How Frankie gets to Hollywood
WITH FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’S new album due out in weeks Steve Lipson stares across a mixing desk into the void of a recording studio trying to improve on the great sounds he engineered for Relax and Two Tribes/War.
At the console he strikes a pose worthy of Captain Kirk at the controls of the USS Enterprise but Steve is under no illusions that he is a man with a mission. “I don’t want to be Mother Theresa”, he says. “I am the person who is employed to help defraud the public and rightly so—
“Frankie are nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve read articles which say they don’t play on their records. This is a slight twist of the truth. In fact they play on their records then we make what they do better which is a perfectly logical thing to do. They’re 20 years old—
Steve’s fraud factory is Sarm Studios in London. Outside it looks like the shabby derelict warehouses you expect to find at the wrong end of the Portobello Road. The only clue to its true purpose is a couple of fans on the steps in long black and white Relax to shirts. They look like a pair of lost zebras as they wait for a glimpse of their heroes.
Inside, Steve Lipson is busy at the controls of his Sinclavier computer. Apart from the usual Qwerty keyboard and TV screen this has a 20 Megabyte hard disc storage unit—
Steve makes it sound very simple: “some geezer bangs a snare in the air. I get it to sound as wonderful as I can, stick it in the Sinclavier, organise it so that it’s occupying as little space as possible for maximum effect and then proceed to sequence it. Then it is reverse compiled into script language.” With his right hand Steve plays a bass line from Relax on the piano keyboard while his left hand on the Qwerty throws it on to screen as script language.
Another stab at the keyboard shows the file catalogue for two of the tracks from the new album, Only Star in Heaven and Black Night, White Light. Steve keeps most of the 20 Megabyte memory in use most of the time, making back up copies of any material he does not need immediately so he can free space. It is reassuring to know that even with such expensive equipment things can go wrong. The cartridge machine which should make the back-up copies on to tape is malfunctioning so Steve is having to use floppy discs “and 20 Megabytes is something like 200 discs so it’s hopeless.”
More and better equipment solves some problems but also creates new ones. “With Relax the problem was we were using an analogue tape recorder. Now we’re using a digital—
While Steve deals with the technical side producer Trevor Horn is the man with the golden ears who seems to know what the public want to hear. “I am working with the best producer around. I will be working on a track for days and days and Trevor will walk in—
The phone rings—
With a virtually unlimited budget for new equipment Steve can afford to dream of tomorrow’s machines. “You will have an infinite track tape recorder, you will record something and then be able to move it wherever you want to.” But this will require new forms of computer storage—
Steve does not feel that the empires of the big recording studios are under threat from home computer-based systems using converted Commodore 64s and Midi compatible Yamaha CX-5s. “Nothing is going to happen with all that stuff. Midi’s useful but going to run out shortly. There will be a Midi 2.
“8-bit sounds are unusable—