What the modern, hi-tech studio lacks most is a nice bit of Habitat furniture. There's no reason why the equipment's clean lines can't be matched by a touch of black and chrome in the table and chair department, and here's Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen to prove it - modelling the perfect union of home and studio.
In a way, Japan were pop's answer to Terence Conran, bringing taste and style to bear in an area hitherto consigned to the lowest common denominators of mass appeal. Now the duo, in continuing partnership with bass player Mick Karn, have set up an exclusive shop of their own by launching a mail-order record company and production house called Medium. It makes an elegant vehicle for their musical explorations. They can record at home; press according to demand; and distribute through the worldwide grapevine of followers loyal to them since 'Gentlemen Take Polaroids' first charted in 1980.
It's also a good way of sidestepping major label bureaucracy. According to Mick Karn, the trio had built up a sizeable collection of instrumental material which may never have seen the light of day.
"It takes a long time to get instrumental stuff released through the normal channels," he says. "So the idea evolved quite naturally that we should exploit the Jansen/Barbieri Information Service and do it without the record companies." "Control is the word," adds Richard. "In a normal record deal you can produce something which may never get released. We're in a position now, where if we want to use distributors we can, and if we want to restrict it to mail order, we can."
"It's an extension of the Information Service," Steve agrees. "We began by producing a quarterly newsletter, and then we thought why not offer people exclusive material as well..."
This exclusive material is largely recorded independently, too. It makes it easier to control your own marketing if all the means of production are to hand - and Steve Jansen knows why.
"The standard of home recording has changed enough to allow people to do it. Apart from a few pioneers like Bill Nelson, most people wouldn't have considered it 10 years ago. But now, it's so compact. Even the administration benefits, because with computers you can keep tabs on most things from beginning to end."
"Perceptions have changed drastically, too," says Mick.
"People know that music from obscure origins is going to be of a certain standard. And as record companies flood the market with the same formulas, audiences are more and more confident about digging around elsewhere."
Another advantage of new recording technology is its mobility. A home studio can be a studio in anyone's home. If you've got friends in Italy with a spare room, do the album there. These guys did, a few years ago.
"We have been using an E16 with a Soundtracks PC MIDI desk - which isn't portable at all! - but recently we've added two ADATs and the Alesis X2 24-channel mixer to the setup. It depends on what the work is. For me, working with rhythm, I don't spend too much time working things up beforehand. As the recording progresses, I'm editing parts here and there, and I'll be the last one to finish, putting all the human touches to it."
"We're thinking more and more along those lines," Steve reveals. "Again, today's equipment can be used separately or together. We like to write at home, split the gear up and then sync it all up again to record. It makes life a lot easier.
"We're always looking for atmospheres generated by sounds"
Richard uses the keyboards as a recorder, too. His parts are pretty much preserved intact until they're printed to tape, in an attempt to sustain a mood throughout.
"Richard spends a lot of time programming his own sounds," continues Steve, "and we're always looking for atmospheres generated by those sounds."
"That's one of the things that keeps us working together," admits Mick. "We've always had a similar vision of where you start. A piece has to have the right atmosphere from the beginning, to guide you in the right directions. It's all to do with the sounds, and when I'm adding the bass I need to know that once everything's in there the track will work. The right effects on the basic drum track are critical. That, for me, is the basis of it - where the sounds take it away from a basic drum kit and more towards an ethnic or atmospheric sound."
"At the moment," says Richard, "I'm more into electronic sounds than I have been since the late '70s. Mostly I'm working with all the old modular setups. I'm enjoying the analogue stuff more than ever. When I'm working on my own, I don't use any computers at all. I might run a few sequences from a drum machine, but that's it. I'll just print the analogue sounds onto an 8-track." The final mix of a Jansen/Barbieri/Karn composition is therefore a timecoded multitrack, featuring basses, guitars and imported analogue moods, appended with a generous array of MIDI'd sources - a great many of which are exotic drum and percussion parts. This is the alchemy that produces some of the richest independent music around, and we can only be grateful that, whatever technology does next, these three will still be turning it to their advantage - home, studio or office.
A JBK mini-CD Seed is released on 24th October. Order it from Medium Productions Ltd, (Contact Details). Also available: Beginning To Melt. On September 26th, Richard Barbieri releases Flame on One Little Indian, a collaboration with No Man's Tim Bowness (see the mix July 1994).
On The Re:Mix CD:
18 Jansen Barbieri Karn: Beginning to Melt
This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #3.
Interview by Phil Ward
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