Interview with David Morley
David Morley is a British electronic musician, born in London and later moved to Belgium. Originally a child actor, he was in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in 1975. He was the in-house engineer for R&S Records in the 1980’s and 1990’s.He worked with Andrea Parker for many years co-writing and producing her album Kiss My Arp. He has released two albums under his own name – Tilted and Ghosts. David has an album coming up in december on Anodize.
Before we get into music topics. I have to ask you : how was it to work with the great Stanley Kubrick and what would be your favorite film from him ?
1) How did you start making music ?
I started out when I was about 14 playing guitar. I then studied guitar for 2 years in Brussels but the main thing with this was that there was a commercial studio attached to the school, so we used to use the studio for projects and sit in on sessions. I loved it.
At the time it was when studios were glorious places with space, high end equipment, all the new synths etc…so I knew I wanted to work in studios.
Backtracking a few years before this while I was at boarding school, something important happened to me too. When I was about 17, I escaped with a school friend one night as he had a friend with a car, who picked us up and we drove around the countryside in England. I sat in the back and the driver put Tangram by Tangerine Dream on. Until then I had been into rock and stuff like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Floyd, New Wave and Punk etc, but this blew me away. The atmosphere and sound was perfect for that night drive. That basically decided my own musical journey.
2) What gear/equipment/synths do you use?
I change gear quite a lot except for a few main pieces. For 25 years I have been using my Roland Tr-808, ARP 2600 and Prophet 5. Those are the core of my setup. Around that I usually use Modulars and samplers. Now I also have an EMS VCS3, Minimoog, Fenix II and Fenix III modular, Roland 100m and some more “modern” stuff (still 20 years old!) like Waldorf Microwaves, Yamaha FM synths etc. I have a load of samplers too! I used to use a Roland S-750 and Emulator III all the time, but also have a Fairlight IIx and series III that are being restored. They stopped working a few years back and I am excited to be getting them back soon. I sold some lovely pieces over the years which hurts when I think about it (Polyfusion, Buchla, ARP2500 for example) but still have more than enough to work with. In the studio I always work with a mixing desk. I hate recording and mixing in a computer. Not my thing. If I do a mix on the desk it’s always quicker and sounds better. I have an older MCI mixing desk that belonged to Kraftwerk during the period they did Tour De France and Electric Cafe. That means a lot to me.
I also have a few effects that I use a lot. An EMT reverb and an Eventide H3000 D/SE being the ones I use most.
3) How did you came to be in contact/involved with R&S ?
Whilst I was studying guitar, me and my best friend James Martinez made a 12” single. It was financed by a friend of his family who was a well known DJ in Belgium at the time (Steve Johnson). When he had finished, he took it to MusicMan records in Gent and Renaat heard it. He released it on R&S and when we went down to sign the contract, he asked me if I knew how to wire up a studio. I lied and said yes. That night I stayed in the studio in Gent and wired up his studio which had an Emulator III (which blew me away). He then asked if I wanted to do a track and me and Renaat started releasing stuff as Spectrum. From then on, I stayed at R&S until maybe 2000. That was in 1988 I believe.
4) When you started making music, what artists or labels influenced you ?
I was influenced by the classic artists like Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Schulze, Kraftwerk, Black Sabbath, quite a few krautrock bands but also some punk bands (I still love Crass and The Subhumans (the english band) for example) and some new wave bands such as Fad Gadget. Belgium had some great bands at the time like TC Matic, Front 242 and the Neon Judgement. Loads of influences though. Allan Holdsworth for example is an amazing guitarist and his music inspires me too. Same with Pat Martino.
5) Evolution, released in 1993, still is in my opinion a classic and of one of the best track from that era..
In 1992 I made that track at my home studio. The thing is I became diabetic about then and when I left hospital, I couldn’t drive for 6 months. So I borrowed money from my dad to set up a small studio at home (tascam mixer, tascam tape machine, Roland Jupiter 4 and roland sampler). I did Evolution and went to Renaat with it, who said it was great but didn’t suit R&S, so he thought he should start a separate sub label for that style. So, he started Apollo records and released Evolution as Apollo 1.
6) You seem to be doing a lot of mastering work nowadays, in your opinion how does music sound today with all those tools available ?
I master my own work and if people ask, I’ll do theirs, but honestly I leave the top end work to the professionals! I can master electronic music however.
I have a problem these days in that whilst most tools have become better and certainly more affordable in many cases, the end format and how people are listening has become worse. My main criticism of especially electronic music these days is the mixing and arrangements. It seems as if people lack the mixing skills. Mixing is IMHO not a technical process but an art and it’s not about a mix being perfectly balanced and each individual component being processed as perfectly as possible. It’s about creating an atmosphere and depth that makes you want to come back for more and transports you somewhere. Sometimes it seems that the bigger picture is forgotten and the details are overworked.
Modern software doesn’t actually help in that respect with mastering presets, EQ presets, automated everything and unlimited tracks and plugins. Limitations can be a good thing.
The rise in new modular synths is great too but there is a danger that people are buying individual modules that do specific tasks. For me, the wonderful thing about modular synths is that you can build whatever you need (if you give it enough effort and thought) out of a decent but basic set of modules. Nowadays there are modules that IMHO are too specific and end up being gimmicks. So, it is excellent that good quality gear has become affordable and more people can make music, BUT I do wish people didn’t think of (certainly electronic music) as being based around technology. The tools should not be driving the music.
7) What are you up to these days musically ?
At the end of December I have a new album released on Anodize records. It’s called “Sanctum. Also, there is an album released to aid Breast Cancer. Loads of artists, including myself, gave tracks and it’s a great thing.
8) Finally, your 10 favorite albums or top 5 albums ?
Hard one as it changes all the time. One of my favourite recordings is the 12” of “Slave to the Rhythm” by Grace Jones. That influenced the way I thought of produced music completely. A masterpiece.
Kraftwerk Computer – Computer World
Tangerine Dream – Rubycon
Edgar Froese – Aqua
Black Sabbath – any of the first 4 albums
Pink Floyd – Animals
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works I
Vangelis – Soil Festivities
Locust – Weathered Well
Allan Holdsworth – Road Games
Subhumans – From the Cradle to the Grave
Mix with Evolution :