Cloudbusting -- Kate
Bush In Her Own Words
On never for ever and the dreaming, you are credited as playing a
css-80. What is this?
- The CS-80 is a synthesiser made by Yamaha. It has been a
particularly favourite synth. of mine, as it is one of the few that has a
touch-sensitive keyboard. (1983, KBC
- Duncan MacKay introduced the synthesizer, Fender Rhodes, Prophet and
harpsichord in my songs. I've used the synthesizer in particular because it was
part of the new music at that time. I must admit I'm now much less interested
in synthesizers, especially since the Fairlight CMI. I just find a lot of the
sounds that perhaps before were interesting a little too machine-like. What
attracts me to the Fairlight is its ability to create very human, animal,
emotional sounds that don't actually sound like a machine. I think in a way
that's what I've been waiting for.
- Richard Burgess of Landscape [A shortlived but
musically adventurous techno-pop duo of the late 1970s-early 1980s]
introduced me to the CMI at Syco Systems in London, and Steve Payne, who works
there, has helped me a great deal with it. I've now got my own Fairlight which
I use - the problem was, having met the Fairlight on my last album Never For
Ever (played by Duncan Mackay) I'd realized that it was invaluable for my
Do you regard the cmi now as your most important instrument?
- In many ways it is, although I think piano still holds above it
because for me it's more versatile than any kind of synthesizer. It's like an
old friend in a way. Often a certain sound that you want on a synthesizer for a
particular piece can be distracting when I'm composing, and it's nice to use
the piano instead, because it doesn't conjure anything up in particular; then
later translate those ideas to a synthesized sound.
Occasionally you've used the yamaha cs80 polyphonic synthesizer
instead of the piano for your keyboard playing. Do you get yourself involved in
the technical intricacies of the instrument?
- I would never say that I'm really that knowledgeable about the CS80.
I've mainly used it with the pre-set sounds. What I like about it is its
velocity/pressure keyboard sensitivity - it makes it much more ``human.'' A lot
of its sounds have more emotion, too, perhaps from its dual sound-layering,
although mainly it's the touch sensitivity. (1982, Electronic Music Maker)
Kate has also discovered the fairlight, a computerised synthesiser.
- It's given me a completely different perspective on sounds, SHE
ENTHUSES. You can put any sound you want onto the keyboard, so if you go
``Ugh!", you can play ``Ugh!'' all the way up the keyboard. Theoretically, any
sound that exists, you can play.
- I think it's surprising that with all the gear around at the moment,
people aren't experimenting more. (1982, Kerrang!)
- Since the
last album, I've been very much writing on it. I think I would have earlier
except before I started the last album I went back to the old one. I used to
hire one in and it was so expensive, and eventually I realized it would be alot
cheaper to buy one. So, it's only really since I finished that last album that
I've had time to play with one at home and it's great. (1983, Wireless)
You started using a fairlight on never for ever.
- Right, I didn't have my own Fairlight and we had to hire one in. And
really as soon as I met the Fairlight, I realized that it was something I
really couldn't do without because it was just so integral to what I wanted to
do with my music. I think I've always enjoyed synthesizers... I found them very
interesting, but I never really enjoyed all the sounds. And what really gets me
about the Fairlight is that any sound becomes musical. You can actually control
any sound you want by sampling it in, and then being able to play it. I mean
obviously, it doesn't always sound great, but the amount of potential
exploration you have there with sounds is never-ending, and it's fabulous.
And kate as early as about 1980 you were experimenting with the
fairlight computer musical instrument. Has that changed the way you approach
- Yes, very much so. I think it was one of the best thing to happen
for me along side rhythm machines. Not only has it helped with the initial
writing process, were I'm getting associations off the sounds straight away as
I start writing the song, but also from an arrangement point of view, where if
I want strings or brass on a track I can work out an arrangement on the
Fairlight with that particular sampled sound and then if want get the real
musicians in to redo it.
Yeah, well your use of it has become more and more extensive. But
you were perhaps one of the first artists that I ever knew, along with perhaps
peter gabriel, who used the fairlight at all.
- I was very lucky in that I was at the studio where they decided to
demonstrate the machine at a very early stage. It had only been in the country
for a while and they were just setting up the company. As soon as I saw it I
knew that I had to have one, and it was going to become a very important part
of my work. (1985, MuchMusic)
What have you been able to do since you started using the fairlight
that you couldn't do before?
- It gives me much more control over arrangements, particulary. And it
effects so many different areas. As soon as I start writing now I'm working
with a sound that is sparking off a particular atmosphere. When you sit down
and write at the piano, the sound of the piano is not as different as brass and
strings, etc. And I think it really effects the whole flavor of the song. Like
the difference between writing on the piano and a guitar, but maybe amplified
by a hundred times because of all the different sounds that you have.
What songs on the album did you write on the fairlight and what did
you write on the piano?
- There were very few tracks on this album that I wrote on the piano.
``Running Up That Hill", `` Hounds of Love", `` Watching You Without Me'' --
most of them were Fairlight based. `` Cloudbusting'' I wrote on the Fairlight
and I just felt it would be much more interesting with real strings, so we
transcribed the Fairlight arrangement from string players to reed. And then
they redid it.
There are other people using the fairlight now to, like simple
minds and thomas dolby. Have you heard their records?
- I've heard some of Simple Minds stuff, yes. I think the Fairlight is
one of those instruments that is definitely in there now. When it first came
out it was so expensive that I think it prohibited people from getting close to
it, getting to know it. But it seems to have conquered that barrier now, it's
available in studios, at least, and people can get to use it. And I think it
will be on so many things from now on. (1985, MTV)
- I'd say
with this album, that most of the songs were written on Fairlight and synths
and not piano, which was moving away really from the earlier albums, where all
my material was written on piano. And there is something about the character of
a sound - you hear a sound and it has a whole quality of it's own, that it can
be sad or happy or... And that immediately conjures up images, which can of
course help you to think of ideas that lead you on to a song. So
everything is crucial for trying to find some direction with
inspiration, and really sounds, now, I think are pieces of gold for people, you
know. A good sound is worth a lot, artistically. [Laughs]
- Quite often I find synthetic sounds create a coldness, that if the
track is lonely or sad or dark, sometimes you want that kind of coldness, that
machine-like coldness, which is very specific. And with acoustic instruments
you get a real - normally - a very warm, human presence and something that's
intimate and really there, something that breathes, you know, it's not this
kind of dead, cold, machine. And I feel that both are very usable, depending on
what you want to say. (1991, Classic Albums)
- The Fairlight was incredibly important because it was really what I
had been looking for but had never thought possible. I used to play the piano,
and the only instruments I had to work with from that were the piano and my
voice. So I used to put a lot of emphasis on backing
vocals and arrangements on the piano,
because they were - in a way - trying to be violins and trumpets, and my voice
was trying to be strings. That's all I had to work with. I was into the CS-80,
but I really didn't like synthesizers as such, because they weren't natural
sounds, and that's what I really loved. Discovering the Fairlight gave me a
whole new writing tool as well as an arranging tool, like the difference
between writing a song on a piano or on a guitar. With a Fairlight you've got
everything, a tremendous range of things. It completely opened me up to sounds
and textures. And I could experiment with these in a way I could never have
done without it. It would have cost too much money. The Fairlight gave me a
very private experimental instrument. (1990, Option)
- I took one look at it and said, ``This is what I've been looking all
my life.'' I couldn't believe the Fairlight. It's called a synthesizer, but
many of its sounds are of natural source. To be able to play with strings,
waterfalls, anything you want, it's wonderful.
- It was just like opening this great door for me, a complete
revolution. It meant I no longer felt a need to write on the piano and fill it
out with synthesizers. (1989, AP)
What kind of things have you been doing with the fairlight?
- I use the Fairlight in a basic way, really. What really appeals to
me most is the idea of having any sound that is available put into the
Fairlight. And I use it mainly as I would my piano. So it's finding the sound I
want, which can take ages- that's the most difficult thing - and then working
around it musically to make it suit the song. When I'm writing a song around
it, normally I just use chords with a quite simple Fairlight sound. And then if
I want to build up things, I'll do small overdubs just as we go throughout the
album, with the Fairlight being dragged in every other week. So in the writing
process, the main Fairlight sound goes down even on the demos. You find the
sounds that work for overdubs at a later date. For me, the ideal is the
combination of Fairlight and acoustic instruments, rather than it being all
electronic or all acoustic.
Are you using sounds that they give you with the fairlight, or have
you been sampling your own?
- Some of the presets that they supply are actually quite good. But
there's one favorite that everyone is using, called ``Orch. 5'' or something.
Every time anyone who has a Fairlight hears it they go, ``Oh,no! Not again!''
There are a couple of good preset sounds, but I think that the most exciting
thing is actually recording sounds and sampling them in. Quite often the nature
of the sound changes when you put it in the Fairlight, but that in itself can
be quite interesting.
You used ``orch. 5'' yourself in `` the dreaming'' [Single].
- Yes [Laughs], but as far as I know, at that time no one had
used it. Of course, this was the early days of the Fairlight. Actually I'm
surprised that so many people have used the same sound.
You seem to go for more natural sounds, rather than electronic
ones, on the dreaming lp.
- There's a human element in that album that's quite a... sort of
tormented human looking for, you know, how to sort out all these problems and
pain. And I think it's... these sounds are right, the human sounds, the
sensitive emotional sounds. It's quite an emotional album really, and I just
want to suit it. I think that the combination of very acoustic real sounds and
very hard electronic sounds is fabulous too. I like to create contrasts and
extremes for the atmosphere that you're building around a particular song.
Why do you sometimes use other musicians to play certain keyboard
parts on your records? Listening to your piano playing, you wouldn't have any
trouble covering the parts that they play.
- Well, I don't play the Synclavier. I play the Fairlight, but I
didn't have a Fairlight of my own until the last album, and that was only
towards the end of it. In fact, that's why I had to get people in. I had to
hire their Fairlight and Synclavier and I had to have them play it as well -
until I had my own.
What do you have in your studio?
- We have a Soundcraft mixing deck, a Studer A-80 tape machine, lots
of outboard gear, and Q-lock. We normally use 48 tracks now, even if it's for a
vocal idea or something. 24 tracks doesn't seem to go anywhere with me. And the
Fairlight, of course. We have a room simulator called a Quantec, which is my
favorite. It would be lovely to be able to draw the sort of room you wanted
your voice to be in. I think that's the next step.
Any other synthesizers besides the fairlight?
- I've got an Emulator, but I haven't really used that on any of the
master recording - yet. It's the only
other synthesizer I have in there.
You played yamaha cs-80 on the dreaming. Was that hired?
- No, that was mine, but I must admit the Fairlight has taken over
What sort of piano do you prefer?
- I think my favourite piano is the one I have at home. It's an
upright Bechstein. It's absolutely beautiful, but it's not ideal for master
recordings. For me, the piano is one of the most difficult things to record
well. It sounds good in the room, but it doesn't always sound good coming
through the speakers. We find that we have to do quite a bit of work on them to
get them to sound good on tape. But I like Bechsteins, and I think Steinways
are quite good. I find that it sometimes helps for the piano to be older. I
have a Grotrian-Steinweg piano that I use all the time in our studio, and that
seems quite nice.
What sorts of things do you have to do to get pianos to sound good?
- It depends on the nature of the piano. Some pianos are very
mid-rangey, so it's nice to get away from the mid- and go for the top-end and
things like that. But there's only so much you can do. Hopefully, you have the
nicest sounding piano you can find and you don't have to do much to it. It's
also nice to have the piano in a live-sounding room with an ambience mike on
it. That helps a lot.
Who was the biggest influence on your piano playing?
- In my teens, it was mostly Elton John. For me, he was the only
person who was writing songs and then playing and singing them together. I
thought his piano playing was fantastic and quite jazzy in some ways. What I
liked was that his accompaniment was always so right for the songs. He was
definitely a big inspiration for me in my teens. I think my favorite keyboard
players are more keyboard players than pianists. And I
love the stuff that Brian Eno does. The
sounds he comes up with are really brilliant. (1985, Keyboard)
How are you putting together songs now?
- At least six or seven of the tracks on this new album have been done
in totally different ways. There's one track that I literally wrote on the
Fairlight and then re-did things completely with strings. And the drums, which
were originally Linn, were re-done with a live drummer. Then there's another
track that's completely different, where I'd write through a guitarist. It
really needed to be based around a guitar and I can't play guitar. If I'd used
a piano or Fairlight, it would've been wrong, so I literally had to write
through the guitarist. That was fabulous.
What was it that made you decide to replace the fairlight and linn
with real strings and real drums?
- I suppose it's when I get the voice and lyrics on, they tell me what
to do. I thought, um... Although the Fairlight strings were interesting, they
didn't have the... the warmth and the intimacy that the song required, and...
it sounded a bit bland on the Fairlight. That particular song was a very
intimate one. It needed... a wooden, human error, you know, the fact that it
wasn't always on the beat, and that there was this group of people working
together creating that sound. I do feel that in most cases when you've got a
brilliant musician and an instrument you really... I mean, what's the Fairlight
there for? I think it... it's a different purpose, to me anyways. I don't feel
I want to create the world's greatest cellist on the Fairlight. You know, I'd
rather get a really good cello player in, and record him with a good engineer,
and then use the Fairlight to do something that complimented that. The most
exciting thing for me is the combination of real and natural sounds and
extremely electronic synthesized ones. It's just the blend of two worlds that I
find fabulous. In the next few years, it's going to be really lovely to see how
people start working these things. We've been in a real synthetic era for the
last three years. People have been interested in the new advances in
synthesizers. It's really exciting, and I think it's got people so wrapped up
in electronics that now perhaps will come the time when the blend will happen.
What about the idea that you may not be create the best cellist on
the fairlight, but that you will be the cellist? It won't be pablo casals'
expression, it will be kate bush's expression?
- Yes, I think that could be interesting, but I also think that could
be boring. On this album I've done so much of the work that I really enjoy
other people's input. I find it boring, actually, to have to work with my ideas
all the time. The great thing, again, you can do with the Fairlight that I
enjoy so much is I can write a piece on it, say, with an acoustic guitar or a
cello, and I can write it out, and then I can get a musician in to actually
play that. So he's playing what I've written, but he's doing it much better
than I could do. You see, without the Fairlight, I probably couldn't have
written these parts before. I would have written them on the piano and they
wouldn't have had the feel of the strings, or acoustic guitar. And at the same
time, you know I don't think me playing them on the Fairlight is as good as
these people. But it's an interesting blend.
Do you feel you have a better understanding of how these people
- Well, certainly in my experience, it's given me the most incredible
insight into composing and how instruments work. And I think it's sort of... If
you're not careful it can give you an arrogance as well, where you're sort of
sitting there playing all these drums and thinking, ``Hey, you know, why can't
you do this?", you know - like it's so easy. On the other hand, you know, there
are little inflections that would be so difficult to get on the keyboard. I
mean, you could probably get it to sound very close, but it... it might... just
not sound like the real instrument. A lot of natural instruments, that's what
it's about. It's the inflection of the musician, the way he works it,
personalizes it. I mean, you know real instruments should never die. I don't
think they can. That's what all these electronic things have come from. They
should go hand in hand.
Do you compose on paper or right into the fairlight or tape
- It's really in my head first and then onto the tape machine. I only
compose onto paper when it's an instance like a guitar or cello, where I play
in real time to the track, and then when I like what it is, I'll write it out
for someone to play. If it's me playing it, I don't bother to write it out. I
work much better in my head. It takes me hours to write things out. I'm so
slow. But writing it out is a very accurate way to get them to do what you want
very quickly. (1985, Keyboard)
Where does this absolute desire to control everything come from?
- Production was a logical extension of my desire to make sure that my
songs sounded exactly as I heard them. When you write something, you want it to
be in a style that is the most precise, the most complete, the closest to your
original idea as possible. Each element that goes into the track affects it for
better or worse. I discovered that in involving myself in the process of
following up on my music, it was necessary to become the producer, which,
today, is only one supplementary aspect of my job as author-composer.
I presume that the invention of the fairlight and the development
of automatic consoles helped your apprenticeship as producer.
- Technology is a valuable aid for me. The Fairlight is, for me, a
marvelous invention which has allowed me to greatly develop my capacities as
arranger and composer. Electronic drums have changed my life, as well. After
that, it was natural to have my own studio, so as to be able to work naturally,
in tranquility, in proximity to the origins of my songs.
You own your own fairlight?
- Now, yes. At the time of the last album, I worried whether it was
worth the expense, because they're incredibly expensive. But since buying it, I
congratulate myself every day.
You're not kidding! Your last two albums seem almost submerged
under the characteristics of the fairlight!
- It was the sound and style that I've wanted since the beginning. But
in those days I had neither the tools nor the capacity to express myself as I
wanted. Little by little I feel more satisfied, more free, happier. (1985,
Guitares et Claviers)
- I'd never
really enjoyed synthesizer as such, ADMITS KATE, WHO SAYS MOST OF HER PREVIOUS
WORK WAS WRITTEN ON PIANO. I had a [Yamaha] CS-80, which really was the
only synthesizer I liked. And then the Fairlight came along, and it was just
like what I'd been waiting for - fantastic - and it totally changed my creative
Kate's fairlight conversion seems to have cut down on the appetite
for complexity she exhibited while composing at the piano. It's a bit like the
difference between people writing songs on piano as opposed to the guitar, only
greater, she says of the keyboard sampling device. Generally speaking, I would
say that the parts are more simple now. But I do feel that simplicity is one of
those things that you have to be brave about rather than scared of. And it's
one of the great keys to the universe, I'm sure. (1985, Bam)
explain to me, as non-technical as possible, what the fairlight is and how you
- For me, what is so good about it, is it's a machine you can sample
any sound you want into it. Say, you can sample a car horn or a violin, and
then just play it on the keyboard. It's useful not only for when you're writing
a song, but also for any arrangements. For instance, if I want a brass
arrangement in a song, I can play around on the Fairlight and get an idea of
what I want by actually using a sound like brass.
I can see how it helps a composer, particularly you, you've got a
studio in your home and you just go right in... But what do you think this
technology will do to the recording industry and the making of albums in
- I think it's a good thing and I think it's going to develop very
much in the next couple of years. I think everything really is advancing to get
superior sounding things so that there's as little noise as possible. I think
it's probably going to have quite an effect. But I think synthesizer did. When
synthesizer were introduced, music was so inspired by it, that the synthesizers
were over everything. It was quite a stampede, because you have the medium, and
I think probably the same thing will happen with the Fairlight.
Technology is certainly bringing good sounds and sophisticated
features to keyboards in an affordable range. Do you see this as a whole big
revolution? I mean, it's started now, but...
- Yes. I think technically right across the board, not just in music,
we're going into another stage. There's no doubt that things are just gonna
go... You know, you think even in the last ten years things have really
developed, that I think we're actually just on the front of a whole new world
Kind of scary.
- I think all change is scary. And I think change can be very
But it's still that unknown quantity, whether it's good or bad.
That's right, yes.
The reason for this inquiry is that I think your comments are
particularly relevant, because you've been using this technology, the
fairlight, for years now. You were at the tip of the iceberg. I mean, I think
you're one of the first people I knew who used it.
- I think it's one of those instruments too that you'd learn to use
hopefully in a separate way. There are some sounds on the Fairlight that are
used so much now that most producers would steer away from it. Particularly
people in the business know straight away - there's a kind of corny edge to it.
- I think it's a very good instrument still. It's just one of those
things. Everyone I know is the same; we pull out the Fairlight and they go,
``Oh no sounds rubbish. Eventually you do find sounds that really work. I think
the whole process of sampling instruments is becoming very boring, wading
through sounds.. (1989, International Musician)
And she further proves her reluctance to purchase this year's model
by raving about a recently acquired dx7.
- I was very impressed. Initially I thought I'd just use it for ideas,
but we've used it quite a lot on the album. We blend it in with other stuff,
and hopefully it doesn't sound too like a DX7. I use mainly pre-sets. I think
it's amazing how different you can make pre-sets sound if you treat them
differently and bung another sound with them. It takes on quite a different
character. (1989, International
Musician And Recording World)
Cloudbusting / Subjects / Samplers / Synthesizers