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Peter Schwartz.

P eter “Ski” Schwartz is a New York based session musician, arranger, producer, remixer, arranger, programmer and score composer for TV shows. The Pet Shop Boys contacted him and asked to refresh some of the older tracks, including Being boring—and liked the result so much they offered him the position of musical director of the whole tour. Programme for 1999’s-2000’s Nightlife tour has the following information about Peter Schwartz:

    Was working as a keyboard salesman in his hometown of New York when, through a customer, he worked on Safire’s Don’t break my heart. Has worked as a programmer, remixer and/or orchestral arranger on songs for U2, Madonna, James, Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey, has been musical director for David Bowie, Madonna, Enya and Cher and has worked closely with dance producers including Shep Pettibone, David Morales and Frankie Knuckles. He played keyboards on David Morales’ Pet Shop Boys remixes, beginning with So hard, and most recently played on I don’t know what you want but I can’t give it any more, Closer to heaven and Footsteps.


In addition to abovementioned artists, Peter Schwartz also worked with Maxi Priest, Luther Vandross, Kraftwerk, N Sync, Jamiroquai, Gloria Estefan, Chaka Khan and Anita Baker. Among others, he played and programmed keyboards on David Morales mixes of U2’s Lemon, Mariah Carey’s My All and M People’s One night in heaven.


T he German Keyboards magazine published an interview with Peter Schwartz, about the Nightlife tour, working with Pet Shop Boys and updating their old tracks:

    Keyboard magazine:
    When last we spoke to you, you were on tour with David Bowie. How did you land this gig with the Pet Shop Boys?

    Peter Schwartz:
    I was doing a session for David Morales last year; he was producing some stuff for the Pet Shop Boys’ Nightlife album, and the Boys happened to be at the session. It was one of the rare times when the artist was actually at the session. Apparently they liked what I was doing, and kept tabs on me. So after those sessions were over, they called and asked if I’d be interested in doing some synth sweetening on a few other tracks, which I did at my home studio. And after that, I was asked to be musical director of their tour.

    Keyboard magazine:
    When you say “synth sweetening,” what exactly did that entail?

    Peter Schwartz:
    They sent me the individual tracks—they were doing it on 48-track, and they transferred it all to ADATs. So I had the option of doing comp mixes and putting it all in the computer, but I ended up just working off their two-track DAT reference mixes. I put those in [Emagic] Logic Audio and then just started adding parts as I heard them. A lot of their stuff was orchrestrated with a real orchestra, so I was reinforcing certain parts with pads—adding ear candy, basically. And then what I ended up doing was printing it all back on ADATs, and they synced it up to their multitracks and mixed it.

    Keyboard magazine:
    What synths were you using?

    Peter Schwartz:
    For the ear candy, it was a lot of [Clavia] Nord Lead, [Oberheim] Matrix-12, and [Roland] Juno-60. For the bass stuff, I was using an [Oberheim] OB-8. I also brought this custom One-Voice Oberheim modular. I call it a modular, ‘cause years ago I had Andy Topeka take the I/O of an SEM and bring’em up onto a blank panel that’s positioned where I generate little eight- or 16-step sequences and have those run alongside the tracks, a la Giordio Moroder. One of the modifications Andy did was increase the eight sequencer steps to 16.

    Keyboard magazine:
    How did you sync the sequencer to the tracks?

    Peter Schwartz:
    Using a Roland MPU-101. What I do is, I generate a pulse track that’s either eighths, sixteenth-notes, or whatever I want. So those notes go into the MPU-101 and get translated into gates. For the most part, I didn’t use pitch information on this project; it was mostly noise-based stuff. I took the Gate Out of the MPU into the Clock/Step In of the [Oberheim] sequencer, and I used another note on a separate MIDI channel to reset the sequencer to step 1. So at the top of the track, the first thing that the MPU got was a note on channel 2, then the gate from the MPU’s channel 2 fed the Reset of the [Oberheim] sequencer. After that the sequencer got a stream of notes from MIDI channel 1, which came out of Gate 1 on the MPU, and that went into the Step Input.

    Keyboard magazine:
    And you were fiddling with the knobs as the sequence played back.

    Peter Schwartz:
    Yeah... opening and closing the filter, changing the envelope shape and amount, and so on.

    Keyboard magazine:
    When you got the call to do this tour, how did you go about recreating the music for the live show?

    Peter Schwartz:
    One of the most gratifying things about getting this gig was the fact that the Boys wanted me for my style, so there’s a whole list of songs I was allowed to change any way I wanted to—provided that I made the tracks more up-to-date, atmospheric, and techno. They gave me some criteria; there were certain songs they heard as being more Chemical Brothers-like, for example, or more Depeche Mode-like. There were vague guidelines, but they were good enough to send me in a particular direction and I just applied my thing to it. Other songs they gave me no direction at all. Only the wind is a good example of that. They said, “Do your thing,” and at first I didn’t quite know what to do with it because it’s such a great song as is. The original string arrangement is very beautiful, subtle, and emotional. But then I thought, “Okay, if I just strip this away and listen to the vocal, what do I get?” What I ended up with were sounds that were very gentle and evocative, except when I need to make a point, and then it gets very dramatic and big. It’s one of the few songs with guitar in it. In general, a lot of the songs received significant makeovers.

    Keyboard magazine:
    When updating the songs, did you start from scratch or use existing tapes, samples, and/or MIDI files from the Pet Shop Boys archive?

    Peter Schwartz:
    The first thing I did was spend about three days going through all their old multitracks, which was kind of a nightmare because they had multiple versions of songs—some were demos, some were done with different producers, some were recorded on different formats, et cetera. So what I did to save time in the studio was, I went through their tape library notes trying to figure out which were the right reels by matching producer names with the album notes. It was very complicated, because sometimes we’d have three different machines going at once: analog 1/2” 24-track, 1/2” 48-track, and digital. It was a sync nightmare at times, especially when there was an analog master and a digital slave.

    Keyboard magazine:
    What was the medium of choice for this tour—DAT, MDM, sequences?

    Peter Schwartz:
    It’s MIDI sequences with digital audio in Logic Audio. One of the first things the Boys said to me was they didn’t want a whole lot of digital audio playing back. They didn’t want the majority of the show on tape. They wanted as much as possible sequenced. There are certain things that were very practical to sequence, and other things that were made simpler by streaming off something from the original multitracks to Logic Audio and having it play back that way, like big orchestral sections.

    Keyboard magazine:
    Why did they opt to go with sequences, though, as opposed to a less-risky digital tape approach?

    Peter Schwartz:
    They understand the impact of live synthesizers versus recorded synthesizers, which is great to hear from an artist; it shows me that they’re really into the technology and they want the show to sound a particular way. They know that when you have, say, a bass sound coming from an analog synth live, each note is slightly different because the oscillators are always drifting and your envelope generators are firing differently. Also, you’re getting full dynamic range because it never hits tape.

    Keyboard magazine:
    How deep into syths and programming are Chris and Neil?

    Peter Schwartz:
    Chris is probably more than Neil. Chris plays through the whole show, as do I. But I don’t know if I’d describe them as “synth-heads”; they know the kinds of sounds they want and they’ll get a guy like me to get those sounds for them. They are, however, very familiar with things like performance controls. I had a discussion with Chris at one time about whether or not he wanted to manually open and close the filter on a song or whether it should be done with an LFO and whether it should be synced up. Sometimes I think they know more about this stuff than they let on. They appreciate it all, and they’ve been patient when I’ve had my MIDI moments. (laughs)

    Keyboard magazine:
    With Logic as your engine of choice, how do you manage the songs during the show? Do you have one contiguous song file, for example? Peter Schwartz:
    What I do is, I load up all the songs separately in reverse order of the set. I stack the windows, so what happens is, the first song appears in the front, and when that song ends, I manually select and start the next song with the mouse. There was one point where the Boys wanted to segue directly from one song to the next, but fortunately we changed the set order and it nixed that idea. One of the troubles we had doing that is with Logic, it’s difficult to take one song file and paste it into another. Even though the environments may be exactly the same, the instrument assignments get scrambled when you attempt to do that. So this ended up being the best way to go, and I’ve gotten very fast on the mouse.

    Keyboard magazine:
    What happens if the computer chokes or crashes during the show?

    Peter Schwartz:
    What we’ve done is, on a regular basis we’ve recorded the show onto [TASCAM] DA-88, eight tracks. So let’s say our computer blows up. We’d run the tapes while I get the second computer cued up. If the Mackie goes down, same thing... we have a spare.



O pcode Magazine also conducted an interview with Peter Schwartz. Although it’s about David Bowie Outside tour Schwartz also was musical director of, it still might be of some interest to the Pet Shop Boys fans:

    Opcode:
    What do you do on the Outside tour?

    Peter Schwartz:
    I’m the Musical Director and I’m also the keyboard player in the band along with Mike Garson on piano, and the occasional synthesizer. The band also has two guitarists Carlos Alomar and Reeves Gabrels; Gail Ann Dorsey on bass; and Zachary Alford on drums. Background vocals are handled by George Simms and the other band members.

    Opcode:
    What does the Musical Director on a tour do, exactly?

    Peter Schwartz:
    I’m sure it’s different for every tour, but in this case it started with listening to a cassette of the album for a few weeks and getting familiar with the new material. The plan was for the band to play along with the sequenced tracks, so I had to make preliminary decisions about what to play live, and what to sequence.

    Then it was time to go into the studio and put up the original multitrack tapes from the Outside recording sessions and start to sample off sounds. I sampled everything from individual kick and snare hits to entire sections of heavily processed guitar or synth parts. I also made “work cassettes,” which were mixes with certain parts turned way up in an otherwise sparse, rough mix. I did this so that the bass player, for instance, wouldn’t have to strain to hear the bass part in a song where it was buried in the mix. Many of the mixes are made up of layer upon layer of sound, and they end up being an atmospheric soup. There are lots of layered loops, layered guitar parts, heavily processed keyboards all mixed together—in other words, ambiances. With sound that dense that had to be recreated live, it was important for me to isolate each component in the studio and determine what, if any, key part of that texture could be played live. I wanted to make sure that there was live playing on top of whatever parts were sequenced, so that the whole thing would feel as organic as possible.

    The next thing was to transcribe and resequence parts in Vision. Doing this for over 30 songs, resulted in a lot of time being spent listening critically... for loops to line up, for blends to be right, and so on. Then was time to trim all the samples to their smallest possible size to minimize the memory requirements for the samplers. Then I had to recreate some of the synth sounds from the record on my own synths. Brian (Eno, co-producer of Outside) heavily processed a lot of the keyboard sounds he made for the record, and imitating them wasn’t always so easy!

    After getting all the songs’ sequences and sounds to be right, charts were made for the musicians, and then it was rehearsal time. I scheduled the rehearsals so that all the musicians didn’t need to be at the rehearsal studio from the start. I worked first with the guitar players, then brought in bass and drums, then piano, and background vocals.

    Once everyone was together and playing, it was necessary to make changes to some of the arrangements on several songs, as David and I had discussed previously, and to introduce some new songs as well. We didn’t have a whole lot of time to rehearse, change arrangements and get all the MIDI stuff to work right, so there was a lot of head arranging going on, rather than writing out formal parts for everyone to play. Sometimes this meant making changes to an existing sequence and the samples, or creating whole new sequences complete with new sounds that didn’t necessarily come from the record.

    So in short, I guess my responsibilities as Musical Director combined the work of an arranger, a programmer, a MIDI system designer, a rehearsal coordinator, two keyboard players and a band leader. Can I go on vacation now?

    Opcode:
    What gear are you using on the tour?

    Peter Schwartz:
    I’ve got two setups tied together, one on stage and one off stage. It all runs under the control of Vision and two Studio 5LX interfaces. On stage I have a remote Macintosh keyboard, trackball and a small nine inch computer monitor so I can run Vision from the stage. Off stage are the racks and a PowerBook 165 running Vision, Galaxy Plus Editors and OMS.

    Opcode:
    How are you using Vision on the tour? Is it playing on every song, or just on some of the pieces?

    Peter Schwartz:
    It’s playing on almost all the songs—at a minimum it’s providing a click track, or sending program changes to the Studio 5LX, which in turn sends patch changes and controller resets to the synths and samplers. On other songs it’s playing everything from bass lines, sampled background vocal arrangements, guitar parts... basically all the stuff that can’t be played live, or in all practicality can’t be performed by the band—studio stuff that’s important to the sound of the songs.

    Opcode:
    So the drummer listens to a click on every song and then the band plays to his tempo?

    Peter Schwartz:
    Yes, almost every song. Zach (the drummer) plays to the click, and sometimes the other players do, too. The last song we play with Nine Inch Nails is Hurt, and Zach triggers a hi-hat sample that has eighth note echoes, where each repeat gets softer and softer. Now Zach has great time on his own, but playing it back live has to be right on the money. That’s not always easy because the slapback from the halls we’re playing can make it hard to hear soft sounds, like the quietest repeats of the hi-hat echoes. Reeves is playing two handed hammer-ons so he has to also hear a click to be locked to Zach.

    Opcode:
    How long have you been using Vision?

    Peter Schwartz:
    I’ve been using sequencers for the last ten years, starting with the Synclavier, but I didn’t start using Vision until right before the tour. Until now I used Notator software for the Atari. Vision was the best choice for this gig because it lets you randomly access any song without having to load up from disk. By hitting a key I can start any song in the sequence list. I have learned from past experience that David expects to be able to bounce from one song, to any other song, without any delays.

    Opcode:
    So for this tour, Vision’s ability to instantly access any song was the reason you chose it? Is this the very first project you’ve used it on?

    Peter Schwartz:
    Yes! And it’s working great—we haven’t had any major problems, just a few minor quirks during set up, which was mainly due to getting the PowerBook set up correctly.

    (...)

    Opcode:
    What does the future hold for you—it seems you’ve done so many kinds of musical productions.

    Peter Schwartz:
    (laughs) I spent a good part of last year doing a score for TV with James Mtume for New York Undercover. I’d love to get my teeth back into that kind of work—it’s been a great vehicle for me to incorporate strange harmonies and outside jazz kind of stuff with funk and hip-hop loops. It’s a very cool type of score that’s very dramatic. It was probably the most expressive gig I’ve ever had. I’d also like to continue with song writing and record production.




RELATED PAGES.

p. 1
Nightlife tour dates and music
ext.
Keyboards magazine website.
ext.
Opcode’s website.



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