Yamaha TX81Z synth module 1988-1996

Yamaha TX81Z synth module 1988-1996 Yamaha TX81Z synth module

Compared to the disappointment of the FB-01, this unit was far more useful. It was capable of playing multiple sounds simultaneously, and it could load DX100 sounds. It also had additional editing options, which allowed more complex waveforms than the DX100. It was still a step down from the Yamaha DX7, but it received heavy usage. It was also home to one particular preset sound known as “lately bass”, which still turns up in music to this day.

In retrospect, the decision to use these sorts of four operator fm synths was entirely economical. Had I any sense (or more money), I most likely would have chosen other options. That being said, the brittle and harsh sounds of these synths became part of the overall sound of T4M, like it or not.  

Yamaha MT-2X four track 1988-1994

Yamaha MT-2X four track 1988-1994 Yamaha MT-2X four track

The MT-2X was a garden variety entry-level 4 track cassette recorder, similar to the Tascam models that were coming out at the time. After years of being banged around, transported in a suitcase with little or no padding, and being exposed to cigarette and fireplace smoke in our basement studio, the erase head ceased to function. I could play recordings back, but not record. Essentially, this rendered the 4 track close to useless, but we still used it as a mixing board/playback only device.

In many cases the simple bass and treble controls were our primary means of EQing our mixes.

By 1990, I had periodic access to other 4 track machines, so I never bothered to have the MT-2X repaired. In retrospect, the partial death of the MT-2X put a significant damper on the creative process for most of 1990-91

Yamaha RX-17 drum machine 1988-1990

Yamaha RX-17 drum machine 1988-1990 Yamaha RX-17 drum machine

In terms of songwriting, this drum machine bridged a gap prior to the purchase of the TX16W sampler in 1989. Besides finally having access to drum sounds, this was the first device I worked with which was, as a default, pattern based (as opposed to linear) much like Creator, the computer sequencing program we later used on most of our material. Also similar to later sequencing programs, it had a “piano roll” screen where midi notes could be visualized and altered. This sort of stuff was really impressive after using the two character LED screen on the QX-21. In terms of visualizing and editing MIDI notes, this piano roll environment has remained the standard on most MIDI sequencing programs right up to the present day.

I wouldn’t say I was ever in love with the sounds on the RX-17, but it was at the very least, an education. The limitations and the dullness of the preset drum sounds did result in some improvisation, and I got some decent results by distorting the drums once in a while. ►Drums from "Fixture"

Yamaha DDS-20M sampling delay pedal 1988-1989

Yamaha DDS-20M sampling delay pedal 1988-1989 Yamaha DDS-20M sampling delay pedal

This foot pedal was significantly cheaper than the digital multi-effects units available at the time, and it had an added bonus that when dynamically changing delay times, the pitch of the delayed sounds would smoothly change pitch. I was a big fan of this particular effect. Some digital delay units had a tendency to click and stutter when the delay times were changed.

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1988 - Citizen

With no real musical experience, but a lot of enthusiasm to be on the "creative" side of the "music" "industry", I had started to assemble a collection of entry-level MIDI equipment starting in 1987.

The whole idea of MIDI sequencing was pretty alien to me, and prior to the internet, skulking around music stores and awkwardly pestering sales people was my primary means of learning about the gear. Eventually, after getting patchy information, which I promptly misunderstood, I bought the cheapest MIDI synth and sequencing gear I could find to learn the rudiments of the process.

By the summer of 1988, I discovered how little I knew, and could barely put an idea together. I had also realized that certain key elements were missing from the equation, like drums and vocals. Still, within a few days of getting a four track cassette recorder and a new synth module, I recorded a short idea that later became the bass line for a very early version of “Citizen” while figuring out how to use the new equipment.

By the fall of 1988, I purchased 2 more Yamaha products – an RX 17 drum machine (with bonus “latin” percussion), and a “sampling” digital delay pedal. Shortly after that, a reworked version of the original Citizen idea was put together, specifically in the wee hours of the morning on Christmas day. Lyrics were written shortly after, in 1989, but were never recorded with this version.

I met Martin Deyotte around this time, and we started hanging out in a basement studio where I had my gear set up, more “basement” than “studio”. During this period I continued to figure how to use the gear, and attempted to make some sort of music that actually pleased me. Success was extremely limited...

Martin proposed a band name based on hearing a random sound byte from televangelist Jimmy Swaggart shouting about “the Fourth Man”, and it stuck.

There was much meandering for the next few months, still trying to squeeze decent sounds out of the gear. There was also a great source of confusion as to exactly what it was I was trying to do. I had a bit of a New Wave/alternative 80s music hangover, and was still listening to bands like Bauhaus and Ultravox. On the other hand, I was also a fan of the crankier, noisier music one became acquainted with hanging out on the periphery of the punk rock/alternative scene - bands like Big Black, as well as old classics like the Stooges. To confuse matters more, Martin and I were big fans of most of the 1970s David Bowie catalogue, and a steady diet of whatever was being played at the “alternative” nightclubs in the downtown area. 

As an aside – around 1988 I went to see a show at the Vancouver night club Luv-a-fair: a new band called Numb were the headliners, with a band called the Resilient Stomachs as support. I was really impressed with how little gear the Resilient Stomachs had. Also, they had some of the same equipment as I did. Numb had tons of really impressive gear that I couldn’t even fathom. I found out years later that the two members of the Resilient Stomachs were Chris Peterson and Rhys Fulber, later in Front Line Assembly. I ended up joining Numb about 6 years later, and we toured with FLA.

Back in 1988, I was becoming strongly drawn to the industrial music that was coming out at the time, and Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, and Laibach were all becoming increasingly appealing as I moved away from the Goth and New Romantic styles.

Another strong stylistic touchstone was the umbrella term “cyberpunk”. Movies like “Videodrome”, “Bladerunner”, “Alien”, and “The Terminator”, with a gritty dystopian perspective on science fiction were still relatively new and exciting avenues to explore. I had also always been pretty hung up on the odd-ball band Sigue Sigue Sputnik, who had not only pulled together a good cartoonish cyberpunk look, but also had used repetitive sequenced bass lines with plenty of stolen samples and tape loops from movies in the genre.

The term “cyberspace” was still being bandied about as a new concept, and to the public at large, the reality of a ubiquitous internet was still in the realm of science fiction. Both suckers for science fiction and being fatalistic, Martin and I were lapping it up like kittens at a dish of milk.