J.J. Jeczalik – programmer, producer, musician

Except for the occasional game, he wasn’t really into computers. It was the late ’70’s and some early adopters could see it coming: ‘Computers are the future, you know? Don’t learn to lay drums, learn how to type!’ He ended up becoming keyboard tech for Buggles’ keyboardist Geoff Downes with this brand new beast called the Fairlight CMI. The rest is history…

“I never was that interested in all the tech stuff. I was more interested in what it could do.”

A quick browse through the Discoqs database, or a pair of well trained ears, will tell you there’s a touch of J.J. hidden in dozens of music productions. To begin with, there’s the ZTT-catalogue, including Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda, ABC and the Duck Rock album by the notorious Malcom McLaren. There’s the excessive list of other artists he worked with, including Paul McCartney, Billy Ocean and the Pet Shop Boys. On top of that: there’s the Art of Noise. They won a Grammy for their rendition of Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn (featuring Duane Eddy), they helped to revive Tom Jones’ career, their music was featured in several tv and movie productions, but most important: J.J. and his colleagues introduced us to a fresh new way of doing things.

But let’s start at the beginning. J.J. Jeczalik, geography student at Durham University, took a year off, moved to London and found himself a job as the tech guy for prog rock band Landscape. “The bass player had built the band’s PA, and I helped him out. Really nifty. I think during that time, I learnt pretty well how to solder properly.” By that time, he started reading about the possibilities of computer technology. “A friend of mine recommended this book about the future of computers. I remember reading something in the line of ‘By the time of the year 2000, everything will be on the internet.’ I was intrigued by the possibilities of computer technology. It was a new era.”

Through his work with Landscape and Richard James Burgess, who did the drums on Video Killed The Radio Star, he met The Buggles, being Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. And that’s when J.J. got acquainted with his soon-to-be working horse. “At first, we didn’t really know what to do with it. So I just tried and figured it out myself. I did read the manual, but it wasn’t very helpful. It was about muddling through. I think most of us did, back in the day. I remember Blue Weaver, then keyboardist for The Bee Gees, telling the very same thing: just try, and see what it does.” He adds: “There weren’t any platforms or forums, like there are nowadays. I think we’d exchange some user experiences while being at the events hosted by Syco Systems.”

J.J. Jeczalik with CMI, in black and white

“Of course it was great. This expensive machine, the price of a house, and Trevor gave me his to develop it for him.”

The art of noise

And then there was the historical night when J.J. and Gary Langan messed about with the Yes drum loops. “We played it to Trevor. He liked it. He said something in the line of: ‘It needs some more melody.’ So he called in Anne Dudley and she came up with the beautiful chords and musical textures on top of the jumble Gary and I were making. You know, It’s funny: my Art Of Noise colleagues were looking at me like I was the computer wizard. I, in turn, was a bit nervous because I didn’t have any musical skills at all.“

Special artefacts

Often, J.J. was out with his tape recorder, hunting for sounds. “I was living in London at that time. I wanted to record the horses that galloped past my house almost every day. So I asked permission to do so. I recorded the horses, but it didn’t sound as good as I’d hoped for. At the same time, my neighbour was starting her Volkswagen Golf a few times. I played it back and thought it was a great sound. It’s not just the car you’re hearing; it’s the sound of the trees, the space between the houses. Especially when slowed down, you can hear every nuance. The same goes for the tennis court, where I took some recordings. Its sound had very specific characteristics. I’m pretty sure I can recognise which tennis court it was, just by hearing it.” Did the girl next door know her starting car ended up on a hit record? “No, I don’t think so. I never played it to her.”

Anne Dudley, Gary Langan and J.J. Jeczalik – reboot Art of Noise’s In Visible Silence – live at the British Library, March 2018. Credit: Marc Pinder

Aiming for the brain

One might say Art Of Noise is all about happy accidents, imperfections and having fun.And about Vibe, J.J. recalls. “Back then, it was all about ‘Does it have the Vibe?’ To me, it’s that unexplainable process happening in your brain when you’re on to something. That unique sound or atmosphere. It might be something small, but big enough to trigger some kind of response to your brain. I’ve always tried creating something that tricks the brain; something you can’t really identify, but yet sounds familiair. For instance, the word Paranoimia. I wanted to give it just that little twist, to puzzle the brain.”

“I don’t want things to be dull.”

Camilla Pilkingington’s Hey!’ is another example of that extra bit of vibe. “My girlfriend at the time told me she knew this girl at her school, with a beautiful, clear sounding voice. So I went to the school where she was teaching and we made some recordings. The bits where she just tried some phrases and made some mistakes turned out to be the best parts.”

Plenty of Moments

Moments in Love started out with this sample Anne gave me, and I had a great idea for a melody; It kind of dropped from my fingertips. But I couldn’t really remember what I’d played. Anne, having perfect pitch, remembered it and played the notes again. And off we went. Again, having fun with it. The best version is about nine minutes long. And yes, we tried to make it the most boring piece of music possible. Actually, there’s a lot going on in the track, thanks to Gary playing around, adding effects to the percussion parts.” Well, this little nine-bar-loop-tune must have inspired a lot of other recording artists. It has been sliced, dissected slowed down or sped up in more than a hundred songs, mostly hiphop/R’nB. J.J.: “I know it was played during Madonna & Sean Penn’s wedding ceremony, I know it’s been used a couple of times. So, I’m aware of it, but I don’t know all of these songs. The fact that it’s so widely appreciated: I think it’s great!”

Full-time jobs

Aside from being part of the ZTT production team for the first half of the ’80’s, and being part of AON, he was a freelancing Fairlight programmer, remixer and producer. “It was just working, working, working. I did the bits and pieces, and was just having a lot of fun while doing it. Most of the time I had no idea how it would end up on a record.”One of his first jobs as a producer was with the Pet Shop Boys. J.J.:  “Artists like the Pet Shop Boys always renew themselves, looking for different people to work with. When I was asked to work with them, I basically was thinking I’d be making another ZTT kind of record. But it wasn’t that way at all!”

“I used to bring my entire collection of sounds, carrying the floppy disks around in this big brown bag. Mostly I’d just go there, sit down and be like: ‘Ok, let’s play around…’ ” Laughing: “That was me, being a producer back in the ’80’s. Now, I would sit down, ask about the idea and talk it through.”

Second life

After being in the music industry for more than fifteen years, J.J. decided to move into another direction. He became a teacher in IT at two Oxfordshire high schools. His good old Series IIx was collecting dust. “For a long time, it just sat there in my house, this big machine. I wasn’t really doing anything with it. You know, you start to have a family, having other responsibilities… I figured I might just sell it. So I sold it, back in 1995 I think.”

His students didn’t know about his former career. That was until the Internet became commonplace. “It never came up, except at the end of my teaching career, not long before my retirement my students began looking up their teachers: ‘Hey, Mister J, is that you?’ ” By the time he retired, little by little, the music making returned into his life.

For that, he needed to retrieve his personal sound library. “I hooked up with a friend of mine in Bristol. He had some disks stored from 1982. I could tell immediately, from my handwriting, what was on them. Like opening up a file somewhere in my brain. You know, It all comes down to labeling your files properly.“ He also got some help from the members of the Fairlight community on Facebook. “I think I got all of my sounds back right now. It’s nice to have them back.”

Credit: Marc Pinder

Final thoughts

He still loves the instrument, but doesn’t really feel like using it anymore. “The Fairlight, it’s not the easiest piece of equipment to carry around. You need to look after it, be careful with it… They’re not the easiest machines for playing live. I use Macs and soft synths now, for I don’t like to carry heavy stuff around.” Laughing: “You see, I’m a bit of a lazy person, and put everything in a rucksack!”

“But It’s nice to know there are still people out there, caring for these sounds and caring for such old machines like the Fairlight. For me, it was great to work with. And back in the day, it was revolutionary. But to me, it’s all about coming up with ideas and creativity for making the music. You don’t necessarily need a Fairlight for that.”

Dudley Jeczalik Langan reboot Art of Noise's In Visible Silence - live at the British Library, March 2018. Credit: Marc Pinder
Credit: Marc Pinder

 

Links / additional sources: 

The Art of Noise Online https://theartofnoiseonline.com/JJ-Jeczalik.php

WhoSampled.com: https://www.whosampled.com/Art-of-Noise/Moments-in-Love/

The black-and-white photo and the one @ Monsterrat Studio’s, taken from the J.J. Jeczalik Appreciation group on Facebook