Five for Eighty-five
A nostalgic look back at 1985 by the people who bring E&MM to you each month. Was it really that bad?
As another year drew to a close, the people responsible for bringing E&MM to you every month let their hair down at a particularly raucous Christmas party. They were then asked to list their five most important happenings of 1985. This is what they came up with.
1 Disappointment of the Year
Twelve months ago, every issue of E&MM was produced by two people with little or no assistance from anyone else, least of all the freelance writers, the typesetters, the advertising people, the art people, or the Publisher. And life was hard. Not long afterwards, said Publisher gave us permission to recruit two new staff members to help ease the burden. I put a small mention halfway through Comment one month, and after sifting carefully (well, we thought so) through the hundreds of applications, we came up with that well-known reviewing double act, Goodyer and Trask. They've now been working here for over six months, but my life is no easier than it was before they started.
2 Success of the Year
This accolade must go to August's British Music Fair. Thousands of musicians poured into Olympia 2 to get their hands on the new instruments they thought would make them famous. And in doing so, they taught this country's music industry a lesson: no musicians, no industry. For years, we'd struggled under the weight of trade-only, no-rif-raff exhibitions that had about as much excitement as Queen's Park Rangers playing for a draw. Now we've got a splendid public event that looks set to run and run, for the benefit of almost everybody involved in playing their own music. The 1986 British Music Fair will be at the same place, with punters allowed in on August 1, 2 arid 3. Make sure you're not in Ibiza.
3 Acquisition of the Year
Sometime around February, a BBC Micro arrived on my desk with a wordprocessor chip inside it. Within a week, it had transformed my working life. Suddenly, there was no more smudging over my mistakes with Tipp-Ex, no more circling other people's botch-ups in red ink, no more tearing up pieces of paper and sticking them back together again in an effort to get everything in the right order. I shall never look at another typewriter again. Mind you, the advent of the Beeb was almost eclipsed by the appearance of a much more mundane piece of gear: a record player. I'd long since sold my last turntable in the belief that my own music was far more important than anybody else's. But this year I decided the reverse was probably true, so I sold my drum machine and bought a hi-fi off a friend. With its help, I have been able to listen to such black plastic wonders as Sting's 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'; Princess' 'Say I'm Your Number One', a magnificent two-fingers to the neighbours if ever there was one; the soundtrack to 'Birdy' which Peter Gabriel made such a fine job of remixing from previous recordings, but which director Alan Parker ruined in the transfer to celluloid; and 'Do They Know It's Christmas?', a musical disaster but a welcome publicity boost for charity of all kinds, and in its Live Aid incarnation, a triumph for modern technology, too.
4 Cover of the Year
Few Editors get to be where they are without realising the importance of a magazine's cover. Luckily, E&MM has had some splendid front pages in 1985, the best of which must be December's oil-painting of Brian Eno by Stuart Catterson. Stu takes a lot of stick around here for drawing straight lines crooked, pasting up photographs the wrong way round, and generally making a cock-up of the most elementary tasks. But when it came to painting a portrait (sans model) of one of contemporary music's most seminal figures, he was the only man for the job. Other notable covers have featured Les Arnett's extraordinary computer music graphics (September) and a couple of frames from the lens of Features Photographer Matthew Vosburgh. His two most memorable '85 achievements were getting Tears For Fears (January) to stand in front of the camera surrounded by equipment they'd steadfastly refused to be photographed surrounded by, and snapping the most evocative portrait of Keith Emerson (April), country cottage, Yamaha GX1 and all, that I've ever seen published anywhere. Both those issues sold out within days, which says as much for Vosburgh's compositional ability as it does for the infamy of the artists themselves.
5 Disappointment of the Year (2)
What a shame, in a year when so much went right, that I consistently ran out of vital personal necessities at the wrong time and in the wrong place. In September I took a holiday for the first time in a long time, but it was in one of those countries that treats tourists as second-class citizens, unworthy of a ration of loo paper. Imagine my dismay, then, when I discovered that the pages of 'Electronic Soundmaker', 'Music UK', and 'What Keyboard?' were not perforated, and that even if you tried to use them regardless, the ink came off all too easily.
as interviewed by E&MM
1 'Part of the creation is using materials you think you understand, to create a result you know you don't understand.'
Brian Eno on Art (December)
2 'I don't think being famous makes you important. I don't think it makes your opinions important and I don't think it necessarily means you know what you're talking about.'
Gary Numan on Fame (December)
3 'It was really weird to see all these ELP clones: they treat all those odd noises as gospel. They don't have ribbon controllers but they waggle about on Poly 800 joysticks making noises they obviously regard as music. I certainly never did.'
Keith Emerson on Japan (April)
4 'I do have people asking me "How do you feel about stealing African music?" But I didn't steal it. It's still there, for Christ's sake!'
Stewart Copeland on Trial (August)
5 'Patrick, have we got anything in common musically?' 'No, not really.'
Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz on each other (July)
The scene: Editor strolls in late after a heavy session the night before, addresses the Production Ed who's been hard at work since 9am (who writes this crap? — Publisher).
Ed: "Trish, give me a list of your favourite things from 1985"
"You mean like Michael Brandon?" "No, I mean things, moments, instruments... You know the sort, impressive front panels, great features, knobs to twiddle..."
"You do mean Michael Brandon then?"
"No, a list of your five favourite musical instruments from 1985..."
"Oh, you mean the things that have stirred up deep longing and excitement and which I discovered during 1985 — but leaving out Michael Brandon. Oh, OK!"
1 Yamaha DX5
The synth that had Music Maker staff playing duets, for the simple reason that we had to quicken up the queues that were forming to play it... With the sound capability of two DX7s, and more than a six-octave keyboard (great for those Oscar Peterson impersonations), I suppose it wasn't surprising. When Securicor came to retrieve it, they needed a crowbar to prise my fingers away.
2 Syntech Studio I Software
Another excellent sequencing package for the Commodore 64 that keeps the flag flying for eight-bit micros. Friendly and colourful, it's a pity it isn't as easy to lay your hands on as it is to use. Here's hoping that this range of (apparently excellent) Stateside software packages will begin to invade the UK in '86.
3 Yamaha RX Editor
Is this the future of drum machine programming? I for one wouldn't complain if it was. Provided drum machine manufacturers fit MIDI to their instruments as well as Yamaha have to the RX11, programs like the RX Editor should pave the way for better drum patterns, more easily programmed, and more widely used. And there can't be many people who wouldn't see that as a welcome state of affairs.
4 Casio CZ3000
Well, it would have been. But the machine was stolen before I had a chance to plug it in.
5 McGrath CAM1
This astonishing new device (mine is the only one in existence. I'm afraid) enables you to push a Company Director into the river while he acts as helmsman on the Music Maker raft. I've only used it once and there was no direct retribution, but he did get his own back: he gave Tim Goodyer a job.
1 Prophet 2000
Somebody has already complained to E&MM that I had no right to review Sequential's sampling keyboard on the grounds that I'd been demonstrating it. Well, I won't print my reply as its content may well offend younger readers, but I will say this much: working day to day with a keyboard is the only way to get to know it properly, and, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I've probably got to know the new Prophet better than anyone in the UK since it was released three months ago. It wasn't the first past the post with low-cost sampling, but I can't help feeling it'll still be around when much of the current (and future) competition is history. It may not yet have the huge sound library that Wiffen's '84 favourite, the Emulator II, has amassed for itself. It may not even have the factory sounds to compare with the Mirage's splendidly set up strings and rock guitar disks. But for sheer sample quality, you have to spend an awful lot of money (how does a hundred grand for a Synclavier sound?) to better the Prophet 2000.
2 Emulator SP12
The only instrument to emerge in the last 12 months that stops me reciting 'Drumtraks' when somebody asks me what the best digital drum machine is. Unlike the Linn 9000, which has proved unreliable and needs numerous expensive updates to match the SP12's sampling capability, you get everything you need to sample, in both software and hardware, when you buy the machine. The tuning (in standard musical intervals) and dynamic capabilities are enhanced by the Emulator's various programming modes, which make different levels and pitches of the same sound available on different buttons at the same time. And at last, a US company has seen the light and made LCD-aided step-time programming available as standard. My only quibble is that you can still only buy the SP12 from one outlet in central London. Maybe that will change in 1986.
3 Yamaha TX816
With its velocity-sensitivity and superficially accurate sounds, the DX7 seduced scores of purist synthesists (eh? — Ed) into submission. Only when they got the machine home did they notice its inability to product fat, traditional synth sounds, its noisy output, and its complete user-hostility in all areas of programming. But the TX816 is a different story. With eight DX7s and a bit of clever detuning, you can get a reasonably warm sound in addition to all the tinkly bits FM does so well, and the 816 makes this possible in a convenient, economical format, playable from either a decent keyboard or a MIDI sequencer. It stores 256 FM sounds and allows 128-note polyphony; it is the definitive statement of the power of FM synthesis. But this musical cul-de-sac should now be left alone.
4 Casio CZ101
Worth the years of putting up with horrible personal keyboards, digital watches, and shop tills. It was clear that as soon as Casio set their sights on the professional keyboard market, they'd make everyone else's prices look very silly - and that's precisely what they've done. Now everyone's scurrying around trying to do something about Casio's stranglehold over the low-end synth market, but none of them can compete with the clarity and programmability of the CZ's Phase Distortion synthesis. Coupled with the SZ1 sequencer, the 101 makes multi-timbral MIDI recording available for about £500 — thanks to the inspired implementation of Mono mode on the synth.
5 Roland SBX80
Roland are to be much praised for taking the SMPTE standard out of the residential multitrack studio and into the homes of average musicians and recording fans. In fact, Roland's design team have done even better by fitting MIDI song pointers to the TR707 drum machine and MSQ700 sequencer. So with the SBX80 and SMPTE, you can record without tape because all the machines will know exactly when to start and stop. For me, it's been a godsend.
As is the way with most contemporary studio things, I find myself drifting towards 19" rack-mounting gear when trying to think of 1985's most noteworthy new machines. What's more, two of these are especially close to my heart, as I had a hand in designing them. Which two are they? Ah, well...
1 Vesta Kozo DIG411
It isn't going to win any prizes for design originality or indeed styling, but it does offer just about every facility you could possibly want from a non-programmable digital delay line, at a retail price of only £213. Features include an excellent 16kHz bandwidth at all delay times, and strikingly low-noise operation.
2 Yamaha REV7
Apart from being a superb reverb unit, the REV7 doubles as a delay line and even includes a spring simulation for those who want to retain a bit of low-tech credibility. Every home studio should have one.
3 The Scintillator
At last, a British psycho-acoustic enhancer that really works. Ought to carry a warning against addiction, though, as I started suffering withdrawal symptoms simply on hearing the manufacturers wanted the review sample back. In the end, I just refused to give it back.
4 Zlatna Panega ACS100
Probably the most significant product so far this millenium. This amazing Anticipation Control Sampler was spotted by E&MM sleuths just under a year ago, and the memory of its implications haunts us still. Really puts Bulgaria on the map as far as music technology is concerned. Pity about their wine, though.
5 Sony PCM501
The people who brought you John Cleese TV ads and the Walkman have now produced their 200,000,000th little black box. This one lets you record stereo sound onto a domestic video recorder in digital form, and the sound quality is all you'd expect. My next buy.
1 The Arrival of 'Affordable' Sampling
On the equipment front, the most significant event of the year must be the advent of cheaper sampling devices. No money has never meant no talent, but financial considerations are one of modern music's most powerful, least democratic influences - so it's refreshing to see an important musical technique come within the reach of the masses. Those lucky or wealthy enough to have already availed themselves of Fairlights, Synclaviers and their ilk can no longer hide behind the mystique of the sampling process when they should be extracting the best of its musical potential. The heat is on.
2 The Year's Ten Most Enjoyable LPs (alphabetically):
Artists United Against Apartheid - 'Sun City'
Kate Bush - 'Hounds of Love'
Man Jumping - 'Jumpcut'
Hugh Masakela - 'Waiting for the Rain'
Propaganda - 'A Secret Wish'
Simply Red - 'Picture Book'
Sly and Robbie - 'Language Barrier'
Sting - 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'
Bobby Womack - 'So Many Rivers'
Yello - 'Stella'
And I'm not going to tell you why...
3 The Spread of Compatibility
The progress of MIDI and its implications have been widely discussed, but my feeling is they're still relatively unexplored. There's more to all this than meets the eye, and there are peripheral benefits that won't make front-page news but will help a lot of people all the same. To date, my favourite is control over older non-MIDI synths via MIDI. The case in point? A DX7, a MiniMoog and a Jellinghaus CGX Interface. A few years ago, nobody could have imagined the sounds of a MiniMoog under the control of a five-octave, velocity-sensitive keyboard. Now it's a reality. All those effects people dabbled with using the 'left-hand and filter cutoff frequency' technique are suddenly playable and usable.
4 The Artist of '85
Not an easy one, this, but my money goes on Sting. Long recognised as a talent, the Police frontman and sometime actor has successfully avoided most of the pitfalls facing him and produced an album of utterly irresistible music that treats the past with the contempt it deserves, and disregards musical barriers without sounding in the least bit contrived. Sting assembled his musicians as meticulously as he crafted his songs, and together, they made 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' a record full of passion, brimming with experimentation, and overflowing with a sense of great potential admirably fulfilled. In best Peter Gabriel style (and without any of that silly make-up), Sting has acquitted himself splendidly.
5 The Magazine and Me
Less than 12 months ago I called myself a musician. For the uninitiated, I'll explain a little of what that entails. Let's begin with an awful lot of late nights; then there's spending large amounts of time and money fruitlessly walking the streets of London from record company to record company, and wallowing hopelessly in recording studios. Not to mention the gigging, the women, and the drinking... I was happy. But the E&MM lifestyle is an experience in its own right. Let me explain. First of all there are an awful lot of late nights; then there's spending large amounts of time and money fruitlessly walking the streets of London from record company to record company, and wallowing hopelessly in recording studios. Not to mention the gigging (sorry, ligging), the curries, the women, the drinking... I am still happy.
as encountered by E&MM
1 'Well, Dan, how's everything on 'Electronics & Vogue Maker' then?'
Tony Horkins ('International Musician') to Dan Goldstein
2 'I'm sorry but Alan Townshend's still in the pub; can I take a message?'
Gail Nunney (Roland receptionist) to countless E&MM staff
3 'Hey, guys! I've just sold another 14 early right-hand red pages, will there be space for all of them?'
Tony Halliday (E&MM ad manager) to the editorial team
4 'It do gall me, it do piss me orf. This is the second time we've been burgled and we haven't caught the first lot yet.'
Terry Day (E&MM publisher) to the 'Cambridge Evening News'
5 'It must be said, mustn't it, Tim, that your hair really is remarkably long.'
Mark Ellen ('Whistle Test') to Tim Goodyer
Editor's note: this has been a hard year for the good Doctor, the magazine's longest-serving contributor. In between working for medical exams, cutting people's livers up, revising for medical exams, writing books, and taking medical exams, he's had to find time to carry on reviewing the odd piece of computer-ish gear for E&MM. He recently collapsed of nervous exhaustion after a particularly strenuous review, but he did arise from his sick bed long enough to dictate his Top Five to us over the phone. The first three are good, the last two not so welcome.
1 Commodore Amiga
For proving that great graphics and great sound beat the Mac-basher's hype any day.
2 Sound Designer EII Software
Great graphics equals great sound, if you can afford it.
3 Southworth Total Music
The King Kong of MIDI sequencers, beating its heart out at the top of the software pile. (We hope to be reviewing one soon.)
4 The Sampling Bandwagon
For burying good taste at n-n-n-nineteen to the dozen.
5 Sinclair C5
For the man who invented the solid state wheel, but ended up with a turkey under a Number 21 bus.
New instruments I have known and loved: Yamaha DX5, Oberheim Matrix 12, Roland JX8P, UMI 2B sequencing system. I'd like to make it clear that I can afford none of these things, and consequently will revel in that peculiar mixture of pain and pleasure otherwise known as unrequited love. However, one of 1985's most encouraging developments has been the advent of budget instruments that haven't sacrificed professional quality in the quest for a lower price tag. Among these are the Casio CZ synths, the cheaper DXs, the RX21 drum machine, the SZ1 sequencer, and the Roland Alpha Juno 1. Maybe there's hope for me yet.
It just refuses to go away. MIDI - Musician's Immune Deficiency Interrupt. There are still a lot of misconceptions about MIDI, and E&MM will be playing its part in demythologising the subject during the course of 1986. Understanding technology is the key to making effective use of it; if you aren't overwhelmed by something, you're more likely to be able to play an active role in its development. The relationship between music and technology is an uneasy one, full of ambivalence on both sides, as so many of our readers' letters show. And let us not forget one thing: having a technology fetish isn't a particularly healthy state to be in. True, fascination is a valuable catalyst to discovery, but it shouldn't be an end in itself. Still, this is a tremendously exciting area, and the opportunity to work in an environment which involves music and technology (with the latter in the service of the former, I hope) has to be one of my favourite 'things' of the year.
The old Dansette has been tearing great chunks out of the following records during the last year, and if you want to make an old man happy, then I suggest you all chip together and buy me some replacement discs (or a new record player).
Weather Report - 'Sportin' Life'
Man Jumping - 'Jumpcut'
Sade - 'Promise'
Herbie Hancock & Foday Musa Suso - 'Village Life'
Manu Dibango - 'Electric Africa"
Deadline - 'Down by Law'
Ronald Shannon Jackson & The Decoding Society - 'Decode Yourself'
Cosmetic with Jamaaladeen Tacuma - 'So Tranquilizin'
Sly and Robbie - 'Language Barrier'
Let me tell you about the staff of E&MM. There's an Editor who's so laid back he prefers to work while he's asleep (and sleep while he's at work), a Production Editor who thinks FM stands for Flowerpot Men, a Music Editor who's engaged in a long-standing love affair with the demon booze, and a Reviews Editor who doesn't know one end of a MIDI cable from another (they're both the same, bozo - Ed). Really, it's a wonder they manage to produce the world's most authoritative magazine on Everything In The Universe. Mind you, there's always the Ad Manager to keep things going...
Being able to list my five favourite things in E&MM. (Well, at least I'm honest.)
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