The South Bank Show did a long documentary on the making of Security, giving fascinating insight into PG’s process. The documentary is interesting for PG fans, of course, but it has broader significance too. Many of the practices that PG was exploring, like building songs out of samples and studio improvisation, were cutting edge or even avant-garde at the time. Now they have become the baseline standard for pop and dance music production and songwriting methods. Read an in-depth analysis of the video here.
Here are the most noteworthy moments:
- PG builds the songs from the beat up — “Rhythm is the spine of the piece.”
- More on PG’s search for interesting rhythms — he compiles a drum loop library using a suitcase full of cassettes. (Now you’d do it with a folder on your hard drive.)
- PG replicates the beats from his favorite loops using the drum machine.
- He develops melodies and chords by improvising over the beats.
- He then assembles individual loops into structured phrases.
- PG and engineer David Lord use a field recorder to collect samples that can later be used for percussion, synth sounds and atmosphere.
- PG finds an unexpected use for one of the factory sounds on the Fairlight CMI.
- He begins lyric writing by recording improvised wordless vocals — “Gabrielese.” He later replaces the nonsense syllables.
- The reason to write melodies first and lyrics later: “There have been really great songs with appalling lyrics, but none with appalling music.”
- Designing a drum sound — Jerry Marotta plays a surdu rather than a standard kick drum.
- The musicians are tracked with isolation so that PG and Lord can more easily manipulate the recordings later.
- When developing ideas, PG and Lord recording the musicians in short segments rather than in full takes, developing parts and ideas on the fly.
- They also record some full-band freeform jams that can later be edited down.
- PG discusses the importance of shaping timbre and space — “Treating sounds to put them in perspective.”
- Mixing is a process of subtraction.
- David Lord compares the traditional method of composing before entering the studio vs PG’s method of doing it in the studio.
- Bedroom producers can take heart knowing that PG tracked final vocals on an inexpensive SM57.
David Lord is the subject of this fascinating Sound On Sound interview in which he talks more about working with PG on developing samples with the Fairlight CMI.
This 1986 Interview on The Old Grey Whistle Test does not go into anywhere near the same level of depth but is still worth a watch.
The So DNA album traces the songs from demos to finished tracks.
In-depth discussions From the Mix Online “Classic Tracks” series:
An interview with So engineer Kevin Killen gets specific about mics and effects.
Engineer Richard Chappell talks about recording Up.
Real World Records held a “Shock The Monkey” remix contest — the contest is long over but you can still download the stems.
The MusicTiles app lets you remix “Sledgehammer” using a playful interface.
The So 25th Anniversary app adds various kinds of multimedia to the album experience.
In-depth analysis of “Sledgehammer” by Ethan Hein
RockGenius has a small but growing collection of annotated PG lyrics.
The most creative cover of “Sledgehammer” we could find is performed by one guy live with a loop pedal and a couple of keyboards.