Martyn Ware

Martyn Ware has long been at the razor-sharp edge of electronic music, both as a founder and member of seminal bands like The Human League and, more lately, through his eye-widening, ear-enlivening explorations into sound design and sonic art. This is a man who helped shape the careers of numerous artists and is responsible for plenty of tracks you can place at their first beat, from Tina Turner to Terence Trent D’Arby.

In this lecture at the 2007 Red Bull Music Academy, Ware recalled sneaking into gigs, discovering synths and the importance of making mistakes.

Hosted by Emma Warren Audio Only Version Transcript:

Emma Warren

We’re very lucky today to have Martyn Ware on the couch.


Martyn Ware

Thank you.

Emma Warren

As you all probably know, Martyn was a founding member of Human League, did the first two albums, then went on to form Heaven 17 and B.E.F., AKA the British Electronic Foundation...

Martyn Ware

…Electric Foundation.

Emma Warren

…Electric Foundation, producing whole swathes of artists from Tina Turner to Terence Trent D’Arby via…

Martyn Ware

Chaka Kahn, Billy Preston

Emma Warren

Mavis Staples, a whole heap of people. So I thought an interesting starting point would just be the observation that your whole career has been about, or seems to be, about avoiding nostalgia. Do you think that’s a good starting point for an artist?

Martyn Ware

I started out as a futurist, I suppose, is the way to put it. And in those days that used to be a fashion statement in Sheffield, where I grew up. There wasn’t much about the present that was worth having, to be honest, so the future was always where we wanted to be. And, as I kept saying in another interview yesterday, the whole point being that I was stuck in a town of half a million people, where all the industry had been destroyed by Thatcher’s Britain, basically.

There used to be 80.000 people working in the steelworks and it dropped to 10.000 in five years. And there’s all these people unemployed in quite a miserable place, but there’s quite a resilient attitude in Sheffield people. So there was lots of spare capacity in terms of warehouses and small factories that they couldn’t give away, so there were lots of bands going: “Go on, I’ll give you a fiver a month to rehearse there.” So everybody, rather than going out and seeing great things like you can do in London if you live there now, everybody had to make their own entertainment.

Emma Warren

So when you say everybody, who else are you talking about?

Martyn Ware

At that time, there was a scene with Cabaret Voltaire, who were our mentors, really. Bands like Clock DVA, obviously I formed the Human League around that time, there were also bands like Def Leppard, believe it or not. Their first ever gig and our first ever gig were at this small club in Sheffield. We just laughed at them because we thought they were ludicrous and very old-fashioned and they went on to sell 25 million albums, so what do I know?

Emma Warren

I think your figure’s quite high as well, though? How many albums have you sold?

Martyn Ware

Only as a producer, though. Heaven 17 never sold anything like that. Human League now do, or did, with Dare. But the thing is there’s a resilience about that environment, that working class urban environment, that makes you want to go out and do shit rather than just go to concerts and watch people and kind of go: “Oh well, you know, I can’t be bothered sitting in a rehearsal room all week.” Actually, that’s the only thing there was to do in Sheffield at that time.

Emma Warren

A lot of people are aware of post-punk, a lot of the band’s that came out of the North of England at that time in the post-punk explosion, but there was also a really important avantgarde element to what people were doing, but what about the influence of Northern soul?

Martyn Ware

Sheffield’s a very soul city, really. The two major driving forces in Sheffield, musically, were soul, and by that I mean Northern soul, which for you people who don’t understand is a different kind of soul, it’s more dance- orientated. To be honest, the original all-nighters were all Northern soul events. People used to take a giant amount of amphetamines and take a box of 7” singles and go and swap singles, rare soul singles from America, in these grimey Northern towns. It’s quite interesting, really.

America symbolized glamour and escapism from this reality we were stuck in. So soul was an important thing and glam generally, Sheffield was always a big town for bands like Roxy Music, David Bowie and even things like the American influence in terms of glam, things like the New York Dolls, bands like Suicide, that kind of grimey glam. I can’t really describe it but it was always very kind of appealing to the soul of Sheffield’s young people, you know?

Emma Warren

One of the bands you were talking about there, Roxy Music specifically, you went to see them quite a few times live, didn’t you?

Martyn Ware

Me and my friends were kind of cheats, really. We forged students union cards, we weren’t students. We actually had to go and work because our families were very poor. But we forged these students union cards and got into all these free gigs that were at Sheffield University. Sheffield’s got 40.000 students, it’s a big student town. So before Roxy Music actually released their first single, we saw Roxy Music with Brian Eno three times in Sheffield for free, it was fantastic.

In fact, I remember going to one free gig, where on the same gig, it was a daylong festival, there was Roxy Music who were the kind of headline act, there was Gary Glitter, believe it or not, there was Ian Dury & The Blockheads before anybody had released any singles of theirs or anything. There was Dire Straits who were appalling and very boring and people like Doctors Of Madness, I don’t know if you remember them? Before your time, everybody’s time.

The interesting thing was it was all for free so the young people of Sheffield could dig this kind of eclecticism. In fact, my career is all about eclecticism and trying to merge together lots of unexpected counterpoints in terms of creativity.

Emma Warren

Had you seen or experienced or been exposed to synthesizers in music before you saw Roxy Music?

Martyn Ware

I was kind of obsessed with synthesizers since “Good Vibrations”, to be honest. When I was about eight or nine years old, I suppose, when that record came out and like every other teenager at that time. In Europe we used to listen to Radio Luxembourg. It was the only radio station that played interesting music and kind of brand new ideas and that was the peak time of Motown as well.

So all those Motown records that incorporated synthesis, very early synthesis, theremins, stuff like that, it was always stuff that made my ears kind of prick up and I never thought in a thousand years that I’d make a career out of it, to be honest. I had no musical training, it was just something that appealed to me a great deal.

Then I always followed bands that had synthesizers in them, it was just always something that interested me. Then it got to the point of, I was a computer operator, actually. I had a spare bit of money for the first time in my life and it was either learn to drive or buy a synthesizer because they were just cheap enough to buy at that point.

So I went to the local guitar store that had just got the first entry-level synthesizer in there. They were all rock dudes, they didn’t know anything about synthesizers, they thought we were gay because we wanted to buy a synthesizer and not want to play “Stairway To Heaven” interminably in the store. So we overrode that indifference and bought synthesizers.

Ian Marsh, who was also in Heaven 17, bought a synthesizer and we just started messing around really with – and this is the important thing – it wasn’t like: “Let’s get rich and be a pop star,” which is the primary impetus nowadays for a lot of kids because they see the American Idol or whatever. We had no idea that it was possible. It’s very hard to comprehend, that wasn’t in the air. Basically, in those days, again, we used to blag our way into the City Hall for free in Sheffield, pretend we were part of security, then disappear off into the crowd and watch T-Rex and all the big progressive acts, like King Crimson.

Emma Warren

So you had a number of good blagging techniques?

Martyn Ware

We had no money so it makes you quite creative, yeah.

Emma Warren

This first synth that you bought, what was it?

Martyn Ware

It was a Korg 700S, which will mean nothing to most of you whatsoever, but it was quite funny, really. It was like a three-and-a-half octave keyboard, monophonic so you could only play one note at a time, no MIDI, some very severe filters on the front. Resonated filters, which were really cool so you could make sounds like cats dying and things like that. Very little in terms of presets, there were no presets, digital presets. Every button had one function, that was it.

So basically, whenever we started doing some kind of performance we had to write down every setting for every knob on everything and change it between every number. You know, the interesting thing is that the mistakes make it interesting.

I know this isn’t something we’d decided to talk about but I should give you an insight into the creative process at that time, because the only recording equipment we had was a reel-to-reel recorder, two track. We didn’t have a mixing desk, no equalisation, no effects, apart from the ones built in to the synthesizers. And yet, we managed to... By bouncing from track to track and adding a new instrument each time, create our first single, what turned out to be our first single, “Being Boiled”.

Literally, all we had was two synthesizers, a tape recorder and a microphone and that was it. I think about two months later we managed to blag some guitar pedals to try and distort the sound a bit, change it but that was it. And we did “Being Boiled”, which I’ll play for you in a second, actually. I think this is a good time to do it. That was very smooth, wasn’t it? I should be on television. I am!

That cost about £3 to make that record. We made it in one of these disused small factories where they used to make cutlery. It was absolutely filthy, had a partially working toilet, it was the filthiest place you could imagine. To soundproof it, you know the trays that apples come in we just got them from the local greengrocers and put them all over the walls to dampen it down a bit.

So we made this record, somebody from Fast Records, which was an independent record label at the time, post-punk, and all the rest of their bands were like punk bands, and the guy who sent it up there for us was also in a band, 2.3 from Sheffield, he said: “I said to Bob Lester he might like it, you know?” And I’m going: “Yeah, sure.”

So this very bad copy we copied onto an even worse cassette, sent it up there, he loved it, we made the single cover artwork ourself. We were always intent on keeping control of all aspects of the production and released it, thinking, “Maybe 20 members of our immediate family would buy it and some friends,” and within three months I think it had sold 5.000 by word of mouth.

During that time John Peel, anybody who knows London, right, Britain, [John Peel] very influential in terms of what he played in terms of the new stuff that came out, and he fell in love with it, played it two or three times a week. And I can honestly say, god rest his soul, our career probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for John Peel. And I think probably 50 or 60 other bands could say the same thing.

Emma Warren

More like probably 500?

Martyn Ware

Yeah. I do think what he did in particular was give people the confidence that they could actually be one of these superstar bands, like Emerson, Lake and Palmer. We couldn’t afford to trash a B3 every night in a gig, we had no money and we weren’t classically trained. I mean, to this day I’m an appalling keyboard player, but I’ve got it up there, I can contextualize melodies and counterpoint and chord sequences, but I get somebody else to play them. I’m being a bit naughty, I do play them, but really I’m not a good musician in that respect.

Emma Warren

It’d be great to actually hear it now you’ve talked it through and heard how you made it and we can talk about the really minimal equipment that you used…

Martyn Ware

I’m cheating a little bit here because we did a slightly improved version for the second Human League album, but it’s not that far different from the original.

The Human League – “Being Boiled”

(music: The Human League - “Being Boiled” / applause)

The interesting thing about that is, I’ve just told you that I can’t really play keyboards and all that brass work there I had to play at half speed.

Actually, I learnt an awful lot from Frank Zappa because he used to do that a lot, “Peaches en Regalia” is one of my favourite tunes of all time. ”I’ll stay in this same key and it’ll be fine and I’ll just move around really fast and we’ll see what it sounds like when you speed it up.“

I do a lot of lecturing in different places and I’m always telling people, younger than you: “Accidents are important. Mistakes are important because that’s how you get interesting stuff out.” The problem with contemporary sequencing programmes is that they actually work it all out for you pretty much. Everything’s quantised, everything’s nice and smooth, it all locks together, yadda yadda yadda.

And what you end up with is something less exciting than if you’d played it for real a lot of the time, however crap you are, like I am. So keep experimenting every day, keep pushing yourself every day in interesting ways. And actually, what happened for us, we ended up sounding like we came from Mars at that time, to be honest. It still sounds pretty strange to me now, but we were very influenced by diverse influences.

Obviously, things like Kraftwerk were important to us, a lot of German bands like Can and Neu!, Faust, but also Funkadelic-Parliament, Bernie Worrell. The biggest compliment that my manager ever said to me when we signed was that I sounded like Bernie Worrell. And I’m going: “Yeah, I’ve made it, that’s it. I can stop now.”

The important lesson from this period is that I’m a big believer in limited canvas. And therefore, an unlimited canvas when you’re creating stuff nowadays, I switch on Logic Pro at home and I’ve got a gazillion samples to pick from. Even if I only use the built-in synthesizers, they’ve all got three hundred presets each and you’re never encouraged to make stuff up yourself.

On that record, every single item was handmade, the kickdrum, the snare, it was all made from raw electronic materials from scratch. There were no samples, there were no samplers at that point. The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater to a large extent, and I’m as guilty as anyone.

Nowadays, the time pressure and the cost pressure is such that you just want to get some shit happening as quickly as possible and you end up with something that’s not as good because you don’t spend as much time on it. So spend some time, experiment. All the time, keep that in the front of your mind.

Emma Warren

What do you think about the electro pop revival in the last couple of years?

Martyn Ware

There’s not a lot of it I like, to be honest. Things like Fischerspooner, hmm, you know? Maybe live, I don’t know I’ve not seen them live. Ladytron, rubbish, in my opinion. I often think if Heaven 17 and the Human League were their own tribute band, we’d make more money nowadays. It’s a very strange world we’re in, we’re in the “pop-will-eat-itself” phase of popular music now at the moment.

I’m all for acknowledging your influences but you have to keep pushing it forward. A lot of these are from a brand new generation, who really genuinely love the original source material so I’m not knocking it, but they don’t seem to make much of an effort to me, like they’ve just taken the top 20% veneer of what its about and not really looked at a what the content’s about.

Emma Warren

It’d be interesting now to listen to something else that kind of comes from the early period of you making music? What about “Almost Medieval”? Can we have a listen to that and then you can talk a bit about the record?

Martyn Ware

I’ll tell you a little bit before, actually. When we made Reproduction, which was our first album for Virgin, we were still really raw kids. We did most of it in our studio in Sheffield and then came to mix it and overdub in London and we couldn’t believe it, people paid for us to stay in this studio.We could have as many BLTs as we wanted at any time day or night and like, “Oh my god.”

And we were kind of overawed by the whole thing but the thing is we were very influenced by punk. The energy of punk, not necessarily “rock & roll,” because, to be honest, I thought we’d been through it in Sheffield in particular, we were very into people like New York Dolls. Sorry, punk was just was of New York Dolls as far as I’m concerned but from a more English perspective.

So we wanted to make lots of punky sounding electronic music as well as a tribute to that so this is our attempt. And we just remastered this last year. It sounded pretty unlike how we wanted on the original CD and we got the chance to remaster it last year and it actually sounds pretty good now, I think.

So have a quick listen to this. Starts with a ticking clock. Very strange subject matter this track, actually. It was inspired by a Phillip K. Dick book called Counter Clock World at that time, about moving backwards. I’ll talk to you about it afterwards.

The Human League – “Almost Medieval”

(music: The Human League - “Almost Medieval” / applause_)

I don’t know why they’re swapping all the mics round. It’s quite good though, maybe every ten minutes you have to change them? That was influenced by two things. One is science fiction. Everything we did at that time was about a kind of narrative sense and using the literature as an inspiration for lyrics. And I think that’s another thing that’s kind of dropped off the radar a little bit on contemporary composition.

There are some exceptions, of course, but I think it’s quite interesting to come into your compositional world with a bit of an idea. It might be a magazine article, it might be a book that you’re reading, it might be a central premise from an Outer Limits episode. That’s where we were at that point and it’s only when the ideas run out after a few years that you start writing songs about love.

That’s what everybody does now, it’s like: “Oh god, personal experience. OK, naval gazing, what a terrible time I’ve got because I’m a student and I’ve got no money.” I hate those bands, to be honest. I can’t bear that kind of lyrical laziness. Find something that’s going to interest your audience and try and keep them on their toes a bit. That’s the way I think about it.

Emma Warren

You’ve always been connected with art and literature and almost intellectual ideas. But there’s such a strong anti-intellectual idea in popular music that at time that must have required you to kind of stand up for what you believe.

Martyn Ware

The thing is, there’s always a bit of a cheeky monkey thing going on as well so we’d line it up with a little bit of humour as well, so it’s playful. It’s a continual theme in the work that I’ve done throughout the years. Also, I didn’t go to university, Philip [Oakey] didn’t go to university, Ian [Craig Marsh] didn’t. In fact, none of us finished our A Levels, to be honest, which is like, I don’t know what the equivalent is in America but we didn’t finish college.

Emma Warren

So what age did you finish school?

Martyn Ware

16, really. Phillip’s parents weren’t poor but Ian’s and mine were very poor so we had to go out and earn money for the family. So consequently we didn’t have that kind of, “Oh, aren’t we Percy Bysshe Shelly, we just read these latest books and all that stuff.”

To us, learning is a continual process while we’re doing other stuff and we were fascinated with dada and stuff as well, that was all part of our everyday existence because it seemed to relate more to living in Sheffield than the kind of romantic notions of literature.

Emma Warren

So would you say you were almost politically interested in art?

Martyn Ware

Yeah. Derrida and all that stuff. It’s funny because I met Scritti Politti, Green [Gartside], and made a record with him, several records actually, and he started out as a big fan of politics at university and turned into being a musician.

So your influence for being creative can be very different from just, “Yeah, I want to be a DJ,” you know? Because, to be honest with you, so does everybody else. So it’s quite good to find something that’s in addition to that. I was a DJ as well, by the way.

Emma Warren

Early days?

Martyn Ware

I had a mobile discothèque. A proper mobile party. I did weddings as well as trendy parties. It was called Blitz Queen.

Emma Warren

Did you have flashing lights as well?

Martyn Ware

Yep, flashing lights on the front of my rig. 50 quid from Maplins.

Emma Warren

When was that?

Martyn Ware

That was in 1972. I’ve not told anybody that, actually. I feel exposed now.

Emma Warren

It’s great. I’ve always been quite fascinated by people who do that because you learn a lot about pop music?

Martyn Ware

I’m telling you. It’s another point we were discussing yesterday, another thing that runs through everything, because I’m a socialist, I believe in social values. Sheffield is regarded as the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, big Labour-voting leftwing area of town. I believe in socialist values, I believe that you shouldn’t speak directly just to your particular niche and it’s something that has accompanied me on my journey throughout my career, really. I like populist stuff. I like really good pop music in every sense.

Emma Warren

So who else do you think makes really good pop music?

Martyn Ware

I like hip-hop and R&B quite a lot. At least there’s a sense of daring about it. There’s a bit of an excitement about what new ideas are going to come out next and I really like that. In terms of more ersatz pop music we’ve got nowadays, the Gnarls Barkley record was fantastic. I think it was one of the best songs written for a long time, “Crazy.”

There are a few great bands knocking about but in terms of solo artists, I’m still in love with David Bowie so you’re asking the wrong person.

Emma Warren

So in terms of the Human League, you did the first two albums and then left and started Heaven 17, did you very much want to make pop music?

Martyn Ware

When we left the Human League it was an acrimonious split. They tried to throw me out of my own band, it was a bit like the School Of Rock with me as Jack Black. I said: “You can’t throw me out of my own band, I’m going to prove you all wrong.” And one of the things that Philip very cruelly said to me was: “You’re the unaesthetic part of the band.” Ouch!

And I was pretty unaesthetic at the time, I had a beard. So I went: “Right, we’re going to be ultra-stylish, we’re going to be sharp as a pin with our composition,” and within the day of the split we’d already written “Fascist Groove Thang”, which I don’t know if anybody, but it’s quite a weird record because it’s full of manic energy. Maybe we should play a little of that.

Emma Warren

I tell you what, you always had a really wicked line in trench coats. Those coats were sharp.

Martyn Ware

We looked like kind of '40s, I don’t know what we looked like really, Cary Grant or something. But we were determined to kind of look as pin sharp as possible. Just let me play a little bit of “Fascist Groove Thang” because that’s such a cool track, I think. [music plays] That’s not “Fasicst Groove Thang”, sorry.

Emma Warren

Your iTunes is lying to you?

Martyn Ware

It’s actually a soundscape of some description.

Heaven 17 – “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”

(music: Heaven 17 – “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” / applause)

I’ve got a great story about this. We were editing this in our studio in the days when you had to cut tape and we were desperately trying to get it down to single length. We were cutting bits out here and bits out there because it was all new to us this stuff.

We eventually got it into the shape we wanted but just couldn’t make this one edit work, we just couldn’t get it in time and I’m going: “What is going on?” We’d tried everything. And after about three hours, Phil turned ‘round to me and said: “What’s that on the sole of your shoe?” And it was actually a piece of editing tape with a bit of the actual mix on it and we edited it back in and it worked fine and that’s actually on the finished record. You can’t do that on a Logic Pro rig, can you?

Emma Warren

So next time your record’s not running right, check your shoes.

Martyn Ware

Anyway, that shows the influence of kind of Chic on what we were doing and all that stuff and the fantastic John Wilson, who was 17-years old at the time, happened to be working with Glenn at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, he went into the Green Room and said: “Can anybody play bass because we’ve got an idea to put a bass track on there?”

And this very shy black guy put his hand up and said: “I’ve just bought this bass for 30 quid from a jumble sale ’cause I normally play rhythm guitar.” And he’d never played it before and was playing it like a rhythm guitar. So it just shows, accidents, serendipity, whatever you call it, it’s so important when you’re making records.

Emma Warren

So you just mentioned the influence of Chic but how aware were you of the post-disco things that were happening in New York at this time?

Martyn Ware

I thought it was ludicrous because it’s all music. I never understood this antipathy towards, “Let’s create this big bonfire of big disco records,” what was all that about? The Bee Gees are fantastic songwriters, the double album of Saturday Night Fever is still one of the greatest soundtrack albums of all time, what was it all about again? I think it might have been an anti-gay thing, to be honest.

Emma Warren

I think there was just a crazy mayor in Chicago at that time?

Martyn Ware

Well, I’m still to this day... you know, disco music is cool. Some of it was shit but we thought it was cool and it gave us more of a maverick attitude because everybody was going: “Disco is finished!” So we would go: “Fine, we love it.” We continued using it as in influence and still do to this day and now it’s cool again and won’t be again and so on and so forth. Who gives a fuck?

Emma Warren

Correct. So it might be interesting to just know a little bit about... With Heaven 17, how your creation process worked. What did you do? How did you create?

Martyn Ware

I know why you are asking this question. She was on Youtube last night looking at appalling videos that people have put up of shows in 1982 on television in England. We used to have this thing where for lyric writing the three of us – myself, Glenn Gregory, and Ian Craig Marsh were very close, we were like brothers.

Not brothers in the black sense, although maybe, I dunno, but brothers, three heads on one body. So we all, and to this day, still write all the lyrics together at all times. So what happens is when we have a lyric writing session, we always write the backing tracks first and then we have a lyric writing session.

Everybody for about a month beforehand writes down little phrases from the everyday world, things we see in newspapers, magazines, posters, advertisements, movies. It can be nonsensical, just something that tickles your fancy. And we have lists and lists and lists and lists of this shit. We spread them all out on the floor and it’s a bit like the William Boroughs cut-up technique that Bowie used to use, except modulated with a sense of humour.

It’s not literally cutting things up. For instance, “Fascist Groove Thang”, I just remembered this, there was a top 75 dance records in Record Mirror and we actually looked down them and used them as the source for the lyrics in combination with a kind of political theme.

So we were going, there’s lines in there like: “Hot you as I feel your power,” you know? What the hell does that mean? Doesn’t mean anything, does it? “Groove Thang” was a very Parliament/Funkadelic thang, and we deliberately modulated and changed all these different lyrics until it fitted together and changed and made sense.

And we’d have these ridiculous arguments, like stand up arguments about what particular lines meant. This is opposed to the kind of notion of the artist in the garret, the kind of tortured artist bearing his soul to the audience. This is more like, you haven’t got a soul to bear at that age, it’s just pure energy and creative ideas and chucking stuff together.

Emma Warren

Production-wise, what were you using at this point?

Martyn Ware

Because we’d done it all electronically with the Human League, now all bets were off, we just wanted to make the best records we could. To the eternal credit of Virgin Records at the time, it’s hard to imagine a record company that would support this idea. They just let us do what we want and so one day we’d go: “Oh, we want some brass, we want to do a brass thing,” and they’d find the best brass section in Britain.

“We want to make a record that sounds like a funk record with brass.“ One section from them guys came in and did some brass and we did an instrumental called “He-La-Hu” with just like a chant on it, it was just bizarre and then onwards and upwards we went. For the second album we had to get even more popular.

The first album was in the charts for 75 weeks in the Top 40, which is pretty amazing, and was ‘Album Of The Year’ in 1981. And then the second album came along and we had to do something even more spectacular, so we just started chucking loads of money at it, ridiculous amounts. We rehearsed in the most expensive studio in London, with Paul McCartney and Elton John in the other studios and borrowing Marc Bolan’s guitar to play stuff and it really went to our heads, big time.

And then one day we said: “Oh, I know, let’s do an orchestra.” So we rang up our friend Gemma, who was the production co-coordinator, and said: “We’d like to book an orchestra next week, please.” And she said: “How many people do you want?” And I turned ‘round to Glenn and said: “Let’s have a word with an arranger friend of ours, we’ll get back to you in an hour.” Got back: “Oh, we want 50.”

The list includes four double basses, brass sections, drums, harp. You name it, we got it, basically, and that’s how we made “Temptation” because had it not been for the sound and the collaboration with the string arranger John Wesley Barker, that record would never have sounded anything like that. It would have been a good record but I don’t think it would have had the longevity that it did.

Shall I play it? This was a massive hit in Britain, twice actually, funnily enough. It got re-released. It never quite made it in America, “Let Me Go” was more popular in America.

Heaven 17 – “Temptation”

(music: Heaven 17 – “Temptation”)

Emma Warren

And generations of mobile disco DJs salute you.

Martyn Ware

I tell you, it doesn’t matter what audience you play that for, they get it. Just so you know from a technical point of view, this is how nuts we were at that time, that thing where it goes, “Ahhh!” That’s 128 tracks of vocals! 128 tracks overlaid and I think 15 different inversions. Four octaves with versions, weird chords.

It only last quarter of a second or half a second, so that was drug-fuelled, I’m afraid. I make no apologies for it, it was.

Emma Warren

But how did you come up with the idea to do 128 tracks of vocals for quarter of a second?

Martyn Ware

I won’t go there. Just the backing vocals on that track took three days and we were good singers, it wasn’t like we were doing different takes for technical reasons. It’s actually pretty straightforward now on Logic and stuff like that it just loops ‘round and ‘round, but in those days, believe me, it wasn’t easy because you had to bounce from 24 tracks onto 2 tracks onto another multi- track and synchronizing stuff would take 15 seconds at a time.

For the mix of this we were running three multi-tracks synchronized, we were mixing it in 5, 10 second sections. We also had loops going around the room on two different two-track players with giant loops going ‘round the room that we faded in and out of the mix. Just mad stuff, really.

The guy who helped us produce that, Greg Walsh, used to produce Heatwave. I don’t know if anyone remembers Heatwave, but they had this very dense vocal texture thing going on we just pushed it to the next level, really.

Emma Warren

That’s the next level and some.

Martyn Ware

Slightly, yeah.

Emma Warren

How did you move from Heaven 17 to doing B.E.F.?

Martyn Ware

Well, funnily enough B.E.F. started before Heaven 17 because Heaven 17 was the first project of B.E.F. as the umbrella company as it were. But B.E.F., for those who don’t know, is a production company where, it’s a kind of a megalomaniac thing, really.

Imagine picking your favourite songs and then picking your favourite singers and mixing them up in a big bag and going: “Right, we’re going to do an electronic soul version of this.” That’s kind of where we came from.

It’s a completely mad idea but people liked it. And I should play you the first time I met Tina Turner. It was the last song on the album, I’d already got all the other various singers to do tracks that I liked and I’d got James Brown lined up to do “Ball Of Confusion” by The Temptations and then his lawyer rang up the day before we were due to fly to Atlanta and said: “Right, we want five points on the whole album or we’re not going to do it.” And I said: “You’d better cancel the flights then because that’s not going to happen. We’d love to work with you but we can’t do it on that basis.”

And it’s the last track on the album and we’re wondering who can we get to do it. And this is fate for you, walked into Virgin Records and one of the guys who is in charge of Virgin is friends with Tina Turner, who was just flying out to L.A. and said: “Do you like Tina Turner?” And I’d seen Tina perform her kind of ’chicken in a basket’ thing “Proud Mary” and all that in London and I was absolutely blown away and said: “Yeah!”

I mean, [sings] “When I was a little girl…,” you know? All that stuff, loved all that stuff, so I said: “Yeah, would she be interested in doing it?” Well, she had a new manager, Roger Davies, and maybe he’d be interested in doing it. A bit more like forward looking.

I said: “I’d like to do this cover version of “Ball Of Confusion”,” so she came into the studio and said: “Where’s the band?” And I pointed at the Fairlight and said: “That’s it,” and she said: “Wow, that’s cool.” And so we played the backing track, she did it first take, it was fantastic.

[She] just read it perfectly and afterwards she came up to me and said: “That was kind of difficult to sing, it sounded like there were three or four male voices on it in different ranges,” and it was The Temptations. She said: “Who are The Temptations?” Yep! On my children’s lifes! I think she turned her back on soul music after Ike slightly, if she didn’t know who The Temptations were. That’s absolutely true.

So anyway, I’ll play you our version, I really like this, this is our apogee of electronic soul efforts at that point.

B.E.F. – “Ball Of Confusion”

(music: B.E.F. – “Ball Of Confusion” / applause)

That was John McGill, actually, from many bands, Magazine and Siouxie & The Banshees and P.I.L.. And that was Paul Jones playing harmonica from Manfred Mann. That’s pretty cool.

Emma Warren

So how did you get the beef, the boost, in there?

Martyn Ware

What? What does that mean?

Emma Warren

Well, what did you do sonically to make that record?

Martyn Ware

That was just like chucking everything in there. The thing about the original “Ball Of Confusion” is that it’s a very daring record. I’ve always been a big fan of Norman Whitfield anyway, many things he’s done. But that was just a very daring record, so I thought, “Take something interesting and re-interpret it in a different way, is the way that you get interesting stuff out at the other end.”

It always helps loving your source subject. And it takes a bit of daring, I think, to take a record that you really love and want to improve on it. It’s a bit arrogant, frankly. That doesn’t necessarily improve on the original but I think it’s just as interesting.

Emma Warren

And how did your relationship with Tina Turner continue?

Martyn Ware

They kind of liked that, even although we released it and it wasn’t a hit at that time. Roger Davies asked me to do a track for the Private Dancer album. And I’ve always said or always thought, my view on Tina was that she, and I still believe this to this day, is that she is one of the world’s greatest soul singers and she kind of turned her back on soul.

I said: “Look, one of my favourite songs is “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green.” Me and a million other people. But you could just tell the sensitivity of her voice and her innate knowledge of soul would just make a spectacular version of that. And everything I’ve done in production has always been about the voice. Although we’re really keen on this unique instrumentation and combinations of instrumentation, really, it’s all about the voice and backing vocal arrangements and stuff like that.

So we went on to do “Let’s Stay Together,” which at that point was the biggest selling 12” single in American history. Shall I play that?

Emma Warren

Yes, please.

Tina Turner – “Let’s Stay Together”

(music: Tina Turner – “Let’s Stay Together”)

Martyn Ware

She came in and did that one take, straight off. That entire vocal not a single syllable was changed. Unbelievable. Any of you who are vocalists out there, do your homework, to go into the studio with an idea of what you want to do. I think it’s a very rare thing. I’ve worked with lots of the great vocalists and she’s the only one that’s come close.

For instance, I did a track with Chaka Kahn and it took 15 takes, she was going through various drug problems at the time. She knew exactly how she wanted to interpret that song when she came. I think an opera singer wouldn’t turn up and expect to do a big opera performance and not rehearse it and I think there’s an awful lot of laziness from a lot of vocalists.

They think they can just turn up and somehow it’ll all be alright in the mix, they’re not feeling too well that day, “Oh dear, I’ve got a bit of a sore throat,” etc., etc. It’s a bit like being a top sportsman: you’ve got to put the work in to get to that level. She’s brilliant and a nice person as well, not arrogant, not coming into the studio going… She offered to do as many takes as I want. I said: “Well, we’ll do another take but no need to, really.” And [she’s] just an incredible woman.

Emma Warren

So, I guess, your work with Tina Turner opened up some interesting doors for you?

Martyn Ware

It did, actually. Suddenly, I was hot property as you tend to be when you’ve done something like that. In the space of a week I got offered Rod Stewart’s new album, Bette Midler’s new album, and I turned both of those down because I didn’t want to be known for doing older artists. I wish that I’d done them now, I could have done with the money, I was young and arrogant and stupid at the time.

Emma Warren

So who did you say yes to?

Martyn Ware

Quite a few people and I always worked with different, new artists as well. I tended to want to work with solo artists because I did a lot of work with bands and working with bands is a nightmare. Because everyone’s got their own agenda, generally, and however much you’re meant to be mates, there’s always cliques.

So I made a golden rule for myself after some bad experiences that I would never work with units of more than three people. Four, you can have two cliques of two, three is kind of difficult because if one’s on the outside, you have to go with the majority, so you just ally yourself with the right people and you’re okay. Big bands don’t work for me at all.

But anyway, I was just about to do another weird project, soul project, and then this tape landed on my desk from a new A&R man at Sony and it was this tacky tape and it said Terence Trent D’Arby on it and I put it on. I’m literally about to sign the contract on doing this other artist and I put it on and went: “This is absolutely fantastic!”

It was a bit rough, but the songs were incredible and the voice is incredible. So I went down there and managed to persuade them that I should do his first album, The Hardline According To..., and we got on like a house on fire. At that point he was completely straight, didn’t take any drugs, didn’t drink, he looked like a god. I used to walk down the street with him in London and the girls would look straight through me at him, which pissed me off.

Literally, it was one of those things where he was just a god at that time, a young god, he performed live and he could do everything, you name it. Every move you’ve ever seen Prince do, every move you’ve ever seen the original soul artists do, even James, he could dance like James. Anyway, that didn’t last long because suddenly on the second album decided he could do it himself without a producer, or an engineer, or anybody else helping him write the songs and it all went downhill from there, unfortunately.

But for that brief moment in time he was a god. And I’d like to play a bit of “Wishing Well” if that’s alright, because that was number one over here, or it certainly was in America anyway.

Terence Trent D’Arby – “Wishing Well”

(music: Terence Trent D’Arby – “Wishing Well” / applause)

That is one funky tune there.

Emma Warren

You can’t beat a bit of Terence.

Martyn Ware

Wow! I was just going to say, there’s one story that’s really important, I think, in terms of a teaching thing. He used to come in at least three or four days a week and we used to work six days a week into the studio for an hour before I got in.

And he used to play Sam Cooke tunes and Otis Redding, and he used to sit there like studying, as though he was studying a university subject. He used to study them in darkness, in the studio, listening to them, sing along to them, and saying: “This might be my only chance, this album, to try and get out what I’ve got inside me.” And he really wanted to know his subject thoroughly.

And it relates back to the Tina Turner thing, you can’t be lazy about this shit. If you want to be the top 5%, 2%, got to put the work in, put the research in. And if you don’t remember anything else from this lecture, remember that because if you stick that in your head and keep it in your career, you’ll be successful, I think, if you’ve got the talent.

Emma Warren

I guess some of it is about craft, isn’t it? About really working at your art.

Martyn Ware

DJ Premier, the other day, he was pretty much reading from the same hymn sheet, wasn’t he? It’s about being able to incrementally build on your reputation over a period of time, but it’s about really grinding it out a lot of the time. Sometimes you don’t feel inspired, sometimes a lot of the time you don’t. It’s a cliche but it’s 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration.

It’s pretty much true. Number of times I’ve gone into the studio and I’ve not got a single idea in my head at all and you’re starting to write a song. That’s when you refer back to the half-formed ideas that you’ve made earlier and you go: “Actually, maybe I can get over this little hurdle with this one,” and you start the thread going again.

Emma Warren

That’s quite an interesting point. What is your process when you’re stuck? I remember reading something about Japanese author Haruki Murakami, before he starts writing he’ll put his fingers on the keyboard, close his eyes and then he’s ready to write. Do you have something you do to get yourself in the zone for writing?

Martyn Ware

No, not really. I do think most of my most interesting ideas come to me at about five in the morning, and I try to write them down, I always try to have a notebook by the side of the bed or a digital recorder just to hum arrangement ideas. I think that kind of lucent dreaming thing is kind of interesting, always has been for me before I knew what the posh word was for it.

But actually, when you’re in the studio it always helps being in the studio with people your friendly with. I find it difficult to do it on my own. I always think collaboration’s the key, being with people you like really helps.

Emma Warren

Obviously, you did all this production stuff and then later on you moved into sound design, was there an incremental change from production to sound design?

Martyn Ware

When I first started with the Human League, we used to write experimental electronic pieces and that kind of got forgotten when we became more au fait with the pop world and fell in love with being on television and all the girls falling at us.

You tend to put the art a bit to the back because you’re earning lots of money going: “This is fantastic!” You’re on every TV show, etc., so it’s hard to keep a grasp on everything as you go along, something has to give way.

But in the year 2000 or 1999, actually, the production work was gradually starting to dry up and I think it was for most producers, apart from the very very top level. Primarily because record companies just didn’t want to spend the money, actually. And also because of the proliferation of home studios people could make their own records or make their own good demos and then bring them to the record companies.

The record company listens to 50 of them, maybe one of them is something they want to put out and they haven’t had to pay for it. So all the money that used to be put into developing artists, suddenly was being put into marketing records. So you ended up with this ridiculous mechanism where record companies stopped investing in developing artists and that, had that happened, I wouldn’t have had a career.

The first two Human League albums were good but they didn’t sell very well. I’d have been dropped after the first single, let alone the first album. Likewise with U2, likewise with just about every other band you like from your past or any other band currently successful. Even Rolling Stones, probably The Beatles. So they’ve just thrown out the mechanism that made great music, which is actually the idea of just giving people enough money to live for a bit until they get good.

So I was getting more disillusioned at this point and getting bitter and twisted about it. I turned around to Vince Clarke, my friend from Erasure. I did an album with them in 1992 and we became very good friends, and said: “Look, why don’t we try and get back to what made us excited about this shit in the first place and do some stuff for purely artistic reasons.”

So we formed a company called Illustrious, which was initially to exploit our film and TV writing work, but quickly evolved into us discovering this new technology, which enabled us to move sounds around in three dimensions in mid-air using software and enabled us to create sonic architecture in mid-air. So from that day until now, I do less conventional production and more installation work around the world.

I’m off to Long Beach, for instance, at the beginning of next week to do a 100 meter square by 20 meter high three-dimensional sound installation on the campus there based on the sounds of Mexico City, it’s eleven hours long. You can’t fit that on an album, you know? So I’ve moved back into, it’s not just artistic, there is a point to it, the point is: it’s about a collaborative process, about creating new works with other disciplines.

The world is becoming multi-disciplinary, but if I asked all of you in this room, if you are just musicians or you do stuff like messing around with Sketch Up, for instance, or drawing or messing about with game design, a lot of people have multiple disciplines now and we’re moving into a totally different world now.

What we’re doing we want to encourage a new reality by immersing people in this new world. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the budget to bring the 3-D soundsystem here this year, but if they are very nice to me and they invite me back next year, I’ll try and bring the 3-D soundsystem next year and you can all hear it for real. Also, people who come to London or who live in London, if they want to contact me they can come to my studio in Brixton and hear it, this new alternative sound reality.

There are some CDs here for everybody to take, they’re not in 3-D but some of them are in bi-aural so if you wear headphones it’ll sound kind of 3-D so just to give you examples of the kind of music that we’ve been creating and have been creating for the last six years. Most of it is unreleased so please don’t put it up on the internet. At the end you can come and get one of those.

Emma Warren

Can I leave you to play something? Obviously, we are going to carry on, but I need to go and cough my head off and get a drink. Just for a minute, can you play something that represents what you’ve been doing?

Martyn Ware

Can we switch the projector on? What I’ll do is, I might start my presentation, if that’s alright? This all sounds very formal, but actually it’s a bit of fun.

This is how I regard the future and how it’s developing, and it’s not just aimed at you guys who want to go and make dance records or different kinds of records, this is a much broader kind of attitude.

This is one of my companies, Future Of Sound, we do a lecture tour in 3-D sound and invite young artists to come and collaborate with us. I’ll move on, that was just a posh opening. I don’t know if you can all see, that’s a pain in the ass.

I’ll keep this brief anyway. You know who I am, you know who Vince [Clarke] is, he looks more like a member of The Sopranos there but he’s from Erasure, one of the greatest pop songwriters and sold a lot of records, too, currently touring. He’s coming to America soon again, I think.

What do we do? I’ve kind of described to you what we do: we work with everybody from the Royal Ballet to museums, we’ve got permanent installations in various museums around the world, we do big open air exhibitions, we do big live events, we work with architects, we work with young interactive designers, anybody who has got an idea for three-dimensional sound.

If you’re working in a three- dimensional world that’s virtual and digital we can combine our technology. If you move something in a virtual world we can make sound move for the audience in the same way and that incorporates height as well. So anybody that’s interested in that stuff I’m going to be around until six o’clock this evening, just come and talk to me about it.

It’s a big subject, I won’t go into it here. We use a piece of technology called 3-D Audioscape. We’ve been kind of working in a beta version of it for years but it’s now finished and it’s now ready for sale, and I might be able to get a special deal for anybody that’s interested. It runs on a Mac platform, a dualcore platform, and this is kind of what it looks like in action [cuts to projector screen].

All the different coloured balls symbolise locations of sounds in mid-air, so the grid is kind of halfway up a given space and that’s me wobbling a camera around. You can also place sounds below half way up a room. You can have 16 different sounds moving around at 25 frames per second all controlled by MIDI controller values, X, Y and Z coordinates.

So anything that you use that issues MIDI controller values, we use a 40 dollar 3-D joystick with height control but you can use Data Gloves, you can use MoCap, you can use sensors of any description, you can use a Wii controller - think about that. I’m just going to zip through some projects that we’ve done that might give you an idea about the applications.

We did a thing in Britain called The Dark, which is an experience in a room about fifteen meters square by about five meters high, clad in black velvet, no lights, no seats. You walk around, bump into people, touch them in inappropriate places, get over it and, actually, there’s a 15 minute narrative in this particular space.

I didn’t select the subject matter, but it’s about a slave ship in the 1700s. Basically, it had four different stories: the cabin boy, a slave and this guy who was a lieutenant who went on to become a big anti-slavery campaigner in Britain.

In the corners of the room you can basically move towards which story you want to hear and there’s a big sound design thing going on giving this sense of immersion. You know, you’re on a ship, you can hear the sails flapping above you, you can hear the birds flying around you can hear the sea crashing over the side of the ship, but all in the right compass points, height, etc.

This was a very deeply affecting piece, I’d like to bring it over to Britain, actually. Sorry, to the USA, I think it would be a really exciting thing for people to witness it, it was terrifying. So that’s how three-dimensional sound can be used in that respect.

Last year we did the world’s first ever 3-D sonic imaging sound field, ‘sonic imaging system’ is the name we use for this. In the gardens that you see there, which is about 125 meters wide by a 100 meters in the other direction and on top of the flagpoles that you see we had speakers everywhere, basically full range PA speakers.

We created 24 hours of content, 12 different artists did two hours each, three-dimensional creating soundscapes based on the sounds of Mexico City or inspired by Mexico City. We had some really famous sound artists like Fennesz, Maryanne Amercher, who won the Arts Electronica Prize for the work that she did. Never gave me a credit, bitch. I can say that, she really is a bitch, actually. Sue me. [laughter]

It was an amazing experience and in this particular interest we had two hour slots for each artist and you had to come at a particular time of day to hear each one. We had things like invisible protest marches walking through the square and people looking round going: “Where’s the protest march?” Helicopters flying over your head that weren’t there, giant out of scale motorbikes, Harley Davidsons driving across the square at impossible speeds.

Myself and Vince designed a piece that, in this square there are barrel organ players that have been around for many years, they’ve been around a hundred years or more. Not the same ones, obviously, but you get the idea. And we recorded them when we did our research, we recorded the tunes that they came out with, deconstructed them in our studio at home and came up with this kind of slow, very elegant piece using chords that were related to the tunes on the barrel organs. So when it was played back in the square it sounded like the barrel organ players in the square were improvising to our piece, which is pretty cool, actually, and it worked.

And then we had people like Chris Watson, who used to be in Cabaret Voltaire, an old friend of mine, who did a piece based on the last ever train journey on a now defunct railway line going across Mexico City to Tijuana, etc. Just beautiful, all in surround sound, three-dimensional surround sound. He actually recorded a ghostly scream, which people reckon is a ghost and he’s one of the straightest, most normal people you’re ever likely to meet. He’s not fooling me.

He left a microphone in this particular marshalling yards in Tijuana, came back an hour later, listened to the recording afterwards and there was a scream and there were no people there at all. He played it back to a series of locals who said there was a series of murders in this particular place 20 years ago and this is actually part of the soundscape, you can actually hear it. And the woman was crying a particular name and it’s the name of the guy who killed them. Don’t ask me how, I don’t believe that shit normally.

Moving on swiftly, we’re re-staging this at California University Long Beach State Campus in two weeks time, the 8th it starts. I assume not many of you live near there, but if you do, you’re more than welcome to come along, the launch date is the Saturday, the 6th. I will shake your hand. We did the Venice Architecural Biennale at the British Pavillon, which has got five rooms, we were asked to represent Britain by the British Council who deal with all that shit.

It was all about architecture being about spaces, and sound, and human occupancy, rather than this thing that architects have that they’re the greatest people on earth because they can build bigger and nicer shaped buildings and make them work.

We’re very much of the opinion that it’s about people, it comes back to the whole kind of socialist viewpoint that I have. It just went down like a brick in a swimming pool, as a you can imagine, with most of the architects. They hated it. But the members of the public who came along really liked it because it was about creating a sense of being there.

This is an infomatic piece that we did with my designer friend Malcolm Garrett, who did a lot of our album covers in the ’80s, about the effect that Sheffield, which is my hometown, has on the world and how it attracts people. I won’t play it all, it’s 15 minutes long, but I’ll play you a little bit of it anyway.

There are 27 Sheffields in the world you’ll be glad to hear and this map shows you where they are. There are two in Canada. All this composition was going around the room in 3-D and a lot of the sounds for this we recorded from manufacturing processes in Sheffield, drop forging steel, sounds a bit like the early Human League. I didn’t realise this at the time.

I’ll just flip forward a little to show you some of this shit. That shows you the main buildings in the world that were made with Sheffield steel, that’s right, and the main consumers of cutlery in world. This took three months to research, you may say: “What a waste of time,” but I quite like it. Scalpels all around the world, they use one and a half million in the USA, Canada’s not on there.

These are the main steel producing towns in the world, and this is the constituent parts and we actually had pirate radio stations going on all around the room, all different stations, all from Sheffield.

And then moving along, my favourite football club Sheffield Wednesday, had to get in there somewhere. You’ll like this. The Vatican City, there’s a mad Sheffield Wednesday fan in the Vatican City somewhere we discovered, we analysed the Sheffield Wednesday website, which is my football club, where all the hits come from and there must be a Sheffield Wednesday priest or someone in the Vatican City, which is pretty wild.

You might go: “What the hell has this got to do with the Red Bull Music Academy?” And you’d be absolutely right, but I’m just going to show it to you anyway [laughter]. It’s about an abstracted version of doing soundtracks basically is what I’m talking about, and when you’ve got three dimensions to work with it makes sense.

A lot of the software that’s used in Formula 1 comes from Sheffield, they make Jelly Babies in Sheffield and these are the main countries that like them, Afghanistan, Canada, and wine gums, etc. Anyway, that’s enough of that shit.

We did a project, I don’t know if you know the Victoria and Albert museum in London, they asked 12 artists to take a shed and do something with it and we did one in sound, where we played 14 and a half minutes of beautiful sounds of the countryside in Britain: streams running past your feet, birds flying around your head, the rustle of the trees, the little stream running down there.

And then, after 14 and a half minutes without any warning, 30db louder, without any warning, there’s the sound of urban cacophony, pneumatic drills, “blah, blah, blah.” To try and point out what the difference is in sound between those two areas, at which point the people you see in the shed there would run out, well, jump up in the air first, then run out. That’s why the warning sounds were on the outside so we didn’t get sued. At which point, all the children run in again and say: “Can you put the loud part on again, please, Mister?”

And it was such a big success that we were asked to do it again at the Regent Street Festival, which is a tiny little thing at the bottom there, 400.000 people came past it that day, which is pretty cool. But this is pretty exciting and this is an indication of where the future’s going for sound, I think.

We’re working currently with the University of Virginia, they have created in recent years the whole of ancient Rome in 3-D that you can navigate around with a joystick. It’s completely bonkers, I don’t know why they did it, but it’s fantastic. To the level that some of the individual buildings you can see the individual tiles on the walls at quarter of an inch wide, the tessaria, stuff like that.

We’re going to populate that world with how it would have sounded at that time in history, obviously in Latin of course, but things like the Colosseum as well. And as a kind of follow on from that I had a kind of epiphany. I was there with my children and my wife, and I thought, “I know the guy who runs the interpretation centre at the Colosseum. Why don’t we persuade them and raise the money to populate the whole of the Colosseum with three-dimensional sound and create the sound of how the Colosseum would have sounded at that time, with 50.000 people in there, with the emperor, with sea battles, with beasts fighting human beings, with water organs playing, with drums, with people chanting the names of their favourite gladiators?”

Can you imagine that in 3-D? Walking in there if you were blind it would sound real. I just think it would be awe-inspiring, literally. So we’re talking to them at the moment. If we get this one off the ground, I think, everyone will want that shit. Why wouldn’t they? It depends on money, always.

We did a similar thing with the British Film Institute, which is the biggest film organisation in Britain. They opened a new building, which is this. We did a 120 meter long three- dimensional sound field with 120 meter long projections on the opposite wall with our friends D-Fuse, all about the new digital archiving of London films fundamentally and that was pretty cool too.

There’s a little bit I can show you. Imagine this 120 meters wide with the sounds following the effects. This is actually on Youtube. We’re looking at a blending of stuff that’s developed from the dance scene, using VJing techniques, using three-dimensional sound and creating new kinds of experiences for people in big, open spaces.

It’s not like going to an art gallery. You may just happen to cycle through this space or be walking through it and you come across something and suddenly something attacks the old medulla part of your brain and goes, “This sounds kind of real,” or, “This looks exciting.”

I think it’s a new exciting form of public art that I think will become even more popular in the future. I mean, we’re used to the random stuff obviously, you know, Times Square, where it’s all adverts, adverts, adverts, commercial purposes. But imagine changing urban spaces using really well-curated sound and vision. I think there’s a lot in that.

We just recently did Greenwich with a Planetarium show as well all in surround sound. The first place in the world, as far as I can tell, the first museum in the world - [looks at video screen] why’s it going grey, this is shit – the first place in the world to link lots of galleries using immersive sound, it connects all the galleries, all sonification from dates from space. So the radiation that’s coming from the sun, for instance, would be turned into sound and drifted through the gallery.

And I got the chance to meet the Queen actually, that was pretty cool. She was the first person to hear it, I shook her hand, she was really frail, she said: “How are you, Martyn?” I said, “I’m fine, Queenie. Will you sign my 50 pound note?”

Anyway, we’re working with disabled children and autistic children to create immersive environments using immersive projections two sensory grade projections, also 3-D sound and new LED lighting to try and engage these poor children who maybe can only move a finger or blink. They can change things like maybe they can move their finger a little bit and make animated leaves fall off trees or they can go for a walk in the woods or go running over the moon or fly over the Grand Canyon, etc.

We’re working on that, hoping that’s going to open not in September, but later this year. And we’re going to do a similar thing to the Mexico thing in the centre of London next year, so look out for that if you’re in London.

We did a tour, over the last few years we’ve done several of these, actually: a Future of Sound tour where we installed big three-dimensional soundsystem in a large theatre and ask artists in advance to do a 15 minute piece each. And some of them are just students like yourselves and some of them are more experienced to see how sound can be combined with their disciplines in the future, and these are some of the people we are hoping to bring.

Well, we are going to bring, to the USA hopefully in spring next year on the West Coast, but I’d like to do something on this coast as well, so any ideas, if anybody knows anywhere in Toronto that’d be interested, let me know. We’re also going to Brazil - yes! We’re going to Rio in March. They’ll not see my arse for dust, though, I’m telling you.

South Korea, we’re going to do something for the South Korean government. Just a couple of things, I’m not going to bore you any longer with this but some interesting things that might spark some ideas for you. We found out that this guy called Paul Deveraux, and he’s a very well-known professor in Cambridge in England, and he styles himself as an archeoacoustician.

He goes ‘round ancient burial sites and temples, pyramids, etc., and analyses them from a sound point of view. And he’s discovered that in Ireland there are a series of burial mounds called Cairns, and despite the fact they’re dotted all around the country and they’re made of different things, are different sizes, the linings of them are different, they all resonate at one particular frequency. The predominant resonant frequency is under 111 Hz, which is [mimics sound], Koyaanisqatsi that kind of thing.

Now this is interesting enough, it suggest that these things were built to enhance sound rituals for burials and combined with taking psychoactive drugs to interpret the rooms that were carved on the inside etc. But he had this notion, he had an idea about it, so he asked one of his friends, a bunch of students, to be analyzed and fed different frequencies to see what would happen to their brains on an MRI scan.

And guess what? At exactly 111hz it switches off the prefrontal cortex in your brain completely so you go into a trance. So they obviously knew 5.000 years ago that this particular frequency was like free drugs, would put you into this space where you are in a trance, and therefore in a social trance with everybody else in this space.

So that’s pretty wild when you think about it and the corollary of this, a friend of mine, Oliver Rothschild, who runs various huge companies around the world, particularly the Curzon group, he’s a good man, he’s interested in the healing power of sound. I don’t know if anybody’s done any sound therapy, I haven’t. There’s lots of views on it, it’s not really an accepted best practice.

But he’s actually established and is currently going through the patent process of establishing sound as medicine using different frequencies, seeing how you can maybe heal different illnesses using different frequencies.

Can you imagine how the drug companies feel about this, by the way? They are going to be thrilled because it’s free and there’s no way you can charge for it. I’d like to charge for it, but you can’t, all you need is a tone generator and that’s it. I find this stuff very interesting and it just shows a lot of stuff happened in the past that we have forgotten and that we will re-discover as time goes on.

On a lighter note, this is my friend Brian Duffy, he’s got a thing called the Modified Toy Orchestra. He picks up toys that – sorry, it’s yellow but that’s life, it’s not normally yellow, shit, OK – he basically picks up toys from car boot sales for 50p or something and examines their guts. He gets into the chip and examines how the chip is constructed and modifies the chip, attaches new controllers to them and enables them to be connected to PAs and he actually plays them live.

So, for instance, you see the Hula Barbie there, which actually does shake its hips and the eyes light up. It’s pretty cool, these things sticking out from her head are actually capacitance controllers, which make the most bizarre sounds. It plays back like [mimics Barbie doll singing], all that stuff. That’s pretty cool just by different capacitance and can make it make incredibly grany 8-bit sounds.

So here’s another lesson, basically. That’s what I’m saying. Recycling? Hey, you can do musical recycling using different things. For instance, he was telling me that Mattel made these chips and they had the information for every toy on every chip, even although for the Barbie doll it would only unlock a certain part of it.

So he found all these other toys that were built on this chip and it had Action Man on it and Spiderman, whatever. And then, of course,there’s Speak-and-Spells and whatever and there’s five people when he plays live. It’s like Kraftwerk for the 21st century. So let’s have a whip ’round and get these guys over here because they are absolutely fantastic. Have you seen them?

Emma Warren

No, I haven’t but I’ve got a friend I work with who is completely obsessed by them.

Martyn Ware

They are unbelievably good and very musical. Getting near the end now. This is some more friends of mine called Sancho Plan. They have a narrative that they designed in Flash and then they controlled the animated characters in the screen behind them using the percussion pads in a live performance. So, not only does it trigger sounds, it triggers movement in the actual. In this case it’s called Space Quatica, it’s actually like cartoon sea creatures. In 3-D sound as well. It’s pretty wild stuff and we’re talking to various people in Las Vegas at the moment about using this technology to create a new type of show.

This should interest some people, I don’t know who. But you can actually place a sound field microphone, which is a 3-D microphone, place it in the centre of Times Square, or Dundas Square, and transmit that information to anywhere else in the world via the internet, except if you’re in this building because the internet doesn’t work [laughs]. Anywhere else on earth and reproduce it, reproduce it. Anywhere, at any scale, which is wild I think.

We could reproduce the sound of Times Square in Trafalgar Square, for instance, or in an art gallery in Ulan Bator. That kind of blows my mind. It’s a translocation of reality, and if you take away the visual elements, it’s a bit like time travel or something for me, it’s completely wild.

We’re also talking to people about different interfaces because obviously we’re dealing in a new three-dimensional world so this is a new interface. We’ve been talking to these guys for two years now, I don’t know if you remember Minority Report and the way they move is very common, moving all that shit around, well, these guys G-Speak actually designed the look of that and now they’ve gone and done it for real. So you can do it for real but not just move things around on a screen, they go one further: you can actually go into the screen, so this membrane between reality and the virtual world is now being broken down.

You can actually create three-dimensional worlds where you can actually navigate through the screen just by using your hands. No mice, nothing, no transmitters, just cameras read these spots on these special gloves. This is pretty wild stuff and is the future. It’s like a touch screen space but in three dimensions. Wow! And we’re working with them. So what does the future hold? Well, artistic and educational installations, theatrical stuff, you know, imagine new forms of theatre and musicals, theme parks. We’re already talking to Disney and Dreamworks.

World premieres, if you want to make a big splash with people and you’ve got a few bob, you know, come to us because we can really do that. It works even better outdoors than it does indoors. And more importantly, collaboration with other digital, visual and interactive technologies because everything’s getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. Webcams, the software to control this shit is getting cheaper, and ultimately, what we’re aiming for, is really like the holodeck, I suppose, in the Star Trek Enterprise and we’re not very far away, which is kind of exciting.

That’s shut everybody up, hasn’t it? Are there any questions?

Emma Warren

I think definitely now is the time to put it out to the floor.

Audience Member

Hi. My question is, I guess, maybe I’m assuming too much but is your approach to synthesis more emulative or do you respect them as sort of their own instrument? I know that’s what Stevie Wonder says.

Martyn Ware

No, I’m totally different to Stevie Wonder, as you may have noticed. I think as a starting point, there’s a reason why instruments have evolved to where they are over the last few thousand years and not just western instruments, world instruments. There’s a reason why. They are normally based on natural harmonic occurrences, etc. The shape of instruments you will hear certain sounds that don’t require any human intervention at all.

I’m more interested in those more basic building blocks rather than trying to make something sound more and more and more like a cor anglais. I’m just not interested in that shit. In fact, I wasn’t that interested in Walter Carlos, for instance, until he started to get more abstract. I know he did more experimental stuff form the start but I didn’t know about it. The Switched On Bach I thought was pretty but kind of pointless.

Because if all you are doing is emulating, what you can do with real instruments, that’s not what it’s about at all. The exciting bit is what you can’t do with normal instruments that don’t have any analogue equivalent. That’s not the right word. No analogous equivalent. Actually, Stevie Wonder is quite interesting as an example. There used to be a band called Tonto’s Expanding Head Band and I’ve been trying to find it if anybody knows where it is. I’ve looked all over the Limewire and everything. They were two guys who were kind of academic...


It’s on youtube. There’s footage on youtube.

Martyn Ware

Is it? Yeah, I don’t need footage, I just need the actual albums that they put out and if anybody knows them anyway. They were the guys who went on to work with Stevie Wonder and their instrumental stuff was a thousand times more interesting than the kind of more musically-orientated that they did with Stevie in my view.


When monitoring 3-D sounds, I just wanted to know the positioning of speakers or how you mix it, how many you use...

Martyn Ware

I didn’t really explain that, I do apologise. The software can cope with any speaker locations. The minimum you need is like a cube really, a flattened cube, so you need eight speakers minimum. You need four as low as you can in any give space and four as high as you can. But you can go to any number you want, you don’t have to be in two rings. All you tell the software is where they are in relation to the centre of the space in X, Y and Z coordinates.

So you go: it’s two meters to the right, three meters up, two meters back, but you do that for every speaker, then you press “go” and it kind of creates... it convolves a virtual space. It creates a virtual space and then you actually can fly the stuff live through the space, as it knows where all the speakers are.

The great thing about it is, our studio in Brixton in London is six meters in diameter, it’s octagonal, it doesn’t have to be that shape, we’ve got two rings of eight speakers. When we created the stuff for the Mexico City installation, completely different shape, 28 speakers. We just put in the new speaker locations and it automatically sent the right amount of signal to every speaker. And also, you can play it live. That’s the other cool thing.

Imagine sensors attached to dancers, for instance, or ballet dancers so you can interpret the movement of dance on stage for an audience. That’s wild. We’re working with the Royal Ballet to do this at the moment, we’re trying to get the sensors as small as possible and as accurate as possible. It’s quite difficult, actually. You’d think it would be easier than it is, because you have to have several... A lot of them, if you lose the line of sight, you lose the signal.

Say, for instance, one of the ballerinas gets hoisted up by her colleague, we can attach a sound to her so the sound moves up for the audience who are in at the same time. It’s pretty cool... Stuff like that. And actually we can work with any size auditorium, indoor or out. To be honest, when we did the Mexico City piece it was the first time we’d done anything that big. So I’d been talking the talk and were we actually going to walk the walk now, and would it sound as good as we thought because it builds in all the right delays and fade differences, everything, and it’s just mind-bendingly good.

Emma Warren

I was going to ask about the frequency cut off’s because are there, you know, with certain speakers up in the air...?

Martyn Ware

We use full range speakers, but what we’ve found out just through using it, rather than any kind of theory, is that low frequencies tend to sound physically lower in space and vice versa. I think historically, when we were all cave men and women, you had to use your ears a lot more for survival purposes. So if there’s a bird of prey coming at you screeching, if you could hear them from a difference, you had an evolutionary advantage over some other dude who couldn’t hear anything.

So what we found, for instance, is that if we have a synthetic sound at quite a high pitch and we swoop it through people, through the back of their heads and out the front, they don’t know why but it gives them a thrill. So we just use a lot of these kind of tricks to manipulate. It’s the wrong word. We were talking about this, there should be a word for positive manipulation that isn’t so wrong. Manipulate sounds like we’re mad scientists, we’re not like that. We’re just trying to give people an interesting experience.

Audience Member

You started making me think of something I’d seen... I’m just curious to know, I was listening to something and there’s a level of anxiety it creates, a certain tone. So, as far as studies, have you found certain frequencies that can affect certain things? I’m actually interested in finding what these frequencies are and using them.

Martyn Ware

We are interested. It’s normally a result of harmony or incidental tones, things that set your teeth on edge. In this particular case, this is even weirder, I was saying about 111hz having this physiological effect on you... Coincidentally, someone sent me this clip on from, I think it was an American publication, where - they didn’t know anything about the 111 thing - and there’s these zoo workers have found out there was some machinery that was in a zoo, a compressor or something, that was giving off a certain frequency.

And they analyzed it and they discovered that this particular frequency was driving the crocodiles mad, it was driving the elephants mad, it was driving the animals insane and they realized it was down to this thing and as soon as they changed it it was fine. It was at 110hz and that blew my mind, because the people who sent it to me didn’t know about the stuff that I’m doing.

And also, another thing that blew my mind was they discovered a pulsar recently, the latest pulsar that they discovered is resonating at that particular frequency as well, which is pretty wild. I don’t know what it all means, I have no idea. I’m not saying this like Erich von Däniken, you know, but there’s some shit going on that we don’t fully understand.

And we’re going to do more research into it as we go along, this Sonic Healing Foundation that I was talking about, we’re going to look into the effects. There are some people who are more into the negative side of it as well, like the infrasound dudes and that’s very macho, I think. I don’t like that stuff, using sound as a weapon and all that stuff.

Audience Member

I’ve just got a quick question about the spatialisation stuff? How do you get past the problem of a dopplereffekt - if you’ve got two speakers and listen in the middle. In order for them to think that it’s moving across it has to pan, the pitch has to go up and then down but if you’re over here then...

Martyn Ware

Yes, our software has doppler built in. If you want to create a completely realistic sound effect of a car coming across, we all know what that sounds like. We can do that but we found that for compositional purposes it makes everything sound terrible, because as soon as you move everything towards thecentre it changes pitch. So whilst it’s there, if we wish to use it for certain applications, normally we have it switched off.

So all we’re dealing with is the analogy, if it was in the physical world, is like invisible dancers moving around the room with invisible speakers and moving stuff around a room, 16 of them. Also, it’s not like: “Hey, I’m here I can hear the sound, I’m there I can’t hear it.” This is like a wish fulfillment thing, there are some directional speakers but they all sound shit. I’ve tried them all, they all sound very limited frequency, basically. If anyone knows any different, please tell me.

The point is we’re trying to create a sense of alternative sonic reality, anything that breaks the illusion and sounds kind of tinny doesn’t work for us.

Audience Member

I just had a question as to whether the hardware you use is proprietary or you utilize other peoples? Really quickly, how do you output 28 individual different sounds discreetly or is that the process?

Martyn Ware

You can do it live if you’ve got enough soundcards and enough processing. When we master it, instead of mastering it to stereo, we master it to however many speakers there are. I like things locked down. I don’t like running things live off computer because you know and I know they break down. If you’re leaving an installation running, we’ve got one in Paris at the moment in Galeries Lafayette, the biggest department store in Paris, I won’t get another job with them again if it breaks down.

So normally, what we do is we put it down onto a hard disc recorder with each speaker corresponding to a track. That’s the mastering process, but obviously the more speakers you have, the more processing power you need. We’ve just reached a cusp now. I ran the entire Future of Sound tour off this [referring to laptop] and most of the venues had 16 speakers. We were running it live with interaction, with projection running off the same machine, and it’s not even one of the latest ones.

So we’re now at that point where it’s possible to do, and the software is for sale, so what we’re doing now is... it used to run on something worth 20.000 pounds, a piece of hardware, now it runs on a laptop that costs 700 dollars and the software essentially costs nothing though they have to charge for it, of course. The commercial software costs 3.000 pounds, to educational, who knows? If it was Red Bull Academy, they’d probably give you a free one. I could definitely give you a free one, I’ve got it right here.

The other thing is that a lot of the stuff I do is sponsored by Bowers and Wilkins loudspeakers so all the installations that we do, not the outdoor ones because that’s PA level, but the kind of art galleries and shops and stuff are all sponsored by Bowers and Wilkins loudspeakers. They could well be interested in donating some kit to the Red Bull Music Academy actually in return for a little credit.

Emma Warren

Do we have any other questions?

Torsten Schmidt

Well, first of all, thank you for sharing your insight there and there’s about a million or maybe two million tangents I would love to get off now, but we would be sitting here for the next three years and might be a bit boring. I hate to get back to the more profane things, but on a sentimental note and there’s no hidden message in here, we kind of skipped over the whole “Let Me Go” bit and could we probably get that as a send off. Could you share us a bit about the bassline in it, what was used for the nerds out there?

Martyn Ware

OK. Who’s got a TB-303? Anybody? Nobody? Anybody got a software version? Well, that was when they first came out.

Torsten Schmidt

Where did it stand in the debate of the first official use of it then?

Martyn Ware

It was one of the first, certainly on a dance record. I mean, literally we wrote it the week it came out, the TB-303 and 606. We didn’t like the drummachine so much, to be honest, but we could program slides in and stuff like that, that was so cool! And actually, very basic sounding oscillators, which sounded cool as well. Just give me a second, I’ll keep talking rubbish while I...

This is my favourite record we ever did, to be honest with you. And we actually programmed it on a piece of hardware sequencing, a Roland MC-4, was it? Anyway, you know it’s good because it’s got veneer on the sides, you know? And everything was numbers that you had to programme into it, no interface, everything was numbers, so it’s all mathematics.

And I was having this debate the other day, I’ll just share this before I play it. I do a lot of work with Vince Clarke, he has got every analogue synth on earth actually pretty much, even the academic ones. Buchla, who is coming in later on, he’s got everything he ever did and it’s all control voltage and gates and attached to a hardware sequencer.

And we compared the timing of the hardware sequenced stuff, like Kraftwerk for instance, with Logic and Cubase, on an oscilloscope. And the timing discrepancies were absolutely horrific, unbelievable in fact. Every beat would move to bang on to 10 milliseconds late, 20 milliseconds, snap back, next beat was 15 milliseconds and it was kind of random within that range and I think it’s pretty much still like that to this day. So everytime, when you think about using samples, you are never, ever, ever - unless it’s coming off a dedicated piece of hardware, if you‘re doing it via Logic or anything by a computer - it’ll never sound as accurate or as tight or as funky as that shit ever. We’ve proved it, I’ve seen it. It won’t work.

And that’s why those Kraftwerk records sound like “Oh, my god!” That’s why the hip-hop dudes love all that shit because it just sounds right on the money, every beat. And there’s that indefinable shoddiness about it. I hope there’s nobody from Logic here or I’ll get sued, but they know it, it’s not a dedicated piece of kit. Let me play you this, this is “Let Me Go”, my favorite track we ever did. You can’t miss the start, that’s one of those 128 track jobs.

Heaven 17 – “Let Me Go”

(music: Heaven 17 - “Let Me Go” / applause)

Another one of those crazy 128 track backing vocal sessions on that. Thank you very much, it was very kind of you to let me play that actually because it’s my favorite.

Audience Member


Martyn Ware:

Yeah, yeah. Everything, yeah. There were no samplers at that time so things like the drums had to be thrown in by hand, all the samples, all that shit. It’s pretty wild stuff, it takes forever.

Torsten Schmidt

I hate to keep brave Emma there, who is really soldiering on with her cold for another minute. But maybe, because you’ve been hinting at it a few times with the background of Sheffield as working class city, and most of us growing up with pop music as a dirty word, and if I remember correctly yesterday the gentleman hinting at how everyone is trying to be so hip and so on and so on, how important is the working class ethos and the dreams and the inspirations of the common man for what we really do?

Martyn Ware

Well, it gives you a bigger audience - that’s for sure. I never thought it was about impressing your peers. I never thought about impressing musicians and I never hung out with them particularly. I always tended to hang out with graphic designers and photographers, I think they give you a different way of looking at your creativity.

I think it’s very important not to just narrow yourself down and say: “I’m a DJ and what I do is I make beats,” you know? And then: “I’ve got a very linear path and if I do well, I’ll make lots of money.” I just think that’s not going to be the way that it’s going to be in the future anyway, so you’re definitely better off if you accept you’re multi-disciplinary at this point. And I know I’m always banging on about collaboration, but collaboration, it’s so important, it’s been the joy of my life working with the people I’ve worked with as a producer and as a band, actually, and I do miss a lot of the people.

And I do miss a lot of that... That’s the problem with this new kind of world where you’re looking at a computer screen all the time but it makes it even more important that you should try and break down that acknowledged barrier and get back to jamming, yeah? I think that’s really important.

Emma Warren

OK, before we wrap up then is there one final question? No? Well, I think we should thank the future face of Martyn Ware.

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