Paul Hartnoll grew up in Dartford, Kent, listening to punk, electro, and early hip-hop. During the mid-'80s he played with a local band called Noddy and the Satellites. And it's in 1987 that Paul and his brother Phil started recording with keyboards, a beat box, and a 4-track under the name Orbital. From their relatively humble beginnings producing simple but infectious top 20 Pop-Dance tunes to their more recent sophisticated top 5 Pop-Dance tunes, classic albums, film and TV scores, and beyond, Orbital have crafted some of the most innovative yet accessible electronic music since their inception in 1989 whilst at the same time retaining great respect for their live work due to their extraordinary shows around the globe which pay as much attention to the live mixing of visuals and choice of imagery, as to the live sound itself. After a 15-year journey and a bag full of tricks, Paul is now working solo...
A Few Words with Paul Hartnoll
Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about your background, how did you get into making music?
I've been making music since I was 12-13 years old. I started on guitar and keyboards. We always had a piano in the house witch was eventually replaced by an electric organ which was great fun. I used to play guitar along with the auto accompaniment and record that then play the tape back and over dub more guitar onto another tape deck all with dodgy old mics which is how I got into multi-tracking and I suppose using electronics. I found that you could liven up the rhythms of the auto accompaniment on the organ by pushing down different rhythm options together, I seem to remember that Latin and rock together was a great combo although all 8 variations together was pretty good too!
Orbital got credits for several movie soundtracks, Event Horizon and The Saint just to name two. Now that you produce under your own name, was film scoring a natural path for you to follow?
Film scoring is something I would very much like to get more involved with. I have some projects coming up witch are at early stages at the moment but both are strong ideas and give me a very good starting point from a scoring perspective. One is a thriller, the other a romantic comedy of sorts so plenty of diversity there!
Orbital has been recognized for their premier live acts in the field of techno/popular music. Were you able to bring some of that experience into the production of film music?
I think playing live and improvising with the arrangements of songs and feeding off the audience has helped me with the ability to go with my gut instinct when scoring for film. Getting a performance down and feeding off the image with my first impression of the film, and then respond going from there. I find that most of the time there is a lot to be taken from that first reaction/performance when scoring.
With such a career in the music business, how do you see music technology evolve?
Music technology is in a good place at the moment as far as sound design goes. The power of soft-synths are unbelievable at the moment and getting better all the time. I like the physical modeling aspects best but would like to see more graphical interfaces being used to create the sounds. I would like to build Heath Robinson style instruments, marbles rolling down wooden runs affected by gravity with compressed air pumps blowing on in controlled MIDI bursts... and all in color.
I think it's funny how we've all been looking to get every thing contained in our computers for years and now that we have it, we seem to be obsessed with banks of faders and knobs to control our virtual world—give me the mouse any day. And now that we can mix inside our computers, we start to use summing boxes to give us the nice old-fashion separated analog sound we all threw away! Well not everyone but you know what I mean. I used to think that summing boxes were the emperors new toy and a waste of time, but having just mixed some songs through a analog desk again and doing all the processing in the Mac, effectively using the desk as a big summing device, I'm convinced that analog summing is the way forward... er... backward I mean!
Which tools do you use to create your music?
Mostly, I use the combination of a Mac dual G5 and Logic. Lots of software synthesizers and a selection of hardware synths: the Roland V-Synth, Alesis Andromeda, Oberhiem Expander, Moog Voyager, Nord G2, Hartman Neuron, Arp6400 and of course the Roland SH-09 which still can't be beaten! On the software side, I love the Tassman 4, String Studio, Chameleon 5000, Reaktor, Kontakt, Absynth, Sculpture, and Albino. I love the organic deep nature of the Tassman 4, which I have found very inspirational on my new album. The percussive abilities of this synth are truly remarkable. It seems to have a kind of melancholy attached to it that you would expect from a really old good "real instrument" if that makes any sense.
To conclude, can you tell us what projects have you been working on recently and what's coming up next?
I'm currently mixing my first solo album, which I'm really excited about, it should be out latter this year—I'll let you know. It features the Tassman 4 quite heavily!