Feature of Steve Smith & Tylas Cyndrome

Steve Smith & Tylas Cyndrome talk about the making of “Phoenix Arising”

Date: Oct 8 2011

One way or the other, you could say this album has been 40 years in the making… looking back to when three teenagers, (Alan Ford on guitar, Les Sims on drums and Steve Smith on guitar) used to play music together.
Armed with many good intentions, guitars, percussion and an Akai 4000DS 4 track tape recorder, the trio called themselves “Tylas Cyndrome” (the origins of which are too long to go into now). All three dreamed of one day recording an album of their own music.
But as usual, life moved on quickly and all three musicians eventually went their own separate ways.

The time machine moved fast forward to 2008 and a chance came up meeting due to a ‘Friends Reunited’ website, that resulted in the band members meeting again for the first time in over 35 years. Alan, Steve and Les agreed that they would like to try to make music together again, and at that occasion Steve then played them a few EM ideas he’d been working on and asked for feedback. Both Les and Alan said they would like to be involved in the project and make their own contributions to it.


This was the point when the “problems” started for Steve. Instead of just sitting in his own studio he had to try and record drums and acoustic guitar, something he had never done before.
Fortunately, Les plays an electronic drum kit. So they were able to record the main drum tracks onto a laptop, then transferred the midi via EZ drummer to get acoustic and electronic drum and percussion sounds.

Alan and Steve then started talking and discussing about how to integrate the guitar more into the electronic music sound. Eventually, they decided to swap the guitar and synth parts over and have the guitar play slower melodic lines and the synth play the faster guitar parts. This meant the guitar was used more in each track than just a token guitar solo. So with that in mind, the two composers recorded both acoustic and electric guitar in Steve’s little broom-cupboard studio.
Finally, acoustic drums and guitars were recorded in a small local rehearsal studio and extra keyboard parts were dropped in. This is the same spot where the video for the title track “Phoenix Arising” was filmed. The clip can be viewed on Steve Smith’s MySpace page.

It turned out Steve Smith carried out more sound design for this recording than he’d ever done before. The whole process included layering synth sounds and creating new ones, playing recordings backwards and sampling all kinds of homemade effects. Steve revealed an umbrella appears on one track on the recording, but also states no prizes are offered even if one does guess which 😉

In the end it should then have been a simple case of mixing down the tracks, but how wrong Steve was oncemore! He hadn’t figured on a bi-polar-psycho-hormonal computer – hell bent on causing as many problems as possible, and then even more, such as:

The majority of the tracks involved 24-tracks of audio and soft synths. This caused issues as the computer struggled to keep up. Steve had to keep a desktop fan running – this meant extra noise in the studio when mixing. Then the computer started crashing and losing data. Diagnosis: a faulty hard drive cable. Another evening, when trying to record Alan’s guitar, the computer switched off and refused to boot up again. The next day it was absolutely fine… or was it?

Chaos theory
The computer would change the sounds on the soft synths and refuse to mix them down correctly. Every time, after a mix, it would sound different. Again, Steve had to choose the best mixdown of that synth and sample the sound to keep it the same. It lost a sound that he had spent hours programming and could not reproduce exactly. Fortunately he had sampled it on an earlier take, so he was forced to use that version. Suffice to say that Steve was not to happy and the computer nearly found itself flying out of the nearest window.

Hard drive.
The bloody thing crashed completely and had to be replaced. Thankfully, as Steve was so paranoid by this time, everything was backed up – twice. But it also caused yet more delays.

Call in the medics.
Stevehimself hadn’t been in the best of health. The RSI in his ‘mouse’ arm had been bad, but returning back problems meant that he wasn’t able to sit at the desk at all. But by kneeling over and over again he managed to get four of eight tracks mixed, reviewed and amended. The second batch of four followed a similar pattern. It became a fight between him and the computer that Steve refused to lose, even after falling down the stairs at home.

In the final stages, a number of the tracks on the album were rearranged and altered in length as Les and Alan made valid structural comments. New things were added to tracks right up until the last minute as it is very difficult when you’re creating to know when to stop. But all in all, Steve and his friends confesses it has all been worthwhile and the most enjoyable and challenging thing they have ever done.

Ultimately, Steve, Les and Alan have achieved their ambition that started 40 years ago: The Phoenix has arisen.

Website: www.tylascyndrome.moonfruit.com

Sonic Immersion
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