In my recent visit to my home town Glasgow (not really my home town, but it sure feels like it!) I met up with my friend Chris Geddes to see his and Brian McNeill’s new dedicated electronic studio, Glasgow Electronic Music Studio. An incredibly well equipped facility located in the West End’s Hidden Lane, a small back street in the Finnieston area, known for having quite a few other creative and art-related businesses.
The vast array of analogue synths (vintage and not so vintage) is impressive. I was particularly impressed with the Maxi-Korg (or Korg 800DV), a duophonic analogue synthesizer released in 1975. A very unique sounding synth, which is becoming increasingly rare. Anyway, this was just one out of quite a few other pieces of electronic history!
So… after my return to Spain, I decided to send a few questions to Chris to let him explain, in his own words, what the plans are for this fantastic new venture. Here is what he has to say.
Chris, could you tell us how this whole idea came about and what are some of the plans for the near future?
It was my partner in the studio, Brian McNeill who had the idea of setting something up together. He was the keyboard player in China Crisis back in the 80s, and owned a lot of the classic synths at the time. More recently he’d been working as a studio engineer and had collaborated with Stuart on his God Help the Girl project, then carried on doing stuff with B&S over the past few years. Anyway Brian had been buying quite a bit of gear recently: the new Moogs and Korg, modular stuff, a new Prophet etc, and was looking to do more than just have it sitting in the house, and he knew I had a decent amount of kit too so suggested we pool our resources. I’d actually thought years ago about getting some synths set up in the room we’re now using, which is a back office at the band’s practice space and office, but it was one of these things I never got around to. Thankfully Brian was a bit more proactive than me, so we actually got the ball rolling. Over the tail end of last year and the beginning of this we got the room sorted and put everything in. It was a bit drawn out because the band are also working on new recordings that Brian is heavily involved in, but now we’re up and running, and looking to get people in to work on projects.
Can you give us a rundown of all the equipment (or highlights) that the studio can offer?
We’ve got a pretty good mix of old and newer stuff, I think. There’s two MS20s, an original and a new kit one, the Maxi Korg you mentioned above, Moog Voyager and sub 37, Dave Smith Prophet 6, Roland Jupiter 8, SH101, TB303, TR606 and new TR09, a Yamaha TX816, which is like 8 DX7s in a rack, Brian’s Eurorack modular, a couple of patchable desktop synths from Oberheim and Macbeth, a Siel string machine, Wurlitzer piano, a Space Echo and a couple of other vintage reverbs.
Can you tell us about a couple of your favourite synths and why you think they are special?
My absolute favourite is the Jupiter 8. I just love making sounds on it and playing, can do it for days. It can sound ridiculously lush, but also can do weird or wrong in a pretty interesting way, and even a pretty thin sounding patch turns into a monster in unison mode. And the arpeggiator’s really cool of course.
Brian’s great at programming it too, he had one back in his China Crisis days, and I love hearing the stuff he does with it. The one we’ve got has a midi kit fitted which makes it velocity sensitive from another keyboard, although it’s global, not per note, so if you play the last note of a chord quietly the whole volume drops. That makes playing it a whole different experience too.
Another one I really like is the Macbeth Micromac. It’s a patchable mono synth with similar architecture to a Minimoog, but with a few extra features like oscillator sync, extra lfos. Again it just sounds incredible. A lead patch with three slightly detuned oscillators really tears out of the speakers. I thought it might be similar to the voyager, but playing them side by side they’ve really got totally different characters.
I’ve been really enjoying getting to grips with the modular stuff as well, that’s a whole new world for me.
I can see many advantages to a studio like this, what can people expect when they come through the door and how do you see the studio influencing the Glasgow music scene?
We’re really up for working however people want. If somebody wants us just to switch things on and leave them to it we’ll do that, or if someone comes in with ideas and wants Brian or me to programme sounds and engineer and play parts we’ll do that. One thing I can see us doing a lot is if someone has a project where they’ve used a lot of soft synths then we could easily just spend a few hours coming up with some alternative sounds. We’d like to build a relationship with other studios too, like Chem 19 and Green Door. Obviously we’re not competing with them because we won’t be recording live bands but if they have projects where they could use some of the instruments we’ve got it should be pretty easy to share sessions.
We spoke about soundtrack composing amongst other things, and people know you mostly for being part of Belle and Sebastian. Will we see any of your own compositions coming out of this great place?
Yeah, soundtrack work is something else we’d definitely be interested in doing, whether it’s Brian or me doing the work, or having other composers as clients at the studio.
I need to be stricter with myself about recording what I do. Really when you’re in the studio and programming you should always have your DAW recording what you’re doing when you muck around. It’s so easy to come up with something that could be the basis of a track when jamming on the modular, or programming a patch on the Jupiter 8, but if you don’t get it down in that moment sometimes it’s gone. Move a knob and you’ve ruined it!
We’re planning to get a soundcloud up and regularly post things from the studio there, just so people can hear the kind of sounds we’re making, so even if I don’t take things any further than that hopefully there’ll be music coming out from time to time.