Yamaha DX-21 1992-1994

Yamaha DX-21 1992-1994 Yamaha DX-21

The DX-21 is basically a blown-up version of the DX-100, with full sized keys, and additional storage. The editing and programming is identical to the 4 operator FM synthesis in the DX-100.

Gabriel purchased the DX-21 and went deep into the same sound designing rabbit hole as I did back in the late 80s. We both had a similar attitude in that we tried to make sounds on it that it wasn’t really designed for. I purchased my DX-100 shortly after playing a Roland D-50, and found the DX-100 lacking. In Gabriel’s case, he probably would have probably done better with a few nice analog synths.

1992 - more one word titles, first and second cassette.

After “State”, “Anvil” was the next significant track that we started working on. It was started on the QX-21 in 1991, but was completed on the Creator program. With the additional editing options, the MIDI sequencing started getting a bit more intricate. The lyrics were tag-teamed between the three of us, and I’m not precisely sure what the cohesive point to them was, more than a poke at the overblown angst and drama people get into in order to feel more interesting than they are.

“Anvil” suffered the same sonic fate as most of our recordings in the early 90s. Besides our tendency to rush the vocals and lyrics, I didn’t understand that when using a narrow bandwidth “telephone” EQ and applying heavy effects processing like distortion to vocals, it’s good to layer the processed signal with the dry signal so the vocals still have some clarity. Quite honestly, the overall approach was to write the music, write the lyrics, record the vocals, and then worry about the mix later. The mix was a bunch of round holes, and our instruments and vocals were often square pegs, but we went ahead and whacked them in, regardless.

With the inclusion of the Creator program, I was eventually goaded into resurrecting “Citizen” and “Dare”. I recorded new, less human sounding vocals for them.

At about this point, Gabriel and I put together a few of the songs and sent them out to some major and independent labels. The intention on the early tracks was not so much to come up with a flawless recording or mix, but just to get it down on tape for demo purposes. The idea was that if we had enough finished ideas, we could send them out, eventually generate some interest and “get signed” to a record label. Totally naïve, but that was the plan. That being said, Gabriel and I were hesitant to view T4M as a “band”. We didn’t feel like “musicians”, and if anything, it felt more like we were simply engaged in a process, which we thoroughly enjoyed. If it panned out and turned into a source of income, great.

T4M c1992 T4M 1992 - Gabriel Abney, Martin Deyotte, David Collings: 350 Pounds of Mixed Messages

I was shuttling my sampler and computer back and forth from Gabriel’s place to mine, working at home on ideas while Martin and Gabriel worked on their own ideas using either the QX-21 or the built in sequencer on Martin’s Roland D-10.

As far as our basic dynamic for songwriting, the closest we ever got to “jamming” was for one person to be in the “hot seat” in front of the workstation set up with our gear, working on a idea, while the other person sat off to the side, listening. Eventually, inspiration or boredom would kick in, and the roles would reverse.

Like “Anvil’, “Zone” was another track that was started on the QX-21, evident in an early version where I physically turn up the QX-21’s tempo knob at the beginning of the song while recording a copy.

Worthy of note is that “Zone” contains what could best be described as a “vacuum cleaner solo” in the middle of the song. I was trying to record vocals in the walk in closet, and Martin was vacuuming in the main area of Gabriel’s apartment, which was a bit of a distraction to my process. There was a section of the song that seemed to lag for me, so I put the microphone outside of the closet and hit record. The vacuum cleaner was more intelligible than the vocals.

Somewhere in the stew of a mix was my first attempt at doing a “backwards reverb” on the vocals, where the reverb proceeds the initial sound. In the days of analog tape, it involved flipping the tape over, recording the vocals through reverb onto another track, then flipping the tape back over. I was really impressed with myself, until I realized that the results were barely audible.

The lyrics were a collaborative effort, and the results are 50% stream of consciousness garbage and 50% interesting.

All told, “Zone” is another favorite track in terms of its’ oddness. Added bonus – some of the drums were taken from a New Kids on the Block album.

I’d always liked the “Progress” idea from back in 1989, so I started pulling the old files together and expanding the idea. The lyrics came together very quickly, owing partially to the stream of consciousness approach, but also from an urgency to get the lyrics out of the way and done with. There seems to a convoluted dystopian theme of persecution and paranoia, but any further examination just lifts the lid on my low self-esteem and anxiety at the time.

Progress” was/is a bit regrettable, as I liked the song itself, but I mixed and EQed it so badly that it sounds harsh and murky. It has an overall feel to it that I still like to this day.

“Plague” was the first track that was a true collaboration between Gabriel and myself, and it’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the CD. It fell together very quickly, and we’d gotten pretty comfortable with the equipment by this point. Gabriel put in some sampled percussion sounds from a Sequential Circuits Pro One synth he temporarily had access to, as well as some synth parts from the D-10, which provided a slightly different quality than the Yamaha fm synths. We also were able to make the track a bit denser and varied, as we temporarily had access to an Akai S900 sampler. An early dub version shows almost no revisions, excluding the typical self-loathing lyrics and a few bits of tape dialogue being absent.

Curiously enough, though we had access to the S900 and the Pro One for nearly a year, I barely used them. One possibility is that it was because they were Ogre’s, and I just didn’t want to mess with someone else’s gear without their knowledge. That sounds somewhat honorable and gentlemanly, but it was more likely I was paranoid and felt somehow unworthy – an underlying theme in terms of T4M’s creative output.

The basic bones of “Guilt” came from my hearing “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson, misinterpreting the rhythm idea, and trying to emulate it. Working from memory, the basic concept that completely eluded me at the time was that the song was dropping in triplet notes on some of the drums, creating a shuffle/swing feel. “Swing” was something T4M didn’t do until much later, when we discovered what the “swing” feature on Creator was for (no kidding).

Once I started playing bits of romantic dialogue on top of the rhythm track, overblown and pretentious melodic elements seemed to make sense. It was also a chance to uncork some of my latent impulses to sound like early 80s Ultravox. Keeping with the tone of tragic-comic soap-operatic despair, I chose to call the idea “Passion”, since it reminded me of a goofy black and white perfume commercial about doomed romance. Gabriel and Martin hated the name.

An early version was put out on the first cassette, and we cleverly agreed to call it “Untitled”. I still think “Passion” would have been great. Eventually, by the time we released it on our second “full length” cassette, it had been entitled “Guilt”.

As time went by, we started to receive responses from some of the labels we’d sent the demo tapes to. What responses we did get were polite, but leaning towards the negative. Since we’d been generating additional new material during this time period, we decided to put the songs we had finished together as an EP cassette, and see if local independent stores would sell them. Gabriel did up the artwork and j-cards, and I went down to a cassette supply place for a whack of cheap blank cassettes. Besides having a few cassettes for sale at some independent record stores, we had some by the cash register a clothing store downtown that tended to shill to the alternative kids. Within a few months, we started to make money in the double digits – tens of dollars.

J-Card from first Cassett J-Card from first Cassett

Discussions and disagreements had always been a factor in the songwriting process, but with “Instinct” and “CIRS” we really hit a rut in terms of spinning our wheels. Both tracks took up a lot of time, as they went through many revisions, and we had frequent arguments regarding basic choices. There was friction on all fronts, and in terms of a creative relationship, we were starting to have some lover’s spats.

Gabriel was becoming quite astute and confident in terms of using the equipment, and he spent a lot of time getting deep into accessing and manipulating the parameters of the D-10, the Pro One, and his recently purchased Yamaha DX-21.

Around the time of “Instinct”, Gabriel started to incorporate elements of techno music, more from the ambient and acid side of things, attempting to emulate analog synth filter sweeps and putting in break beats.

Theoretically, these genres made sense to me, since I was making electronic music with found/sampled sounds and synths, but from an aesthetic perspective, I found myself unable and unwilling to share his enthusiasm. To me, it seemed like you needed to be on drugs to get into most electronica, whereas with industrial music, it already sounded like you were on drugs. Another thing was that I had a huge blind spot for anything that “grooved” or “swung” too heavily. Much of my sequencing attitude came from the mechanical, blocky Kraftwerk-inspired sequencing style of the late 1970s and  early 1980s.

“Instinct” was much less like the earlier rigid industrial tracks we had done, and for better or worse, more of a traditional “rock” track that had something of a groove to it. The music track itself was pretty good, pulling together a lot of elements, sticking with the busy “kitchen sink” approach that we had gotten into the habit of doing, but with a different feel to it. The big problem was with the vocals.

I’d written some lyrics, and was pretty comfortable with where I was going with them. They were a move away from the muttering/whispering/screaming through inhuman effects processing, and closer to my earlier approach of actually trying to sing a little. Martin and Gabriel strongly disliked the results, and in my absence, Gabriel sang his own version of the vocals, much more heavily processed, with some revisions to the lyrics. If memory serves, I called it the “backstabber mix”, as I was apparently starting to develop a protective sense of ownership when it came to songwriting by this point, perhaps even a bit of an ego. Eventually we met halfway, and I did the vocals in what I guessed was an approximation of what Gabriel and Martin had in mind. That being said, I was legitimately pissed off when I did them, and given the childish and petulant lyrical content, singing them while having a tantrum made sense, at least in theory.

Once again, based on our minimal resources and lack of experience from a production stand point, and also perhaps from being too close to the material, the final recorded track sounds pretty mushy and harsh – particularly the much disputed vocals.

“C.I.R.S.” was also a source of conflict. Gabriel worked out the bulk of the music, and granted, there were a lot of interesting ideas in there, but it was sitting badly for me.

Gabriel and Martin had come up with some lyrical ideas, and I was strongly resistant to them. As much as pretentious and oblique lyrics were a T4M trapping, I felt that many of the lyrics to “C.I.R.S.” were a bit too flowery and awkward to sing in this case. Considering some of the lines I’d written and sung to that point, it was perhaps hypocritical to point a finger, but when it came down to it, the vocals just didn’t seem to fit the song. I tried some ideas to punch things up, but nothing really took root. I was also having a problem getting on board with what I thought was a clichéd “cyberpunk” message. The song title was an acronym for “Cybernetic implant rejection syndrome”, which was taken from a role-playing game. The song felt like a misstep, or at least requiring further tweaking before committing to a final mix.

After a round of disagreements, I eventually put on mental blinders and did a set of vocals for the song based on direction from Martin and Gabriel. You can almost hear my shoulders slumping while I’m doing the chorus. ►Cirs v1

J-Card for the much maligned (by us, anyway) CIRS cassette. CIRS J-Card

Andrew Amy got in touch with us after having bought a copy of the first cassette, and we put together a second cassette with the newer material for Andrew to market through his grass-roots company, Factoria Records. Besides becoming friends with Andrew, The Fourth Man essentially became a band on the Factoria label, though our legal business relationship was quite informal.

To round out the Factoria cassette, unfortunately entitled “C.I.R.S.”, I found an instrumental track called “Dirge” that I had been working on. It seemed to have a suitable enough amount of crunch and clang to fit in as a T4M song.

Our involvement with Andrew started in late 1992, and around this time, a few things took place that slowed our momentum in terms of new material. We no longer had access to a functioning multi-track recorder, we started focusing on the previously inconceivable notion of doing live shows, and other aspects like work and school started to overshadow things.