Musicians use Macs – it's as simple as that. Well OK, not all musicians but an awful lot of them: Moby, Radiohead, David Thomas, Nick Cave, David Bowie – the list is impressive. And why not? Macs are, after all, multimedia powerhouses. In the old days the Atari ST reigned supreme, but since that machine died in the 1990s, the Mac has been king of the hill for music production.
Les "Fruitbat" Carter is more than just a Mac-owning musician. As half of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Fruitbat was at the forefront of music production technology and for once, in rock music, rather than dance.
How and when did he get introduced to Macs? “I needed a PC, didn't really know that much about them, so I chose the one with the best logo! Boy was that a great choice. That was in 1993, I've never looked back, I have loved all of my macs,” he said.
“At the moment I have a G4 Aluminum Powerbook 1Ghz, which is a lovely machine. I tend to upgrade quite often, to an almost new model. Last year three Powerbooks went through my hands.”
"I had a Digi 001 setup with ProTools up until about 6 months ago, now I have a MOTU firewire audio interface and am using Cubase. I used to hate Cubase, but it has come along in leaps and bounds over the last four years," Fruitbat explained.
Today’s modern Macs and pro-audio software are far removed from how Carter USM recorded their music – would it have been easier if they had had access to today's technology?
"Well, in those days – the early to mid nineties – hard disk recording was in it's infancy and was pretty crap. We started off using an 8-track reel-to-reel, a variety of old keyboards and a sampler that could only hold 9 seconds in stereo. It was a real art playing samples, tapes and keyboards during the final mix.
"So, in short, it would be way easier with a modern Mac, but maybe not quite as much fun," he said.
Technology has finally caught up with what Carter were doing in the 1990s, but Fruitbat has left the techno behind – or it seems at first glance. Carter amicably split up in 1997 before a last posthumous release, I Blame the Government. Apart from the odd foray into not-quite-reunions under the monicker Who's the Daddy Now, Carter USM is finished. Fruitbat went on to form an arguably more traditional post-punk outfit, Abdoujaparov – named after Uzbek cyclist Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – and his band-mate Jim Bob formed the pop group Jim's Super Stereoworld, as well as releasing solo acoustic albums under his real name: James Robert Morrison.
To the casual listener it seems a shame that Fruitbat isn't taking advantage of modern technology in his new outfit, but all may not be what it seems under the hood: “Even though Abdou sounds like a less technical band there are quite a few bits of programming going on under the hood when we record,” he said.
“I tend to demo the songs on my rig at home using my Ensoniq keyboard for drums, bass, piano, strings and then adding guitars and vocals. Then I give the band the demos and we go into a studio to record the drums and bass properly.
"The tracks are mixed at home using Cubase. So, apart from our brief visit to the studio, the whole thing is conceived, recorded and mixed on my Powerbook,” he explained.
As a musician what does he think of Garageband?
“I think as a concept it is brilliant and, as always, Apple's implementation of the idea is spot on. I haven't seriously tried to write or record with it yet, but I'm sure I could get some really nifty stuff going if I put my mind to it," said Fruitbat.
Does he think there's a danger of computer-aided music making taking out the fun – and serendipity – of composition and performance?
"I think that sometimes it can, but anyone that is gonna write something great will do it whether they have the technology or not. There are ways of using modern audio apps without sticking to the rules. You can control the machines instead of them controlling you – that's the key," he mused.
All the same, it seems reasonable to suggest that there a danger of amateur musicians will having it too easy and thus not putting in the hard work in that makes for a professional. Fruitbat disagrees: "Although it is easier that ever to 'knock up' a great sounding tune using GarageBand, I still say that the real craft is in the song-writing. So it might sound great sonically, but the song will be rubbish unless you have that talent to write," he explained.
"For a musician, music software has meant that a whole new bunch of skills need to be learnt. You have to be the engineer as well as the player. In the old days we just went into a studio, played our songs and the resident engineer did the rest as we sat back and had a beer," said Fruitbat – shades of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty's (AKA the KLF) the Manual.
"The great thing now is that you have much more control over the sound and form of what you are recording and also as you aren't paying studio rates, you can spend as much time on it as you like," said Fruitbat.
What about Trent Reznor's decision to release some music in a form readable by Garageband? Gimmick, or useful thing?
"I think it's a great idea. Trent has always been great with technology and this is another way of pushing the barriers."
Fruitbat himself has recently been experimenting with some familiar Apple technology: "My new side project iDou, incorporates the iPod Shuffle as an integral part of the show. As in my previous band Carter, we are stripped down to two guitars, vocals and a backing 'tape'. The iPod supplies the backing in shuffle mode so we do the gig without knowing which order we will be playing the songs. It's a tad nerve wracking, but great fun," he said.
Aside from his two bands, Abdoujaparov and iDou, running an indie record label, appearing on radio in Essex and regualry touring both the UK and Australia, Fruitbat has his eyes set on the theatre – musical theatre, of course, in the form of a new work called Tommi and Chris.
"That is on hold at the moment. We had a bit of a disaster and lost most of the album. Its too painful to go into at the moment. It will happen though."
And when does he anticipate we'll see it? "Hopefully next year," he said.
As this is Macworld and Fruitbat is a musician, one question is unavoidable – what does he think about music downloads?
“I do have an iTunes account and use it for downloading old albums that I have on vinyl and can't be bothered to digitise. I do buy new stuff occasionally and I love the way you can have a listen to the tracks before buying.”
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