Home Studio Recordist
This series welcomes contributions from you, the reader, about your home studio set-up, recording techniques and adventures in the studio. This month we feature Brian Robinson whose modest 'studio' is based around an old Akai 4000DS stereo recorder.
I think my early interest and inspiration to create my own music/sounds came from listening to the first two Roxy Music albums and the more experimental Beatles music, as I was fascinated by the sound textures I heard in the background.
At first I played around with acoustic guitars and any tape recorders I could get my hands on, not starting any serious recording until I bought a second-hand Akai 4000DS reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was at Art College. This is the machine I still use today, which forms the basis of my home studio.
My early recordings were made using an electric guitar and a few effects pedals, plus any other sounds I could pick up with a cheap Shure vocal microphone — radios (between stations), 'found' percussion etc. Brian Eno's solo and collaborative recordings have been a strong influence, and encouraged me to make tape loops on an old Ferrograph I had.
When I first got my Akai I was shown a technique for multi-layering sound in sync, on just the one machine. However, the finished recording is always in mono and cannot be re-mixed.
This 'multi-layering' is achieved by sending the tape outputs to an amplifier via the 5-pin DIN socket. The line in/out sockets which are phono are then connected as follows: Left line in to Right line out, and Right line in to Left line out.
You can then plug your instrument or microphone into the Left channel Mic Input socket and record. Also, on the first layer sound can be recorded from another source going into the Left line in socket. Multilayering is then achieved by placing the track selector to 3-2 on the Akai and recording the next layer; mixing the two levels of the new 'live' sound and the recorded first track using the Mic/Line volume controls. The next layer is added by switching the track selector to 1-4 and repeating the above procedure. A bit of thought is needed prior to recording to achieve the best results.
I am using a Korg MS20 synthesiser at present which I have had for a couple of years. It is a very versatile machine for its size and price and the patching and triggering capabilities enable me to drive the MS20 from my Boss DR55 drum machine. Now that I am quite familiar with the Korg synth I like to try new ways of generating sounds, such as blindly twiddling the knobs and putting jackplugs into the patchbay whilst the synthesiser is switched off.
The Electro-Harmonix flanger I have can be used for either flanging effects or as a comb filter, which is very useful for improving the sound of the DR55. I prefer a harsher, metallic sound to the drums (influences of Kraftwerk), the standard flanger sound being used to enhance the MS20, guitar and vocals.
Depth and space are vital, if recording in mono as I do, and these are added to my recordings using an Echoman analogue echo which I bought from a mail order catalogue. I believe in utilising all equipment to its full potential, so the echo unit also gets used as a 'sound modifier'.
I have developed a way of 'playing' the echo unit in real-time using the Echoman's 'Speed' control. I wind the echo up to fast reverb then down to a long delay setting which bends the sound you're treating. It's a very good effect on long sustained synthesiser notes. I also use it on my vocals, and on the DR55 it gives the drums a 'dub' echo feel. Switching the echo repeat 'in' and 'out' of circuit can also make the music and rhythm appear to step up in tempo.
I seldom use my Arbiter Les Paul guitar these days, but when I do I always process the normal guitar sound through as many effects as possible to both enhance the sound and to make up for my lack of technique! My guitar style is very heavily influenced by Robert Fripp's guitar playing on Eno and Fripp's 'No Pussyfooting' and Bowie's 'Heroes' album.
I have a Marantz CD330 cassette deck which is a fairly professional portable machine that I use for recording interesting sounds on various locations. I also try to use the cassette deck as an instrument for creating sounds, for example, snippets of programmes from the television which can then be treated with echo.
I use a technique of cassette 'scratching' by fast forwarding and rewinding the tape sound direct onto a reel-to-reel tape. If I need to make tape loops of anything, these can be recorded onto cassette and then transferred back onto the Akai.
My own musical compositions vary quite a lot, from strong, rhythmic, electronic pop to more avant garde soundscapes and everything in-between. I have no musical training though I know the basic chords for guitar, but not which notes I am playing. Everything I do is either based on patterns or just the sound. I compose by choosing whatever sounds right to my ears — the black notes on the synth always sound good! I believe that if you want to make music, then you should just do it, the best way you can.
So far I have not had any of my music recorded for public sale, though I have composed pieces for public events in Sunderland and Newcastle, such as Art Gallery openings for my friends. I try to compose something that will both enhance the works and the atmosphere of the gallery. Most of my previous work has been for tapestry, painting, jewellery and glass exhibitions, plus some music for poetry readings. I am soon to start work on some sound pieces for a local dance group who want to construct a dance sequence based upon Hiroshima.
As far as equipment goes, I hope to obtain the new Roland MC202 MicroComposer which should add a totally new dimension to my recordings and method of composition. I would also like to get a four track cassette deck to achieve better quality recordings, and maybe even release some of my music to the public! Who knows?
Feature by Brian Robinson
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