KT 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 14)


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 music.

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. (1985, Keyboard)


And kate as early as about 1980 you were experimenting with the fairlight computer musical instrument. Has that changed the way you approach creating music?

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. (1985, Keyboard)


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 completely now.

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 play?

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 machine?

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 attitude.

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)


*Can you explain to me, as non-technical as possible, what the fairlight is and how you use it?

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 general?

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 of technology.

Kind of scary.

I think all change is scary. And I think change can be very positive.

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. (1986, Island-Ear)


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)


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