The Life Of Brian (Part 2)
The conclusion of our Eno exclusive.
Brian Eno concludes his interview with Chris Everard and focuses on Eno's guide to home recording.
Is there anything not available on the electronic musical instrument market, that you'd like to see become available?
"I'd like to see a turn around in synthesiser design away from synthesisers that can do more and more and more, to making synthesisers that can do one or maybe two things extremely well..."
Something like an extended and professional version of the Omnichord ?
"Yes, something like that, that can do very specific sounds — like a Fender Stratocaster guitar, which has maybe three basic sounds, with a bit of variation on the tone control — but they're fabulous sounds, they are inspiring sounds and each one has a lot of character. It's character that I want from instruments, and character means a lot of different things, it means notes responding differently from one another. Notes in different positions respond differently too, when played in different positions on the instrument etc. One thing I would really like to see in synthesisers again — do you remember the Yamaha... Yamaha..."
"No — oh that's a great instrument what a great synthesiser, I love it, in fact I'm part owner in one. I love that synthesiser — I'm a big fan of Yamaha's equipment in general. Anyway, I think it's the CS60 had a function that if you did this on the keyboard (he presses a finger down on the table as if playing a note and adds pressure, wobbling from side to side) the note wobbled, so if you did this on the keyboard (he starts to 'play' on the table top, adding the sounds as each note is depressed, showing me the difference the fingering makes to the sound) baa baaa baainng — baa baa baaong — baa baa beeinnng! It's exactly how you would introduce bending on a string if you played the cello or guitar — it's such a great idea, ever since then, whenever I'm playing any keyboard instrument I'm always wobbling the keys and expecting the sound to react like the Yamaha. I really miss that you know?"
So you're a fan of touch sensitivity then...
What advice would you give to someone if they wanted to start up their own studio on a limited budget?
"Oh I've got lots of advice for them! First of all, forget about anything you've ever seen in recording studios — find a room you like to be in, totally regardless of its acoustic properties. I think that sort of thing is a nonsense now, I really do — you of course have to worry about it if you intend to record orchestras, but that's understandable. Just start in a place you like being in, that's the most important thing and then think of what you want to do — you're not going to need 73 microphones or six square miles of space — think of whether you're going to work out in the studio or in the control room. I do nearly all my work in the control room so my studio — if I had one — would have a very small studio, maybe just about the size of that kitchen (he points to the kitchen area which is about 10' by 8') and then it would have a big control room — a big comfortable control room — room for lots of instruments."
Is that why you prefer working in the studio in Hamilton?
"Yes, its the control room size and because the engineer there is really keyed in to this way of thinking. The partition between the control room and the studio I would make removable, maybe like a concertina screen of glass or whatever, so that they could be one room if you wished. I would have the console on wheels so it could move. You'd have to make arrangements for all of the wiring to give a bit of leeway."
(Eno then reached for my notepad and made a diagram showing the main mixing console surrounded by speakers in each corner and the usual places he would sit when working.)
"I'd have monitors like you do usually but then I'd have other pairs of monitors so that when you sit at the back of the room, or you're sitting at the end of the desk — you don't want to hear the sound all from one speaker, just because you don't happen to be sitting in the right place — I'd have it so that you could just switch from one set of monitors to another, to suit your needs. You could even choose which set of monitors you want to work on for one day and then change for the next. "
So you'd use different types and makes of speakers?
"Oh yeah — I really get a thrill out of switching from speakers to speakers! The U2 record I just did, I mixed most of it on a ghetto-blaster..."
You mean you fed the outputs of the SSL 4000E into the ghetto-blaster?
"Yes. I found it the most reliable thing in the studio. I found that if I was mixing on the big speakers — they were JBLs — they were very transparent, deep sounding speakers, very clean and toppy. I found that when I did mixes on those and then layed them on my ghetto-blaster, which after all is what half the population is going to listen on — the results sounded cloudy and 'thick' — they sounded very dense."
What on Earth did you do about judging the stereo image?
"Well I did switch back to the big speakers occasionally. I wouldn't do a complete judgement just using the ghetto-blaster — but it was the ghetto-blaster that I took most readings by and did most of the mixing on, and I found that listening to the ghetto-blaster made me work much harder, for achieving greater clarity and depth in the mix. That sense of depth is something you almost automatically get on those big speakers — you hear echoes and a lot of bass extension -— when you come to translate that into small speakers and that's all gone, so you have to work a lot harder and it's very demanding mixing on a ghetto-blaster, you have to really work to make things sound good on one."
I can't wait to hear this album now!
"It's a beautiful record, I'm really pleased with it..."
Is it Rock?
"Yeah... I guess so, yeah..."
And did you enjoy going back to Rock?
"Yes, yes I did — I really enjoyed the whole experience. U2 are a great band and they are great people. They are such nice people, it was a real pleasure to work with them."
Were they actually there when you were mixing it or did you like to mix it alone?
"Oh no, no (pauses), it was free entry (laughs). Well, they were sometimes there and sometimes not there. At one time we had two studios going at the same time, Windmill — the studio in Ireland that we used, had another studio along the road and we did some stuff in there using a little AHB mixer, it was quite refreshing after the SSL, and it was great to be able to chop and change desks and equipment."
Part 1 | Part 2
Interview by Chris Everard