Global Communication — 76 14. Story behind the best ambient album of the 90s
They met in Taunton where Middleton was studying graphic design while Pritchard would come as a DJ for friends’ parties. At one such party, Tom approached the turntable and expressed his respect for the DJ’s taste. Back then, Middleton worked with the almost unknown Aphex Twin and, at the next meeting, he brought a bag with cassettes of new stuff by the eccentric Irishman. Tom preferred a melodic sound while Mark enjoyed something more industrial. But they were united by a love for the new music from the key cities of the US: Detroit, Chicago, New York City. Each had a significant musical background. Pritchard had been a guitarist and a drummer in garage bands before electronic music came to England. Middleton had received a classical education and could play the cello and the piano. They were united by their collection of records by European veterans: Vangelis, Brian Eno, Jarre, Kraftwerk and, especially, Tangerine Dream (8 03 and 5 23 are a homage to Love on the Real Train)
Together and separately, without constraining themselves, they would realise themselves in deep house, drum and bass, breaks and electrofunk, Detroit techno, British garage and different sorts of ambient music. In the early 1990s, there was a slow growth in demand for slow music. A small movement was spreading in British clubs, where rooms were open for those who were extremely tired but still awake. Tom and Mark were interested in everything and, after listening to Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, they started thinking about how they could tell the story through sound. Then the first ideas of Global Communication appeared: emotion through sound. They approached their main work slowly. The turning point was their appearance on a compilation of the Guerrilla label, which glorified the new trends in electronic music. Another prologue to 76 14 was a remix of an album by the shoegazing band Chapterhouse, who were being promoted by their record label Dedicated. The contract with the band was terminated but the request for a remix was still there.
They approached the album with a beautiful idea: to abandon its name and the names of all the tracks. 76 14 is the total duration of all the tracks, and the same thing was done to each one of them. It’s not a coincidence, perhaps, that the album sleeve depicts the human ear. And the GC logo has a similar style. Why do you need words, prejudice, an examination of the sleeve and excitement before pressing play? You just need to listen. “Use your imagination. Numbers are chosen to identity separate tracks because ‘names’ tend to bias the listener by pre-defining images, places and feelings. This gives the listener the freedom of imagination to derive whatever he/she wishes from the music.”
12″ publishes a guide to ten tracks with one of their authors, Mark Pritchard, from FutureMusic magazine.
“The studio was called Evolution in Crewkerne, Somerset. I had it in my parents place. In the mid ’90s I moved it out into own places in Devon and Cornwall. To be honest my parent were really supportive. A friend of my Dad’s was a carpet layer and he soundproofed the room. He put carpet on the ceiling — it just gave it this really ‘dead’ sound.
The sampler I was using at the time was a Casio FZ-1, and Akai S950. We were basically creating textures and then recording them to DAT and sampling them back in the speeding them up and slowing them down, which picked up distortion and nice little defects along the way.
I had a Studiomaster mixing desk — a 16-channel desk. I didn’t have loads of gear. I had a Juno-106, a Yamaha TX81Z, that was used a lot. A 101 and a Jupiter-6 too. I borrowed a Jupiter-8 of a friend. A Kord 01/W — that was borrowed too. I had a 202 as well. Outboard-wise we were using an Alesis Quadraverb for a lot of the reverb, it had a setting in it that was a chorus/reverb that was edited that we used a lot. Aphex Twin used it a lot too. I was taking the TX81Z-type sounds and returning them and detuning them into a big detuned reverb to create ambience. Because my desk was quite noisy, we were adding more noise, which really gave the album an edge. That’s why it still stands up today.”
Here I used a Kawai K1 Synthesizer and a Juno-106 for the sweeping chords, and definitely a Jupiter-6. The main theme was from Yamaha TX81Z, it’s basically like the DX100, a rack-mounted version. I used a Roland SH-101 to get the spacey sounds. They were a nightmare to program, but I got my head around it eventually. They’re all going through a big Alesis reverb. For this album we pretty much had an idea what we wanted to do in terms of the order of the album. But at the time we came to mastering we changed the tracks around a bit.
We decided to open with this — it had a Classical feel to it. It felt like the beginning of an album. And it goes into the next track quite well.
This was also called Ob-Selon Mi-Nos as well. The name came about because a friend of mine called Paul Kemp was a fan of Star Trek and it was the name of a galaxy. This came out on Evolution Records about ’92. It was a remix. I was using a Kawai Q-80 sequencer. In a way it was quite good as there was no visual reference. The screen was four inches long and two inches wide, so it lent for happy accidents. It meant you had to know the tracks and work in your head. You’d work on patterns and then go into song mode and arrange them like that.
Looking back on it, it was a mad way of working. Instead of putting stuff in places like 32 bars, things came together in a natural way. It was more about letting it build. I could record in song mode, and make things mute and punch things in live and build it up. That was the main way of sequencing.
This was actually a remix for Sun Electric, a band on R&S Records. We changing their chords and made a track. They loved it but agreed that it wasn’t really a remix, but a whole original track. So we didn’t get paid and we ended up keeping it for ourselves. It was quite cool that they said they liked it. A lot of our remixes were like that. We didn’t end up using a lot of the original track. For me, it sounds a bit dated now. The drum loop make it sound like it comes from the era it was made it.
It’s dark, deep-space brooding track. It came from samples from Classical choir and choral pieces. We’d take one note where there was a single note and put it through a chorus/reverb setting and layer up chords so you wouldn’t hear the direct signal of the sample.
It would just be triggering reverb. We did that quite a lot. It made it sound quite atmospheric. It would just bled the edges. It was about playing low octaves and using the reverb to disguise the fact that it was a dodgy loop on the Casio FZ-1 sampler (laughs). It’s got Roland SH-101 bleeps and a rumpling quake sound, probably from a white noise sample with the resonance turned right down to get that sub bass rumbling. The Jupiter-6 is holding some suspense note as well.
This was rhythmically inspired by Digi-Dub — digital Dub music, where they were using a lot of Linndrum and DMX sort of drums and delays to make it sound more dubbed out. We never had the actual drum machines — we used some samples and added the delays and reverbs to get the desired effect. Basically the chords are from the Juno-106, playing the main theme. The bass is the TX81Z again. My friend had another one that I borrowed to double it up.
That track was a weird one. We did a version of it that we put down to cassette, which we lost. So we are trying to recreate that. It never sounded as good as the original demo, but nobody knows that but us. The main Juno-106 pad, we couldn’t get it the same. It’s close, but there was something about the original that was perfect in a way.
Through DJing and playing around, we’d met loads of people from all over the world. With this track we wanted to get them all together. We had the idea of getting them to say something on a theme in different languages. The English translation is “Global Communication, communication through the medium of sound.” I had this digital answering machine, so I got people to phone up and leave messages. I got the Russian one when we were DJing in Russia and I think Tom had a little dictaphone. My managers’s wife was Indian so she did that one. One of Tom’s friends was studying Italian so he did that one. We were asked to do some remixes for Japanese bands so the lady behind that did that one. It was mainly recorded off the answering machine so that’s why it sounds quite radiophonic. There was a French one too that we got from our Parisian booking agent.
It was a nice little skit. It breaks it up a little bit. There is a child’s voice in there too. That was Tom’s flat mate’s kid.
This and the next track are basically the same track. Kind of part one and part two. That was called Maiden voyage, which came out after the album on a 12 inch. The guitars are from a band called Chapterhouse who we remixed. They gave us all the parts off their album, all multi-tracks. They wanted us to deconstruct it and make something new — which we did and the remix album came out on Dedicated records.
Two of the members of the band came in and did the guitar parts on this in the studio. They also sang some notes that we made a choir pad out of the recording by layering them up. The white noise is a percussive element that came from the Juno-106. There is also a Rhodes chord. It’s a sample of a Rhodes patch from an Akai S01. I think Herbert might have dome the Rhodes patch. The bass is the 106 again. It was probably the last track we did on the album.
By this point I had an Akai S3000. Our sold S950 was monophonic, unless you are using the stereo outs. But were using the mono separate outs. With the S3000 you cold make chords out of the sounds. We’d signed a deal by now and I bought an S3000, which was fucking expensive (laughs). I bought extra memory for it, so we had loads of memory to work with. With the s950 there was like 40 seconds of sampling and the FZ-1 had about 10 seconds, depending on the quality. So when we go the S3000, it opened a whole new world for us. We were also using the old 104OST Atari and the Atari Cubase by then as well.
This is the one that we finished at four in the morning, the day before we had to hand it in!
It had guitar notes from a volume guitar pedal. You play the notes then put the volume up by hand to get an almost pad-like sound. I sampled four of five notes and put reverb on it to get pad notes;. It was tuned down a lot too.
It’s got a Korg 01/W for the looping percussion riff in the background, and the high line is a guitar note that was a sample, using loads of reverb. The track is quite simple. It’s one of my favorite tracks off the album.
It’s some choral work off a choir sample and I’m looping up single notes and adding reverb and adding hiss. Again it’s choir parts all layered up, using the S3000 to play chords of single note choir hits from Classical pieces and tuning them down. Then adding Qudraverb. Quadraverb chorus/reverb — that’s the sound of that album. I would actually like to get that back. I lent my unit to someone and never got it back. If I see one for sale again I’ll probably buy it.
It’s mainly Juno-106 and Zoom 9020 effects unit. It had a pitch shifter in it that we used on the 106 to make the sound almost like it was an octave down, which gave it a different character. We wanted to get that thickness of sound people like Vangelis had, but we didn’t have the Yamaha CS-80 — I got one later down the line though. We wanted to get that lush, detuned sound out the 106. We were looking to get that sound quite a lot.
That’s why the album doesn’t sound as dated as it could have done — we were used unorthodox techniquies at the time. Tuning stuff down — no presets. We were editing these synths to get the sounds we wanted instead of using their sounds and working tracks around them.