor which helped me decide was that if there were no sales at all I would be lumbered with hundreds of LPs which would be of no use to me. At least the cassettes could always be erased and used over again.

SOS: Why 'Jingles Records'?

BG: I'd been doing a lot of work for advertising companies and local radio stations so I thought I might pursue that further through the name.

SOS: Tell us about your music. Judging from your output of material you must be a prolific composer?

BG: Yes, I suppose I am, although I find that I work in bursts of inspiration. Then I take time off to record, and by the time I've finished I'm ready for something new to be involved in.

SOS: What styles of music do you write?

BG: I've written pieces for pipe bands, country dance groups, symphony orchestras, string quartets, brass bands, two celli and tape, and a vast number of pop songs - you name it, I've done it! I have a symphony and a musical and I've demoed them both in the studio.

I like my music to be exciting, and certainly never boring. To be a good composer you must also be your own worst critic, and a good editor. If anything sounds wrong, out it comes, or the section must be shortened or rewritten.

SOS: Having heard some of your music, I think you have a very distinctive and original sound, which occasionally has the flavour of Jean-Michel Jarre.

BG: That's very nice of you to say so - let's hope the rest of the record-buying public agrees with you!

SOS: How did you build up your studio?

BG: It started in mono, then stereo, progressing through 4-track to 8-track. I was going to go for a 24-track but now I just add tracks into my sequencers and run these in sync with the 8-track.

I still have all the instruments from the early days such as the EMS Synthi A, Moog Source, Clavinet, Solina, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, Accordion and Vibraphone, but I only use them when necessary because the latest instruments are more stable and versatile. I used to build my own synths too, but the new instruments run on software programs (just numbers), rather than discrete components so it's now cheaper to buy them ready-made. The problem now is that everybody uses the same instruments and they can't be customised so readily.

My new gear consists of Yamaha DX7, TX9, DX9, and Korg DW8000, all digital, with Korg Poly Six, Roland Juno 106 analogues, and a Mirage sampler. The main rhythm machines are TR909, TR727 and the main sequencer is an MC-500.

The 8-track is a Teac 80-8, with Revox B77, Aiwa WX220 double cassette, and JVC VP-100 digital processor into a JVC VCR. It's like a Sony F1.

In the processors there are Rev-7, SPX90, SDD2000, Aphex B Exciter, Yamaha GC2020 limiters, Quark 999 MIDI box, RAM RM16 desk, and my trusty Teac Mixer 3.

SOS: How do you normally record?

BG: I don't stick to any one technique when recording, but usually I stripe a track first (with timecode), record a very basic rhythm track, then add rhythm and solo instruments in that order. Then I wipe the basic rhythm and add sequences, drums and percussion on the mixdown because they usually don't need so much attention to levels.

I've been using my Commodore computer with various software for a few years now, but there has always been some problems with saving and loading to disks, interfacing, syncing, and monitors. I like a computer, especially for tightening up the rhythm instruments, so I decided to buy the Roland MC-500 dedicated music computer. Since I started using that I have speeded up the recording process, and the delicate editing techniques possible give me access to individual notes if I need it.

Now I usually record first to the MC-500, make any final edits, then transfer each track individually using combinations of MIDI instruments to get the exact sound that I require. Being my own engineer allows me to add my own effects and watch the levels while I'm recording. Having each track recorded on disk also allows me to drop in with a different effect or sound later if need be.

When all the tape tracks are full, I can record more to the MC-500 and run this 'live' on mixdown with the drum machines. Of course, it is possible to record a number of instruments in stereo on two tracks at a time, if I wish to save effort later, but you have to have a very good idea of the final balance to be able to mix your three stereo tracks together properly. There's no way to pull out individual instruments either.

I always mixdown via my JVC VP-100 digital processor on to a JVC VCR. It works out a lot cheaper for tape and allows me more chances of getting a good master track which can be transferred to tape afterwards without any loss of quality.

In future, I think I'll try adding stereo tapes to the music on the mixdown. They might be ambient effects, sound effects, or even avante-garde mutilations! This allows me to edit these tapes separately from the master. But I don't think I'll try to 'spin-in' rhythm instruments though, because it's too difficult to sync properly that way.

SOS: What would you advise a young player to do in order to become a session player?

BG: First of all practice, get to know your gear, be a good sight reader, and programmer. These are the most useful hints because when you work for other people time is money. In the recording field the 'performance' can always be delayed till another day if something doesn't work out, but with live TV and Radio, concerts and gigs, it is important to be able to come up with the right sound to fit the music without delaying the rest of the musicians on the session. This is where the programmable synth really scores, but you have to have a very good selection of sounds in memory or ROM.

But don't forget the music, because this is the most important of all. I see young musicians wanting everything right now. They don't want to spend time learning their instruments, preferring to leave the engineer to manufacture effects to hold enough interest in their banal music. I prefer to write music which firstly is strong in structure, then I have something solid to work on. As the saying goes: there's not much point in hanging wallpaper if there's nothing solid to support it.

SOS: Which recording of yours sells best?

BG: At the moment it's my sampling tape, which I advertise in a number of music magazines. After that, the two albums Expressions and Impressions are the most popular. They are written like electro-suites and feature some sampling, but it's difficult to hear exactly where because it blends in so well. I'm always recording, so there will be even more albums in the future.

Contact: Bruce Graham, Jingles Records, (Contact Details).

If you feel YOU or your work would make an interesting subject for these pages, then write to the Editor and tell us all about yourself, your music and the equipment you use.



Previous Article in this issue

How It Works - Interconnection

Next article in this issue

Simmons SPM8:2 MIDI Mixer


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Apr 1987

Topic:

Home Studio


Feature by Bruce Graham

Previous article in this issue:

> How It Works - Interconnecti...

Next article in this issue:

> Simmons SPM8:2 MIDI Mixer


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