My Musical Timeline
I was a small boy when a parcel arrived from my father; he split when we were young and he had brought some Christmas presents after years of separation. The package contained books, games, an electronics set and a small metal xylophone. I made my way to the dining room, closing the door behind me and spent the entire evening striking these bars of steel - amazed by their sonic resonance. The sound ringing out was neither melodic nor in time, but the possibilities and opportunity to transform emotion into sound was the most fulfilling experience.
The next few years passed tinkering with electronics and taking apart old radios; I soon learned the differences between 9 and 240 volts and I’m not sure how I survived so many fizzing jolts!
At 11, I figured out how to amplify my mono tape deck and slow the internal motor speed whilst recording…..at proper playback this would produce high pitched vocals. It wasn’t long before I glued on a potentiometer for easier adjustment of the speed and had endless fun making my own sound effects and emulating Pinky and Perky. By far though, the most notable music influence on my young life to date was Mrs Davies - my form tutor and music teacher at the Grange Junior School. I was playing rhythm section in her school orchestra, not drums and rock and roll I’m afraid, but claves, guiro’s and all manner of clickety-clackety, chimey-whimey things.
It was in my final weeks of juniors in the late 70’s when the epiphanic event took place. Mrs Davies was cool enough to play us Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds on reel to reel tape.....it was scary, exciting and truly inspirational. Apart from the symphonic beauty, I was struck by two new sound experiences, which I later discovered were the saw tooth wave synth sounds and the harmonics and feedback of electric guitars. Sounds I had never heard before, but would go onto be my staple in my future music. I had one thing on my Christmas list that year and how lucky I felt when I opened what would be my most played record – The double gatefold War Of The Worlds.
Other early auditory experiences were listening to my twin brother's blue transistor radio. Alan and I shared a room and spent many evenings listening to euro pop on Radio Luxemburg as well as European football commentary in medium wave (which would always go off frequency at the best bits!)
A transition then into comprehensive school and I was lucky enough to receive hand me down cassettes and cassette players from my older sister Carol. These were very much appreciated as my usual hand me downs consisted of crochet tank-tops, flared jeans and other fashion crimes (one parent families wore jumble sale clothes and queued in the ‘free dinner’ line). It was the 80’s now and my TDK and Maxwell tapes were full of Gary Numan, Thompson Twins, OMD, and all top 40 stuff from the radio I guess. I had 4 of these tape machines and I enjoyed editing bits and pieces together, constructing my own tape mixes and making my own extended remixes – the skill was in the timing of the pause button and could take hours to get a perfectly timed passage.
At school I noticed my friend Sean disappearing from dreaded French lessons with a small black case. Turns out that he’s a whiz on the cornet and unfortunately, brass lessons clashed with French - apparently, all I needed to do was to convince the head of music that I was interested in learning a musical instrument. When I told Mrs Thompson that I wanted to play trumpet, she carefully checked my timetable. “Oh dear, what a shame” she says….”brass music lessons are on Friday mornings – you will be missing double French” I hope I managed to look disappointed!
Coming from a one parent family, I was given the trumpet on loan and only had to pay £5 per term for the lessons.
I had many good years learning music from Mr Leese, who also ran the Fleet brass band. By this time there were three of us taking brass lessons at school - Sean.K on cornet was the talented and his parents were from a musical background, Sean.S on euphonium and myself on a 2nd hand trumpet. I remember Sean’s dad taking us to practice in his yellow automatic Triumph dolomite. I didn’t stick at the trumpet lessons, but I have fond memories performing in a few concerts and events, but more crucially, learned the (very) basics of musical theory.
At 13, my first ‘keyboard’ was the Casio VL tone from Dixons; it was easy to confuse it with a musical calculator and this £30 novelty was notably used to make the hit Da Da Da by Trio - a hit in 30 countries no less! As with all early electronic instruments, the presets consisted of cheap sounding piano, violin, guitar and flute, but for me the magic was in the ‘programmable synthesizer ‘ which used oscillators and envelops. In-fact cheesy as it was, I learned all my basic envelope skills from this thing.
It was during these years the next big influence hit my musical timeline - Rockit by Herbie Hancock. Powerful drum machines, jazzy keyboards, electronic bass sounds and what on earth was that sound.... ch ch chwooosh and chukka chukka chukka!!. It was of course scratching and it wasn’t so much Herbie Hancock that smashed into my timeline, but the incredible DJ scratch mixer on the album Grandmixer D.St. This would be the gateway into a whole new scene........
The whole electro, break-dance and graffiti scene was exploding in the UK and I found a movement which I would be part of for the next 5 years, learning about DJ’s, breakbeats, sampling, drum machines and the 4 elements - these were the golden years of Hip Hop.
It was at this time that I started hanging around with another school mate, Steve; we would walk the same way to school and chat about music and stuff. He was a good skateboarder and was altogether more eclectic - he had also become a decent body popper. Discussing hobbies, we were amazed that the other had also been doing tape edits and mixes and shared similar tastes in music. It wouldn’t be long before we worked out how to scratch and mix records and a turntable addiction was soon upon us. I often think of my long suffering mother.....finally free from the din of my trumpet, soon to be replaced with a bedroom DJ (she was oblivious to the future arrival of my Fender Stratocaster many years later!). A healthy addiction for vinyl took 2 forms - Weekly trips to Greek Street in London to the Mecca of imported Hip Hop – Groove Records. The other addiction was crate digging for the rare, obscure and something original to add to the collection to cut up on the decks. The scratch mixes we put together were often played on the estate we grew up on played on those boom boxes for breakers to dance to. We would also walk into expensive Hi-Fi shops and play our mixes on equipment we had no intention to purchase; mixing was still a new art form then, so we often attracted a crowd. Our young egos would love the attention and we often headed towards Dixons to play the keyboards – we had learned the Axel F tune and our party piece was Bambaataa’s Theme.
There was another transition into college, where I studied science and electronics and would have plenty of time to DJ and apply my new knowledge of waveforms and circuits.
The turntable stuff was wholly gratifying, but I still yearned to make the music I was mixing. Enter the era of Roland keyboards and drum machines. I would spend days analysing every note of every bar to songs, working out how they were constructed and sequenced. It was the first time I really deconstructed music in my head and it taught me so much about composition and programming. It wasn’t good enough for me just to get the notes right, I wanted to know how to match the sound exactly and achieve the same timbre.
I would spend nights tweaking filters and sliders until the sound coming out of my keyboard was as close as the technology allowed; It was a satisfying process which was so rewarding when the results turned out good - to hear a pretty close replica of a Kraftwerk tune or a film theme was a stepped progression for me. These cover versions helped me understand the equipment’s possibilities (and limitations!) and together with my earlier trumpet lessons, formed a foundation to build my own compositions. My DJ years had also broadened my musical influences and by now I was listening to soul, funk, rock, psychedelica, electronica, classical, dance, hip hop, acid, jazz and the weird world of sound effects and spoken word.
In-fact it was while watching the film Ordinary People that I am moved by a piece of music – Pachelbel’s Canon sung by a choir, awoke something inside and made me realise how music can convey feelings and emotion – perhaps then, the possibility that I might be able to let my thoughts and feeling flow into my music. The very next day I head down to Our Price record shop and ask if they have Canon in D minor. They were far more used to me buying 12” remixes every week and I did feel strange asking them to play this classical piece. I asked them to play it before I brought it, just in case I had got this wrong, but wow...the very first bars of these haunting strings confirmed that this was indeed the music I heard from the film and once again invoked an emotional feeling.
Demo tapes, shouts on Mike Allen’s Capital radio show and new friends from new towns were additional aspects of these years and Jasen would become close friends with Steve and myself and would also become our rapper as MC Quid.
Most of my music making at this stage was highly influenced by electronic sounds, but as a teenager growing up, 2 bands would also have a parallel impact - the words and ideals that U2 and The Alarm stood for rang a chord with a youngster asking all the same questions. I would go on to see them many times in concert and their music would stay with me for the next 30 yrs. Perhaps it was these influences (obsessions) that led me to buy my first guitar....
I brought my acoustic guitar from the same place I shopped for trumpet accessories earlier in life - Boosey and Hawkes in Aldershot was hardly hip, but was the established place for all things musical. I remember getting the guitar home and locking myself away to try it out; it was the same process as the 6 year old boy on his xylophone, discovering how to create the sound. I brought a book and set about learning the basic chords and practicing the co-ordination between left and right hand. The blisters on the fingers were painful and this organic sound was far less forgiving than my electronic sequencers - when I got it wrong, it sounded terrible! This would actually spur me on, as I found it frustrating that I couldn’t get my guitar to sound like the records I listened to. The frustration just motivated me to practice more and learn guitar tablatures from books (this was pre-internet days, so I couldn’t just Google it). I brought music videos to study how the greats were doing it, but as with most art forms, I realised that it’s the practice and creativity which make all the difference.
It wasn’t long before I wanted to sound like The Edge from U2, so I brought a Telecaster from a neighbour and a 30 watt amp. The solid body and heavy gauge strings were hard going and the absence of distortion & delay couldn’t reproduce the songs I was listening to. After much saving, I get my 1st Strat, which was a deep red one just like Hank Marvin’s. I fit it with lighter gauge strings and purchase a boss distortion pedal and a digital delay. At last! This was it, these were the sounds I wanted to make; dotted delays and harmonics.......and it had a whammy bar – Nice!
Once again my poor mother had to put up with me trying to work out riffs and chords, again this was before the dawn of software, presets and midi files, so the constant repetition of the same 10 seconds of songs must have been annoying for everyone else in the house; to me though, I was making rock music.
For the second time in my life I was profoundly affected by a piece of classical music. This time it was Dvorak’s New World Symphony and unlike my earlier encounter with the classics, this track filled me with inspiration and drive. You could say it was a catalyst for change and a soundtrack to figure out a strategy to make the transition from boy to man. (I later sampled this track as a testament and recognition of the impact it had during this time of change)
Thankfully, for my mother this era would not last long as I was soon to leave home and get my first flat with my girlfriend Michelle (who would later become my wife) and like me, she was a fan U2 and we would go to many concerts. As I was doing the DJ thing in my teens, Michelle was into the rock scene and a keen biker; like me she was a fine purveyor of vinyl and boasted an impressive collection of classic rock...these gems would all be new musical experiences waiting for me when we would eventually get together.
We are all in our 20’s now and my friends and fellow muso’s start to drift apart finding new directions, new relationships, and new careers. It was like the strategy I was piecing together under the influence of Dvorak’s Symphony was starting to come to fruition.
During this time Steve and Jasen formed a grunge band called Peach Razor - Steve on bass and Jace on lead vocals; they enjoyed local notoriety and published 2 tracks for the snakebite city records series. We are all on our personal journeys carving out our future paths, but music remains as a constant and forms the soundtrack of our lives.
Steve, Jace and I would all remain in contact and hook up at various stages with various musical projects.
Invisible Energy Temple was the reformation of one time DJ partner and life-long friend Steve. Our music was an eclectic mix of samples, keyboards and drum machines with added noises coming from the guitars and bass we had learnt in recent years. Our music was not exactly crafted but moreover, the recordings of 2 friends jamming and in complete synchronicity with each other.
Scale was the next project I undertook with Jase, who earlier rapped with Def Cut Duo and was the original vox with Peach Razor. Scale was a cocktail of some thought provoking lyrics, pop style keys and guitars, backed with some breakbeats for old-time sake! These recordings were probably the most commercially viable, but did not turn out to be a long term project. I remain particularly fond of these tracks and wonder what could have become if we had pursued this project.
Once again an old partnership formed a new band – Wilowherb saw Steve and Bulli back in business, but this time with a psychedelic attitude and some more electronics. Wah wah’s and dot delays are ever present and we start to record on 4 track! A diet of hip hop, Ozric’s, ambient and electronica shape our sound. It was a perfect match of my techy electronics, symphonic aspirations and my hippy friend who ensured our compositions remained cool and psychedelic......left to my own devices I would morph into a Numanesque-Ultravoxian-Orchestral manoeuvred state of synthesis (Steve would jokingly label me OMD – Orchestral Martin in the Dark!!!) – These recordings produced some accomplished pieces like Tenalp and Swamp trip; our tracks were never shorter than 10 minutes and often lasted the length of a cassette.
Later in life I recorded under the name of Prismonix - it was meant to be a whole concept of white noise in and colour sound out; I think I was starting to lose focus at this point and had to find a way to free the sounds in my mind......my journey had seen the 6 year old boy absorbing so many new sounds and experimenting along the way.....the young Mix Maestro became the Unique DJ, hung up the decks for drum machines and keyboards, claimed another string to his bow with his Fender Stratocaster until the birth of Virtual Instruments.....here I had it all inside the convenience of a computer and a new era would begin. After several remixes and postings on the net I shed the prismonix concept and entered my final re-incarnation as Bulli ™
Using FL studio as my main sequencer and recording software, I bring together all that I have learned and start to record over 150 pieces of music and pour all my thoughts and experiences into digital recordings. I design my own website and publish my work on Bulli Space.com. I partake in many forums helping other musicians and receive invaluable feedback, which help me with mastering techniques and equalization.
In 2010 I realise a boyhood dream and publish my first album on iTunes. Humanism is a collection of Instrumentals inspired by life, death, spiritualism and all the bits in between….Sapience is the 2nd album and is planned for release in 2012…….
Roll of honour and influences who shaped my musical timeline: -
(In no particular order)
Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds
Jean Michel Jarre
Knights Of The Turntables
Streetsounds Electro Series
Ultimate Breaks and Beats
Dvozak’s New World Symphony
Tandy and RS supplies
DJ Cash Money
Ministry Of Sound
Incredible Bongo Band
Art Of Noise
The Thomson Twins
Orchestral Manouvers In The Dark
Pet Shop Boys
Wah Wah pedal
Une Sale Histoire
Dj Jazzy Jay
DJ jazzy Jeff