by Chris Frost
After the last episode, the Parsnip’s choice, turned out be quite a demanding affair I thought I’d go for a much easier choice where we didn’t have to worry about vocals and just did something instrumental. Great idea I thought and started trawling through possible options on my CD shelves.
“I know,” I thought, “Brand X!” Something from their most accessible and straight ahead album… Something with catchy melodies… Something in a time signature I’ve never attempted before… Something with complex rhythms and music played by stunning world class musicians… Ok, I admit it, maybe I didn’t think this one through fully…
I’m sure I must have mentioned by now that my first musical love was the band Genesis and all it’s various offshoots. In 1989 it was quite hard to find information about Genesis-related releases. It involved buying old fan club magazines, scouring record shops (often Mike Lloyds Music and Lotus Records in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent) and record fairs, usually held at the Hanley YMCA.
I can still remember the excitement I felt at finding a second-hand copy of their debut album, Unorthadox Behaviour in Lotus Records with it’s mysterious looking cover and inner sleeve. I rushed home to play it on my Dad’s old record player and taped it for constant walkman paper round listening. It’s still one of my favourite albums. I’d already had a bit of an intro into jazz from listening to my dad’s Dave Brubeck and Jacques Loussier albums but this was jazz but with a large dose of progressive rock thrown in. It seems strange now to think that as I was listening to this music many of my class mates were listening to The Smiths, The Stone Roses and King Kurt.
Now it’s much easier to find information and music from Brand X and I’d advise anyone into Jazz/prog to check out their albums. I love the fact that Phil Collins was doing this music for fun at a time when Genesis were becoming hugely succesful. Here’s an early interview with him and guitarist John Goodsall who also has an impressive list of credits with other artists.
Over the years the band has featured an outstanding list musicians including John Goodsall, Percy Jones, Robin Lumley, Pete Bonas, John Dylan, Phil Spinelli, Phil Collins, Morris Pert, Kenwood Dennard, J. Peter Robinson Chuck Burgi, John Giblin, Mike Clark, Frank Katz, Franz Pusch, Marc Wagnon, Danny Wilding, Pierre Moerlen and Kris Sjobring. The latest release featuring Brand X members is a great album with Mark Murdock entitled Cymbalic Encounters.
The first thing was to find out what time signatures the song was in. For this I asked a drummer friend for his analysis. He googled it… 9/8 and 4/4. I didn’t know where to start with programming a 9/8 drum part so I turned to the web.
I thought I might find some sampled loops I could bring into Reason 7 but what I actually found was a MIDI file which, when imported onto the timeline mapped itself to one of the built in drum machine modules. Not all the note mappings were ideal so I tweaked them a bit, did a separate mapping to a KONG drum unit and then panned the two to either side. This worked surprisingly well and gave quite a different sound to a sampled drum loop with nice stereo separation.
I found some nice jazzy Dr. Octorex rhythms for the 4/4 sections and reprised the piano opening 9/8 piano riff in some of them. I wanted to try to recreate the lead guitar sound, big synth/string chords and percussive riffs. My guitar skills are limited to playing one string at a time and there are a couple of parts in there. I also fed one of them through a vocoder to give a bit of a fuller sound. I was keen to have some strong melodies like the original. There’s very little repetition in there but I’m quite happy with the way the different sections run into each other. The final section has a bit of a Peter Gabriel feel with the shift in drum patterns.
The biggest challenge was the mixing. With so many layers of instrumentation in there making individual parts stand out was a real challenge. I’m using the Ozone maximizer to give the music a fuller sound but my bass parts were really getting lost in the mix. It took a lot of work experimenting with the EQ on the Reason Mixer to give individual parts their own space to breathe. This is something I’m still need a lot of practice at. Mixing is a real skill. All the tools are there in Reason and there are lots of tutorials out there:
I don’t think this piece needs any explanation but, for those new to music, it is a decelerating impressionist 9/8 jazz club fusion of beeps, beats, hoots, parps, swirling landscapes and honourable members.
It’s got hypnotic qualities. Listen to it repeatedly and it will start to make sense. Unlike Prime Minister’s Questions.
Now I’ve recovered from the trauma of this track, the above write-up looks a bit light on technique. Here’s how it was made.
- A pinch of Jazz Club
- 1.5kg organ marinaded for 7 minutes in Rotor rotary speaker extension
- 200g live electric guitar (badly played)
- A sprinkling of toms and crashes
- 500g hats
- A bunch of fresh vibes
- Small tub of phaser
- 1 small Speaker of the House
- 9/8 oz drum patterns
- 1 slow gear electric guitar
- 650 Honourable Members
- 1 large corn-fed low welfare Prime Minister
- 400g tin of mixed pads
- 1 Daffy Duck (exasperated)
- Large handful of mixed synths (chopped) to serve
- Heat the Jazz Club in a large pan
- Add the organ and guitar and fry for 1-2 minutes to soften
- Gradually mix in the hats and 9/8 of drum patterns
- Add one or two lumps of Jazz Club and allow to melt in
- Stir in the slow gear guitar
- Gradually turn the heat down until the tempo has reduced by half
- Slowly add a few spoonfuls of phaser
- Transfer the mixture to a Prime Minister’s Questions
- Add the Speaker of the House
- Add the Honourable Members and keep stirring
- Make sure the Prime Minister’s nose is out of joint and add to the mix
- Layer the mixed pads on top
- Exasperate the Daffy Duck then add in lumps to the other ingredients
- Add the chopped mixed synths and stir them in with a handful of Pulsars
- Simmer for 6 minutes
Serve with blue salad and a crusty curmudgeon.