...kl...'s Info about Electronic Music and Reviews
RMI May 8 '04
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Radio Massacre International
The Gatherings - May 8, 2004

It was back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to see Radio Massacre International hit the stage at The Gatherings.  I missed those blokes the first time they played there, but I wasn't going to miss this one.

This concert was going to be a bit different in that RMI would be joined by two Mellotrons onstage, courtesy of Jimmy Moore and Jeff Coultier. 

Jimmy, his wife Nancy, and I arrived at the venue, a lovely church on the grounds of the University, shortly after 4pm, and Jimmy's "Formicatron" took center stage.  Well, it was hard not to, as there wasn't any other gear around at the moment. -->

A little while later Jeff appeared with some friends and a very nice M400, and we hustled that behemoth onto the stage...along with a Synthi AKS.

Jeff Coultier Synthi AKS Mellotron M400
jeff, synthi aks, mellotron m400

Meanwhile Chuck van Zyl and others wired the church for sound and put up the lighting.  Finally Steve Dinsdale, Duncan Goddard, and Gary Houghton made their way over from the hotel to begin setting up.

Mellotron M400 "Formicatron"
the formicatron takes center stage

Radio Massacre International warm upr.m.i. warm up

The stage rig RMI uses is very simple, designed to travel.  Gary has his guitar, a new lap guitar, and an array of effects pedals.  Steve and Duncan split the synth duties, and each has a synth controller hooked into a bank of rack-mounted modules and sequencers.  Add a few cables, and you're done.  For this concert there'd be no need for keyboard stands, as the two Mellotrons served that purpose well.  Steve took the helm of the Formicatron, and Duncan added Jeff's machine and the Synthi to his rig for the evening.  Duncan also had a newly purchased Moog Source delivered to where they were staying, and it arrived at the hotel shortly before they did.  Duncan took out his soldering iron and performed some mods on it during the afternoon back at the hotel, and it was good to go for the concert.

Radio Massacre International warm upchuck van zyl helps warm up, too

I checked out the 'trons, and each was working great.  Duncan, Steve, and Gary gave them a whirl as well.  At one point the organist, who was warming up the church organ, joined them.  It was Mellotron flute, Ian M. flute, and the real church organ for a little while, and from my listening spot in the center of the church it sounded incredible.  RMI decided to work the church organ into the opening of the concert and reproduce a little of that magic I heard there earlier in the day.

Radio Massacre International's Duncan Goddardfinal preparations by r.m.i.'s duncan goddard

During the setup a few people from outside filed in.  The most frequent comment I heard about what was on the stage was, "Wow!  Two Mellotrons!"  Translation:  "Pretty cool, but they'll be damn lucky if both of them work through the whole show."  :-)

duncan goddard on mellotron reliability
From a post to the Mellotronists YahooGroup, May 22, 2004.  There had been a discussion of the issues Anekdoten, a progressive rock band, had with various Mellotron M400s on stage recently.  RMI have used bumper sticker laden M400 #1098 for years both on and off stage, and Duncan Goddard definitely has an opinion on the subject of Mellotron reliability, in-tuneness, and so on.

<< I was surprised to find that [Anekdoten] brought their M400 along - I've been hearing several claims that they've stopped bringing it with them on the road for, well, the usual reasons. >>

what are "the usual reasons"?

my band, with the utmost gratitude to the various owners involved (most recently mr moore & mr coulter, whose names & serial numbers will be on any document we eventually release of the philly gig) have used seven different m400's on stage now. the only problems we've had are these two design flaws (& that's my opinion, but bear with me..):

1) there really is no good way to pick a 400 up without getting right underneath it- it should've had handles either bolted to or routed out of the ends. I always have to remind folks that the slots in the back can't be used to lift the thing.

2) the tuning control is /way/ too sensitive to movement; it seems to have been engineered to allow easy transposition of the instrument when so often what one actually needs to do is nudge the pitch a few cents because the various recordings on a set don't intonate with each other or anything else.  this isn't because they were carelessly recorded but because different instruments have different pitch temperaments, & because the various artists responsible for the source noises were playing their notes in isolation from any musical context; no way for them to lean the pitch one way or another to favour the key...so we have to do it on-the-fly. does anybody know what the chorists used as a pitch reference for their recordings, btw?

& people complain that the mellotron is somehow out-of-tune. sorry, but that's bollocks. if you play the violin in an orchestra with a load of brass instruments, you will intonate differently than if you were playing with a string quartet, & differently again with a piano, & you'd do different things in different keys too. the mellotron can't adapt like this on its own so either it sounds "out-of-tune" or you keep one hand on the pitch knob. that's why it's so near the keyboard.

on my 400, the modified pitch control allows about a semitone either side of centre. we aren't clever enough to need to transpose. jimmy, jeff, ken & others may have noticed steve & me fighting the tuning a little on the machines in philly- this was because of the aforementioned & not any reliability problems with the two excellent 400's we were loaned.

in fact, the only gripes I have any first-hand knowledge of came from a guy at work who does the monitor mixes for visiting bands. he was once a roadie for greenslade & recalled (on the occasion of 1098 visiting mtv back in '96) that they were instructed to remove the tapes from dave's 400 before moving it anywhere. this process was sufficiently tedious that they would sabotage the 'tron by forgetting to reload the frame before several gigs.  that's the only "mellotrons are a nuisance" anecdote I can find any support for.

with the excellent support we now have for these machines, there's simply no excuse for not gigging them beyond the purely logistical matter of shifting them.

anyway, that's what I reckon.

duncan/1098 (the stickertron)

All set up and ready to go, everyone scattered for dinner, anticipating the 8pm start of the concert.

Radio Massacre International rig, The Gatherings, May 8 2004

As the audience was being seated before the show, the church organist was filling in with some background music.  With the lights low, RMI took the stage, and Steve and Duncan quietly joined the organist on the Mellotrons and continued with those machines for about 15 minutes.  For a Mellotronist, hearing the Ian M. flute and 'tron flute in a church's acoustical space was sheer delight.  Eventually Gary came in very quietly with his guitar (which more often than not sounds very much like a synthesizer and not a guitar), and RMI rounded out the set with more improvisation but no sequencers.  At one point during the set it felt like the music had lost its way a little, but as true professionals one of the lads always kept the set rolling.  Hey, that's improvisation, folks!  Upon completion of the 40 minute set Steve announced to the crowd that they'd be taking an "interval" (that's a break to us US folks) and would be back soon.

It was pretty nice to hear RMI's performance of an electronic music set without sequencers fired on all cylinders.  The guitar, Mellotron, and synthesizer combination works well, and it's obvious these guys have been a team for years.

Radio Massacre International in concert
radio massacre international:  gary, steve, and duncan

Radio Massacre International's Gary Houghton The second and third sonic outings for the evening would be sequencer based.  Steve revved up the Doepfer MAQs and off they went, complete with a light show courtesy of Chuck van Zyl's team.

The Mellotrons were used quite a bit, and Gary traded his usual six string for the lap model, which added some welcome sounds to the mix.  The Synthi was Duncan's noise toy for the night, though.  He enjoyed triggering that machine to see what kind of ring modulated mayhem he could achieve.

Not done yet, RMI returned for an encore, again more sequencers and improvisation.  The crowd appreciated that and gave a hearty applause at the end of the show.

Radio Massacre International in concert

There were a few thoughts in my head as I watched the RMI performance.  The first was patience.  These guys take their time to develop their performance, especially Gary, who plays in a very reserved manner when called out for by the mood of the improvisation.  One expects typical Berlin School improvs to rush right into sequencer land and follow a certain formula, but this really didn't.  I also perceived a great deal of communication and teamwork.  RMI is a team, and that comes across when you're talking with them and when you're watching them perform.  They keep in touch while improvising, through voice, looks, or through what they are playing.  And they have fun!

The resulting music for the evening was largely Berlin School, sequencer based synthesizer improvisations with a good dose of Mellotron.  Having nearly all of RMI's output, many of the other live recordings I've heard by them are a bit different from what I heard at The Gatherings that evening---a bit more reaching and perhaps not as squarely in the Berlin School vein.  Take, for example, the "Hello Moon" section of the "Jodrell Bank" set, where a sequence builds and we begin to hear samples of the Jodrell Bank radio experiments where they bounced a radio signal off the moon.  The combination builds until the Mellotron comes crashing in.  This drama and a bit of rawness is what sets RMI aside from others who dabble in the genre.  For this evening, though, it was more reined in.  That's improvisation, folks!

After the show, many people visited the stage to eyeball the gear (especially the Mellotrons and for the real hard-core synth fans the AKS) and chat with RMI and get autographs.  Available for the first time at the show were three new RMI live recordings, and I picked them up to round out my collection:

    ne013 'people would really like space rock if they would only give it a try'
    ne014 'e-live 2003'
    ne015 'walking on the sea'

Suggested Listening

With so many CDs available from r.m.i., which should you check out first?  Your Webmaster posed that question to Mr. Goddard.

Official Centaur releases:

For first timers, Duncan recommends "Borrowed Atoms" or "Frozen North."  "Frozen North" is r.m.i.'s first official release---and a double CD.  It gives you a very good idea of what r.m.i. is all about.

Private stock:

There are many more of these.  Duncan feels that "Solid States" is a good mix of pure electronica and the space rock that happens whenever a drum set is available.  "Planets in the Wires" is a good example of r.m.i. when they aren't on stage.

Please see the Radio Massacre International web site for information about these CDs.  There are MP3 snippets out there as well. 

(For ordering my electronic music (generally not available in the United States), I usually go to Groove, SMD, or Eurock, although not all releases are available everywhere.)

Oh, how did the Mellotrons do, you were wondering?  Flawless performance, nary a wobbly!  Steve Dinsdale even commented on how much he liked the keyboard feel of the Formicatron (I had adjusted the key height earlier in the day but left the pinch rollers and pressure pads to fate, not wanting to mess with them just before the gig).  Let's use this evening to kill the rumors:  Mellotrons, when maintained properly, are reliable machines.

errrrr...mostly.  :-)

See a movie of r.m.i. at The Gatherings.

- Warming up
- Show opening (Mellotrons and church organ)
- Sequencer frenzy
- Quieter passages

2:29, 1MB
Windows Media format

Steve, Gary, and Duncan are great people and work hard at their craft.  Thank you very much for the atmosphere you created for the evening, both musically and personally.  These guys have a lot of fun with themselves and with everyone else.  Great lads!

Jeff:  My first look at a Synthi (and I believe Duncan's first use of one onstage...I suspect he'll be looking for one now...:-) ).  Nice M400 you have there, too!

Jimmy and Nancy:  Thank you again for the kind hospitality, and I hope we can do this again soon!!

Images, sounds, and Mellotron reliability posting used with permission.