Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Al Reid : Dangerous obsessions of a composer’s mind

By Al ReidMarch 31, 2012

MUSIC COMPOSITION

Al Reid
Al Reid is a composer who has been writing TV and advertising music for over 15 years.  In addition to scoring three BAFTA nominated short films, his work has been broadcast on many major networks, including the BBC, National Geographic, PBS, Channel 4, Discovery and Five. Commercial clients have included Procter & Gamble, Subaru, Nestlé, Volkswagen and IWC Watches.  In 2006 he won the VW Scoring Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the same city in which he now makes his home.  Drumming is what got him into the music business – espresso and cake keep him and his lardy arse in it to this day.  Al’s chosen delusion of grandeur for 2012 is to compete in (and hopefully finish) his first triathlon.

A creeping realisation – the most important bit of hardware in my studio is the one that also makes the least noise.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that should the place go up in flames, the piece of gear I’d grab before any other is … (holds head in shame)… the monitor controller.  I love that thing – it sits there, stoically waiting for me to prod a button every hour or so, quietly letting me get on with pummeling a tune into life, free of guilt for not making it ‘do’ something.  It was heinously expensive – not something I’m happy admitting.  Less for the danger of being labelled a flash-cash-splasher, more for the barrage of scorn that rightly comes the way of any muso who goes large, and buys something that doesn’t make any sound.

It’s a Dangerous Monitor ST, and I’ve a feeling we’ve bonded for life.  But hold on – don’t be misled into thinking us getting together was an easy ride.  No.  I’m ashamed to say I’ve been round the block, and behaved like a complete tart in the world of monitor control.  I’ve gone from one unit to the next, constantly looking for ‘the one’.  Never ringing some back for a second date, dumping others after a few months when their true nature started to bleed through, even resorting to pleading with a friend to take one off my hands when I couldn’t stand the grief any more – how low is that?  Much like crap boyfriends and girlfriends, monitor controllers can often be categorised by their annoying and predictable tropes – recognise any of this selection? :

The clingy one: always demanding attention, it’s not happy unless you keep a steady stream of cable wiggles, prods and tweaks coming in its direction. It needs to know you care.

The high maintenance one: a hunger for expensive toiliteries (Servisol fluid) a regular feature in this relationship, combined with a worrying need to lie around with its top off all too often.

The one that just won’t shut up: they drone on and on, oblivious to the fact you’ve no interest in hearing every detail of their noise floor.  The louche jokes featuring buzz, crackle and hum render you speechless the first time you hear them, leaving you thinking ‘What have I got myself into?…..’

The schizoid-psycho: is perfectly respectable one minute, the next it’s channeling voices from another dimension.  That dimension called ‘Handy-Cab Taxi Co’…..

Why the obsession with monitor controllers?  It’s a reasonable question; after all, none of them can create or mix a track for you, and they’re not the kind of thing that inspire when picked up, the way a guitar or MPC might.  The one thing a good controller can do though, is inspire confidence.  Confidence that your stereo image hasn’t collapsed on one side when listening at lower volumes ( hello, certain German manufacturer who should know better), confidence that your ritzy active speakers haven’t developed a mains hum (that’s you we’re talking about, popular brand from the US) and confidence that you’re not going to have to order another new mid-range driver, thanks to the random spikes generated by pushing the wrong button the ‘wrong’ way (you owe me £292.47, firm with a mythical name but all too mortal products).  All this crap – and more – drove me nuts over the years, and led to a state where I was questioning my monitors, my cabling, my mix skills, my ears – everything you depend on as a muso to get the job done.  It’s not a happy place, having a box of resistors and pots force you to second guess every decision you make.Situations like this demand the ‘Forth Road Bridge Strategy’ be exercised – get your mitts on something so over engineered, so resistant to studio bumfoolery, that it, and the cockroaches, will be the only things left standing should the balloon go up.  A call was made to Oswald Krienke, Berlin’s finest purveyor of studio desirables.  Turns out to be a toss up between the Dangerous, a Thomas Funk unit (glistening example of Germanic design thinking – but with wallet withering price attached) and the lovely Avocet from Cranesong.  All expandable with DACs, surround sound options and flux capacitors.  All deathly quiet.  Not a whole lot between them, meaning any final decision was going to be more likely made in the heart, not the head.

In the end it was the remote that swung it – slinky bit of well machined aluminum, festooned with soft-glo lights and a fat volume knob that makes the relays in the attached rack unit chatter delightfully.

Should I feel shame admitting the Dangerous got the nod, based purely on the fact its remote allows me to play out any number of Star Trek ‘Make it so…’ fantasies?  So be it – fire torpedos!

Feeling the need to demonstrate I’m not just a shallow, gear obsessed nerd, in May I’ll be writing about the sharp end of what all composers do – procrastination writing!

Recently, an unexpected post on www.vi-control.net, from one of film music’s greats, gave a lot of food for creative thought to media composers everywhere – I’ll be using it as my springboard for a vague blether on how to keep body and soul together when writing music for format TV, why you should never leave a three year old in charge of an iPad, and what to do should your chain come off during the swim-bike transition.  I can’t wait.

Al Reid

 

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