Mark Jenkins' system
On your Mark's... get set... grow, is an apt, if awful, pun to describe the evolution of Mark Jenkin's system.
In January '85, Electronic Soundmaker looked at a musician who'd been lucky enough to make a living from his musical hobby. I've been fortunate enough to be able to do the same thing, but by a very different route — through music journalism.
My interest in electronic music began on seeing Mike Oldfield perform Tubular Bells on TV around 1974. The idea that you could compose and play single-handedly a piece over forty minutes long without vocals was a massive eye-opener, and something about the repetitive elements of the piece also grabbed me.
Borrowing a couple of Tandberg tape machines from school and scrapping together enough money to buy an electronic organ (from Woolworth's!) I threw together some tape-repeat music more or less in the Fripp and Eno style, and then bought a couple of old Marconiphone quarter-inch machines and had a Transcendent 2000 monophonic synth kit built up for me.
About this time a stroke of luck occurred when my brother (who's also a journalist working mainly in the computer magazine field — and for ES&CM!) won a massive Yamaha D65 organ in a newspaper competition. We toyed with keeping it, but in the end decided to sell, and invested in a TEAC 4-track, Wasp Synth, Spider digital sequencer, Casio 201 (their first full-sized Poly) and a Clef Master Rhythm drum machine. All these apart from the Clef were second-hand, and I still rely very much on the second-hand columns for new equipment, as they turn up some excellent bargains as long as you have the will-power to turn down something in bad condition after you've travelled fifty miles to see it!
While I was studying English at Leicester I spent most of my spare time in the music department using their ARP Odyssey and Roland Saturn, and put together a couple of concerts using video displays and light shows. These concerts taught me a lot about the limitations of non-programmable synths and simple analogue sequencers, and ever since I've been struggling to get hold of the perfect system for both live and studio use — which I think I may now have achieved.
Large investments in musical instruments seemed pretty dodgy at that time, so it was with some trepidation that I bought a Prophet 600, on the strength of its rich polyphonic and solo sounds and very early use of the MIDI interface.
There followed around nine months as first assistant editor of a magazine with which we're all familiar (no names mentioned) (US — egoistic Ed) during which time Mark Shreeve asked me to help him out at the first UK Electronica show in Milton Keynes. We decided that I'd actually open with a short solo set (mainly to calm the nerves of the main act who hadn't played live before!) and so, with something like thirteen instruments and a massive laser backing, I plunged into a semi-rehearsed twenty-minute epic which used Ian Boddy's Roland Modular system, Mainframe's Moog Liberation, Computer Music Studio's Alpha Syntauri and a lot of other borrowed stuff in addition to the Prophet, and which plundered Philip Glass's Koyaanisquatsi soundtrack for a middle section.
More painful lessons were learned, and it seemed to me that nothing short of a fully programmable sequencer and synthesiser system, with capabilities approaching that of Tangerine Dream's setup, would suffice for live or even for studio work. After joining Melody Maker I pursued this idea fairly strictly with one exception — the almost carnal desire for a Minimoog, which was finally consummated a couple of months ago thanks to a London second-hand shop!
Also I'd used the Roland TB303 Bassline units a lot, linking them to external synths rather than using the built-in sound, and the only way to continue using their handy monophonic chained sequences with MIDI instruments was to get hold of an analogue to MIDI interlace. Enter Syco Systems with the very wonderful AMI, which sits neatly in a nineteen-inch rack together with a few echo and reverb units.
The latest purchase is a DS3 sampling system which can be synced to a tomtom pulse from a Drumatix driven by the MSQ700, so at the moment the total system is as follows.
Dynamix 16-4-2 desk, TASCAM 8-track, NEC amp and Wharfedale monitors.
Basically the MSQ 700 is the centre of the system, syncing to tape, sending MIDI signals to the polysynths and Sync pulses to the Basslines, which connect into the MIDI chain via the AMI. The MSQ also controls the drum machine, and I'm hoping to get a Drumtraks which exterminates the opposition in the EPROM-based (as opposed to PCM) drum machine field at the moment.
Greengate DS3 Apple sampler. By pretending that I'm going to use it for word processing I can justify to myself the cost of a second-hand Apple and disc drives to run this amazing miniature Fairlight. The originators Mainframe, and more specifically their designers Dave Green and Colin Holgate, are constantly bringing out new software for the system, and it really stands out as the cheapest way into quality polyphonic sampling.
Prophet 600, Yamaha DX7 kindly loaned by Yamaha for reviewing all the DX software from Syco, Sound Design, Rosetti, Jellinghaus and so on, Juno 106 kindly loaned by Roland (the only one of the three that transmits on different MIDI channels for checking out other MIDI products), a Logan Vocalist for choir sounds (to be retired once the DS3 does looped sounds).
Minimoog, Moog Sonic Six (a sort of educational model with a built-in speaker), Moog Satellite (preset), Micromoog (so I collect antiques!), EDP Wasp, EMS Synthi AKS (for sound effects).
DS3 software sequencer, Roland MSQ 700, two Roland TB303 Basslines through Syco AMI, Oberheim analogue minisequencer, Commodore 64 and Spectrum Packages with SIEL and Rosetti MIDI interfaces.
Avon Les Paul copy and anything else that comes to hand, together with lots of pedals to disguise my very ordinary playing. Somewhere there's also an EMS Synthi Hi-Fli guitar processor waiting to be fixed up.
Powertran DDL, Electro-Harmonix Vocoder, Vesta Fire spring reverb.
I also need a good mastering machine — Revox or TASCAM being the obvious choices — and a better DDL, but most important is learning to use this MIDI-based system to its fullest. Last year I recorded an album called The Visitor (although the title might change in view of Neuronium's album of the same name and their increasing UK exposure!) and hope to remix it with some additions using the new system and release it in 1985. During the recording of that album I used a PPG Wave 2.3 with Waveterm and an Emulator for all the ethnic elements needed to give the impression of a musical journey around the world — covering Japanese electro-pop, Arabian music, Chinese traditional music, more familiar "masses of synths" styles and even heavy metal.
At the moment I'm doing a meditational tape and a second album, and hoping to do some more TV jingles (a cut-throat business but worth it!) I'm also looking forward to appearing at UK Electronica '85, which we hope will have a London venue, and possibly doing some smaller concerts once I 've got the system together. Next purchase is almost certainly going to be a Casio CZ101 — as well as being a fantastic bargain as a MIDI synth or expander, it's also a great portable leadline instrument. Keyboard players should get out into the open and move around more!
At one stage I intended to use the Commodore 64 a lot in the studio, and ended up writing a book for Sunshine Publications, Music For The Commodore 64, which should be out now. However, although some of the newest packages — particularly the Rosetti 12-Channel Studio — are tremendously powerful, I'd be very reluctant to use a home computer on stage and so prefer the MSQ and Basslines together with programmable polysynths and drum machines. Being able to compose and edit so much of the music before committing yourself to tape makes your music more interesting I think, and the MSQ's easy combination of step time and real time seems the logical way to design instruments.
Eventually I'll be able to include sampled sounds and patch changes in pre-programmed sequences, and so record much of the music in one take and avoid a lot of tape editing and remixing. I'm very excited about the possibilities of this system, which I regard as having reached its peak with the inclusion of the DS3. The three main synthesising methods, analogue, FM and sampling are all covered, and I think the possibilities of the system have long ago exceeded the limits of my imagination.
Feature by Mark Jenkins
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