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"Sequencer" was started during the summer of 1975 shortly after the release of Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra. House of Music, where the first Synergy album had been recorded, had been a 16 track facility. During the summer of 1975 they went through a major upgrade to 24 tracks with a new MCI JH-500 console and JH-24, 2 inch analog tape machine with dbx noise reduction.

During the weeks after I returned from Europe after having worked on Nektar's "Recycled" album, Marty Scott, president of Passport Records had been lobbying for a Synergy track that radio might play more easily than the long and demanding tracks on "Electronic Realizations". He came up with a few suggestions for remakes of previous instrumental hits. Though there were a number of different songs suggested, I remember that one was "Telstar" and another was "Classical Gas". I picked "Classical Gas" and used that as an opportunity to take House of Music's new 24 track installation on a shakedown flight.










record company publicity photo taken in the studio control room during the recording of Sequencer.

At around the same time I took delivery on some new Moog equipment. Though the new synthesizer modules weren't anything different than what had been available for a few years, the new 952 duophonic keyboard was a departure. Instead of the monophonic one-note-at-a-time keyboard that I had been using, this one put out two sets of control voltages and triggers corresponding to the highest and lowest notes pressed on keyboard. It doesn't seem like much, but the ability to play two notes at a time was a big jump in electronic music production. There is a lot of unpredictable interaction between synthesized sounds at different pitches, even when the sounds are from the same patch. When every sound is done one-at-a-time there were always a lot of surprises, backtracking and re-doing when the arrangements began to emerge on the multitrack tapes. The 952 allowed for a tiny bit of previewing (or pre-hearing) of how some simple two-part sounds and patches would work together.

"Classical Gas", recorded primarily in August of 1975 was used as a test of the new equipment. It went so well, that a nearly complete reference mix, missing some of the percussion, was included on the British release of "Electronic Realizations" on Sire Records/Phonogram UK later that fall.

A side project that contributed to the work on what became "Sequencer" also occurred during the summer of 1975. The Planetarium laser show "Laserium" had been using some of the music from "Electronic Realizations". After some meetings with the show's developers (at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, sitting near the famous "Round Table"), I was asked to develop Synergy music for a projected show with a working title of 'Laserium UFO'. Though the Laserium show never happened, a bit of the music and sonics developed for it lived on as the 'rainforest/UFO' section of "Sequence 14".

Another piece that evolved during the summer of 1975 was "Chateau". The themes had been around in various forms since the writing for "Electronic Realizations". At the sessions in France for the Nektar "Recycled" album, I had the usual amount of spare time while the other guys worked on their overdubs. I had time to refine those themes into the basic structure at a beautiful grand piano in the studio. It was one of the few times that I developed a piece on piano rather than working directly with electronic instruments. Since the Nektar sessions were at the Chateau d'Herouville Studios in France (the Honky Chateau of Elton John fame), the unnamed piece had a working title of 'Chateau'. The name stuck.

Work on writing "Sequencer" got under way in earnest during the fall of 1975 again using a Tascam 3324 4 track recorder at home to do demos of the pieces to test out patches and arrangements. Metronome click tracks from these demos were later dubbed onto the 24 track master to serve as a basis for rerecording the music in its final form. Ideas came and went, but eventual the shape of the album took form.

writing in the home studio, autumn of 1976

Studio recording got going during January 1976, back at House of Music. Both the recording and synthesis equipment was better than what had been available a year earlier during "Electronic Realizations". With the new Moog modules and filter banks I could synthesize a whole new class of string and brass sounds. That meant that the Mellotron was retired and not used on "Sequencer" (I have used it on other artists' recordings, but it hasn't appeared again on any further Synergy recordings so far). With the new equipment I was also more confident as an engineer producer, and committed more echoes and effects to the multitrack tape instead of waiting to make decisions during the mix. A lot of tape delay effects were done using a varispeeded MCI JH-110 stereo 2 track recorder, an antique (even back then) Ampex 300 full-track mono machine, and an early Eventide model digital delay line. This also made the mix a lot easier to perform later.

"S-scape" had a couple of interesting influences. The inspiration for the opening power chords came directly from The Who and Pete Townshend. The light pulsing string underlayment happened after seeing Woody Allen's "Love and Death" where he used Prokofiev's "Troika from Lieutenant Kijé" theme. I liked the general approach and rolled it into a few bars of the opening section. We had one mishap during the recording of this track. At one point the MCI 24 track recorder needed some service, as many new recorders do in their first few months. After the servicing was done, the tape heads were plugged in wrong. The erase head connectors for the tracks 1-8 and tracks 9-16 blocks were reversed. When I punched in to record new tracks on tracks 9-16, things started to get wiped out on 1 through 8, and nothing got erased on 9-16 though a jumble of sound-over-sound overdubs started to pile up on the new tracks. It took a little while to figure out what was going on and correct it. And, of course the erased and damaged tracks had to be rebuilt and repaired. You can hear some subtle changes in the patches and printed echoes during the opening 90 seconds or so.

"Chateau" didn't have any major problems in the recording. There was an idea to process the next to the final sequence of the piece with filtering and scratchy sounds to make it sound like an old 78 RPM shellac disk (early shades of rap and hip-hop?). But, the effect never sounded quite the way I imagined it and the idea was dropped during the mix. Maybe we'll try it again someday.

"Cybersports" is a very sequence-intensive composition. It was written with the imagery in mind of the early video games like 'Pong' and such which had been out just a couple of years by 1975. The games were still extremely primitive during those days, but for anyone involved with electronics or mainframe computer graphics then, it was obvious how things would evolve. I wanted to create some sort of early anthem for the electronics gaming age. I guess it's happened by now. A sound I often get asked about is the metallic cascading downward spiraling wall of sound that punctuates several musical themes. It was more of an effects patch than anything. A rather plain and simple downward chromatic sequence was run through a DDL feedback looped through the 360 Systems analog pitch changer set to lower pitch. Since each echo iteration looped lower and lower, the echoes cascade down. The analog pitch shifter produced a lot of ring modulation artifacts, unlike today's super-clean digital pitch shifters, so the metallic tonality really built up into quite a sound.

"Paradox" which is a pairing of the Largo from Dvorak's New world Symphony and Ralph Towner's "Icarus" was suggested by Passport Records president Marty Scott. "Icarus" was another shot at using a familiar instrumental piece in order to generate some radio play. The "Largo" was a favorite of mine. Marty suggested that they might be combined, and by putting them in the same key and fooling with the timings a little, an arrangement that tied the two of them together evolved. Incidentally, Marty later went on to head a record label called Paradox.

"Sequence 14" is based on a 14 step sequence, stored in the Oberheim DS-2 digital sequencer and used as the basis for the entire piece. The techniques used for the recording are all pretty straightforward multitrack overdubbing. As mentioned earlier, the quiet rainforest "scene" in the middle is a segment that was initially developed for a never-produced Laserium planetarium laser light show. The scherzo movement at the very end of the entire piece was much longer at one time, too long, in fact. I was bold enough to do a massive editing job right on the 2 inch 24 track tape. When that one minute segment played back for the final mix, I think there was more editing tape than regular mylar backing on the multitrack. I'm guessing that there are easily 35 or 40 razor blade edits flying by. If only there had been digital editing then...

The percussion on "Sequencer" is still quite mild, made up of the limited transient dynamics that the analog synthesizers could produce back then. In spite of that, I called on Ron Howden, the drummer with Nektar, to join me in the studio for a day of incidental electronic percussion. Ron and I both played parts on the Moog keyboard, but his years of experience as a percussionist brought a perspective to the record that I wouldn't have been able to do myself.

The mix was done at House of Music using a retrofitted automation system in MCI console. The computer mix system was called Memories Little Helper and some closeup photos of it appeared in the artwork for the album cover. Mixing was done to 1/4 inch analog tape with dbx noise reduction. The Quad phenomenon had died down a lot since "Electronic Realizations" and due to the compromises in sound quality and dynamic range I decided to opt for a conventional stereo mix. Mastering to disk was performed by George Marino at Sterling Sound in New York.

During the course of recording "Sequencer", a few things happened that would influence my later projects. One was that I began getting involved with the new microprocessors that had been unleased to electronic hobbyists the previous spring with a cover story on building your own computer in the January and February 1975 issues of Popular Electronics. I gravitated to the MOS Technologies 6502 processor rather than the Intel 8080 in the Popular Electronics article. Nevertheless, it got a computer (of sorts) back into my hands for the first time since I had graduated college. The machine code that I learned for that processor was the same that was used in the Apple I computer which appeared later that year, and the Apple II in 1977.

Another was that I was travelling to upstate New York to throw in my two cents to the development of the Polymoog. One of the first prototypes of that new instrument joined me on tour with Nektar right after the completion of "Sequencer" in the spring of 1976. It would play a much bigger role in my next project, Cords and on the first Peter Gabriel album and tour.

Sequencer was launched at a joint press event held at the Atlantic Records Recording Studios in New York City on May 21, 1976. The event announced both the Sequencer album release and the new Moog Polymoog synthesizer. It was at that event that I took a phone call from producer Bob Ezrin arranged by Hamilton Brosious of AudioTechniques, a major power in the the recording studio business (and later one of the founders behind That phone call was the invitation from the Bob to work on Peter Gabriel's upcoming first solo album.






© 1998-2000 Synergy® Electronic Music, Inc.This page was last updated on April 29, 2000