some information about
CORDS (1978)

Cords got started in the late summer of 1977. I was actually late in delivering my annual album for Passport Records, but I had some pretty good excuses. First of all, there had been Peter Gabriel's first solo album recorded in the fall of 1976 which had followed a spring and summer my of touring with Nektar. There was also the completion of the Intergalactic Touring Band album for Passport for which I was an associate producer. This was a mutli-artist space rock opera featuring artists like Annie Haslam, Rod Argent, Arthur Brown, Ben E. King and many others. (It's currently out of print and has never been issued on CD.) Finishing IGTB in late 1976 used up my usual autumn new album preparation and writing time, and Peter Gabriel's upcoming first solo tour, where I'd be playing synthesizers in his band, was scheduled for the late winter and spring of 1977. By the time that tour was over, and IGTB was released, then there was time to begin writing and recording a new Synergy album.

Me, holding the modified Dan Armstrong plexiglas guitar that had the pickups for the digital pitch extractor at Russ Hamm's workbench, late 1977 or early 1978.

One of the pieces of the new album's construction fell into place at the 1977 Audio Engineering Society convention at the Waldorf Astoria in New York (AES was small enough to hold in a medium-size hotel ballroom back then). Russell O. Hamm delivered a technical paper on his development of a digital pitch extraction device for guitars allowing them to control analog synthesizers. Russ had been brought into a project started by Walter Sear to develop a guitar synthesizer controller for Steve Howe of Yes. The original design was analog-based and never worked all that well. Russ eventually developed a digital approach that was presented in his paper at AES. I don't believe that Steve Howe was involved anymore by the time the digital approach was taken (Steve and I discussed this in the fall of 1997).

Peter Sobel had been the guitarist in a band that we both had played in between 1972 and 1974. He had also done quite a lot of session work at House of Music studios including production work on the recently completed IGTB album. After we heard the guitar synthesizer paper at AES, we tracked down Russ Hamm and asked what had become of his prototype. It wasn't doing anything and within a few weeks the device was living at Pete's house along with a Micromoog as a sound generator. Pete started working on his playing technique which the still-finicky pitch detector required. But with a little care, Russ's front-end circuitry worked quite well. I was so impressed with what Pete was coming up with that I suggested that he add some of his parts to the Cords album pieces that I was writing at the time. Pete and the guitar synthesizer became an important contribution to the sound of the album.

Another element of Cords was that for this album I had made a commitment to record at least the first layer of tracks at home and this time, keep them as a part of the final recording instead of having to go back to square one and re-record everything again in the studio. MCI was coming out with a new 8 track 1 inch multitrack recorder which seemed perfect for my purposes and I placed an order in the late summer of 1977. The machine was to be used as the exhibit model on the floor at the AES convention and then shipped to my house. When it arrived it turned out to be serial number 001 of the JH-110/8 series of tape machines. But since I wanted to get started recording before the MCI machine was available, AudioTechniques, which was the agent for the new machine, loaned me a Brenell 1 inch 8 track until the MCI was ready. The album was actually started on the Brenell. Since it used the same tape format, I was able to use the same tapes on the MCI when it arrived in early October.

The last big change was that I first used the new Moog Polymoog (a true polyphonic instrument, though still a kind of cross-breed between a synthesizer and an organ--it's pictured at the top of this page) for a Synergy recording on Cords. I first used it on tour with Nektar in 1976 and then on the first Peter Gabriel album. Still, the bulk of the sounds on Cords were patched on the modular Moog, the Minimoog, the Oberheims, and some other small synthesizers like Micromoogs and kits from PAiA. That Polymoog was one of the 6 original pre-production prototypes. I still have it though the power supply died some time ago. I have the service manuals and spare parts, but there's not a lot of incentive to bring it back to life just now.

The Brenell 8 track recorder used at the beginning of the recording of Cords.

An early photo shot in the work room, probably fall 1977, which somehow became circulated as a promo photo. Note the 1 octave PAiA Oz keyboard on the Polymoog.

This is a dark and murky early photo of the workroom in the fall of 1977 (it's the only photo that I've found so far). Equipment that I can make out clockwise from the left is: my small Yamaha mixer, the patchbay, the Brenell 8 track, Oberheim SEM and Sequencer modules on top of PAiA enveloper followers, on top of a Minimoog, a Moog 15 cabinet on top of an Oberheim DS-2 digital sequencer with a custom matrix gate and CV switcher, and a Micromoog on top of the Polymoog. Notice that the Mellotron is retired.

I had a makeshift studio in a spare bedroom of the house that I was sharing with some of the members of Nektar in Chatham Township, New Jersey. This was the beginning of the Synergy Studio as something more than a writing room for me. I believe that the first pieces worked on were the "On Presuming To Be Modern" trilogy. There were sketches of many of the other pieces drawn from notes made during informal writing sessions during the preceding months. "A Small Collection of Chords" was also an early piece using the harpsicord-like voice from the Polymoog.

The real breakthrough piece was "Phobos". The basic melodic structure against a click track had been around for a few weeks when I decided to see how much of a rhythm track could be created in real-time synched to the timing click already on track 8. This involved marshaling just about every sound generator, sequencer, sample and hold circuit in the room and locking them together fired by the click track. It took hours of tweaking, especially in creating basic percussive patches that would constantly evolve under the sample and hold circuits; giving a controlled randomness without getting too far out of control. It was a long night, but when it was time to shut down, there was an almost complete track. A long tag of just the percussion track was run and that became the basis for the guitar synthesizer work on "Deimos".

Another murky photo of the same workroom in the Nektar house in Chatham, NJ taken later that same fall. That's synth guitarist Peter Sobel in the picture. This picture dates from sometime after the fall 1977 AES Convention since the new MCI JH-110/8 multitrack, serial number 001, had been delivered after being displayed at the show at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The MCI replaced the loaner Brenell machine.

Other tracks were written in the coming months. By the first weeks of 1978 the production had moved back to House of Music, which since Sequencer had been recorded, had moved to a new location. The studio, which had literally been in the cellar of a little cape cod style suburban house, had moved to a beautiful 7 acre campus with a pond, pool, jacuzzi and all of the amenities that you'd expect in a new studio building which itself was built on to the existing house on the estate. Studio A was up and running and that's where most of the remaining recording on Cords was completed. Studio A was outfitted with an MCI JH-500 console and a JH-24 tape machine. There were new outboard toys like the recently introduced Eventide Harmonizer, and a new EMT digital reverb. Studio B was still under construction, but would be finished in time for Cords to be mixed there--the first mix in Studio B.

Overdubs in Studio A at House of Music, West Orange, NJ probably around January or February, 1978.

The first tracks of each piece were transferred from the 8 track master over to the first 8 tracks of the 24 track, and recording carried on from there. Starting in early 1978 I ended up doing double sessions. Peter Gabriel's second album, produced by Robert Fripp, got under way at The Hit Factory in New York. I found myself dividing my time and moving synthesizer equipment between the two studios. The winter of 1978 was a very tough one with several blizzards during February. Somehow, both albums got done. The influence of the Gabriel/Fripp connection infused itself into Cords. Robert's guitar loop technique was executed by Pete Sobel using the guitar synthesizer on the track that became "Terra Incognita". Instead of using Robert's Revox portable recorders we opted for an industrial strength pair of Studer A-80 two tracks with dbx noise reduction. While Cords was going together, only a few of the tracks had real titles. Peter Gabriel opened up his archive of unused song titles to me. "Full Moon Flyer" came from Peter. For some reason the early 1978 issues of Harper's and The Atlantic Monthly, which I was reading during the down time at the Hit Factory, were full of articles containing phrases that lent themselves to becoming song titles. "On Presuming To Be Modern", "Sketches of Mythical Beasts","Disruption In World Communications", and "Terra Incognita" all came from those magazines. "Trellis" was a working title that stuck and "Phobos and Deimos Go To Mars" flew in the window one day and stuck to the tape. It just seemed right thing to call the track.


This is a Polaroid test shot of the Cords cover that the photographer from Hipgnosis shot of himself before the hired model showed up to be photographed in his underwear. It was a freezing February night at the corner of 22nd Street and the old elevated West Side Highway in Manhattan. We were trying to get the photo session finished before a major blizzard blew into town.

The cover photo was shot by Peter Chistopherson of the noted English design firm Hipgnosis along the now-demolished West Side Highway near the foot of 22th Street in New York City. It was shot in late February 1978 at night just before a major snowstorm blew in. On the back cover of Peter Gabriel's second album, there is a daytime shot of Peter near the same location a few days later after the storm, but with him located under the highway structure. You can see the plowed snow in Peter's shot. Hipgnosis did his cover too; same photographer, same locations. The Cords cover shot was taken about a block away from a rundown place called the Terminal Hotel which caught my attention and became a track title on my Audion album two and a half years later.

Cords was mixed in Studio B at House of Music. Though the studio was equipped for computer automated mixing on its new MCI JH-528 console, the tracks had been planned so well that the mixing was fairly easy and didn't require the automation. Mixing was finished in April and mastered for LP and cassette by George Marino at Sterling Sound in New York. Passport Records made arrangements for all of the consumer pressings to be done on clear vinyl as a part of the fad for color vinyl releases at the time. Clear vinyl had the advantage of requiring virgin vinyl be used on the presses since any contaminants would show up. This forced all of the disks to be audiophile pressings. The downside was that the album's list price was a dollar higher, kicking off the higher list prices about to become standard in the industry. I took some heat for that in an interview about album pricing printed in Rolling Stone magazine. All of the regular release copies of Cords were in clear vinyl, but the radio promo copies were in black, making the black ones, in this case, the rarer and more collectible copies. The first editions of the LP were distributed through Arista and had a gatefold cover. Later pressings had a single sleeve and the "lightning bolt" on the cover art is tinted yellow instead of the plain white it originally had been.

Because the clear vinyl drew such a lot of attention, Passport soon reissued both Electronic Realizations and Sequencer in clear editions. These remained in circulation, along with Cords until LPs began to fade in the mid-1980s. (All of the subsequent Synergy LPs were issued in black starting with Games in 1979).

This is the promotional photo distributed when the Cords album came out. I had a bad cold and had been up all night double shifting on both the second Peter Gabriel album and my own work on Cords.

A DJ radio edit of Phobos and Deimos Go To Mars was sent out on black vinyl 12" disks. This is the sticker from the white sleeve trade-only release.

The album was scheduled for release in September 1978 to coincide with the Peter Gabriel tour. I did quite a lot of promotion in North America and Europe during that tour. There was an edited version of Phobos and Deimos released to radio, but there were no singles from the album that I'm aware of. Peter used "On Presuming To Be Modern I" to open the main part of his shows. During the tour I started sketching ideas that would become a parts of the Games album.






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This page was last updated on January 29, 2001