The Cassandra Complex
Steve Cogan finds out just what Satan and Bugs Bunny have to do with this Cyberpunk band who swear by their ST
Steve Cogan takes a look at a band with a difference - is there a place for an ST with Satan, Bugs Bunny and the Cassandra Complex?
The Cassandra Complex has been around since the early 80's and it's line-up has undergone many changes with there only being one original member left, Rodney Orpheus. The band currently has three other members. Rodney has been described as "Singer, instrumentalist, and all-round guru of the band". Rodney is heavily into role-playing games and occasionally writes for an American magazine concerned with "Car Wars". John Galvin is the bass player of the band and when not touring with the band is a DJ in a Leeds Disco. His interests include Thrash Metal, big boots and "being nice"! On keyboards is Juergen Jansen, the band's West German member who joined the band after following them around Europe for a couple of years selling T-shirts at their gigs and then was asked to join the band. The latest member of the band is Patrick Gordon who plays what he calls a "complexophone" but is in fact a modified CASIO DH-800 Digital Horn. He is also a well-known studio engineer and helps to produce the band's own records.
Cassandra Complex are really a European band rather than a national band, this is reflected in their popularity as well as their own lineup. Though they are virtually unheard of in the UK, this could be put down to the insular state of the music market here, "This island England" is a phrase that springs to mind.
The European flag is featured on many of their albums, it has also adorned the stage of many of their gigs. They have just finished a tour that took them through West Germany, France, Austria, England and Spain. Their fifth and latest album Satan, Bugs Bunny, and Me... was described as a "screaming orgasm!" by Melody Maker. All their albums are available on Compact Disc with which they are head-over-heels in love. The band are currently taking six months off from touring to write their next album, Cyberpunk.
Their music is officially called Electronic Body Music by their record company (Play It Again Sam Records of Belgium) but the band prefer to call it Cyberpunk. Rodney explained the bands feelings on this.
"We call the music Cyberpunk because the whole idea of punk originally was, that someone could go out, buy a cheap instrument and make a record. The thing about having a home computer system, is that even for a very small amount of money you can get yourself a really, really, good system. You CAN make your own music, you can do the whole thing at home. You could do the whole thing on PRO-24 and just mix down to a cassette player if you like and the results you will get will be as good as even the best studios could get 20 years ago. If you look at the recording technology we had in the 60's or even the 70's it's nothing compared to what kids at home have now."
The lyrics on their records tell many stories and many inferences can be taken from them, "One day I saw a revolution being planned by a bunch of children wearing suits and ties", in another song they are less subtle, "because I can't afford to be a f***ing Yuppie!". Apart from having an anti-yuppie theme they are against religious fanaticism and American evangelists have featured on several of their records. Their songs do have a softer side though and In Search of Penny Century is a soft ballad that would surely have mass appeal in the UK if it was given enough publicity.
Two members of the band Rodney and Patrick took a little time out to tell us how the band works and what equipment they use. Rodney started things off for us.
The way we normally work when we're writing and rehearsing is that we use the ST as the brain of the whole thing and we use Steinberg PRO-24, as a digital tape recorder. If we save a week's work by doing it on the Atari first then we've saved the price of the software and the computer into the bargain.
The main reason we use ST's and PRO-24 is that it's a standard thing, all or most studios will have and use it. So when we go to Woodlands, where we normally record, or any other studio we just bring the sound disks along, put them in the computer and away we go. So we can afford to spend a lot of time in pre-production, writing the songs and structuring them, we can record all the drum parts, record all the keyboard parts, we even record all the horn parts and the brass parts because Patrick has a MIDI saxophone system. The other thing is if you're in a studio you're always watching the clock because if you go to the toilet it costs you £5! So you're always watching the clock and quite often you can end up with something you're not happy with because you don't have the time to work on it and haven't got the money to spend on it. Also if we were to have a 24 track tape recorder in here we wouldn't be able to fit in most of the equipment.
We mainly use the KORG M-1 which is a very expensive music workstation, as it is called, that means not only is it a keyboard but it has samples built into it's memory, synthesizer sounds and digital drum sounds, 16-bit quality samples, really, really, good. Most samplers these days are only 12-bit quality, 16-bit makes a lot of difference. It also has a basic 8 track sequencer which I often use for writing, it's like a little notepad, if I'm just messing around and I come up with an idea which I think is really good I can just hit the M-1 sequencer to record whatever I'm doing. Then I can always transfer it into the Atari later where there is a big display and I can see what I'm doing, and can play around and add to it.
One of the best things about PRO-24 is the drum edit page where all the drums are in a graphical display and you can "drum on it". For sequencing sounds we have got quite a lot of rack mounted units. The Oberheim Matrix 1000 is one we bought recently and is absolutely brilliant, it is just 1000 preset sounds - analogue synthesizer sounds, pretty old fashioned 70s sounds like Jan Hammer. But it's a brilliant synthesizer, really powerful, I still don't know what half the sounds in it are it's so good.
We have a couple of Yamaha TX-81Z's sequencing and Patrick has the other. The Yamaha makes sounds by FM synthesis, the sounds are very harsh and brittle which are good for something you want to give "edge" but doesn't have the depth and the power that the analogue Oberheim, has. We have also got an old Akai S-612 samplers ever built, it's a very, very cheap 12-bit sampler and it uses the old fashioned 2.8" quick disks. But the advantage of it is it's simplicity, the same as the Oberheim, it's so instant - if you use something like the Roland S-50 sampler (which we also use) it uses a 3.5" disk and you can get 14 seconds of 12-bit samples in which takes about 36 seconds to load them up, no matter how simple the sound is it still takes 36 seconds. That might not seem long but it's enough for you to loose that spark of inspiration, with something like the S-612 it only takes a couple of seconds to load and you just bang something in, listen to it and think, that's pretty good, or if you don't like it you just try another disk, it's the same with the Oberheim - you can run through lots of sounds really quickly, get the one that you want and work really fast.
The thing about using computers is that it can often get very intellectual, you can sit for hours over a display saying "Should we move that note back two clocks?" or "Should that be transposed up another semitone?", or whatever. That's good in a way because you can really make things perfect for yourself - we're real perfectionists anyway, well I am. I can sit for hours gazing at something. But at the same time a lot of people who write so-called computer music just end up with really boring intellectual exercises because there is no real spark, no life in it.
A lot of computer music has been derived from the Tangerine Dream school, the Jean Michael Jarres of this world which are lots and lots of bombastic meaningless sounds which are all very well in their own place but most electronic music isn't at all interesting to look at. Most electronic bands live are very boring because it's not that much fun seeing someone standing behind a keyboard, there's not that much you can do. Jean Michel Jarre's live shows are really amazing as long as you have a pair of binoculars. The Art of Noise are absolutely stunningly brilliant, they are one of the great electronic bands ever. Obviously anyone who disagrees with that is a complete fool.
At this point Patrick tries, unsuccessfully, to break into the conversation.
We make a really important point that we are good live, that's another advantage of Patrick's Casio Saxophone, he can run around while he's playing. Juergen's got a portable keyboard which he tosses around and plays like a guitar. Juergen's main keyboard is a Roland S-50, that's a very, very good sampler, one of the good things about it is that it's got a dedicated monitor output and you can get all your samples on the monitor without having to go through the computer which makes editing very fast.
We also have an Akai ME-10D MIDI delay unit that doesn't work on audio signals like a normal echo unit, it echoes MIDI signals which is quite a cheap way of getting MIDI echoes for the sequencers, you just connect it between the sequencer and the expander unit,the synthesizer, and it will just "double up" any MIDI notes you send it so it can send echoes. Again it is convenience more than anything else. We're really serious musicians who enjoy playing music, that's why we do it, we play music because it's the most enjoyable thing we can think of and we don't want to spend hours wrestling with equipment. You can make great music without all this hi-tech, the first couple of Cassandra Complex records were made with a Yamaha CX5 which was a 32K MSX computer.
We used a tape recorder with a really cheap Yamaha FM soundchip built into the computer. All our early sequencer "stuff" was done purely with the CX-5 and nothing else - it was all stored on cassette, and we still made some really, really good records.
Even if he does say so himself!.
"Well of course. If they weren't great records people wouldn't want to buy them. There are far too many people making really mediocre records. I would never put out a record unless I thought it was really good because it's insulting your audience. Most bands think it isn't the done thing for an artist to talk about money but it's money that buys all the stuff, we need money to eat. If we didn't make money on our records we'd have to be out sweeping the roads or working in a bank.
On the Crystal Tower BBS one guy asked if we used a Roland D-50 on a single and it was actually the CX5 MSX computer. So the thing to remember is it's not what you do it's the way you do it.
At this point Patrick manages to break into the conversation. "The D-50, when it came out, immediately became the latest trendy keyboard to have and everybody tried to be the first to get it in adverts and on their records. It's a standard keyboard in a similar way to the Yamaha DX7". Rodney breaks in again, "We also have an Akai ME-30P MIDI patch bay which is a really clever invention because with all this equipment we've got lots of MIDI cables in and out and if you're always plugging stuff back and forwards it can be a real hassle. So what the Akai has is four inputs and eight outputs and it patches them all in different configurations, so we can change instantly what equipment is connected to what. The ST can also send changes to the patch bay, so it can actually re-configure all the cabling. An instrument must be convenient. That's the advantage of the Korg M1, convenience. It doesn't have a disk which is a pain but it uses cards so I can load up a bank of sounds in half a second - just put the card in and, bang it's loaded. Of course the disadvantage of the cards is that they cost incredibly huge amounts of money, so it's not the sort of thing you buy unless you are a real professional. But it is still really good, I love the M1 because it's so instant and so fast. So I've always got great sounds when I need them and that's really important. So, anyway, over to Patrick and his systems..."
"I use, on stage and all the time, a Casio Digital horn which you'll see me prancing about with which we've modified somewhat because it looked stupid - when you get it the way you have to hold it to play it is really uncomfortable as well. So what I did was put a tube in the mouthpiece to let me hold it lower down (See photos). It's a very basic MIDI controller but it's the first cheap one that's come on the market with breath control so you get volume changes if you're synth accepts them. The unusual thing about it being a saxophone is the fact that the air and the notes aren't connected, they are just switches."
Rodney takes over "When you play a sound from a keyboard and then play the same sound using the horn it sounds completely different because you get a different expression and you're playing a different way. It's dead easy to learn as well, you can change the way it works, it's set up to play like a recorder but it can play like a trumpet as well - so anyone could learn how to play it really quickly, even Patrick! His synthesizer and sampler both fit into a Yamaha SPX-50D which is a multieffects unit which does reverb, delays and so on. It also has distortion which is very handy because I've met a couple of synth players who try for ages to get a good guitar sound out of their synth and wonder why they can't, but they don't realise that guitar players don't get a good guitar sound from the guitar, they get it out of a huge distortion box and a massive amplifier. So most synth players don't use distortion but all guitar players use it because that's how you get a good guitar sound, so you can get some fantastic effects just by putting a synth through a cheap distortion box. There are two good distortion sounds you can get, one is through the Yamaha SPX-50D multieffects unit and the other is through a little Carlsbro plastic fuzz box which you can get in music shops for about £10, they are terrible for guitars but brilliant for keyboards. We use the fuzz box all the time and get people coming up to us and saying "how do you get that amazing keyboard sound?" and it's actually from the cheapest, nastiest, horrible little distortion pedal you can get, which in fact sounds great."
"We don't ever use the sounds out of the Casio Saxophone," explained Patrick "because they are crap, we just rely on the sampler and the synth to provide the sounds." Rodney expands on this, "The interesting thing is that when people see him on stage, they see what he's doing and think 'oh he must be playing saxophone', sometimes he is because he's playing a saxophone sample or a synth sound like a saxophone, it could be a trumpet or even a whole brass section. We've got a sample of two trombone players and a couple of trumpet players playing so you can do all that. But some of the time he is actually playing guitar samples with "fuzz" guitar chords, or anything from orchestras to machine gun samples, you name it."
This, I was informed causes some hassle for the band because the audience aren't too sure what Patrick is doing, quite often they talk to Hubert, the sound engineer, after a gig and he'll say that people were telling him to turn the saxophone up because they couldn't hear it. Usually when they play live Rodney talks to the audience, to explain what Patrick is actually doing. "Everybody is watching him and they see this little black plastic toy saxophone," Rodney explained, "and think what is he doing with it? Then he plays "baa,baa,baabaa" with his saxophone and a huge sound comes out - people are so used to hearing a guitar and seeing a guy with six strings. But quite often Juergen has a guitar sample on his S-50, Patrick has a guitar sample on his saxophone and John has a six string bass, so we can actually have three guitar players with only one actual guitar player on stage.
The other advantage of having a MIDI saxophone is that all Patrick's work from the Casio can be recorded into the ST and PRO-24. So that when we were in the studio before and we had real "live" brass players with real live trumpets and things it used to take ages, the same on stage because brass instruments go out of tune really easily and all the time in the studio we were using tuners and trying to make sure that it was all right. It takes so long to get the right sound but with his Casio and sampler together they don't cost more than the price of a good trumpet or a good saxophone. But he can get a perfect sound everytime just by plugging it in and turning it on."
"Going back to PRO-24, it means that I (Patrick) can do all my bits before going to the studio."
"So we don't spend a couple of days recording trumpet parts." Rodney takes charge of the conversation yet again. "If there is anyone looking for a cheap MIDI setup, the cheapest one you can get is a Casio MIDI saxophone and a Yamaha TX-81Z expander which have just come down in price to around £300 or so. Live we don't use the PRO-24 because one of the big drawbacks of PRO-24 is that it crashes a lot because it's very badly programed. If you put desk accessories on PRO-24 you can just forget trying to run it because every time you access them it just locks up completely. Except for Steinberg's own disk manager which is a good desk accessory. Even though PRO-24 is the standard, everyone we know with PRO-24 has problems with crashing, but it really teaches you to save your work. On stage we use the simplest piece of software we could find which is Hybrid Arts EZ-Track which is only about £50. That basically just records and plays back, which is just what we want. We have two ST's, one here and one in Germany. Juergen works on songs at home and then just sends the disks over, even though we're on opposite sides of the channel we can keep on working and recording. It doesn't seem artificial, we seem very close, you can really feel what everyone is doing. We are thinking of sending the files via the phone line in the near future which should be interesting.
I asked Rodney what he thought about the possibilities of virus' on synthesisers. "There is supposed to be a MIDI virus but I think it was done by a guy called Roly Pickering who you often find on the Crystal Tower BBS in the MIDI section and he is well known as a practical joker. The virus that he described was supposed to be loaded in via your MIDI software from your computer, down the MIDI cable to the DX-7 (a commonly used synth) and to make it play the birdy song! But for various practical reasons it seems highly unlikely, at least I hope it's unlikely, I really don't want all my equipment to start playing the birdy song! Roly's latest story is about a guy in the Isle of Jersey who has invented an interface for a Casio VL tone that makes it into a master keyboard worth about £1000, but I think that is also highly unlikely. It is like the famous Hungarian "thought to MIDI processor", which you linked up to your brain waves and your brain waves converted MIDI information so all you needed to do to play instruments was learn to think in a certain way. There was a variation on that theme which was MIDI to a device that output electronic pulses, you had two electrodes attached to your arm and then you loaded the MIDI software into your ST, put in a standard MIDI file to play back through the software and eventually into the pulse outputer. This would send the pulses, via the electrodes, into your arm and make your fingers play the notes. So if you couldn't play the guitar very well you could get for example a Status Quo disk which would make your hand play in a certain way."
After various reports that Ataris were very unreliable for live use, the band began to take two on stage with them. Both were programmed identically, one was for actual use and the other was in case the other crashed. With precautions like this it is hardly surprising that the band have had few nightmares on stage. Rodney relayed one of the worst experiences. "We played three French gigs when the power went off, we had to get a harmonica and Patrick's Casio Saxophone and turn the internal sounds up and stamping on the stage in total darkness until the power came back on. As long as everyone was quiet you could hear the Casio! Not only do we use the ST for music but we use it for Prestel and the telex service because we have to communicate a lot with record companies and agencies on the continent. All Europeans seem to use telex, I want to go onto Telecom Gold so I can use fax as well. Using a modem on the ST is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a fax machine. We don't spend all day playing music, we spend half playing music, the other half we spend doing publicity, business and playing a lot of games. I still haven't won the congressional medal of honour on Gunship yet which is really annoying me!
Their latest album "Satan, Bugs Bunny and Me" has been banned in the USA, so it was pressed in Belgium. The group believe in being accessible to their public and can be contacted via electronic mail on:
The Owl Service BBS (Contact Details)
The Crystal Tower BBS (Contact Details)
Prestel Mailbox (Contact Details)
Interview by Steve Cogan
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