Tag: Art of Noise

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

Peter Kersten – synthesizer and MIDI expert

Books, manuals, schematics, a DX7…  It was the ’80’s and Peter dived deep into the world of MIDI, computer programming and synths. Films like Liquid Sky and Electric Dreams, and music made by The Art Of Noise made him fall deeply in love with the sound of the Fairlight. He bought his own in 1995. “The manual that came with it was as thick as two phonebooks. I’ve read it from cover to cover. It took me 48 hours.”

Peter Kersten, born and raised in the south of the Netherlands, grew up in the sixties, listening to The Beatles and learning how to play the recorder. “Back in the day, that’s were you had to start.” In the seventies, he traded in his recorder for the organ. “When you’d hit it real hard, the key contacts made random contact and it would produce sounds in the most peculiar way, reminding me of sound-effects produced by synthesizers. I loved those sounds, so I guess that’s where it all started!”

Gradually, he became more infatuated with electronics and synths. “There was this electronics magazine, providing a DIY-kit for building your own modular synth. That, and music by Tangerine Dream, Rick Wakeman and Klaus Schulze got me into electronics studies.” Later on, he switched to chemistry, got a job and bought his first second-hand synth, a Korg MS-10. In the eighties, after he got his hands on a DX7 in 1983, he decided to learn everything about programming.

MIDI-wizard

“I loved creating my own sounds. It got me interested in using computers for saving the sounds I had made. A DX7 has 145 parameters, writing them all down on paper took 15 minutes, that’s just for one sound! So I started out with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+, followed by the Commodore 64 and the Atari ST. The one thing about the DX7: you can’t make those thick and big string sounds with it. For that, I bought the Roland JX-8P.  That’s when I stumbled upon System Exclusive. I knew my way around MIDI, but didn’t get around SysEx that much. I wanted to know all about it. And so, I dived right into that particular subject and learned all I could.” Unlike most of us, Peter does enjoy reading manuals. In fact: manuals are his favourite form of literature. All this studying made him become quite the MIDI and synth expert. “One thing led to another. I started programming and writing software myself. I wrote an editor/bankmanager for the JX-8P and a universal dump-utility for SysEx. I also started doing Cubase demonstrations and I served as an adviser for musicians and MIDI users. In 1989 I also started to import and sell Geerdes software.”

Later on in his career, he was offered a job as synth expert in a local music store. “For two days a week. Great thing about that: it gave me a chance to experiment and get to know more instruments thoroughly. And yes: I’ve read all the manuals…”

Look, but don’t touch

“Now, the first time I heard a Fairlight; that was back in 1983 when I saw Liquid Sky. Hearing that Sarrar-sound, I thought: ‘This is something special’.  The use of the Fairlight CMI was mentioned in the film credits. Well, I fell completely in love. A few years later, I attended this demo show at the Sheraton hotel, Antwerp, where several companies were promoting their products. Synton, the firm that handled the import for Ensoniq and for Fairlight in the Benelux, showed a Fairlight system. It had a price tag of FL 200.000 (about 103.000 USD; 90.755 Euro). The house I live in cost FL 150.000!”

“Sitting in front of that green screen. It’s magic…”

“It was set up in a room. Visitors were allowed to look at it, but they didn’t give a demo; such a shame. That day, I decided to buy an Ensoniq Mirage, the rack version. Although the specs are in many ways similar to those of the CMI, its sound is much less sophisticated. It can’t produce the powerful basses Fairlights are known for. For instance, the bass sounds on Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.… You just know they were using a Fairlight for that, you try to emulate that sound because you’re a fan, and… You end up frustrated, with this big frown on your face!”

Vintage treasures

In the early nineties, Peter met Michael Thorpe from Touched By Sound. Peter: “Digital synths were taking over and the ‘Oldies’ were being sold for a song. In search of a MultiMoog, I came into contact with Michael. He already was into selling and re-selling vintage gear, and we hooked up. Little by little, people were rediscovering the warmth of true analogs again. We jumped right into that gap, starting a business that turned out to be a very thriving one.”

“Every other day, Michael was sending over faxes, containing long lists of synths he acquired. One day, I spotted a few Fairlights on those lists, and for an affordable price. I thought about buying a Synclavier, I thought about buying the unique and rare Technos Axcel, which was stored in my house at that time, but the Fairlight… It was just more special to me. So, in 1995, I got my Series IIx.”

“It got delivered to me by Michael in person and his colleague. I took it in, stacked it up and spent the first moments just looking at it. I could hardly believe it was actually there. Suddenly, my doorbell rang again. It was Michael, smiling, holding up the ignition key which is needed to fire up the system.
It’s not like you can play it right away. Just the opposite. It takes a lot of learning; you have to immerse yourself in it. Nowadays, you can search the internet, watch tutorials, ask your questions in a Facebook group… Back then, you had to make do with the manual. It was about as thick as two phonebooks. It took me about 48 hours to read it. I didn’t get any sleep, I just couldn’t put it away! When I started using the Fairlight, it exceeded all my expectations.”

A box of pure magic

“According to the serial number, the unit was built in april 1985, and judging from the high serial-number, it’s one of the last IIx’s that were produced. I never saw a higher number listed, so it might even be the last one… The system I initially bought was previously owned by OMD. However, as it turned out, that one was already sold. Instead I got the one that used to belong to J.J. Jeczalik from the Art of Noise, so I wasn’t too disappointed! In fact, I was overjoyed, because I was a big fan of their work! It came with a truckload of floppy discs (over 200!). In truth, I haven’t even checked them all out yet. It’s great to have a collection of famous sounds, but to me, it’s not just about having famous libraries, and I don’t feel the need to do remakes of Art Of Noise-tracks. Why should I? It’s about the instrument itself, and what you can do with it.

“There was this one time a friend of mine dropped by, also a huge Fairlight fan. He felt kind of depressed. I told him: ‘Well, I got just the thing to cheer you up a bit.’ So I fired up the Fairlight and we spent an hour, just listening to a chord put on hold, hearing all the nuances of the Sarrar-sound. Beautiful! Usually, I sit myself down and just play or create new sounds. And before I know it, hours have passed.”

Final thoughts

It’s well-built, outstanding craftsmanship. It’s just beautiful to look at and is able to produce awesome, breathtaking sounds in a way that only Fairlights can do. I’m a huge fan of the IIx and much less of the Series III; this one, the Iix, has much more character. The light pen, the harmonics page, its sound… Sitting in front of that green screen: it’s just magic. I don’t think I will ever sell it, no matter what they’ll offer me. The Fairlight stays with me, for as long as I may live.”