Sunday, March 03, 2013

Five questions to Larry Fast

Lawrence Roger Fast was born in Newark, New Jersey (USA) on December 10th, 1951. Since his childhood Larry was very interested in music and electronics. He started to build early electronic circuits about 1966 and his first contact with the Moog modular synthesizers was on 1968. Some of his own designed devices started to be sold on commission on late 1971. Larry attended Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, where he obtained a degree in history in 1973.

In the early '70s, Larry Fast had the opportunity to meet Rick Wakeman, who played with the famous progressive rock band Yes at that time and asked Larry to build some synthesizer modules to him. It was just before Yes recorded their live album "Yessongs" (recorded in 1972 and released in 1973) and Rick Wakeman used the modules built by Larry on this album. In June of 1973 Larry went to England to give minor technical support to Rick Wakeman on Yes' album "Tales From Topographic Oceans" while circulating his own music demos to labels in London.

In 1975, Larry released "Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra", the first album from his solo project - Synergy - and in the same year he collaborated with the British-German band Nektar on an album ("Recycled", 1975) and the subsequent tour. In 1976 the second Synergy album, "Sequencer" was released (Larry is finishing the artwork to re-release "Sequencer" remastered from the original analog mix tapes in 24 bit 192 khz audio and digipak format right now!). Also in 1976 he was invited to play the keyboards with Peter Gabriel, who had recently left Genesis to become one of the world's most creative and famous artists. Larry played with Peter Gabriel for 10 years (from 1976 to 1986) and recorded 8 albums (in part or whole) with him: PG1, PG2, PG3, PG4, Plays Live, Birdy soundtrack, tracks on Shaking the Tree and So.

During the period that Larry was the keyboard player of Peter Gabriel's band, he found time to consult with Moog to develop at least two very famous synthesizers, the Polymoog (1976) and the Memorymoog (1982) and also kept his Synergy project, releasing 6 albums more: "Cords" (1978), "Games" (1979), "Audion"(1981), "Computer Experiments, Volume One" (1981), "The Jupiter Menace Soundtrack" (1982) and "Semi-Conductor" (1984). In the late '80s he worked as the A&R coordinator and executive producer for The Audion Record Company, the legendary electronic music label and released "Metropolitan Suite" (1987). In 1998 Semi-Conductor Release 2 was released with a lot of bonus tracks and in 2002 "Reconstructed Artifacts", an album containing digital re-recordings of previous Synergy tracks, was released. Most of Larry's Synergy albums were re-released in various editions, some of them with bonus tracks!

I first contacted Larry Fast in 2012 (via email) and when I asked about this interview he was very gentle and kindly said yes to my request, and even being a very busy man, Larry found some time to answer to my questions! Thank you Larry!!! And here's the interview:

ASTRONAUTA - How and when did you start in music? What are your earliest memories about your musical beginings? And how, when and why did you become interested in electronic music?

LARRY - It was a combination of my twin interests in music and electronics. At first the electronics was strictly about the recording side of music, but by the late 1960s I was experimenting with using electronics to create sounds, too. It started with some very primitive transistor oscillators and evolved into simple synthesizer modules that I built for myself and some other musicians. I had been an electronic experimenter since I was a kid, building and writing things ever since I soldered my first wires together in the 1950s. I also loved listening to music and took lessons on violin and piano, and later self-taught myself guitar and bass. Couple that with hi-fi and stereo, tape recording and the various aspects of audio circuitry and I was primed for electronic music. When the Moog products evolved into instruments systems from individual modules between 1964 and 1967 I wanted to own some of them. But still being in school at that time there was no way I could afford those thousands of dollars. So I started building my own devices. Some from circuits I found in technical magazines and others that I developed myself from classic oscillator and filter circuits. One of my first oscillators was a actually modified Morse code practice oscillator.

By early 1970s I was building electronic devices for other musicians such as Rick Wakeman from Yes. But I had also started to write and record to satisfy my own creative learnings. By then had managed to scrape together enough money to buy some genuine Moog instruments which were superior to my own designs and construction. I used the combination of Moog and my own equipment to work with bands and on my own. After a short-lived band experience I was offered a record deal in 1974 for what would become the Synergy solo electronic project.

ASTRONAUTA - You have a degree in history and you're also interested in architecture, photography and musical technologies (both analog and digital). How do you see the relations between this interests and your knowledge in this areas and the music you create?

LARRY - I see a lot of connections among all of the disciplines you listed. The parallels between architecture and the structure, embellishment and form of music seems quite obvious to me. The graphic arts also have analogs to the form and content of musical sonics. There can be abstraction, realism, minimalism and so in both sonics and imagery. There is also the historical component to revisit what once was fashionable, understand it in its context and to document what came before. If it had creative value at one time, does it still have value now? Are the lessons to be learned?

The relationship among the different creative arts and historical documentation is obvious to me. In my work, both professional and volunteer, there is a lot of digging to understand these relationships, but a particular focus of mine is to understand the history of technology and the role it has played in making possible the new creative arts. In my creative work, this is always a subtext in the way that I approach my creative work. Now, as I get older, the historical context has become a new theme reflecting on the history of electronic music and even documentation such things as Peter Gabriel's career during the years I was working with him.

ASTRONAUTA - What were the best things (and the worst, if you have one) about working with Peter Gabriel for ten years (1976-1986)? Did he already had listened to your solo albums before he invited you to become part of his band? What's your preferred song and album you've recorded with Peter Gabriel during this period? And how about working with Serge Gainsbourg in his album "Love on the Beat"? Any interesting story to tell about him or about the music you played in this particular album?

LARRY - Peter was already familiar with my first two albums when he asked me to work with him on his first solo album after Genesis. I expect that the work I was doing on my own albums spoke to Peter about an element of the sounds he was looking for in his next phase of his career. There wasn't much that was bad about working with Peter. He is an intelligent and thoughtful individual. It is very difficult to sum up 10 years of varied experiences recording and touring in a few words. We all grow and evolve over that length of time so there was not any stand-out story of good or bad that exists out of the context of the larger narrative over five albums and many tours. The only bad aspect for me is that as I focused on being of Peter's team, my own Synergy work was put into second place. But that in many ways was my choice, not something to blame Peter. The best aspect of the work was that I was challenged to grow as a creative artist in order to contribute to Peter's body of work. His creativity is so special that I had to be at my best to make myself useful to him and our band.

Larry Fast playing with Peter Gabriel
(Levin, Fripp, Hunter, Gabriel and Fast).
I feel that my contributions with Peter hit a creative peak with the work on PG3 and PG4 (known as Security in the US). The recording work, as we performed it live, is captured quite well on the "Plays Live" album set. It's hard to pick out particular songs from this eras. They are all so different and take on different sonic strengths. But a few that I have always liked are "No Self Control" and "Biko" on PG3. There were also a few tracks that were recorded for that album, but for various reasons were never completed. A few of them had some of the strongest moments for me. For PG4, "Rhythm of the Heat", "San Jacinto", "Wallflower" and "Lay Your Hands on Me".

Not much to say about Serge Gainsbourg. He was a client at our studio in New Jersey. I was booked to do some overdubs. It was an honor to meet a celebrity and work on his recording. We talked a bit and shared some common ethnic roots in Europe from before WWII. I created the sounds as requested by the producer and engineer, got paid and went on my way. Very professional, very quick; quite like many of the other New York-area sessions that I've done with artists both famous and not so famous. I wish I had more to tell, but professional recording sessions done by experienced entertainers tend not to be very dramatic. The drama is in the performance itself, where it should be.

ASTRONAUTA - In 1997 you played in a concert with Wendy Carlos' Switched-on Bach Ensemble. Could you tell us how was this experience? Did the concert was recorded or filmed? I didn't find any videos - only photos - from this concert...

Wendy Carlos' Switched-on Bach Ensemble!
LARRY - Even though it was a one-off concert, it was never repeated, it was one of the highlights of my career. It was a lot of work for me. Wendy was one of my earliest friends in electronic music business and we have shared many experiences in the growth and evolution of synthesizers, recording, computers and so on. I was flattered that she asked me to be in her ensemble. It was also scary. Though I had some formal training on piano and some university music courses, the rest of the ensemble was made up of musicians with conservatory training and years of performance experience and academics in the classical field. I simply did not have the level of classical training. I knew that I would have to practice beyond anything I had done on a Peter Gabriel or Nektar tour. I spent months with the Bach sheet music, learning, practicing and making my parts of the electronic "orchestra" so second-nature that I would be perfect on the night of the performance. I didn't quite make it to ultimate perfection, but I did get most of the way there. Even more important, I didn't let my friend Wendy down, nor any of my highly-trained fellow musicians. It was unlike any other performance I've done.

Wendy Carlos' Switched-on Bach Ensemble!
There was no professional video or recording of the concert. I recorded some camcorder videos during the rehearsals and I believe that some of the other musicians made professional audio recordings of the practice sessions. At the show, the theater and the Bach Festival forbid any audio or video recording from the audience. But I've seen parts of a hand-held digital video that did get snuck in on the night. So there is a recording out there somewhere, but nothing professional. For me, my memories are good enough.

ASTRONAUTA - You've recorded 10 Synergy albums using both analog and digital (and hybrid) technologies. How did the changes in technologies affect your methods to compose and record your own music? Do you still have some of the analog equipment you used to record your first albums? What is your preferred synthesizer from the analog days?

LARRY - I still have nearly every piece of equipment, analog and digital that I've ever owned. Many are in storage at my house. My career has been one of getting better refinement and control over the recording process and the synthesis that makes up the sounds. In the earliest days this was from analog synthesizers sound sources recorded to magnetic tape. But my evolution to digital started in 1974 with an Oberheim digital sequencer to control the analog Moog and other synthesizer modules. Soon after that, in the late 1975 I had an opportunity to do project work at Bell Laboratories with digital synthesis and recording on mainframe computers. The expanded horizons of possible sonics and infinite control made analog seem so primitive. I was hooked on digital then. But the expense and sheer size of the equipment made it impractical for most recording and touring. The next year I got my first microcomputers and started adding digital control to my Moog system. Soon after I started doing some digital synthesis recording at Bell Labs. I included those tracks into otherwise analog compositions on my Synergy projects. The way to a digital future was set for me in the 1970s. For most of my career, while using analog I was marking time, waiting for the digital to become smaller, cheaper and more reliable so that it would leave the laboratory and become a working tool that I could use and a composer-producer. I have been firmly in the digital camp for almost 40 years, but of necessity I continued to use analog tools that were available.

My preferred analog devices were the Moog modules which were built and calibrated to the highest professional standards. They were truly the best-produced devices in those years. For a polyphonic instrument in the pre-digital age, I'd have to credit the hybrid analog-digital Prophet 5 from Sequential Circuits as the closest to the Moog standards. I also held the Oberheim products in the high regard, though I didn't own too many of their products.

My use of computer control of the analog equipment in the early days (about 35 years ago) has now evolved to a fully digital environment for both synthesis and recording.

Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach Ensemble!
(Christian Martirano, Ettore Stratta, Wendy Carlos, Jordan Rudess,
Gloria Cheng, Mathew Davidson, Clare Cooper, Mayumi Reinhard and Larry Fast).
Tony Levin Band (Pete Levin, Jerry Marotta, Jesse Gress, Tony Levin and Larry Fast).
Equipment used by Larry Fast during the time
he played the keyboards in Peter Gabriel's band.

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