Archive for January, 2016

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Demonstrating in 1987 with two Akai S900 samplers behind me


Tuesday 5 January 2016 marked the passing of Gerry Chapman. While Gerry would probably not have remembered me, meeting him had the most profound effect on my life.

Thirty years ago, my music life was at a crossroads. At 29 I’d been in and out of bands for years and the latest one, State of Emotion, had just created a decent set of demos. Engineering them had given me a taste for recording and the plans for a decent quality home studio slowly gelled. Fast forward six months and I found myself on the Akai stand at the British Music Fair at Olympia in August 1986.

The previous year I had worked with a keyboard player who had an Ensoniq Mirage. This was one of the first generation of affordable samplers, keyboards or modules that could sound like real instruments. The audio quality of the Mirage was pretty ropey to say the least but had led to the launch of enhanced offerings from other companies. I’d decided to base the new studio around a sampler and the BMF was the perfect opportunity to investigate.

Akai had launched a cheap sampler the year before but the S612 hadn’t been very successful – you really couldn’t do much with just eight seconds of sampling time. But the 1986 BMF marked the launch of its professional sampler, the Akai S900. Over a minute of sampling time, a standard floppy disk drive for saving and loading samples and programs, and advanced editing facilities including auto-looping made for an impressive machine. One of Akai’s chief competitors, Roland, also had a new sampler, the S-550, with even more impressive specs than the S900. It was going to be a difficult decision.

I took my seat at the Akai booth and in walked the demonstrator, Gerry. From the moment he opened his mouth he captured the attention of everyone in the room. It certainly wasn’t his command of the English language – he was the epitome of a rough diamond – but his passion and sheer bravado made the demo quite unforgettable. I stayed on the Akai stand for over an hour afterwards speaking to Gerry and various others and made the decision there and then to invest in Akai. I never even got to the Roland stand. Two S900s, costing around £1600 each, became the heart of my studio.

Purchasing those samplers set in motion a series of events that changed my professional life. I quickly became frustrated at the limited library of sounds and decided to create my own, leading to the setting up of Chameleon Services, the UK’s first commercial S900 sound library. With the help of Dave Caulfield and the late Steve Howell at Akai Professional, the library encompassed almost every classic keyboard sound and musical instrument. Over a period of two years, the company sold thousands of disks to a host of famous musicians, producers and studios. This led to an interview and feature in International Musician magazine in 1987 and being introduced to the editor from which my career as a journalist started. Over 40 magazines (including Music Technology, Home Studio Recording and Sound On Sound) have published over 1200 articles of mine along with two books. In the 1990s I demonstrated for Korg, Fostex and Hybrid Arts, set up the UK MIDI Association and Club Cubase UK, edited various industry books and ran seminars at audio schools and universities. And on the back of the journalistic pedigree this created, I also edited Atari ST Review and Mac Action magazines and spent 15 years as cover CD editor for Macworld UK magazine.

Chances are that none of this would have happened had I not spent that afternoon in the company of Gerry Chapman back in August 1986. And it took a message that Gerry had passed away to make me realise how different my life would have turned out without him.

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