Name: Paul Kendall
Occupation: Composer, producer, visual artist
Recent release: Paul Kendall's Boundary Macro is out via Downards (buy vinyl at boomkat).
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Paul Kendall and would like to find out more, visit his official tumblr. He is also on twitter, and Instagram.
As a producer, engineer and artist, Paul has worked with artists like Barry Adamson, Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, Miranda Sex Garden, and Olivia Louvel. We also recommend our earlier interview with him about sound.
[Read our Barry Adamson interview]
[Read our interview with Gareth Jones, former mixing engineer for Depeche Mode]
[Read our Kurt Uenala aka Null + Void interview, sound designer and engineer for Depeche Mode]
[Read our Olivia Louvel interview]
I began life as a non-musician musician probably. Early forays into the descant recorder were a short-lived fad for my 8 year old self, as was the desire to learn the piano.
The main stumbling block to achieving any musical proficiency was environment. With my parents we rented a 2 bedroom apartment in a couple of different council blocks, consequently practicing an instrument and the inevitable accompanying noise was impossible.
At the second apartment block we did have a garage in the forecourt and I was able to play, in the blue Morris Marina (in the dark) in the closed garage outside the blocks, free form lines on a tenor sax. In my head I was Evan Parker mixed with late Coltrane. My neighbours were aware of my wailing but would have never made such a connection. So from 16 until 25 I played sax occasionally, as with all my instrumental performances my technique is very limited it is purely about a contextual sound creation though whichever source. And that I was too lazy to practice.
I grew up being attracted to particular sounds; voice reverb on Joe Meek productions or the other worldly intro from Telstar by the Tornados, more than the actual musicality / harmony of the songs themselves.
5 days after my 9th birthday the first episode of Doctor Who was screened. The theme music shattered any preconceptions of traditional timbre to my naive ears, music from the spheres during the Space Age. So with newly open ears I welcomed the Kinks’ overdrive guitar, Small Faces general psychedelia until Hendrix made it all a little more sensually visceral and stereophonically seductive.
My parents - I mentioned them earlier - they drove the car, I did not and still cannot drive an automobile. They met through telephonic assistance, father was a telephone engineer mother a telephonist on a broken switchboard. It is no surprise that my first headphones were the result of telephone surplus, and the journey into stereo was launched.
Technical ignorance led me to owning a 4 track reel to reel tape machine that wasn’t even capable of stereo, so true tape experimentation was not available to me until university. University of York Music Department allowed me to experiment with VCS3 Synthesiser and Revox 2 track recorder. Significantly I began to learn about stereophonic space.
I briefly owned a Hohner Clavinet which could, played through an HH Combo Amp and with the sustain switch engaged, resemble a wailing feedback drenched guitar. At these moments my neighbours wished we’d had electricity available in the garage.
From 1984 I had access to analogue multitrack and this continued until the early 90s when I acquired my first Mac computer and Sound Tools / Digidesign software it opened the possibility of digital editing and processing. This was probably the most significant advance in audio technology since the commercially available tape recorder in the late 40’s. Up to this point I had been using an Atari 1040 running Creator Midi Sequencer the precursor to Logic.
From 1985 I helped set up the Mute Records in-house studio and worked there until 1997. During this period I collaborated as an engineer / producer and mixer with many different artists both from the Mute roster and outside. I set up a label within Mute, Parallel Series, to reflect my interest in new technology (DAW primarily). It was the first time I realised classical electronic music (musique concrète and the academic line of composition) and popular music were using the same technology of creation/composition, Pro-Tools.
Once I left Mute it was my intention to work predominantly “in the box” which became the phrase to describe the “rejection” of the studio in favour of recording and mixing in the computer. This was the method I used from my own work as a composer and has stood me in good stead until I recently discovered the possibilities of sound generation and processing through an iPad.
In May 2020, after 3 months being in lockdown and the juices of creation had dried up, I delved into, for the first time, a series of Apps on the iPad. I was very impressed with programmes such as Borderlands and Tardigrain which were capable of creating an immediate new palette of sound with the bonus of tactile intervention / performance. I’d always considered outboard effects in the studio to be my instrument but they were, and still are, prohibitively expensive. These apps were affordable and phenomenally flexible.
With rejuvenated enthusiasm I performed and recorded 8 improvisations over a period of 3 days using either my voice or a Leaf Audio Microphonic Soundbox as the sound source. The next 6 months were spent editing and composing what became my first vinyl album, Boundary Macro (2021).
My working method has long relied on new plug-ins / software to pique my compositional enthusiasm; in 1996 I started with Generator/Reaktor, and Native Instruments have opened some excellent pathways and inspirations over the years. Why did they ever discontinue Spektral Delay? It was such a powerful manipulator of sound.
However, by far the most significant game changer in the DAW world was the arrival of Ableton Live in 2001. I can still remember a fellow engineer at Mute showing me the ability to put percussive loops in-time virtuality at the push of a button. Prior to this one would slice the loops up manually and then sequence the individual elements which was a very time consuming process. A process that now anyone in their bedroom could achieve: cut up and start to DJ without relying on decks and bulky vinyl, just a laptop running Live.
The current high profile of Ableton perhaps masks just how significant it was when it first appeared 20 years ago, a game changer!