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Richard Chappell: Recording Peter Gabriel's

Up
soundonsound.com March 16, 2015

Engineer Richard Chappell has been at Peter Gabriel's Real World


Studios for over 15 years -- and he's spent seven of them working on
Gabriel's latest solo album.
Paul Tingen
Peter Gabriel fans have had to wait 10 years for a solo album proper to follow
1992's Us. Last year, their man finally obliged with a new collection of songs, Up,
joking that "Old men take a little longer to get 'up'," and adding, "Starting is
always easy... finishing is harder." Gabriel also noted that "Speed is not my
strength: diversions are," and it should be pointed out that he has worked on
several other projects in the meantime, most notably Ovo (2000), the music
from his Millennium Dome show, and Long Walk Home (2002), his score for
the filmRabbit-proof Fence. Nevertheless, 10 years is a long time by anyone's
standards.
Up's CD booklet contains some hints of the gargantuan amount of work that
went into its making, with 10 engineers and assistant engineers credited, and
half a dozen recording locations across the world mentioned. The average
amount of musicians credited per track is about 12 (counting bands and
orchestras as one), with people doing things like 'groove treatment', 'tape
scratching', 'loop manipulation,' 'Spectre programming',
'Supercollider programming', and so on. Apart from Gabriel himself, however,
only one other person was there during entire period of the album's making:
engineer Richard Chappell, "on whose shoulders," according to Gabriel, "this
record has been built."
Chappell has worked at Real World, Gabriel's prestigious and pioneering
recording complex near Bath, since joining as a 17-year-old teaboy in 1987. He's
followed the usual route from teaboy to tape-op, assistant engineer and engineer,

being taught by the legendary David Bottrill, who was Gabriel's regular engineer
until he
Peter Gabriel at Real World with his favoured Kurzweil K2600X controller keyboard (front) and
Clavia Nord Lead synth.

left in 1993 at the beginning of Gabriel's Secret World tour. Chappell took over,
working as Gabriel's live assistant, helping prepare studio material for live
performance, and engineering the studio overdubs that were added to Secret
World Live (1993). Apart from a few diversions, as assistant engineer on New
Order's Technique (1989) and engineer on the same band's Republic (1993),
Chappell has worked full-time for Gabriel since he joined Real World. (In
addition, Gabriel has another engineer working for him, Richard Evans, who was
mainly involved in the making of Ovo and Long Walk Home)
Mountain Music
I talked to Richard Chappell in the Writing Room, also nicknamed the garden
shed, which is a glass and wooden building sheltered by trees and located a few
hundred yards from the main Real World studio complex. "Peter made the
decision for this album to get out of the production room in the main studio
building and make the Writing Room his base," Chappell explained, adding that
it offers privacy and the freedom to have the equipment set up as he pleases.
"Whenever he walks in, his mic and his keyboards are always live so he can just
sit down and play and work."
The Up album began life in the spring of 1995, when Chappell and Gabriel set off
to a place called Meribel in the French Alps, where they rented a local chalet.
"We achieved a lot there because there were no distractions," Chappell enthused.
"We did a lot of writing, and a lot of snowboarding. It's a dream way of working,
up in the mountains every day. It was very inspiring and made Peter very happy.
We generally worked at night time, which was tiring, because we'd be exhausted
from jumping around and running around the mountain by day."
Other than guitarist David Rhodes, who "came in at the beginning to jam along
and play," only Chappell and Gabriel were present during this initial period.

They worked for two months in Meribel, returned to Bath, took part in a Real
World recording week, kept working in the garden shed, and in October went to
Senegal for a further three months of writing. Apparently Gabriel managed to
come up with more than 70 ideas during the Senegal phase. Afterw
ards it was back to Bath again, and in the Spring of 1996 they went once more to
Meribel for writing and snowboarding. ("Peter's a fun boss, really.")
The equipment Gabriel and Chappell were using during these sessions was
brought over from Real World and included a Mackie 48-channel mixer, a 32track Pro Tools system, a few ADATs ("for if something didn't work properly
with the hard disk"), and three Macintosh 8100 computers, one with Pro Tools
andLogic, one for backups and one for writing lyrics and going on the Internet.
"Peter had brought most of his normal writing setup to these places," Chappell
explained. "This includes an Akai MPC3000 or MPC60 -- he likes to have a
modular drum machine. His main sampler and keyboard controller has been the
Kurzweil for the last 10 years, initially the 2000, then the 2500, and now the
2600. It can do a lot, and he can make interesting sounds very easily with it. He
also has a Clavia Nord Lead, and lot of Korg stuff, like the Wavestation, 01/W,
and more recently the Triton. He likes basic Korg sounds to play with and treat,
more than he likes Roland-based stuff, even though he likes Roland pianos
sometimes. He also uses an Emulator IV and the Waveframe, although the latter
less and less recently.
"His setup is quite simple really, and it's more about the treatments in the
moment. He'll work with a good piano sound, and then treat it with effects like
Eventide or Delta Lab delays, or distortion or other pedals. He has a lot of guitar
pedals to play with. We use Pro Tools plug-ins, but in general it's more a matter
of putting stuff through speakers or a pedal. But it could be anything. It's not
that calculated. It's whatever works."
During the Summer of 1997 the duo made another trip, this time to the Amazon,
where they recorded on a friend's boat. "It was a small trip of perhaps two weeks
or so," Chappell explained. "It was a private boat with a full recording studio on

it, but I can't talk about it, other than to say that we worked on Logic there as
well. It's just a crazy thing that we do now and then. It was a strange and bizarre
trip in which we were travelling down the river working on music and looking
out of the windows seeing the rainforest go by."
Back In The Real World
In the Writing Room, further writing, recording, overdubbing, and editing was
undertaken with the help of a digital Sony R3 Oxford recording console which
was installed in the Summer of 1997. "When we moved to the Writing Room we
just had a Mackie setup here and a whole bunch of gear and a big mess of
cables," recalled Chappell. "After the second Meribel trip we bought the console
and installed a proper studio here, with Neil Grant Boxer 3 speakers, and
currently Mackie HR824 nearfields. We have two Sony Oxfords now, one here
and one in the workroom in the main studio. It has 120 faders, which is just
about enough for what we do!"
After the different writing periods Gabriel had, with his 'sprawling' way of
working, come up with about 130 song ideas and sketches. A selection of these
would find their way on Ovo, Long Walk Home and Up, after going through
many different permutations, variations and approaches, with people being
invited in to try different treatments and musicians asked to overdub all manner
of parts. The joke has been made that Up is the first recording that needed its
own archaeology department to organise, store and retrieve all these bits of
information. It was therefore not surprising to hear
Up Track By Track

Chappell state that hard disk recording as well as the digital Sony desk were
essential to the project. With hard disk recording Chappell was able to name and
organise unfinished ideas and parts, while the combination with the Sony made
it possible to switch instantly from one song idea to another, offering Gabriel
unparalleled creative freedom and spontaneity.
"Looking back, I don't think we would have been able to do it with more
traditional studio gear," Chappell remarked. "With Peter's way of working there's

simply no other way of doing it. It does get quite crazy, because he doesn't like to
throw many things away, so you build up a huge archive of tracks and tracks and
tracks. I had various assistants on the project and one of their main jobs was to
listen to things and make notes of what's happening and highlight the different
bits. These highlights then ended up on DAT tapes so we could go back and
listen to them. Then they got transferred to iTunes, the Macintosh's MP3 player,
and so Peter always had a point of reference."
Nevertheless, with Ovo and Up being Gabriel's first largely self-produced
recordings, one wonders whether he and Richard Chappell didn't at times feel
overwhelmed and find it hard to remain objective. It appears that the versatility
of digital technology again proved essential. "We didn't get overwhelmed
because the music we were working on was always changing. The canvas in front
of us was always changing... it was always fun, and always interesting, and I
really like the music. And Peter is very amicable and fun to be with. So it was
refreshing more than overwhelming. I never got worried about it."
'Darkness'
According to Gabriel, this was originally entitled 'House In The Woods' and remains a track about
"fear and how fear inhibits people". The track has reportedly inhibited quite a few people from
listening to the rest of the album, such is the shock of the gentle tuned percussion right at the
beginning being abruptly interrupted by monolithic distorted riffing and vocals. One wonders why
Gabriel decided to put this right at the beginning.
"Peter has been asked that question quite a lot," Richard Chappell commented. "We played with the
running order a lot, and we always kept coming back to this track as the first track. It is one of the
first tracks that we finished, and it was one of the easiest we worked on, to get it right. It just has so
much muscle and it seemed like a fun idea to have the quiet intro and then the loud assault. Some
people have actually broken their hi-fi because of it. A few people became quite upset during the
discussions about the running order, but Peter wanted to come back and show some strength. I
really respect that.
"The quiet pulsey sound right at the beginning is a triggered keyboard sound. It's a gated treatment
that's running along triggered by a groove, and then we cut it in and out and laid it at the front of the
track. The aggressive, loud noise that comes in is actually a conga going through a distortion box.
It's all drums and percussion, although there's a guitar underneath it as well. We used the Jam Man
for the distortion, and there are a lot of percussion loops on that track created with percussionist
Mahut Dominique. The distortion on Peter's vocal is a combination of the Sansamp and a Line 6
plug-in. It wasn't added in the mix, we always had the vocal like that."

The Truth About Analogue

Gabriel and Chappell were, however, worried about another aspect of digital
technology: sonic integrity. In 1995, when work on Up began, hard disk
recording was in many ways still in its infancy, and many were fearful of losing
data and concerned that 16-bit audio coming from a hard drive sounded inferior
to tape. Chappell said "I tend to agree that
'Growing Up'
Chappell: "The elephant-like sound is a vocal treated by the Jam Man. This is the only track that has
a sample from a library -- a cello coming from a normal Akai library. What sounds like DJ
scratching is in fact Tchad. He put a bunch of drum fills onto a tape machine, hit go on the tape
machine and spun stuff in."

the 16-bit/44.1k resolution is too low, but at the time we decided to work with
what we had. We A/B'ed things and then it was like 'That's it, let's get on with it.
Don't be distracted by that.'
"We A/B'ed a lot of A-D converters. We had used Apogees for the final stereo
transfer to DAT of Us. Since then we did more A/B tests and got a bunch of
Prism converters to record any fundamentally important things, like vocals. We
immediately heard the difference between the Prisms and the Pro Tools A-D
converters. One of the reasons for going for the Sony Oxford desk was the quality
of its A-D converters. In the end we simply used the Sony converters. Our only
problem now is to figure out where we're going next, because the Sony doesn't
support more than 48kHz, and I've listened to 96k and it sounds better. But
then, the Sony sounds better than a lot of 96k desks that are around at the
moment.
"When we began the project there was no 24-bit recording. We did eventually
transfer everything to 24-bit/48k and kept it at that. Sometimes
'Sky Blue'
Gabriel: "The oldest track on the record. The original riff is probably 15 years old but it was
something that I always liked and felt had good emotion in it. As a teenager I was very influenced
by soul and blues and it was my starting point for a lot of music. I think this was definitely an
influence on that track."

we couldn't get enough tracks out of Pro Tools for multi-channel sessions with
drums or musicians, so they were initially recorded to the Sony 3348HR [48-

channel digital multitrack] or the Studer A820 [24-channel analogue]. We used


the latter mostly for treatments. We often work in analogue for treatments and
used the Studer as a processor, kind of like an off-line plug-in. We take things
out of Pro Tools, put them on the Studer, mess with varispeed, up an octave,
down an octave, reverse things and so on. There's a real quality that you get from
analogue that's beautiful and nice. It's not an arty way of talking about it, it's the
truth.
"We also do treatments in the Sony console. I'll have a reverb available like his
standard Quantec, a set of delays and quite a few plug-ins, whatever is needed.
But as a rule I print any treatment or effect, so when you get something that's
really happening, it is recorded, rather than having to go back and having to set
up again. The same with a plug-in that's working."
Original Audio
The Writing Room boasts a 32-channel Neve 33-series desk, but its 33797
modules are "basic
'No Way Out'
Gabriel: "That is something that emerged from the early sessions and there was this sort of Latiny
feeling to the groove, but that's pretty much buried now. In fact some of my favorite rhythm
programming was on this track by Chris Hughes and a thing called Supercollider [a Mac freeware
soft synth]. It breaks everything up into lots of little pieces and then reassembles them, still very
granulated. It has this strange mysterious percussive quality to it. I was thinking a little more Roy
Orbison when I was doing some of the singing and I think there is that influence as well as the
computer-mangled ethnic rhythm element."

ally used as mic amps," according to Chappell, and it also features a wide range
of other preamps and microphones. For Gabriel's voice, Chappell often used a
Sony C800 valve mic in combination with a Shure SM58, run through external
mic amps like the Amek or Neve. "It depends on the time or the song, there are
lots of different ways really. I may sometimes use the digital compressor/limiter
on the Sony when recording his vocal, but a lot of times I'll take it off and just
ride the level with a fader."
Gabriel's love of guitar stomp pedals and analogue sonic treatments are other
examples of old-tech -- as is, arguably, his most recent talent, playing the guitar.

"Yes, Peter plays guitar now!" stressed Chappell, "and yes there are particular
ways in which he works, sometimes with sampling, sometimes with
manipulation. He doesn't play it normally, let's say. But he has fun doing it, and
he likes to record a lot of it, and then he likes to go back and find out what
happened."
'More Than This' is one of the tracks that came out of Gabriel's unorthodox
guitar experiments (see box), as is 'No Way Out', on which he is credited as
playin
'I Grieve'
Chappell: "The way that track ended up was very much Stephen [Hague]. The way we'd worked on
it, it was very dark, even on the 'up' section. There's one loop that remains from that, the drum loop
that comes in and out. Stephen worked with a programmer called Chuck Norman and they got the
rhythm track to happen the way it does. We did a mix of this track for the movie City Of Angels a
couple of years before, and Stephen heard it and wanted to have another go at it. So we let him and
it ended up on the album."

g Telecaster. On these and other tracks Gabriel also receives some colourful
credits such as Wonky Nord, Mutator, Oxford Backwards Samples, Firefly Keys
and so on. Some, like MPC Groove or Sample Keys, are self-explanatory, but
others demand an explanation. Chappell elaborated: "Peter likes to credit things
in a particular way if it has been useful to the song. The Mutator is a filter box,
and the Jam Man a small Lexicon delay box. You record into it and loop it and it
layers and delays. It distorts really nicely and it's great fun for making instant
loops that you can play with. Firefly Keys is simply Pet
'The Barry Williams Show'
Chappell: "The treated loop I did on this came out of the 3/4 drum tracks that we had put down -- as
we did for every track -- and me going, 'right, what can we do to make it different and right?' So I
took some Manu [Katche] parts and looped them up and started to treat them with some samplers
and put them back on hard disk. I think you can just play with things and see what happens."

er's way of describing a sound on that track. I think it may have been a patch
fromGigasampler, a PC-based sampler that's great for instant sounds. If you
want a string section or something, it's there immediately. It loads very quickly.
Since the time we did Passion we also have a sample library for the Akai S3200,
but we don't really use the Akai that much any more."

Chappell's credits on Up extend beyond general engineering to individual


mentions for programming on all tracks and 'treated loop' on 'The Barry
Williams Show' and 'loop manipulation' on 'My Head Sounds Like That'. Most of
his programming centres on rhythms, reflecting his origins as a drummer. "It's
basic stuff really," Chappell explained, "because you're engineering you're adding
sounds, you're programming stuff, you're moving things around. It's normal in
engineering now. This is why my credit for programming on 'The Drop' [a
piano/vocal solo for Gabriel] pissed me off. I just recorded it and manipulated
some stuff around. That's all. With regards to the other stuff, now and again we
ge
'My Head Sounds Like That'
Gabriel: "Some chords in there are very old, but the mood was something I liked. And then there
was this moment in Africa when one of the echo machines jammed and started malfunctioning and I
liked the sound of that, and so the loop that begins the track is actually from this Delta Lab Echo
which was crapping out at the time."

t people in to program, but most of the time I'm left to my own devices, and then
I just program. I generally take audio samples and move them around or touch
them up.
"We normally have a rule that we only use audio that originated from us, so no
sample CDs. We have a lot of drum sessions that we go back to and get parts
from, and then it's a matter of trying to get it to sound different. Sometimes I
may get some MPC happening, but most of the time I like to cut up audio
in Logic. OnOvo we had a programmer called BT [aka Brian Transeau,
interviewed in SOSDecember 2001], who did some programming on the tracks
'Make Tomorrow' and 'The Tower That Ate People'. I
'More Than This'
Gabriel: "This came right at the end from a thing I started with guitar samples. I was mucking
around with guitars and Daniel Lanois had left his beautiful Telecaster. I can't play guitar to save
my life, but I can make noises on it. The first sound that you hear on this track is me manipulating
my guitar samples on the keyboard. I'd always liked it, and I was driving through the Italian Alps
and found this old cassette which had this stuff and I'd been playing around with a different groove,
and it started to make sense to me at that point."

was quite inspired by him. He does everything in audio, and since working with
him I've copied that. So we do all the loops in Logic, stretch it a bit, cut it up,
play with it, see what happens."
Mixing Up
Another juxtaposition of the hi-tech and the old-tech came in with the American
engineer, producer and mixer Tchad Blake, who mixed the album. Blake is
particularly known for his work with 'dummy' binaural heads (in his case the
Neumann KU100), and his strong preference for compression and what he calls
'mechanical effects', sticking microphones in rubber tubes, tin cans, or
cardboard boxes rather than using digital reverbs (see SOS December 1997).
Blake decamped from Los Angeles to the Cotswolds in recent years and now
mixes and records frequently for Gabriel's Real World label, often using his
binaural head. Blake himself was reluctant to talk about his work on Up, but
Chappell was prepared to lift the veil a little. "I think Peter invited Tchad because
he was producing himself and wanted to have a fresh pair of ears towards the
end of the project to keep things under control. Tchad is very strong-willed and
having someone like him around is a good discipline. We tried out a few songs
with him, and Peter liked the results, so we kept going. Tchad is a genius with
what he can do sonically. We also have a history with him here at Real World, so
that's what we went for."
There was, however, one complication, and it fell to Richard Chappell to sort it
out. Blake didn't want to mix on the Sony, nor did he want to mix straight from
hard disk. So he set up in the large recording room in Real
The Writing Room is based around a Sony R3 Oxford digital desk.

World, where there's a G-series SSL, and Chappell transferred all the disparate
bits and pieces that made up the ingredients for each track onto a Sony 3348HR
and Studer A820.
"Tchad wanted to work off tape and completely in analogue -- although in the
end he did mix from hard disk. Tchad likes to work in the big room because he
has a lot of equipment and wants to spread it around. He likes the Sony Oxford

desk, but he often inserts a lot of analogue gear everywhere in the signal path.
You can do this with the Oxford, but you get sample delays. You can adjust these,
but it was just too much hassle for Tchad to deal with. He's very instant and likes
to quickly buss things in and out and get on with it. He could also use his
binaural head techniques more easily in the big room.
'Signal To Noise'
Chappell: "The Oxford backward samples on this... Peter likes to have treatments come back again
through the Oxford and use the EQs on the console, which are pretty dynamic. So he'll take his
keyboard track and a drum track through the EQ and do some passes of the whole song running an
EQ filter across it."

The strings on 'Signal To Noise', for instance, were recorded quite dry, so he
decided to spin them through a room and bring them back in via the binaural
head.
"With Tchad mixing in a separate room it meant that Peter and I could keep
working. Peter would be in here recording things with me for the same song that
Tchad was mixing, and we'd walk towards the main building to add these things
to the mix. Tchad would either agree or disagree, and they'd have to figure out
between them what was going to be used."
Tchad Blake's mixing process and Gabriel's enthusiasm for last-minute overdubs
meant that the various ingredients of many songs ended up in even more
different places than before, making Chappell's job of compiling the material still
harder. When I talked to him, he was in the middle of collecting the recorded
ingredients o
Tchad Blake with binaural head.

f the song 'Growing Up' into one file, so it could be sent off to the American pop
mixer Tom Lord-Alge for a single mix: "Even with all our notes it's still a pain in
the neck to turn everything into one document. I'm looking through different
versions and trying to turn it into one version. A lot of songs were worked on
over such a long period of time, and things were added in SADiE, in Pro Tools,
inLogic, in the cut. It simply takes a while to figure out what happened."

Chappell is also preparing material for producer Stephen Hague, who is working
on a revamped version of Ovo, with Gabriel singing all the songs, which is to be
released later this year in the US as a genuine Gabriel solo record. A remix
album, which will see people like Tricky and Trent Reznor having a go at various
tracks from Up, is also expected in the shops towards the end of the year. On top
of all this, after the European and second American legs of the Growing Up tour
in the spring and summer, Chappell and Gabriel intend to complete the followup toUp, tentatively titled I/O and based on material from the same sessions
as Up. It is scheduled to be out some time in 2004. It seems like an
extraordinary avalanche of releases from the master of non-record-proliferation:
"Sometimes you wait ages for a bus, and none come, and then suddenly four
come along," is Gabriel's explanation. With a possible six albums out in the
period 2000-04 he may risk having a congestion charge slapped onto him...
Published in SOS May 2003