Name: Paul Kendall
Occupation: Composer, producer, visual artist
Recent release: Paul Kendall's Boundary Macro is out via Downards (buy vinyl at boomkat).
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Paul Kendall and would like to find out more, visit his official tumblr. He is also on twitter, and Instagram.
As a producer, engineer and artist, Paul has worked with artists like Barry Adamson, Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, Miranda Sex Garden, and Olivia Louvel.
[Read our Barry Adamson interview]
[Read our interview with Gareth Jones, former mixing engineer for Depeche Mode]
[Read our Kurt Uenala aka Null + Void interview, sound designer and engineer for Depeche Mode]
[Read our Olivia Louvel interview]
I was raised amongst the traffic sound and smells of Lambeth in South London. Ferried in a pram twice a day. Constituting 60 minutes immersed in unregulated motor noise, my normality, and there were also 4 highly mechanical 50’s elevator shaft journeys. Sonically I may have been drawn to this world for my own eventual creation. This exposure to non-musical sound possibly preceded any appreciation of organised sound, music.
The light bulb moment was hearing my 7 year old speaking voice recorded and played back on a 3 speed domestic tape recorder. Hearing the half speed me an octave lower sounding like my grandfather and the double speed version where I seemingly metamorphosed into a chipmunk. I decided I liked the tape recorder.
I also liked the radio. Initially it was the early pirate radio broadcasts which opened my ears to a wide range of music, until the BBC modernised its radio policy in 1967 and so began to make a very useful contribution. Between BBC Radio 1 and Radio 3 a young person could plot a careful route to sonic wonderlands. Wonderlands, which in a pre-Internet world, the majority of radio and television were largely ignoring.
The Beatles, Kinks, Small Faces led to early Floyd, Softs, Hendrix and free jazz exposure with musique concrète forming a solid platform only to be later rocked by punk’s vitriol.
From the age of 14 myself and some school friends started experimenting with Blues/Rock. This evolved into more freeform improvisation by the age of 17.
The sax was my first ‘real’ instrument but I recognised quite early that discipline and practicing weren't really my strong points and I became more interested in playing with tape recorders.
During my brief stay at university I had access to a couple of Revox tape machines, a VCS3 synthesiser and microphones. Even at this early stage in experimentation I was more inspired by processing ‘real’ sounds through the VCS3 rather than using it for the sound of the synthesiser itself. My time at university was brief and apart from a few months at West Square Studios (An Adult Education Centre in Kennington South London), my return to London ended my access to technology. At this period, mid 70s, recording equipment was prohibitively expensive.
At the University of York in the early-mid 70s there were several composers, who had a profound effect on my appreciation of sound and composition, particularly the spatialisation. Just as all those years previously I was captivated by the half speed me, now through a pair of headphones I was experiencing sound moving behind my head in what appears to be through 360º just from a stereo tape composition by Denis Smalley 1974 using phase variations. My long term desire was becoming clearer: the manipulation of sound in space.
In 1984, following the premature death of my mother, I inherited enough money to live for 3 months and acquired a Foster B16 16 track tape machine, Allen & Heath 16 input console, Yamaha DX7 synth, Drumtraks, Time Matrix 8 tap delay and a Great British Spring. 6 months later I installed a similar set up for the first Mute Studio and worked there for the next 12 years.
These were still largely analogue days or at most tape based digital, which is before what I consider the most significant moment in my sound world, the home computer based digital editor/ recorder. For me it was a Mac IICi with Digidesign Sound Designer software and a simple digital I/O. The facility to be able to treat audio in the same way an artist sculpts or paints was a true sonic liberation.
As an engineer I experienced both sides of the 12” extended remix world, in analogue if you wanted to repeat a chorus 4 times you had to record it on tape 4 times and then edit each repeat together. A very time consuming task with very little room for error. When digital editing became a possibility around 1990 one version of the chorus was sufficient to repeat infinite times on the click of a button.
In addition the ability to transform audio in this new digital world was as fundamentally revolutionary as the invention of the tape recorder had been in the late 40s.
From about 1993 onward I discovered my preferred method of working. I’d already decided that mixing over recording was more my pleasure. In the recording process I was always keen to get it completed so I could start playing with the recorded sounds in the mix. There’s an attribution to Brian Eno I believe; the studio became like an instrument. I fully embraced this idea and armed with a battery of outboard effects I would spend hours recording “dub” mixes onto DAT transferring them into Sound Designer and then edit together all the best bits.
The combination of performance on the console and the precision of digital editing became my modus operandi. This remix for Nitzer Ebb (1995) ...
... is an early illustration of my experiments using this method and shows extensive use of GRM Tools plug-in, the only serious audio processor available at the time, developed by Groupe de Recherches Musicales (originally founded by Pierre Schaeffer the ‘father’ of musique concrète).
There are certainly families of sound that I am attracted to. I have an unhealthy love of ring modulated piano as demonstrated in Stockhausen’s Mantra. It is a moment I witnessed in concert as an 18 year old, the entry of the ring modulation still sends shivers down my spine almost 50 years later.
For all my time working for Mute (synonymous with synths!) I had little connection with the synthesiser my preferred vocabulary of sound would be: found sound, human voice, acoustic guitar, cello, double bass, bass clarinet, piano, household resonant objects. After my initial attraction to the VCS3 and its sound generation I quickly became more interested in its processing possibilities.
I also felt that the potential of synths was temporarily compromised in the 70s by attaching a chromatic keyboard (and being largely an instrument of preset emulation). It is encouraging to observe the recent rise in modular synths, a bandwagon that I would have certainly jumped on if my ears were still a fully functioning organ!
As it is, my eyes are taking over the brunt of the creativity these days as I try to translate my old sound working methods into the visual medium, (eg. half speed audio playback maps directly to slow motion visuals …). I rarely saw images when making sound objects, for me the sounds had their own 3D morphology created during its processing so already inherent.
Composition is the arrangement of sound in space.
I gain great exhilaration from distortion and degrading signals.
May our rambles continue.
West Sussex 2022