TRACK #1: “geoid” from “landform”
Bruce Gall (BG): That’s the final track from the latest album by computerchemist called “landform”. That was “geoid” which leads me very nicely into my very first guest interview on Sunday Synth. I’m speaking to Dave Pearson of Computerchemist. Hi Dave, welcome along to Sunday Synth, and thanks for taking the time to speak to me today.
Dave Pearson (DP): Hi Bruce, thanks for having me along.
BG: Now, we’ll get into the details of your albums very shortly, but first, you now live in Hungary, but where did you come from originally in the UK, and, I believe Hungary has quite a healthy EM scene going on there, moreso than here in the UK. Is that true, and if so, why do you think that is?
DP: Yeah, originally from Birmingham, moved to a place called Burntwood when I was quite young, spent most of my adult life there really. It’s right on the edge of what you could call the “Black Country”, or, as the locals would call it, “The Blak Kuntrayyye, erm, yow knaow, erm” so i’ts a real “yim, yam, yom soerta playce”!
Yeah, it’s not just the EM, it seems to be music in general, everything from classical to rock, everything seems to be really well represented over here. There’s an awful lot of live bands appearing everywhere, they’re crawling out of the woodwork and they’re all incredibly good in terms of their quality and their musicianship. Even if you don’t like that particular sort of music, you can’t help but think “well, they’re good!”. I don’t know the real reason why that is, I think primarily the culture here, as I think in most European countries, is very much to embrace the arts, and to see somebody who excels in that particular sort of field as somebody talented, there seems to be a lot of classical musicians here for example. I don’t know if that’s a throwback to older times or wether that’s something deeply ingrained in the psyche here, it’s a difficult question to answer.
BG: Now I’ve been listening to your albums recently and although theres a very definite berlin school sound in your music, I believe you have a bit of a background in rock and metal music which may be of interest to listeners as ARfm is predominantly a rock music station. So, can you give us a little insight into some of the music that influenced you earlier in your career, apart, of course, from Tangerine Dream?
DP: Well, I think the Friday Rock Show with “Thomas the Vance” was compulsory listening for me, god rest his soul, that was the thing when I was at school we always used to tune into religously on a Friday night. Obviously a bit later on, when we could go down pubs, I was down the Highwayman in Cheadle on a Friday night at what I would have considered to be most loudest rock disco on the planet, well, that I know of at the time anyway. So I think that was pretty much the sort of compulsory fodder… what’s my earliest memories? Steve Hackett’s live performance at Reading on the radio, and I was just blown away by his guitar work. He was a very underrated guitar genius, I think. Pink Floyd, obviously. Dave Gilmour, he’s the only guitarist I know who can get so much emotion from six strings and a plectrum. The staple rock fodder, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Gillan solo stuff, Bernie Torme, fantastic sound. Led Zep, obviously. And more “off the road” stuff I suppose you could say, like Motorhead, Hawkwind, Gong, Van der Graff, that sort of thing. Keyboard players – Emerson, Wakeman, Lord – I think you could say they were all influences – the Nice, ELP. More technical rock like Rush, Saga, who later went onto be Dream Theater, which I only found out recently actually, I thought “blimey! Dream Theater, don’t they sound like Saga!”. Really way off stuff as well, post rock stuff like Public Image Limited, I think their debut album and “Metal Box” were just pure genius, you know? I think Keith Levene is an absolute guitar legend for me, and Jah Wobble possibly the tightest sounding bassist in the known universe…
In terms of things I played in? Well, we had Mark Gemini Thwaite, he was my first contact with heavier styles of music, he went onto Spear of Destiny, The Mission, Mob Research. I played in a couple of bands with him, then I switched to a more heavy, well, you could say more MOR really, called China. We played support for Bernie Torme at Staffs Poly at the time… it’s all universities now, cor blimey I’m ancient! The band split up finally, the bassist, Malcolm Gould, and the drummer, Mick Donovan, I think they went onto Marshall Law. We played at all sort of venues… JB’s in Dudley, the Highwayman mentioned earlier in Cheadle… that was good, it was rock, it was fun, I liked it, I was really in the loop at the time. I went on then to play in a blues band, then a Greek band….. you can tell by now I was going a bit off the rails really! I think during that time I thought well, I’m a keyboardist, I like playing the keyboards, but I really like the EM sort of stuff, and I think all that rock has had a huge huge impact on how I play, and I guess that’s why it’s not coming out as traditional “plinky plonky”. It’s got a lot of heavier influences definitely in there. And that’s not to say it’s all clunky old 70’s stuff either, because there are some fantastic bands around at the moment. I think Mars Volta is probably the closest thing I can think of to a true successor to bands like Zep, I really do. Briliant – it’s different, it’s off the wall, and it’s fantastic.
BG: So Dave, your first album came out 2 years ago now called “atmospheric”, what’s the background to the album, or is the title self-explanatory? Although the track titles are a bit of a mystery to me with names like “flight of f” and “french game idea”. What’s it all about and how do you go about writing a debut because there must be so many ideas flying around your head, where do you start? I’m always interested in composer’s writing processes.
DP: It was summer 2006 I think when I started getting the ideas finally to get the album together. I think it was about 20 years overdue, I remember my old roadie Fozz had been asking me to get an album up, and it took 20 years! It all sort of really blossomed out after I put some of the older tracks on myspace. I was really stunned by the responses I was getting from people just coming out of the blue and leaving some comments. I thought there must be something in it, so I dusted down all the kit, got ‘flight of ‘f” together first of all, then ‘atmospheric’ close behind it. ‘atmospheric’ was inspired by something I’d heard on the internet. It was basically the sounds of space, literally, from a load of satellites called the “cluster-1 spacecraft” which are measuring the magnetosphere around the earth. I know this sounds quite dry, but bear with me! The sounds it makes are just awesome. What you’re actually listening to is the sounds of the solar wind as it actually hits the edge of the Earth’s magnetic field, and the sounds you get of it are absolutely frightening. It’s not sound in the true sense of the word, you don’t hear anything in space, it’s the radio signals that this guy called Professor Gurnett from NASA at the university of Iowa has recorded and put up on the web, like “here’s some recordings of the magnetosphere” and when I heard it – I thought, this is absolutely incredible! This is the sound of something that is not of this Earth, but it is something that actually manifests itself as something you probably know – the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights – and this is sound it makes – in space! I was that blown away by it I thought I’ve got to do something with this, you just can’t leave something like that, and so I basically penned “atmospheric” around the inspriation I’d got from listening to the sounds and incorporated those sounds into the piece as well. One I’d started on this I was on a bit of a roll then, so I really got into gear and put together some other ideas I’d had churning around as well.
“French Game Idea” – having basically got all the stuff up onto myspace, getting the tunes up that would eventually find their way onto the album, I had a guy from UbiSoft contact me from Quebec about a potential new game they were coming up with. It was a massively multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG – well, they’re French, and I love French games, I always have. I don’t know what it is about them – they’re so much more off-the-wall than the predictable stuff you tend to get from the UK and the US. He wanted creepy, dark, moody stuff so I put together a swatch to hand off to him, to see how it went. They were really happy with it, they’d got all the artwork together but unfortunately the game didn’t get past the funding stage, at the time I think there were far too many World of Warcraft type games doing the rounds and unfortunately that was one that never made it. But I really liked what I’d done, and I’d done it in a style that I thought was worthy of inclusion on an album, so I put it on “atmospheric” because it would’ve been a shame to lose it.
BG: Nice one Dave, so that’s my curiosity put to rest as far as the titles go! So, let’s listen to “french game idea” from the album “atmospheric”.
TRACK #2: “french game idea” from “atmospheric”
BG: You’re listening to Sunday Synth on ARfm with Bruce Gall. Time for some ads now, I’ll be back very shortly where I’ll be chatting further with Dave Pearson of Computerchemist.
BG: Welcome back, I’m chatting to Dave Pearson of Computerchemist today. We didn’t quite get around to the ins and outs of the track “flight of ‘f'” Dave, due to the necessary ad break.
DP: Flight of ‘f’ – yeah, that was a good one. It was in the key of F! It was kind of a nod and a wink to Van der Graaf, because I always liked “Pioneers over ‘C'” – which was actually about the speed of light, nothing to do with the key – but I thought, well, it’s a bit of a nod and a wink in their direction. The tune itself is more classic “Berlin School” though. Composing processes? Generally, it’s just a case of sitting down at the keyboard, getting the metronome going, coming up with a couple of riffs really and then seeing where they go. They just tend to organically grow, the difficulty is in trying to contain them, you don’t want to end up with something that sounds like millions of tracks trying to go over each other, you’re trying to aim for minimalism but at the same time try and get a full sound so it is a pretty tricky balance. I tend to find myself pruning a lot of the stuff back so that you just end up with the essence of the tracks. You might have detected that there is very much of a rock bias going through, so one thing you will notice with the work is quite a lot, a dominant amount in fact, of rock drumming and there’s also quite a lot of guitar in here as well, so it’s really about trying to maintain that balance which can get quite interesting.
BG: Yeah, it certainly can! OK then, let’s hear the track that kickstarted “atmospheric”, this is “flight of ‘f'”.
TRACK #3: “flight of ‘f'” from “atmospheric”
BG: So Dave, you’ve had a few musical changes over the years. How did you find the transition from the rock and blues you were playing earlier in your career to the EM sound we hear now? I’m sure it’s as fascinating to you Dave, as it is to me, but what do you think that keeps this Berlin School style going so strong? The “other” styles such as new age flits in and out of popularity all the time but Berlin School always retains that almost cult status. My theory is that rockers can identify with this sound. I saw TD in Edinburgh towards the end of last year and it was amazing how many guys were going around wearing Iron Madien or Guns’n’Roses t-shirts. It seems to have that strange connection, doesn’t it?
DP: Yeah Bruce, I don’t think it’s a transition as such. I was always into rock, always into EM. To me, it didn’t really matter whether I was playing either. There’s no real great leap that you need to do from one to the other, and I think you kind of touched on that with your observation of the sort of people who frequent the TD gigs. It was like that back in the early ’80s as well when I used to go and see them quite a lot. It may have something to do with the roots of the music coming from a common background really. People have called me, or have certainly put a tag on me of Berlin School. I’m quite happy to wear that tag, but really it’s very difficult to pigeonhole. Berlin School is, by definition an anti-everything kind of thing. It started in the very early 70s with bands like TD. They were notable because of the deep driving basslines, the very mechanical, rhythmic sounds, and then the soloing over the top which just used to go on for ages… I think a lot of rockers can identify with that sort of thing. It’s got its roots I suppose in the psychedelia of the late ’60s, things like the “motorik” style as well, although that’s more popular with other branches of what called be called “Krautrock”. That’s a term my German friend told me I can actually use these days, although it’s a bit of a catchall kind of phrase because it covers things like the Berlin School, the Dusseldorf school sound which are bands like Kraftwerk and so on, but they all stem back from a pot of experimental, almost anti-establishment music. And because of that, you do find a lot of people identifying with that sort of thing – the 4/4 beats, the very rhythmic backgrounds, and very chillout sorts of stuff. I think the “motorik” style – I’m not sure where the name came from but I do know that Hawkwind are mixed up in all that as well, their early music used to lean quite heavily on the same kind of rhythmic ideas and concepts, so it was all sort of swimming around in the same kind of thing. So, very difficult to nail down a genre and say this is the sort of people that like that sort of thing. I think George Harrison famously summed this sort of thing up quite well when he was asked about the Rutles and the Beatles and did he have a problem with that, and he said “well, we’re all part of the soup” and I think that’s true of most musical “genres” really. What’s in a name?
BG: So, onto the second album, “icon one”. 5 tracks, two of them in the 10 minute bracket, 2 epics spanning 17 and 18 minutes, and the final short piece, “the message”, which seems to be a little bit different from the rest of the album, in my opinion anyway. Is there a message there Dave, and by the way is my favourite track from “icon one”. It’s always the same with me, the shortest track is the one I like best. It’s always been like that!
DP: Yeah, it’s turned out to be quite popular, “the message” on “icon one”. I guess the length of the track being a lot shorter than a lot of the other tracks on the album probably has a lot to do with that! There is a message in there, it is a very serious message in fact. The whole album was based around the concept of the power switch – the “icon one” and “icon zero”, which you get on the front of virtually every device made today, you know, the “one” and the “circle”? To me, that represented the symbol for power – in all of its forms – and very specifically energy. What I wanted to try and do was get a thing going where you’ve got “icon one”, which is the power, it’s the energy and the creator of everything. The problem with that is too much energy is very, very bad – it’s going to kill us. If we carry on the way we are on this planet and keep using it all up, we’re going to end up with nothing, and that’s a very bad thing to get into. So, too much “power” is bad – but “icon zero” on the other hand is the opposite – entropy, decay – the ultimate “off switch”, almost a rebellion against that. But again, that’s a bad thing, because too much of that means we just end up getting nowhere. So really, you have to try and strike a balance in the middle, that balance on the album is “chaos theory” which is a bit like the fulcrum of the album, and that’s an attempt to try and get, like yin and yang, the two opposing forces to try and strike that balance together – in other words, if we can use things responsibly then we’ve got a good chance of staying in one piece. “the message”, at the end of the album following “icon zero”, where effectively everything gets destroyed, is a message of hope, to say we’re not there yet, we’re not yet at the point where we just give up and throw in the towel, we can still make a difference, so “the message” is just really that – we all have within us the power to make that difference.
TRACK #4: “the message” from “icon one”
BG: Today, I’m chatting with Dave Pearson, of Computerchemist, and we’re going to run a wee competition here, where listeners can win themselves signed copies of all three computerchemist albums – “atmospheric”, “icon one” and the new album, “landform”. So, answer one simple question, get yourselves three brilliant CDs – not a bad deal! Dave, I believe you have a question lined up, yes?
DP: Yeees I do, Bruce! And I thought I’d make it a bit devious actually. So, let’s see if you guys out there have been paying attention. In the computerchemist interview earlier, Bruce mentioned he went to see TD in Edinburgh last year, and he mentioned two bands that he saw on T-shirts there. If you can name both of those bands, that he saw on the T-shirts mentioned earlier, send em in, and with any luck, you could be the proud owner of a set of three signed computerchemist albums. The lines are open now, take your time, you’ve got all three lifelines intact… I’m not really Chris Tarrant by the way, but it does sound a bit like it don’t it!
BG: OK, thanks very much Chris, er, Dave! So, we have time for one more piece now. And if you’re thinking of entering the competition, then here’s what you can be enjoying in the not too distant future. So it just about gives me time to say many thanks Dave, it’s been a real pleasure. You’ve made the very first Sunday Synth interview very easy for me so thanks very much, and I wish you success with the new CD “landform”.
DP: Thank you, Bruce. It’s been an honour and a privilege to have been on Sunday Synth on ARfm, I’ll certainly keep you in the loop with any new stuff that’s coming up. Sould be a new album coming out towards the end of this year, some gigging dates will be coming up very, very shortly as well, so you’ll be the first to know of any new developments. So, until the next time we meet, thanks very much again, and see you soon.
TRACK #5: “Darklight Drive” from “icon one”
BG: That’s “darklight drive” from “landform”, and as a postscript to that track, it’s worth mentioning computerchemist’s myspace page, http://www.myspace.com/computerchemist where you can watch a video that accompanies that track, featuring some fabulous footage from NASA. That’s really worth seeing. So, I really enjoyed that, I’ll have to try it again sometime! This is Sunday Synth on ARfm.