Perfect Sound Forever

Teo Macero

Interview by Iara Lee, Part Two

Q. Kraftwerk would also work the same way, they felt like scientists of the studio. Do you know some direct influence in contemporary music of your work? Things that you started.

A. No, I mean I hear some of it from time to time and I hear these records, but it's not the same as when we were doing it, which is a shame, because I think that given one's ability, it would be nice if I had a studio to go to everyday and work at it and create and have some tapes to work from. I mean I do it for myself. I did a concert a couple of years ago where I made the tape myself, and it was quite extraordinary. I played over the tape, I did my part live and the tape was on tape. It worked out very well. But I like to try and work with contemporary composers because these guys have a lot of musical ideas and they can hear sounds and this is what you need. You need to be... like Varese, he could hear everything. A number of other composers can also do that and it's a shame that they don't have the opportunity to get into an environment where they can work at it, not electronics so to speak, but work in real music. I mean in terms of live performers and taking that and seeing what you can do with it.

Now, Miles, I come back to him all the time because I recorded him a lot differently than most people would think. I can't remember how far back, but I recorded him from three different sources. When the microphones first came out attached to the instruments Miles was one of the first to use that. So I take it from the source, from the microphone on the instrument, I'd take it from the real sound into the microphone. Then I would feed another channel into the amplifier and pick it up from the amplifier. So I had three different sources to work from. So you could take those three sources, keep the main source, and then manipulate the other two sources and come up with Bitches Brew. But you need that communication with the other person, engineer and research department. This is where it's coming from. I mean all these electronics are great but if you don't know what the hell to do with them and you're not a good composer you might as well send it back.

Q. Miles said that what makes bad music is bad musicians. At that time people were freaking out blaming synthesizers for bad music.

A. The funny thing is the wa-wa pedal is now becoming more important in terms of the market place. I don't know whether I gave him the pedal, but I got him a pedal, I got him everything he needed for the wa-wa. But he couldn't' manipulate it. He was just learning it. So what I did, I told him "Don't worry about it. We'll fix it." So when I got the tapes out of the studio into the editing room I got a wa-wa pedal. And I wa-wa'ed those things to death so that you... (imitates the sound). I don't think anyone could duplicate those records today. I think he made two records like that.

But I think that's another electronic, the wa-wa pedal and all the sort of electronic effects that you have with the guitars is really marvelous. I have a piece in one of the sessions with the guitar player Reggie Lucas and he played and gave me two different versions. I put those things together, and they're dynamite. I wanted to put that in as part of the new Miles Davis, because it was done at the end of one of his sessions. But they don't want that. I guess they don't want to make any money. Because these thing I know Miles would have done. He was very careful, he would like to try new things. I played with the London Philharmonic on one of my own tapes and it's gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. Now this is something I wanted them to do for many years. Now, I had the studio a couple of months ago and I had this trumpet solo that I wrote and that he did for a TV show and I put that with the London Philharmonic. And they refused to put it out. I own all the tapes, and it's gorgeous. We made it all with the London Philharmonic.

Q. He considered nothing wrong, everything was allowed?

A. I found it very fascinating. We had our battles. There were times when he wouldn't speak to me and times I wouldn't speak to him. It's like a husband and wife. There are times when you just like to be left alone. He used to call me at 2 or 3 in the morning and play a tape for half an hour, forty five minutes. And Miles would get on the phone and say, "How do you like that?" I said, "Well, generally the ideas are great. Let's go in and do them." And the next day we would do them some time in the afternoon or the evening.

Q. What about Stockhausen, influential?

A. Stockhausen, to me, didn't include all these sort of electronic effects. I haven't heard much of his music except the early pieces that he did, which was sort of like music concrete. I don't know how you would analyze it but it was good, I mean there's no question about it. But so far as electronics, they used to create electronic effects without electronics. Now you say, "How did you do that?" Probably the same way that he did it, it's by putting certain tonalities together. I did a movie called AT THE END OF THE ROAD and the critics said that this was a great electronic score. This happened to be back in '65. There weren't any electronics at all, except we did have an organ or something like that. But it's the way you put these instruments together to create overtones that creates a sound. Can you imagine if you put all that stuff into different echoes, different delays? It's very fascinating. I mean I used to try everything. When CBS came out with the first 200 LP's, the engineer and I mixed all of them. Producers weren't allowed, I wasn't a producer then, I was a music editor, but we put out 200 of the first stereo LP's, I mean we used limiters, we used sort of like digital delays a little bit. Having one machine go at a 7 1/2 speed of another thing. We did the records and got fantastic reviews. So you see the people really don't care as long as they hear the music. And we, as musicians, we'd know what was important and how it should sound. So we were just adding another little color. With Stockhausen, there was a lot of great music but he hasn't done much in the last ten years that I know of. Has he? Sort of like given up.

Q. So your work was more a process, not predetermined?

A. When you go into the studio you go in and make the product better and you try different things. We'd go in there and we'd listen to the material and say "how can we enhance this? How can we make this better?". Sometimes an engineer would have an idea, I'd have an idea, we'd try it. If it didn't work we'd throw it out and try something else. But, until I got the right kind of sound for some of those records it took quite a while. I mean lots of very painstaking time in trying to get them to really speak for themselves. I mean if you are to go back and listen to some of the early records made without the editing, you'd say, "Is this possible? Is this the way it was?" I mean even my own things, I shudder to think, because I think that we take these things and raise them to another level. And a lot of records today are being made and they're not doing anything with them. I mean they're letting bad songs on them and this and that. Who needs that?

I can't stand mistakes on records. The president of CBS used to say, "it's like putting a couple of words on a Broadway show album." Or the joke: you hear it once you don't want to hear it again. So, the best thing to do is put out pure music. So this is what we try to do. Even with the Broadway shows, which I used to work on. I did 19 or 20 of those and we could create a lot of different sonorities. Sometimes he would like it, sometimes he wanted it purer. But there again, it depends upon one's taste. I was always experimenting, because I thought that this was the way to go. I did overdubs back in the '50's and late '40's. I overdubbed myself. I have one of my records, it's called "Sounds of May" and it won a lot of prizes. It's unlike the music today where you've got 30 minutes of one kind of vamp. It just moves like a composition and that's something that's lacking today.

I mean if electronics is going to help them do anything, maybe it will help them a little bit in organizing their music because it gets pretty boring after ten minutes. I mean, when you hear the bass (imitates sound) and the drums and everything else and nowhere to go. Just a straight, you know, reading in the red, it doesn't make for good music. You have to have some dimension. You have to have some air around it. The rock and roll people all like it very tight, in your face. I tried to tell that to Robert Palmer and I said, "Robert, it would be nice to have a little air around it, I don't need the space, but air." And he finally would add a little echo. I said, "Okay, if that's as far as you're going to go, that's fine." And with him we were doing a lot of electronics, but everything is not a computer. He put it all in the computer first, then called me up and sent a tape over. I listened to it, and with comments, sent it back. Then a couple of weeks later he'd send another one and another one and another. And then I'd go over there to Italy and work with him in the studio. But I said, "It's too late now. The electronic things are so set, there's not much I can do." I mean if I wanted to take it all apart, that's one thing, but he didn't want that. So I said, "Okay you're not going to have an intro and you're not going to have a middle section." Because sometimes they would just start and then you'd need an intro, so where do you pick up the intro? From the inside of the piece or something like that, in order to give it some semblance of order, rather than just this straight computer piece that didn't have a beginning, middle or an end. It was just one piece. It didn't have those sections.

So we had to make an ending. But you're limited as to what you can do. Like, for instance, the Japanese, on this thing called 16-30, which is a big machine. You make your masters onto it and you can edit onto it and it's fine. But they're doing it backwards because I had said to them for 12 to 15 years, "You've got to add something to this equipment. You cannot make a splice like this and echo one side. You have to echo the second side. It just will not carry over." Now that should be a simple thing for the Japanese to figure out, how to make that echo go over. So, what you have to do, is take it out of the digital before that, put it into the analog, and put it back into the digital, if you want to do it correctly. That takes a lot of time and it should be a simple thing. . Not that I'm an electronic wizard, I'm not.

Q. What about Herbie Hancock, he was a gadget fanatic?

A. I didn't know too much about his electronics. I imagine he is, he's probably got every piece of equipment ever invented. I don't know if he uses it like he should. But once you have all that stuff, unless you had somebody there to prod you, you'd have a tendency not to use it. Or, you use it and you're not thinking about something else. Now, we did this movie with Chick Corea in his studio out in California. It was a movie called VIRUS, and there were a few things that we wanted him to record. He did it all with a synthesizer. And it's a great track. I was there, he was there, and he improvised. He took the basic melody and it was really quite beautiful. But the other three tracks that we didn't use for the movie are dynamite. I've been trying to get those out since 1972, or something like that. But Chick had a great sense of how to plug things in. But then you get the critics who say, "Oh, he's back to electronic music again. This guy is doing this and it's not like the acoustic instruments like piano." It's a different touch. Anybody could be the performer on electronic instruments because it's all the same. Even though you push keys, you might have a different way of pushing them. But with acoustic music there is a difference. But with electronic, to me there's no difference. I couldn't tell one from another. Who the player was... I've done so many of them, bass and other instruments. But anyway, I just like to play.

Q. You said Miles didn't use a synthesizer but in his biography he talks about using electronic instruments to go further?

A. Well, of course. And if you notice in his performances, this came up last year at a clinic out in Minnesota: the critic got up and said, "I've discovered something, that Miles is doing the same thing in concert as he does in the record. I can hear the similarity". But the guy, the critic, I didn't want to embarrass him. I said, "Look, all those sounds that you hear on the record and that are dove-tailing are done in the editing room. And what Miles did, if you hear his concerts, he goes from one tune to the other". Maybe with a little vamp. And that's exactly what we were doing in the days when I was working on Miles' records. So therefore there's editing all over again. And these people today, I just don't know, they can't get the concept because we're taking these records as gospel truth, but at the same token, it's these guys over here who put it all together. It's like a great painter, great artist or whatever. You're able to see and say, "Look, I don't like it because...", maybe because Miles didn't have any endings, might have been some cases like that, I'm sure there were. So you take the end out not even a bar and a half and you hear (sound). And that's exciting. And this is what he did in concerts for the last ten years, maybe fifteen, I don't know.

Q. What about the purists?

A. There are too many of them around. The purists don't have a place on this earth. I mean if you want to be a purist, you buy yourself a computer and just let it happen and do nothing else. I think the purists, they're all right for some things. For archival kind of things. But I think that when you're a purist, you want all the mistakes. I can't stand them, I mean I wouldn't like it. I wouldn't like listening to a record with mistakes in it. I mean I had a couple of records the other day, I listened to them and it's nothing. I can't even go back to play it again. I mean the purists have a way. They don't want the echo. And then with Miles, getting back to that big question, there's no echo, there's no limiting, there's outtakes and everything else. I think it's unfair for the artists. The purists have got a place, but not where the artists should be. I mean, they can't inhibit the artist, can't stifle them. You got to let them go. You've got to let them be creative.

Q. With the electronic revolution, purists thought it was the death of music, instead of its rebirth.

A. I think so. I mean there's a lot of things to be said about the revolution. But there again, you got to go back to basics too, you got to go back to music. And a lot of the young players don't have that giant stature, like a Duke Ellington, like a Miles, like a Basey. They have no concept.

Q. How much do you know about the youth culture's techno music. Miles said it came from funk?

A. I'm not so sure what he meant by that. Funk came out of that? I don't think so. I'd probably disagree with Miles on that because funk has been around a long time. Look at Lionel Hampton. That band and Duke's band used to play that back 20 or 30 years ago. You'd call that funky. I have some records of Duke's that are fantastic. They got that funk. If you mean playing one chord for twenty minutes, that's funk, and then they have the 2 and 4. The only trouble with a lot of that music is it doesn't swing. And this is what I objected to with Miles' later records. Because they're sort of blocked in. He goes 2 and 4 done with a computer. And you cannot make music that way and put it on a clip track. And this is how they made a couple of those records and I think that that's wrong. I mean you can't really make funky records. I think funky records have to be done as a whole, live. I mean you need that fluid, that movement. Funky music has been around for a long time. I consider Dixieland pretty funky. I love Dixieland. Love banjos too, got a lot of banjo music. And you hear the difference. I mean you put the record on and compare it to records today, sure there's a difference, but it's uplifting, where the beat is not click track. But when you get the click track and the rock and roll things and those kinds of things, to me it's debilitating. You listen to ten records one after another and you'll see what I mean. You get worn out.

Now, you take the big bands, Woodie Herman, Duke and Basie Fletcher Henderson, and you listen to that and boy, you want to get up and dance, you want to get up, you want to move. It makes you feel good, because it's human. I don't know. I sometimes think I'm talking to the wind when I talk to these executives at record companies. They don't understand what I'm talking about. Of course they don't know what it is to be in the studio to hear Basey and Ellington together for the first time. Do you know that record? Oh, that became a giant record. I don't know if it went gold. Basie wanted to put the bands together, intermixable. I said no, you can't do that Imagine, the producer telling Basey. I said, "Bill, I'm going to put Duke on the left and you on the right and whoever's song that we're playing will be in the center. Your rhythm section will play your songs and Duke's rhythm section will play their songs." So in the middle of one of the numbers there's a drum solo by Basey and I had all these boxes and things, because we had so many microphones. Then the drummer from Duke's band jumped up on his set of drums and we opened up all the pods (from the mixing board) very quickly and boy, the battle between the two drummers... It's just one of those spontaneous things that happened once in a lifetime. You know, the studio is a place to experiment. The studio is a place to perform. The studio is a place to create new kinds of images and solos and unusual events. I mean I've done a lot of dates where we start off with one thing and end up with 20 better. So I'm saying you've got to be there and you got to encourage the guys. You got to work at it every minute. I mean I do. I don't know about everybody else.

Q. You think that the combination of human-machine is to have the machine work with you?

A. But you got to be human, I mean you can be difficult. I'm not easy, in the studio, because I can't afford to be. I mean, if I wanted to be pussy footsy... Like Brubeck wanted to do one time, he wanted to have his sons play in the band with all the great musicians. And I said,"This is not a training program. We're trying to make a hit single." Oh, but these guys, "my kids will play..." . I say, "Dave, they can't possibly play up to the level of these other guys. They're going to drag them down." He insisted, so I walked out and told him to go to hell.

Q. What are the interesting cross pollination's of technology and music?

A. There's a lot of that going on. A lot of cross pollination going on. But there again, it gets back to music. You can have all of this stuff and if you're not equipped to handle it musically, it just sounds like a dull piece for five or ten minutes. But everybody now is on the kick of acoustics. They want it just to be an acoustical record, nothing edited. I'm saying, that's a terrible way to go. But they want to go that way, they do it. Whatever, I've always believed in taking things from classical. I'm a classical composer and jazz composer and arranger. I take things from the classics and I manipulate them into the jazz format, and vice versa. Because I don't do anything that I don't like to do. And I do a lot of things that maybe another composer wouldn't have anything to do with. Like with doing Big Band arrangements, I'll do that. But a small band, banjo music, music boxes are different. I got records, four or five music boxes and 11 banjo records out there.

So I mean, I've delved in all kinds of things. And I can take an element from -- I just did this piece from Shastokovich. He's one of my favorite composers because he could orchestrate, he could develop a thematic idea. I took the harmonic structure of his section and I wrote another piece and I call it "Shasty". And it's rather unusual, rather interesting. I mean, and you hear the juxtaposition like he would have done, but only done in a jazz, swing format. So there is that cross pollination going on all the time. I mean we borrowed from them, they borrowed from us. But there's not enough things that really are happening. To me it seems like everything is standing still at the moment. Spinning our wheels because the record companies don't want to hear it. They want something that's going to make them a lot of money, and you a lot of money. But I think experimentation is the greatest way of making money. It's like investing in the stock market. You got to be experimental. You got to be holding to something, holding to the basics. And I think this is what's wrong with a lot of music today. It just sort of gets up there and just sort of stops. I don't like that.

I mean I have a piece with the London Philharmonic and the Lounge Lizards. They said, "Why did you put the Lounge Lizard with them?" I did it originally with Bernstein and then the group, who are all great jazz musicians. But I didn't want to write them a part but he insisted on me writing the music for them for this particular piece. And I wanted the orchestra but, he put the small group in the balcony. So I said "Okay." He said, "You're going to have to conduct the small group..." because if you look at the score, there are no bar lines. This was in 1951, then I put this jazz group on top of it. And I'm on my knees for three days, conducting the performances at Kennedy Hall -- I've got pictures of all of this -- conducting the band on my knees. And then later on, like five years ago I decided to go to England to record the London Philharmonic and do this piece then I had the Lounge Lizards play a section of it. We did it up in Quebec with the Quebec Symphony. We tore the house down. They said "This is electronic?" Because everything overlaps, nothing is together. I mean, the bar lines you get a little dot, dot, dot and maybe the woodwinds start here. It's a helluva job to conduct this way.

What I did right in the middle of this piece in Quebec, because we had John Lurie playing the sax, I grabbed my sax and the band is still going and I'm playing right with them. We had 8000 people a night for two nights in a row. And we played all the music. They wouldn't let us off. I don't understand that, because hearing the record, you couldn't get two people to go hear a contemporary concert. But we played all new things. Everything was new. Like world premieres of about ten pieces. It was a lot of fun. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. I'm working on a piece now that's going to be done in California, this year. And it's got four elements. It's got a tape, the original symphony tape that I had. It's got a new Big Band section, it's got a marching band, a small little band like a civil war band, and then it's got another tape that goes over the others and features a soloist. So they asked me if I would bring that piece when I come out there to lecture to the kids for a couple of days. So I don't sit still. I'm trying to think of other ways of creating music and it's fascinating to me.

Q. The kids now are all bedroom musicians...

A. Oh the samplers, it's just terrible. The samplers... I mean it's good for some things. But really for creative music you've got to really be doing it live. I have an arranger that I would swear that when he gives me my tape it's done with live instruments because he is so good, so fantastic. There's a guy who could make a lot of money. And he doesn't' live here in New York, but I wish he would get up here because he's terrific. I mean he'd put all these other people to shame because he has a way of creating it so that it's more real. And then what we do, we put maybe a live instrument on top of it. You'll have to hear some of this music.

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