"You can hardly separate music from technology"
(Trevor Horn in 1994)
"Horn was at the cutting edge of inventing a whole new way of making modern records, involving the use of the studio as a musical instrument, new developments in computers and samplers, and a general harnessing of the machine that literally rewrote the laws of composing music. All contemporary pop utilising computers and samplers owes something to the innovations of Trevor Horn in the early 80s."
(Paul Morley in 1997)
Music and Technology. Last changed: June 27 1998.
Trevor Horn is infamous for his "inability to let go" on a song. Most of his songs (not only 'Slave To The Rhythm' or 'Left To My Own Devices') took many months until Mr. Horn considered them to be finished. A typical sign of his productions is his wasteful use of high class musicians and sometimes whole symphonic orchestras, even if it's only for short parts. Nevertheless his music doesn't sound overloaded. He seems to know instinctively, where to place which instrument, even if there are dozens left to place in the acoustic image. It is always possible to identify the single instruments. Especially the guitars have been used in a new way by him. Trevor Horn distributes/dismembers main harmonies on his four or more independent guitar tracks, which then seem to play autonomous but as a whole sound in perfect harmony.
Only The Best Is Good Enough For a Horn
Most of all, Trevor Horn always tried to use the most modern technology for his productions to make his music sound better. He doesn't know any "taboo" (like some rock musicians refuse to use synthesizers for example). Anything goes and everything is allowed - That's why he once said: "I wouldn't necessarily say, that a good song is a good song, because if it is not produced the right way, no one will notice it's quality. So I tend to say a good idea is a good idea." His work with many high-class musicians led to some harsh statements, like: "I can only work with professionals. With my age I don't want to spend my days with waiting anymore, until a musician, who can't play right, finishes his part."
Dr. Mabuse and tapeless sequencing
After Steve Lipson introduced Trevor to his technique of tapeless sequencing (see under team), Horn decided to produce Propaganda's 'Dr. Mabuse' without using tapes. "We took a Linn, a Fairlight, a DMX, a DSX and a Roland M5, interconnected them and programmed the whole song in each machine. A special device called 'conductor' was used to help synchronize the instruments with each other. So we programmed everything, with the idea in mind, that the girls could sing over it, while we would lean back and just press some buttons - without using any tape. ...Of course on recording day the whole setup went berserk and we had to start all over again to record the whole thing with tape!" However, Horn and Lipson used this technique to copy multitracks, and split them over several measures. "I will never forget the day, when Steve came over and showed me how he copied multitracks. 'Wow', I thought, 'that's something we can use for 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome'!' In the end we worked three months on that song, which was supposed to be only a three minute track, and which we copied and stretched over and over.
Re-recording instead of correcting
One of the reasons for the large amount of time he spends on a song, is that instead of correcting mistakes, he tends to erase the whole song and record it new from scratch. "It is always a difficult decision. But if you are long enough in the business you can't really pretend to yourself that a track is hot, if it is not. Together with the Frankies we recorded 'Relax' four times. Back then this was very unusual and we all were really annoyed. Nowadays this is much more simple. On a good day and with the right people besides him, Seal can finish his parts with only a few takes. But sometimes it is much more difficult. I have some different versions of some songs from his last album, which are really cool, but lack something special. So we stopped working on them and recorded them new. Whenever I think that it has to be possible to record a better version, I tend to re-record it."
The Making of "Relax"
However, after working on 'Relax' for two weeks, Trevor Horn decided to send the Frankies back to Liverpool and record the song alone. "We just threw the old version away and restarted from scratch. The song was finished after only fourteen hours, although the technology was much more complicated than today. For example, I had to switch the drum patterns manually during recording. Now a secret: How he made the awesome bass sound on 'Relax': "We produced the Bass drum sound on 'Relax' by combining a Linn 2 base drum together with a sampled E-note, played on a bass guitar. There's nothing like this. Most speakers have problems with notes lower than the 'E' on a bass guitar. Nowadays we go up to five notes below the 'E', using synth basses, but you need large speakers for that. The 'E' however has power, even when played on the radio. 'D' isn't bad, too, but the 'E' is better. We combined this sound with a Fairlight, which played a sampled piano sound in quavers. This combination of Linn and Fairlight was also used when the Frankies played the song live." "The 'Relax'-groove was in my Linn 2 long before. It was my favorite pattern and I tinkered on it all the time. I always thought of it as some kind of 'English Square Dance', but when I saw it's impact on the band, I realized that you could make a good dance record out of it."
His Master's Wife and Seal's Voice
Horn's wife Jill played some part in the production of Seal. "It was her idea to mix his voice up really loud on 'Crazy'. It was also her, who signed him to ZTT. She loves his voice. On 'Crazy' she led me to leave his voice dry, without any effect or EQ, while the whole track around is compressed. From the moment he starts singing, we try to keep the signal digital all the way to the CD."
Bore me! Stock, Aitken, Waterman...
One of the reasons for the variety of his productions is, that Trevor Horn gets bored very fast: "I get tired of certain sounds. Usually I don't use the sounds of one project on the next, in order to start unencumbered. For this reason I really should envy Stock, Aitken and Waterman, since I never had the opportunity to produce every record with the bass drum on channel three on the mixing console. Since I get bored so fast, I wouldn't be a good Indie-producer. I like records, that you can hear very often, because they take you on a journey. I think my main talent lies in the ability to hear music in a certain way and to arrange it interestingly. It's very difficult to explain..."
Vomiting at SARM East
High-Tech equipment (at that time!) like the Synclavier also helped when Trevor Horn was in too bad shape to work properly as pink Floyd's David Gilmoure recounts an episode from the four months recording session to "Slave to the Rhythm": "I was approached by Trevor Horn, and went down to their studio SARM East and set up my equipment, and Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn was there. Trevor had a terrible food poisoning and was throwing up every three minutes, lying on the floor trying to produce a record and chucking up into a bin! I think mostly they sampled anything I did into a Synclavier and tried to make some sort of sense out of it later, because he was too ill then, poor chap."
Artists Complain About Trevor's Overproducing
Trevor does a lot of digital audio editing using Digidesign's Pro Tools. His excessive editing of original material got him into - sometimes even violent - arguments with his artists more than once. The most recent case is Seal who finally parted with Horn after they reportedly even got into a fist fight in the summer of 1997. Sources close to Seal report that he complained about Horn's over-use of technology on his material for quite a while. Being mostly a traditionalist Seal disapproved with the way in which Trevor tampered with his original performance. The argument between Seal and Horn was reportedly not the first violent disagreement about Trevor's methods.
More Projects --> More Studios
Trevor's usually has several projects on the go at any one time. At Hook End Manor once he split the major sound rooms into smaller studios and then started using some of the bedrooms in the residential house as Pre & Post production suites! In 1995 he installed in the basement of his West London home a studio which is based around a Neve Mark 3 with flying faders, his Sony 3348 digital multitrack, his two Pro Tools workstations and a Yamaha DMC 1000 digital mixing desk. Since then he can do a lot of his work at home and therefore can spend a lot more time with his wife and business partner and their four children. Trevor Horn also has a set up in his home in the USA.
Copyright © 1995-2005 Christoph Roeckerath, Germany.