Music aside, I have always had a talent for understanding how and more importantly why things work. At the age of six I was fascinated with the echoes that came off the warehouses near my home and spent hours needlessly shouting at them!
At the age of ten, shortly after receiving a cassette recorder for Christmas, I discovered I could monitor the recordings I was making by using an earphone. Plugging a speaker into the ear socket essentially amplified the microphone, and obsessed with everything electric, I used it as an amplifier for an instrument I made using an egg box, a plank of wood and some garden string.
In high school, I chose to do the electronics option in my Phsycis 'O' level with friend Scott Brynen. Without the interference of the lecturer, who was teaching the rest of the class fluid mechanics, we amused ourselves by playing my electric guitar through the school's oscilloscope.
I became adept at modifying radios and televisions to allow me to play my guitar through them, sometimes with lethal consequences, electrocuting my friends and blowing up my grand-parent's house.
I built a home studio in my bedroom, which consisted of several tape recorders, a Scott Brynen synthesiser, various effects pedals, and a mike. I learned to overdub using the mix mic facility on my ghetto blaster, though I had no way of punching in or fixing mistakes.
In 1983, when I moved to Hackney in London, I worked at a local theatre as a sound engineer. The system was designed so that the desk controlled both front of house and fold-back monitoring, providing me with valuable experience in both aspects of live sound engineering, mainly for local reggae bands. I borrowed various bits of equipment for my recording set up, including a Roland SH101 synthesiser and a Roland DR55 drum machine, which I worked out 16 step sequences for using graph paper (listen to 'Body Talk').
In 1984 I bought a Korg DDM-110, the first affordable digital drum machine and a four track. I was able to successfully create backing tracks for my band Tabatha's Nightmare and was writing demos, overdubbing ten or more times with reasonable quality.
Download DDM-110 Sample Set - click button for zip
In 1985, in search of more unique sounds, I built a sampler from plans in ES&CM magazine. It used 32KB of the ZX Spectrum memory to record and playback up to 8 samples laid out across a CV/Gate keyboard. It landed me my first programming job when Jon Klein (Specimen) needed a drum track for an artist he was producing in Terminal 24. I sequenced the drum parts using a Roland MC-202 and we locked to my gear to SMPTE code using a Roland SBX80.
Download A.I. Sampler Plans - click button for pdf
Listen to 'Under Fire'
Vaughan: vocals, Jon Klein: guitar&bass&production, Mark Tinley: drum programming, Lizard (Marcus Stott): percussion
A far cry from running Pro Tools in a modern studio, which calculates everything for you, I had to use my skills as a mathematician in a very creative way. We were running a 1/4" tape with a mix from the chorus backing vocal slave on it, and flying it back onto the multitrack by pressing play at precisely the right time!
To check the timing accuracy of the MC-202, I made china-graph pencil marks on the master tape and measured the distance between kick and snare drums. This allowed me to adjust the start point in the SBX80 to compensate for timing errors. I also created many of the sequencer parts by using keyed noise gates and putting triggers through delays, calculated to create specific rhythms.
The sessions generated sufficient funds to buy another sampler, again in the form of a kit featured in E&MM magazine, this time with up to 32 seconds of sampling into 64KB of memory. Because of its unique sound, I still have an MCS-1 in my rack today.
Download Powertran MCS-1 Plans - click button for pdf
In the late eighties with funding from an Enterprise Allowance scheme I started a recording studio writing music for corporate videos. I purchased a Casio FZ1 sampler and an Atari ST520 running Steinbergs Pro 24. Having a computer with a word processor allowed me to publish a newsletter for The FZ1 Club, while SMPTE enabled me to sync my sequencer tracks to tape.
This meant I only had to record the acoustic instruments and could mix direct to SONY PCM501 digital mastering. With care I was able to create studio quality recordings at home. Aside from writing production music, my studio had a number of casual clients, the first of whom I will never forget!
Listen to 'My First Commercial Recording'
In the early nineties, I was retained by my brother Adamski, as both a technician and sound engineer. I designed a keyboard rig that could be used in the studio as well as on stage, which included a circuit bent TR909. Being his sound engineer and keyboard tech proved really tricky at Glastonbury when there was a problem with the power and the keyboard rig died. I literally had to run from front of house through the crowd to the stage to fix it!
After recording 'Dr Adamski's Musical Pharmacy' I started TINCHEN Productions with HP Lovecraft III (Sean Chenery) to do remixes. I bought myself a fully loaded S1000 keyboard with a Syquest 44MB removable disk, which was enourmous and looked like an airplane wing. In my home studio, I was running a Tascam 8 track portastudio as a desk and multi-track.
By 1992, I was a freelance technical engineer for Thatched Cottage Audio becoming their resident 'MIDI Doctor' in charge of troubleshooting problems that their London based clients were having in their studios. In 1993, Rob Ferguson sent me to copy a patch from an Emulator III into a Kurzweil K2000 for Duran Duran, which has led to over ten years touring as a keyboard technician and working in various studios (including the ones I have built for them) as a MIDI programmer and sound engineer.
View archive - click on thumbnail for larger image
Following the closure of Thatched Cottage Audio, I became a freelance technical engineer for The M Corporation which led to me installing a studio for Scottish musician Mike Greig, and subsequently producing his band Euphony.
Obsessed with the idea of running my entire studio on a laptop, I switched from a Mac Powerbook to a PC Laptop. This led to me learning the black art of audio under Windows 95, which in turn led to a lot of work building, installing and troubleshooting PC audio systems. I became a beta tester for Kurzweil's K2000 and for various software companies including E-Magic. Through my input on newsgroups such as rec.audio.pro, I was invited to write white papers on audio recording for hard disk manufacturers Iomega (who subsequently used me as part of a Worldwide advertising campaign) and Qauntum.
Download White Paper - click button for pdf
With powerful hard disk editing available, and the ability to seamlessly quantize audio to a grid, I stopped using sound libraries and MIDI and have been collecting obscure pieces of musical equipment from boot sales and eBay ever since. The more conventional instruments include a Boss PC-2 Percussion Synthesizer and a Casiotone 610 keyboard, while at the other end of the scale, I have a range of circuit bent Casio keyboards and other modified electronic toys, which along with a full complement of software and plug-ins allows me to inject elements of abstract experimental electro into any music I am involved with.
As well as my technical involvement in the music industry, I have provided Forensic Audio Services to local private detectives and worked as a sound engineer for The Metropolitan Police. As well as editing voice overs, I have produced audio for CD-ROM and the Internet, leading to me being a very early user of MP3 and to becoming an expert on audio codecs and compression.
In May 2000 I joined startle plc as the manager, digitization services. After having a professional listening room built (complete with chrome curtains and a mirror ball) which encompassed a Pro Tools digital editing suite, I commissioned digitization software which captured a perfect disk image from a CD and revamped the M.A.R.S. project (the first on-line production music and sound library resource) recommending a switch from Liquid Audio to Broadcast Wave Format. I provided expert advice and solutions for the digitization of a physical music library containing 1.5 million tracks of commercial music.
In 2001, I took a truck load of equipment to France and built a studio for the Duran Duran - Original Line Up in a villa in a day. I witnessed and recorded the original members of the band playing together for the fist time in 15 years. On returning to the UK, I designed a production room based around a Pro Tools 5 system in the newly built Sphere Studios complex, where I programmed and recorded the vast majority of Nick Rhodes' keyboards for the new album project.
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