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How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Mon May 02, 2016 8:35 pm
by dswo
Prince's guitar chops have gotten a lot of press lately.* How do people rate him on synths:
  • As a player? (I realize that the Revolution already had two keyboard players, Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman. I don't know whether Prince also played himself for recordings.)
  • As a sound designer?

* Recent articles on Prince as a guitarist:

Why Prince May Have Been the Greatest Guitarist Since Hendrix (and Why That Shouldn’t Seem Like a Surprise) ... ndrix.html

The Day Prince’s Guitar Wept the Loudest ... -fame.html

ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on Prince the ‘sensational’ guitarist ... guitarist/

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Mon May 02, 2016 11:11 pm
by Angstwulf
I'd rate him pretty highly:

Think about "1999", the album and the single, and how perfect for each the song the synth parts were. If he didn't play the part on the recording, he composed, arranged and demo'd the part. From what I've read, his demos would put many mastered recordings to shame.

Likewise with his "pre-band" albums. When U Were Mine, which is a perfect example of New Wavey synth-pop done well, was first released on Dirty Mind. That's all him.

As far as his playing: his last concert, about a week or two before his death, was solo piano and vocals only. A couple of radio obits referenced the show and played snippets. NPR keeps all of their stuff online so you may find it there. Great stuff.

BTW: Loved the Billy Gibbons article. Given Jimi Hendrix's comments about Gibbons back in the day, it seemed most gracious and a beautiful passing of the torch.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 2:39 am
by recordbot
a friend on mine worked on the self titled album, what I heard was that Prince pre recorded all the sequences and Matt Fink just sat there triggering them, not sure if it's true but I've heard that from a couple people.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 8:28 am
by madtheory
Whatever about keyboard playing, he was using the Fairlight CMI IIx from 1983 (it doesn't get used on an album for a while) right up to Batman in 1989. Had two of them at one point. A lot of use of factory sounds but his programming and arranging skills are so good it's not obvious Fairlight like most ordinary composers. He never used the III. Seems the IIx has the funk.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 10:29 am
by hageir
The Batman Soundtrack he made is my absolute favorite Prince album, legend has it he made it in two weeks flat. While Danny Elfman was working on the Orchestral Score for months... Hehe

He used a LOT of sampling on that album, I'm impressed. It also has some awesome sequenced synths and stuff... I have a slight feeling he made that album mostly himself, so I'd say he's totally awesome on synthesizers :D R.I.P. Prince!

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 10:34 am
by madtheory
I love Batman too. Definitely sounds like a lot of IIx (and Roland D50), but some of the sampling quality is too clean for a IIx, so he must've augmented it with something more modern. The E-mu Emax (dunno which model) was used on the subsequent tour, so maybe that was it? But there's a lot of creative use of short snippets of dialogue and guitar, and the longer stuff is crunchier due to the lower sampling rate- all side effects of the IIx.

Prince and Elfman are exact opposites when it comes to deadlines! Apparently Tim Burton ended up following Elfman around to make sure he finished the job.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 11:58 am
by Bitexion
I guess the Fairlight, if used properly, can output full songs very quickly. Look at Jan Hammer, he'd compose several new songs for each episode of Miami Vice while the episodes were being made. He'd just try and capture the mood of the episode after reading the scripts. He output quite a stunning amount of songs during that period, and the Fairlight was front and center. He had lots of drumsets, synth samples and vocal bits to throw together into full songs very quickly.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 2:10 pm
by madtheory
Ya the main thing, as you say, wasn't the CMI, it's the well organised library, and that intent and focus that is the mark of any successful composer.

I think the thing with the IIx was the sequencer was quite intuitive, working with the pen is probably better than a mouse, and the library was compiled from user submissions so it's all good creative stuff. Both composers also had engineers to assist in the recording, mixing and last but not least- maintenance!

But I think any modern DAW is far faster. Also, the benefits of accurate monitor speakers in an acoustically neutral room cannot be underestimated. When you have that, processing and mix decisions become intuitive (both had "pro" studio setups). Too many electronic composers never get that.

The thing Hammer and Prince had in buckets of talent and a serious work ethic. Lots of practice. Both excel at improv as well- partly that's the jazz harmony training.

I still think Hammer's work is fairly obviously CMI, whereas Prince put his own stamp on it. I'm a big fan of both. To be fair though, Prince's vocal performances take most of the attention, one of the world's finest.

So unjust that he's dead :(

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 5:38 pm
by redchapterjubilee
I think he pretty much used stock presets on most of the synths he's used, though his use has become iconic. It's hard to lay hands on an Oberheim and not want to play Prince licks. I think he was more a trendsetter in how he programmed drum machines. His rhythms weren't always outlandish or showy (though The Time's "777-9311" is an obvious argument against that) but he made the first Linn machine his machine. The way he detuned and affected the different samples in his machine are all his and a definitive sound. You can't hear that detuned and flanged sidestick and not know it was a Prince production.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 6:46 pm
by meatballfulton
I'm not sure how to rate him. He was neither a master sound designer or a keyboard virtuoso. He was a very good guitar player who was good on keys and programming drum machines.

I was listening to the old Hits + B sides compilation after the news and realized how so much of his work was ahead of it's time then but somewhat dated (sonically) today...things got a lot better IMHO when he started using live drummers.

I was a college DJ into jazz and new wave when Dirty Mind came out. The station copy had a note taped to the cover that read: LISTEN TO ENTIRE SONG BEFORE PLAYING ON AIR and also had the tracks Head and Sister XXXed out ;) The cover and liner photos had me wondering WTF it was and when I auditioned it on the record library turntable it was both fascinating and confounding.

I was never a big enough fan to buy his albums nor did I go see Purple Rain in the theater. What finally won me over was his show at the Super Bowl where he actually played live with his band in the rain and used the college marching bands as a horn section.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Tue May 03, 2016 9:49 pm
by dswo
meatballfulton wrote:I was never a big enough fan to buy his albums nor did I go see Purple Rain in the theater.
I was 14 when "Purple Rain" came out. It was rated R, so I didn't see it until much later, on DVD, where it was disappointing. But now our local theater is showing it on the big screen and I watched it Saturday night with a couple of friends. It was better than we all expected. For one, it sounds great on a big theater system. The acting's not good, but Prince's filmed performances are still exciting 32 years later, and songs that I usually skip on the album (e.g., "Let's Go Crazy") come to spectacular life. Finally, Prince wears 80s clothes really well. After you watch this movie, you will want to wear lace cuffs and ruffles on your chest.

This afternoon I was listening to "Let's Go Crazy" in the car and noticed the pads at the beginning. They're not what you'd call evolving. But I imagine they're supposed to evoke church organs, so maybe evolving would be out of place. There are some nice interstitial synths in "Purple Rain" that aren't part of any song; I assume they're by the French composer Michel Colombier, who's credited with the film's music.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Thu May 12, 2016 7:28 pm
by miserablism
Still, the sound design and the use of synthesisers is still pretty insane on tracks like "Girls & Boys" and "The Beautiful Ones" (that solo is just so expressive, matches the emotional intensity of the song so well) or the more obscure ones, like Vanity 6's 'Make-up' - this one still sounds so futuristic with this start-stop beat and the occasional slaps of the Pearl Syncussion. Also, the thick, layered sound of chords on 1999 is worth mentioning. It's just so lush, sounds absolutely amazing.

Re: How do you rate Prince on synths?

Posted: Sat May 14, 2016 1:41 am
by Cumulus
I remember watching a video where Matt Fink said Prince would show him the keyboard parts.

I think I remember Fink saying Prince did a better job on them.