In a nutshell: Danny studied Music Technology, he has been involved in numerous productions for film and television, theatre and art exhibitions. And, he teaches Composition and Music Design at that very same college he attended. In 2014, he bought a Series III. “To me, it’s a great tool for creating my own sounds. I wasn’t really after getting those signature sounds or anything like that. Its quality was more appealing to me.”
He attended the HKU University of the Arts, Utrecht – Music And Technology, back in 1988. During his studies, Danny and a few friends started their own business in developing plug-ins and software, and they started a firm, Soundpalette, specialised in music productions.”TV-shows, film, commercials, theatre, art performances…. The six of us worked on just about anything you could think of. That were some crazy times! You name it; we did it. At some point, I kind of withdrew from Audio Ease, the software company, so I could really focus on the craft of programming and composing.”
Nowadays, Danny is covering the whole spectrum of music production. “It depends; sometimes, it’s more about composing and arranging. Sometimes, I’m orchestrating; sometimes, I’m the sound designer. Or, I’m doing a bit of everything. Whatever is necessary to get the best results.” The list of projects he worked on is excessive.
Like with most musicians, his training began when he was very young. “I started with trumpet lessons at the age of six, followed by organ and classical piano.’ In addition to his Musical Technology studies, he chose Trumpet as a subsidiary subject: ‘I performed with lots of bands. My experience with both keyboard instruments and brass instruments still comes in handy in my line of work. It makes it very easy to communicate with the musicians, performing my compositions.”
Way before he entered the Utrecht conservatory in 1988, he already discovered the wide possibilities of sampling. “It had a great impact on me. I started out with an Ensoniq EPS. During my studies, I went to India for a year, to work as a Synclavier specialist. Owning a Synclavier system was my biggest dream. The Synclavier has always been my greatest love. The Fairlight on the other hand; its magical and mythical status was very appealing to me. People were called ‘programmers’, it was unobtainable and unaffordable; only available for those who made name and fame…” Danny, thinking out loud: “It is likely, this perpetuated the whole mythical aspect of the Fairlight. At the hands of a wealthy amateur, it probably would have been nothing more than a very sophisticated musical instrument.”
“People knew about the records it was used on: “Oh, yeah… that’s done on a Fairlight.” It had the reputation of a machine that could make miracles. I think, back in the ’80’s, most of us presumed it was all Fairlight we were hearing, when in fact, it’s always a combination of the CMI and several other synths or instruments.
Back in 2011, I bought my second Synclavier, a DirectToDisk system, from Dave Lawson, who also worked on the string arrangements for Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love-album. According to him, the string parts were Fairlight, mixed with acoustic strings.”
His first Fairlight encounter? “I think it was a year before my studies began. There was a trade show at the Utrecht Mercury Hotel, hosted by Synton. It was set up in a separate room, ready to give it a go. Oh yes, it was magic. But of course, it was way, way out of my price range!”
Sound designing wasn’t his first love: “I got into it because very often, I felt the need to improve the quality of music and sounds that were used with the productions I worked on. I grew to like this part; moulding and forging sounds, letting them morph into musical elements.” He uses a Series III (upgraded to MFX), alongside other high end equipment such as the Synclavier and the Kyma system. “Every machine has its own capabilities and its own limitations, and every one has its specific purpose. When I need that crunchy sound, I’ll grab the Ensoniq Mirage. I hardly use the Fairlight library sounds. I bought one, solely for sampling and sound scaping. And besides: nowadays, the library sounds are way too recognisable. There are libraries on the market who are doing a much better job, especially when it comes to orchestral sounds. But if possible, I prefer working with a live orchestra.”
“Mostly, I’m using the Fairlight for ambient sounds. While the Synclavier reproduces sounds; the Fairlight enables you to mould sounds in many more ways, thanks to filtering. And the sound quality is extraordinary. That’s really something. Even the softer sounds used in theatre productions, tucked away deeply within the mix, are coming through clearly. The D/A conversion in both the Fairlight and the Synclavier: it makes them unique in comparison to other samplers.”
Unpacking and exploring
“I bought mine in 2014, from Peter Wielk, Horizontal Productions. I knew he was selling refurbished machines, so I reacted to one of his posts on the internet forum. It used to be a test-model, used at the R&D-department. It wasn’t a 100% up-to-specs and the top panel of the casing wasn’t there. Peter made some modifications and it’s working fine. Back then, I didn’t buy the big keyboard that goes with it, but since I was planning on using it with midi, that wasn’t much of a problem. The day it came: yeah, that was a memorable day. It was packed into a large box, and some pieces were taped together. I had to be careful, for I didn’t want to ruin the paint whilst pulling the tape off.”
“It took a bit of exploring, getting it going. It’s not like there is a crash course in first time Fairlight-usage. But, it was fun! Although I didn’t buy it for those recognisable sounds, It’s certainly nice to have ‘m. I remember calling up the string sounds that were used on Kate Bush’s Cloud Busting.”
A touch of history
Since 2004, Danny teaches Composition and Music Design. Most of his students are between 18 and 24 years old. “I do try to convey the charm of using vintage equipment such as the Fairlight or the Synclavier; telling them these machines are more than just some kind of computer. They were designed and perfected to be a solid musical instrument. Well, yes, sometimes, I get mocked for that. And of course, it’s outdated. Once it was the cream of the crop, and nowadays, you can do more on just a smartphone. But some of the students are seeing what I’m getting at. To me, that tactile aspect that comes with using hardware, it’s of great value. Speaking of which: eventually, I bought the original Fairlight keyboard as well. As we speak, it isn’t operational yet, but I’m looking forward being able to use it. It’ll surely add to the whole user experience.”
Check out some of Danny’s work here!