The System this month features ZTT engineer Paul Gomersall's MIDI sampler set-up.
Paul Gomersall has worked with the likes of the Frankies and Wham! Sam Hearnton pieces the story together.
Always read the small print. No, not advice for those about to sign away ten years, an arm and a leg for their fifteen minutes, just a good source of material for cynics like your good self who enjoy making snide comments. Like, did you know Steve Lillywhite cut his engineering teeth with Max Bygraves? I kid you not. Now. Pick up your Frankie LP and Cabaret Voltaire's Microphonies. Oh yeah, and that Wham! album you've been hiding at the back of your record collection. Got 'em? Fine. Now, what have they all got in common? Okay, smart ass, so they are all 12" across... Give in? Yep, it's the name Paul Gomersall, printed in varying sizes of type. Want to know more? There.
Small town boy Paul Gomersall ('Kirkby in Ashfield') graduate from his job as a building site quality surveyor to freelance engineer via a childhood crush with kit synths, tape loops and a two year course in Musical Instrument Technology at the London College of Furniture. Armed with his B.Tec Diploma, and a nice line in cheek he's gradually worked his way from Tape Op and general dogsbody to occasionally engineering for Trevor Horn at Sarm East.
Relax had just been mixed when Paul joined.
"When I started, Sarm was just another recording studio. I don't know why Jill Sinclair took me on. I'd written to Sarm the year before and I wasn't taken on then. It took me a year to get in."
Paul went freelance to join Wham!'s entourage and co-engineer Make It Big.
"About February last year, Wham! came and mixed Wake Me Up Before You GoGo down at Sarm. They said they were going to France to do the album and George said 'Do you fancy coming along?".
Six weeks in the south of France with the Wham! brothers, a bit of cash and more work with The Damned and Lydia Lunch has enabled Paul to dispose of his Tascam 244 and get an eight track and a MIDI system. The basis of his recording set up is a Fostex A8 and 350 mixer.
"It's great. I really like the Dolby C noise reduction, it's a lot better than dbx. I use the A8 with Ampex 256. You can't record on all eight tracks at once but that's not much of a problem because nearly all my stuff's multi-tracked."
What about the 350? Pretty basic after an SSL...
"Yeah! I don't even find it adequate. For starters, you've only got eight inputs and you've got eight tracks on the tape so if you want to put echo or anything on whilst your recording, which I do a lot, because it saves hassles when you're mixing, you've got to have it in a certain mode in which you can't monitor! You see, you have to use the monitor knobs as echo sends, so you've got to keep unplugging things from your patchbay to hear things and record on another track.
"Also, when it comes to mixing, it's a drag as well because you've got two busses and if you plug anything into a buss it just goes hard left or hard right. They should have had some facility to pan from the busses."
On the mic. side of things, Paul's got a Beyer M300, a C-Ducer strip ('I never use it') and two Tandy PZM's. ('For £20, a dead giveaway'). A Powertran DDL, Accessit noise gate, compander and reverb have just been joined by his latest purchase, a Powertran MCS-1 Sampler which he put together himself, saving £200 in the process.
However, like most professionals forced to use semi-pro gear because of lack of cash, Paul is pretty critical of his equipment. From the top, Paul...
Powertran DDL? "A good effects unit even if it did take three months to get working..."
Accessit Noise Gate? "Noisier than the noise..."
Accessit Compander? "Does the job I suppose..."
Accessit Reverb? "Boing!"
Paul's MIDI system consists of a Roland Juno 106, TR909, MC202 ('Good while it lasted') and the MCS-1 controlled by a ZX Spectrum with XRI Micon interface. "The Micon interface is very good, for the price it's a bargain. You're paying for the software with these things, of course. I mean, there's about £20's worth of hardware and the package costs £180! XRI Systems are really helpful. If you have any problems they even call you back, which is really nice. They're into customer relations and I've had many a chat with them about various pitfalls of the system and it's definitely not without its little quirks..."
"Well, you can't edit on the realtime program, you make a mistake and you have to play the thing again. Really, it's been designed for people who can play. A little bit primitive to say the least. However, they'll be sending out a software up-date anytime now."
Why did you get the '909?
"Cause the 707 wasn't out then..."
The Juno? "At the time, the cheapest thing with MIDI..."
Moving onto your latest acquisition, the Powertran MCS-1, what difference has a sampler made to your recordings?
"Well. I've always used sound effect records anyway and just flown in off the cassette deck but with a sampler you can get the right pitch. Most of the stuff on Smelling Sweetly of Sex I could have done with tape, just like The Ambient Corporation (featured on a previous ES&CM tape). A sampler just makes it easier.
"The MCS-1's the only sampler of its price but there's quite a few faults. Like, you can't edit internally, you have to do it on tape (I use a Akai 4000DS). There's also a lot of nice things on it, like the quality on low frequency stuff's really good, but anyone who's thinking of buying one shouldn't expect an Emulator or Fairlight. It's only monophonic anyway but it's good at what it does, apart from flanging and chorus effects. It's not very good at either of those but then no DDL's are.
"I've only just got it, so I've not used it to it's full extent yet. Having said that, I'm actually pretty pleased with it."
Want to know why? Take a listen to the tape. Smelling Sweetly of Sex is a sophisticated blend of ethni/agi pop, a soupcon of synth and tablas, off key vocals and sampled kiddies, kind of Frankie meets St. Winifrid's in the Far East.
"The song's about these people who set themselves up as Gurus in places like America. I put down a basic rhythm, just bass drum and snare, got a friend to play some tablas and then Steve Deg, (my partner and vocalist) and I just constructed the song over it. We had the lyrics and that was it, the rest we made up as we went along."
Give us a breakdown, Paul.
"Right. The 'Waaauh!' at the beginning's a Tibeten monk's voice slowed down. The hookline's Japanese meditation bells and guitar combined, whilst the bass is a sampled Acoustic."
What about the PPG-like Beat It crash?
"Oh, that's a lift from a Synclavier demonstration disk! The kiddies vocals are the opening notes from a Indian LP, speeded up. Oh yeah, and the hi-hat and claps are from the TR909. Simple really."
Sure. In theory... Give me a snappy one-liner to end on.
"I just want the cash — so if there's a record company out there...
Stay near the 'phone, Paul.
Feature by Sam Hearnton
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