Having been involved with a bewildering number of projects in the past, Patrick Moraz and Graham Edge, keyboardist and drummer with The Moody Blues talk about their current work.
This month the undauntable Neville Unwin interviews a keyboard player with a formidable technique, his own studio, and long list of albums to his name.
Tracking down Patrick Moraz was not easiest of assignments. He was eventually run to earth in a large house, completely hidden by trees in the depths of the Surrey countryside. On arrival, however, any difficulty experienced was more than amply compensated for by the presence of another Moody Blues member; Graham Edge who interspersed the conversation with lucid and profound comment.
Despite rumours that he was born on an aeroplane, Patrick was in fact born in Switzerland (though being young at the time he has difficulty remembering), but seems to have spent most of his life flying to and playing in various parts of the world. Although he started his musical life playing both violin and piano, the violin soon went out of the window in preference to his interest in keyboards. In 1968 he decided to turn professional, and made the break with the group he was working with at the time; the Patrick Moraz trio (later the Patrick Moraz quartet). In 1969, he joined a four-piece called Mainhorse which made one album before the group disintegrated, and Patrick started composing film scores at a prodigious rate. His next group was Refugee, who were tipped for success and made one album before various problems forced their demise. It was that year (1974) that he took Rick Wakeman's place in Yes. While with Yes he also completed his first solo album before eventually feeling the need to start out on his own and he now has a number of solo albums to his name. In addition, he spent some time with Syrinx, and is at present working with Bill Bruford. As if this weren't enough to earn him a place amongst today's top keyboard players, he's also a member of the Moody Blues.
Graham kicked off immediately by enthusing over the next Moodys' album.
'It's going to be very good. We've got lots of stuff, (we always have more material than we need), and I think it's going to be a strong album. It's due for release in February, but we already have an idea for the sleeve.' Patrick concurred, mentioning that he and Graham were on the point of writing some more tracks.
'Sometimes we just sit down and write, like we are now, and sometimes the music comes out of improvisation in the studio. Because of the nature of the music, I improvise more with Bill (Bruford) than with the Moodys - especially live on stage, but we still do both sit down and write by ourselves.'
'There are only certain points in the Moodys' set where improvisation comes to the fore,' Graham chips in, 'and that's mainly with keyboards and flute. When we're writing material for the Moodys, we use both methods. I'm in another band, though, where we do nothing but improvise. It's composed of several 'old rockers' like myself and is called Loud, Confident and Wrong. They certainly can't do us under the Trade Descriptions Act for it! At the moment it's simply fun to play together, but of course everyone wants us to make a record. We may do one day - I don't know. I just enjoy improvising.'
'That's the beauty of improvisation. It's like being a magician. The audience will be amused by his tricks, but at the back of their minds, there's always the question: 'How did he do that?
'It's not up to anybody to say what is improvised and what is structured and written down. It should be for the audience to judge what works and what doesn't. I've played some very improvised music and some very closely structured pieces and both methods work equally well. When you're improvising, you tend to try all sorts of different ideas, and only some of them will work, so although it is an exciting thing to do, you also tend to make mistakes. Only some of the experiments you make will succeed.'
So, what sparks off that first creative impulse? How do you arrive at the initial idea?
Patrick: 'It varies. Sometimes I think of a phrase, or a rhythm, a certain harmony, a sound texture, or even a word and that will give me the initial idea. Sometimes it comes from somebody else. If (for example) I'm working with Bill, he may do something that sets me off, and I'll do the same for him.'
Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz first met as long ago as 1969, when Bill Bruford was with Yes. Their musical collaboration, however, did not come about until many years later.
'Bill lives practically next door to me, and he asked if he could record a few tracks in my studio. Of course I agreed and we ended up by having a jam. That's when I suggested to Bill that the two of us should become a group, but the idea seemed to die until six months later when some European dates were arranged. These didn't come off either, but then suddenly we got together for an American tour, and from that came Music for Piano and Drums. Following this highly-acclaimed album, the pair have more recently released 'Flags'; an album that explores to a greater extent the contrast between drum sounds and synthesiser textures. As its name suggests, Patrick played nothing more than a grand piano on their first album, whereas 'Flags' is full of weird and wonderful sounds that offset Bill's drumming. Patrick's decision to play nothing but piano on Music for Piano and Drums was a deliberate attempt to limit himself. 'In some ways I feel that I have more opportunities when I'm limited to one instrument. In that situation there's nowhere else for you to turn. You've got to solve the problem there and then. That's the sort of thing that makes you a better musician, I believe.'
'This Yamaha' says Patrick, indicating an electric grand in the middle of his studio, 'is my favourite instrument. I play the Kurzweil (250) constantly but I think you'll have to go a long way to beat a grand piano. When you've been brought up as a piano player, it's very difficult to get used to other sorts of keyboards. You can produce so much more expression from a piano than you can from any other sort of keyboard instrument.' What, then, of the Kurzweil? They claim that it feels and sounds identical to a Bosendorfer grand. 'It's good - it's very good, but it's not quite a grand piano. One thing it does particularly well is vocal sounds - in my opinion better than a vocoder. I would like a vocoder, though, so that I could combine the two.' Patrick then went on to demonstrate its capabilities. The keyboard seemed very sensitive and the controls easy to use (judging by the way Patrick's hands flew around the front panel). What interested him most, however, was its sampling capacity.
'I get sent samples from the factory and I modify them and send them back with recommendations on how they should be changed. Some of them are terrific. Just listen to the last two they sent me.' Patrick proceeded to play samples of electric and bass guitars that were, to say the least, astounding. They did, however, take over a full minute to load which would make things rather difficult when playing live.
'I have the Yamaha piano MIDI'd up to the Kurzweil, and usually linked up to several other keyboards as well.' He indicates around his studio that contains a plethora of different keyboard types, makes and styles. 'I much prefer to record using MIDI rather than tape; it's so much faster and easier to make demos that way.' Patrick went on to demonstrate this quickly by setting up a click-track, playing several rhythm tracks sampled from an SDS7 and then using the Kurzweil again to record five further tracks (using the split keyboard to record three of them at once). He then showed just what was possible when more time and care was taken over the preparation, by playing part of a symphonic piece recorded entirely on disk using MIDI.
'Obviously you have to use tape eventually, but when playing electronic MIDI instruments, you can achieve so much in a quicker and more versatile way when it's all stored on disk rather than on cassette.'
Although Patrick Moraz is probably identified more with the Kurzweil 250 than with any other instrument, his studio is nevertheless crammed with other keyboards. One he seems particularly fond of is a Vocophone, on which he played a haunting, breathy melody with a surprising range of dynamic expression being provided by a breath controller.
As he readily admits, Graham Edge gets somewhat left behind by Patrick's knowledge of technical equipment. 'I was just beginning to get used to it when he got the Kurzweil, and now it's completely beyond me. I know that I trigger some of Patrick's gear when we play live, but I have no idea what. As far as my own equipment goes, I have two Linns working in sync and trigger them from a kit, so that I can have a choice of several snare sounds, for instance. That in itself was quite difficult to arrange, because when you have two Linns synced together, there's always a five millisecond delay between them. It may not sound a lot, but you do notice it, particularly in cases where, for example you start playing after a pause. Consequently I've had mine modified so that the delay has been reduced to one and a half milliseconds. The only disadvantage of this is that the control voltage is greatly increased and if someone links another machine up to one of my Linns things start to howl in agony.
'In the studio I use a bass drum and click-track straight from the Linn, and coming through the cans, but I then play the snare myself. I think that the snare at least needs to be played manually because a drum machine does tend to have rather a mechanical feel to it. That's a personal choice, but I do feel that drum machines can be slightly limiting in that respect. In a live situation this becomes even more important because you are responding to the group around you just as they are responding to you. Sometimes when I'm playing on stage, I feel the rest of the group wanting to speed up slightly and so I've got a special footpedal for that very purpose; it will speed up the drums by a very small amount, which will give that necessary extra feel to the track. When working in the studio, however, I don't tend to do that. I believe that particular technique doesn't really work on record.'
And what about the electronic versus acoustic drum controversy?
'I have four acoustic kits, and I feel very comfortable with them, but I have also always been interested in the potential of the electronic kit. In addition to my Simmons SDS3, I have the first electronic drums ever made by Dave Simmons. It's a prototype model that obviously doesn't compete with the kits around at the moment. Every now and then I show it to Dave (Simmons) who promptly backs away from it, making the sign of the cross!
'I'm very interested in what the new SDS9 has to offer, especially it's sampling capabilities. Also it feels so much like an acoustic kit. You could shut you're eyes and believe it was one, judging by the feel of the pads, the rimshot and so forth. I definitely intend to buy one, but the only aspect of it I haven't had the opportunity to check is how it would stand up to life on the road. I don't want a drum kit that will break down twice every gig. That sort of thing is very embarrassing.'
Both Graham and Patrick agree about the Moodys' live playing. As Patrick says; 'I don't do nearly as much improvising on stage with the Moodys as with Bill. You have to give the audience what they want to hear. If they've come to a Moody Blues gig, they're going to want to hear 'Nights in White Satin', for example, and they've got a right to expect that. I don't agree with these people who say; 'Okay, I'm bored with that song. Let's rearrange it.' and come up with something totally different. I believe that if you do all get to that stage you should stop playing the song completely.'
Having been involved in so many different projects, it is difficult to see Patrick idle. What has the future to offer?
'Well, apart from the new Moodys album, I'm still playing with Bill, and I'm also working on the next solo album; Future Memories III. Another record of mine; Time Code is just being re-released by Jeanie Records, which I'm very glad about because it is one of my favourites.'
It's safe to say that, having made numerous group and solo albums over the last fourteen years, Patrick Moraz is still as busy as ever, and, with his seemingly endless talent for composition, it appears that he will stay that way for some time to come.
Interview by Neville Unwin
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