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Track Record: The Art Of Noise

Peter Gunn | Art of Noise

Jim Betteridge plays 'Hunt the Aled Jones sample.'


PRODUCER: Art Of Noise
BAND: Art Of Noise/Duane Eddy
TRACK: Peter Gunn

The dividing line between musician and engineer/producer continues to smudge, shift and wander. Everyone's affected. Engineers see the need to be more musical, musicians to be more technical, technicians to keep up with racing technological advances, and advances? – well, they're still as much blood from a stone as ever.

The New Age Muso

So what now constitutes the essential armoury for a modern musician/composer? Is it more important to know how to drop an equaliser into the side chain of a gate than to be able to play a few octaves of chromatic thirds in contrary motion? Is the programmer really the new king of the studio or does it all still come down to having a good basic musical feel and sensibility? Is there still nothing to beat a good tune or back-beating-rhythm, uh huh? Clearly, the answer lies with the individual.

With the combination of The Art Of Noise and Duane Eddy it doesn't really matter; they've got it all covered. No one can accuse Duane of having no feel or musical sensibility, he's based a long and successful career on it; and it's difficult to accuse The Art Of Noise of anything much with any certainty. They're all pretty consumate at something or other. Jonathon Jeczalik, more often called JJ, and Gary Langhan met through working with Trevor Horn; JJ as Trev's Fairlight programmer, Gary as his engineer.

The third and final Noise merchant is Anne Dudley, a classically trained pianist and arranger with performer/arranger credits on a mass of top hits. I spoke to JJ about the Peter Gunn project.

"When you come to look at our track record and Duane's' it's obvious that we both have our own distinctive instrumental sound. Since the early days of the group we've always been looking for new angles of approach, different people to work with and a wide ranging attitude to what we did musically. Mancini writes a great tune, and Duane's version of it for the Peter Gunn American TV series is a classic, and so we thought it might be interesting to do in our style. It worked very well, we really enjoyed making the record."

The Process

"Anne and I did all the ground work of the backing track. We just listened to Duane's original recording, and decided that we needed to extend it a bit with our own tune featured as a middle eight and again in the final fade. After laying down some timecode from the SRC I started programming the drums on the Fairlight. I can't remember where the samples came from, they were from my 'Drums' file, but they're all from the same kit, which is why it works. People often take a bass drum from 'X' and a snare from 'Y' and wonder why it doesn't work. You need some kind of sonorous semblance of order to make things work.

"We played around with eight-bar drum patterns to find the right groove, and then went through it with Anne playing some chords on the Kurzweil to work out the builds and stops and so on. The drums were sequenced to give a solid foundation, but a lot of the tracks were played live including the bass, which Anne played on the Kurzweil, and the lead lines and the percussion – which was real acoustic instruments. It's very difficult to get certain effects from a synth. With the congas specially, it would take weeks of programming, whereas if you get a good player in it takes moments. Looking at an overview of the track I should think that about 75% of it is played live. The whole of the backing track was done in a couple of days. That first day we finished quite early, took cassettes home to listen to and see where the problems were. Then returned the next day to reassemble – see if the feel of the hi hat can't be improved and things like that. Just general polishing.

"Most of the backing track was recorded in Anne Dudley's home studio. She has a Soundtracs CM4400 24:24 with computerised routing that allows you to store and recall different input/output patches. It's a great desk, it allows you to do half of what you can on something like an SSL but without a massive computer and massive expense. We hired in a Sony 3324 digital 24-track and we have a Sony F1 for mastering."

How the professionals do it!
(Click image for higher resolution version)

When Eight-Bit Is Better

"On the instrument side we use a number of synths: Kurzweil 250, Memory Moog, PPG 2.2 and of course the Fairlight II. I haven't quite got into the reasoning behind the Fairlight III yet, the ludicrous expense makes it a bit silly. I seem to have made my name with eight-bit distortion and I'm a little worried that if I go hi fi I'll sound like anybody else. The Synclavier has no intrinsic sound of its own, for instance, whereas the Fairlight II does if you treat it the wrong way – or I should say the right way.

"We also have an array of things that we hire in, record and then possibly don't use. We get through things very fast; if we find something we like we use it there and then, and if we don't like it we get rid of it quickly. We're a bit ruthless with gear because we like to be the masters of some and not the jacks of all. For example I've heard some great sounds from DX1s and DX7s, but you need to be a great programmer and really understand FM synthesis, and that's something that needs an education in itself. I've produced some tracks with people playing them, and they've sounded very respectable, and they have their place, but they're of very little interest to me."

A good deal of what makes an AON track sound the way it does is filed under the 'Unofficial Secrets Act', but it was clear that not everything is down to number crunching power and wave tables: "The 'Dum, dum, dum, dum,' bits were simply a single sample played back through the Fairlight, but with various other bits bolted on to make them sound fab."

Such as?

"Valve eq and compression. We used those famous old German units – I can't think of the name right now; they sounded great. Valve eq and compression – via satellite, of course. That's a very important part of our process, the satellite link from the machine room into the control room, and the one hour wait for playback."

I was glad we'd sorted that out. So go on, what about a few trade secrets?

"There's nothing specific, but when we record a sound on tape, it's never just one sound on its own, it's always a conglomeration of things, turned upside down, put out of phase, heavily eq'd, doubled, tripled – nothing's ever that simple, and that's partly why they sound so big."

Achieving the Twang

The original Duane Eddy track was recorded in 1959 at Ramsey's Studio in Phoenix, Arizona, on a three-track system. The guitar sound stays largely the same, as do the guitars themselves.

Duane: "I've used mainly the same guitars all the way through my career: two favourites are the 6120 Gretsch that was built in the 60s, and a Guild 'Duane Eddy' model, both with medium gauge strings. For this recording I used the Gretsch through a Peavey Musician combo. I have a new Fender Showman at home with a 15" JBL fitted which I prefer, but the voltage is different here so I didn't bring it. It isn't any one of the elements that makes the sound, it's the way they're put together and adjusted.

"The track is quite faithful to the original although they have extended it with a theme of their own. I really like the way they've treated it, it works very well. There's a strong possibility that I'll be starting to use synthesisers on my own recordings in the future."

All through the track, and especially at the beginning, there's some extreme panning going on: kit on one side, guitar on the other. A replication of the old days of early stereo? JJ explains:

"To a degree, yes, but it was what I would call 'panic panning'. We just wanted to ensure that Duane's guitar was given plenty of space and so we had things hard left and right in order to leave a gap. We considered that if we'd done a conventional modern mix with the bass drum up front in the middle, it would have done Duane's guitar a disservice. Interestingly, we tried the drums on both the left and right, and they only really worked on the left."

Something to do with left and right brain hemispheres?


When it goes stereo later in the track, it's almost like a film going from black and white to colour; it's a very effective expansion.

"Yes, we're into that sort of thing."

So I've noticed.


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International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


International Musician - May 1986

Recording World

Feature by Jim Betteridge

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