headphonecommute: In The Studio with David Toop

Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?

My first attempts at composing grew out of improvising. In 1970-71 I was improvising with a shifting bunch of players, playing a cross between free rock and free improvisation, so I started writing lyrics and simple forms that acted as a springboard for improvisation. A lot of musicians came and went – they wanted more structure, more normal – so the group ended up as a duo of myself, playing guitar and flutes, and Paul Burwell, playing the drums. It was impossible at that time to carry on as a duo with any rock ambitions so we slid sideways into the emerging free improvisation scene in London. Both of us carried on composing though. Again, these were simple structures that opened out into improvisation, or they were short songs that I wrote for performance, two of which ended up on my album for Brian Eno’s Obscure label in 1975.

The next big step came in 1987. I was working as a full-time music critic then and as part of my job I bought two records that made a big impact on me – Farley Funkin Keith’s “Funkin With the Drums” and Model 500’s “Night Drive (Thru Babylon)”. I wanted to be able to replicate that sound but I was also thinking about the necessity to get a word processor for my writing work. The Atari 1040ST with Steinberg’s Pro-24 software came onto the market in 1986 and they allowed me to do both jobs, though I was still going into studios to actually record pieces until 2000 and continue to do so if the situation requires it.

My first piece of recording gear was a cheap mono cassette recorder made by Philips. It had a limiter so if we started a piece playing loud the level would suddenly drop off a cliff. I had no money then so I was buying really cheap tapes, often 120 minutes a side to economise. The quality was atrocious but at least they’re a memory of a particular time.

David Toop Instruments

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