The jam session, left to right, Leo Abrahams on guitar, poet Rick Holland writing lyrics, Karl Hyde performing vocals, Brian Eno processing effects, and Fred Gibson playing Native Instruments Maschine.
On the day Sound & Recording visited Brian’s Notting Hill studio, Brian and Karl were joined by guitarist Leo Abrahams, and Someday World co-producer Fred Gibson. The visiting time was late afternoon, so by the time we arrived, the musicians were in full swing and sounded like a very tight unit.
Apparently there had been a total of nine musician’s present the day before, but this time the four were joined by poet Rick Holland who had previously collaborated with Brian on the 2011 album Drums Between The Bells.
Also present was pianist, composer and software designer Peter Chilvers, who created the generative iOS app ‘Bloom’ together with Brian in 2008. On this day, however, Peter was acting as the engineer, saving every session in Logic Audio and patching various signal feeds into the monitor mix using a Makie CR1604 desk, whenever he was required to do so.
Although Someday World had been recorded in a side room of Brian’s studio, the jam sessions took place in the much larger central open-plan area, where there was enough space for musicians, engineers and journalists to move about freely.
From the perspective of a spectator entering the studio, Fred Gibson was stationed on far right, operating a Native Instruments Maschine hardware controller with its software running on a Mac Book Pro laptop. Occasionally Fred sat down to work from an M-Audio Axiom 49 MIDI keyboard, which was connected to Apple’s MainStage live performance software, accessed via the same laptop he used for NI’s Maschine. On this day Fred was mostly playing bass sounds on the Axiom and providing drums with Maschine.
Brian’s setup was to the left of Fred’s, and included a vintage electric guitar laying across a plinth and being fed into a Behringer V-tone DI GDI21 amp modeller/preamp. Brian played the guitar while it was lying down using a metal slide, rather like a pedal steel guitar. Brian also had Ampeg bass guitar on a stand, but did not put it to use during our visit, and an M-Audio Oxygen 61 controller keyboard, which was used for triggering samples on an Apple laptop. At one point in the session an extra pair of hands were needed, so Peter Chilvers was called across to hold notes on Brian’s Oxygen 61 controller.
“I wasn’t really doing anything musically,” he explains, “other than acting as a glorified sustain pedal! Brian wanted a chord to carry on playing, but needed hands free to play with the Air FX, so asked me to carry on holding the chord he was playing.”
The rest of Brian’s setup sat on top of two Samson Resolve 80a monitors. Straddling both speakers was a Numark M101 two-channel DJ scratch mixer, and to its right sat a Numark Axis 9 CD player with loop, stutter and speed controls. The stutter effect in particular was something Brian used quite a lot during the session. To the left of the M101, Brian had an Alesis Air FX multi-effects processor feeding into a Korg Kaoss Pad and he used the two for various audio modulation duties.
Karl’s work area was in the centre, where he had his own table supporting a Roland Cube 15x amp, Eventide Harmoniser PitchFactor, MXR EQ and Pioneer CDJ-1000MK3 CD player. Also on his table were two Ebows and a pile of note books that he used as lyric resources.
The DAW system, represented by two large monitor screens, was between Karl and Brian, where there was just enough room for Peter Chilvers to work. A Korg Triton Studio workstation was also within the control area, although no one used it during the session.
Leo Abrahams was seated on the right of Karl, and had his own table supporting a Mac Book Pro from which he could access his sound library. On the floor in front was an array of guitar pedals wired into one another. An Electro-Harmonix Ring Thing modulator was feeding a Earthquake Devices Rainbow Machine pitch shifter/modulator, which in turn fed the input of a Boss PS3 digital pitch shifter. The out from the PS3 fed into a Pigtronix Echolution 2 multitap modulation delay, and the rig also included an expression pedal.
“Leo really understand those boxes, as well as that guitar,” says Brian. “It’s not like he plays guitar and sticks a few funny noises on, he works with those sounds and spends a long time developing them so they are really part of the instrument.”
The poet, Rick Holland, took up a position on the far right, just in front of a long work desk and tool rack, so as not to interfere with the movements of the musicians.
“He was writing down lyrics and phrases as the session progressed, and leaving them on Brian’s plinth,” explains Peter Chilvers. “Usually short phrases, a line or two at a time in large letters, and Brian picked the ones that he felt like singing or speaking. Brian was keen that the voice was an early presence in these recordings rather than something bolted on later over an instrumental. Having lyrics to hand made that process far more immediate. Karl was also providing lyrics, and sometimes he and Rick were responding to each other. In some cases, Karl was also playing recorded voices from his CD player.”