Remembering John Sinks… and “Hope”

Co-author of perhaps the most melodic and delicate piece of Crafty repertoire that the short lived but absolutely brilliant Robert Fripp String Quintet performed live at their remarkable shows back in the early 1990s – John Sinks was not just a musician, composer, or Crafty Guitarist – he was all three of those things certainly, but he was also, so, so much more – guitar tech extraordinaire for King Crimson / Robert Fripp, John worked in the industry for many, many years and gained an amazing wealth of audio knowledge that he shared freely and with great kindness to all he came into contact with.

I was fortunate enough to be on a Guitar Craft course during the same week as John was and the following remembrance examines an afternoon spent in John’s company – which changed my entire life dramatically and sent me down so many new and exciting “musical paths” that I am still exploring today so, so many years later.

When I learned on January 15th, 2020 that John has passed away back on December 29, 2019 (may he rest in peace) I was immediately moved to try and capture something of the indomitable spirit of the man by recounting my one and only encounter and interaction with him – one of the best experiences I ever had and one that has helped me, encouraged me and informed me every since that day back at the beginning of the 1990s.

At the Guitar Craft course that both myself and John Sinks were at, I do not know however if he was only present in his capacity as Robert Fripp’s guitar tech, if he was attending that course in full as a Crafty Guitarist – or perhaps both – but by sheer chance I ended up in John’s company for one remarkable, rainy wish of a day in Los Angeles, California – as I had rather recounted the following experience in a Facebook post on January 15, 2020 I thought I would present it here in a less raw, more formal setting as part of a blog – rather than in the “unedited not proof read” version that I accidentally-posted-before-I-was-even-done-writing-it original Facebook post.

Here is that post in a much more readable form:

 

Eulogy – John Sinks – who passed on December 29, 2029

Written on January 15th, 2020 by Dave Stafford – as a remembrance of a gentle, giving person and of an astonishing and unusual day spent in John’s company.

 

 

[Written immediately upon reading the announcement from Robert Fripp of the passing of John Sinks late on January 15, 2020:]

 

 

This is so so sad.

I have an abiding memory of an afternoon spent listening to John speak at length about RF’s then guitar system’s signal path, speaking to a group of Crafty Guitarists who had accompanied Robert to a secret recording studio in Michael Kamen‘s house in Los Angeles, CA on a very, very stormy, rainy afternoon – and while RF was laying down guitar tracks with Midge Ure (whose album he was contributing to at Ure’s request) in the main studio, outside in the studio’s anteroom, John Sinks held court to perhaps a dozen of us who were on a very short hiatus from a week-long Guitar-Craft -course-in-progress a couple of hours away outside of Los Angeles.

An unforgettable day for myself which began with suddenly meeting Midge Ure – as he and i both ran full tilt – (absolutely bolting since it was such a torrential downpour) through a blinding, stinging rain, running up Michael Kamen’s driveway to get out of the downpour…then ending up out in the studio’s anteroom, hearing both the recording session through the playback monitor as we all sat transfixed listening to John carefully and meticulously, step by step, explaining exactly how Robert’s complex stereo looping guitar system worked.

I had very little technical expertise at that time and I think I learned more about signal flow, signal routing, alternative ways of achieving audio goals – sheer genius pedalboard and rack mount design – that day, certainly more than I had ever known to that date, and possibly more than I have learned SINCE that time – it was an absolute master class in sound design, and even though I did not understand some of it, I would ask questions and John would patiently backtrack through the explanations made so far and clarify the meanings as needed.  His patience was amazing and his ability to clearly explain difficult audio or routing concepts was impressive to say the very least.

He made this somewhat specialist and possibly “dry” topic come alive and his enthusiasm was infectious – soon, almost all of us in the room were joining in with questions and observations – making it one of the most interesting and most challenging technical discussions I have ever had the pleasure of taking part in.

And what I learned just from listening to John Sinks speak about Robert Fripp’s guitar system, has helped me and inspired me when I have subsequently tackled audio technical designs of my own making – for many, many years to come and still today.

(Literally as we speak, I am designing a new guitar and synth pedalboard that I could not have made without what I learned that day from John – so his skill and knowledge is still working through my hands as I prepare my own built-from-scratch pedalboard for my upcoming live shows later in 2020 with Mach 17)…the legacy of that day and the value it had to me and for me, technically and philosophically – lives on into the future as I build this new board…

Even still today, that eye-ooening opening master tutorial on looping, guitar signal path options has stood me in great stead as a source for creative, innovative ways of routing audio signals to achieve just about any goal for your guitar sound, whether it be for a live or a studio project, and I owe a real debt of gratitude to the memory of John because in one afternoon, he imparted so much experience, expertise, skill and valuable, valuable information to myself and that small group of Crafty Guitarists who had opted to travel with RF to this rainy day Midge Ure recording session at a secret home studio in Michael Kamen’s house…

I have never forgotten that remarkable afternoon, set to the unbelievable audio backdrop of Robert Fripp playing guitar solos onto tracks for the then-next Midge Ure solo record, listening to John Sinks speak – with passion, at length – about a topic he clearly loved and knew so, so well – it changed my own perception of what a guitar system was and what it could be if one applies intelligence, logic and creative design to the process of getting a signal from a guitar – through a carefully and thoughtfully designed sound system – ultimately to the ears of the listener as beautiful looped, stereo guitar sound – an absolutely amazing experience.

I had never met John before that day – and I never encountered him again after it – but that one rainy afternoon in LA changed me and my perception o how guitar audio CAN be processed – with incredible ingenuity and undeniable creativity – if you just apply logic and patience to solving each audio or routing challenge – until you reach the point where things actually sound the way you intend them to sound – the way you “hear them” in your mind’s eye and imagination.

I went to that session with almost no experience of guitar sound design – and after just a few hours of discussion led by the amazingly knowledgeable John Sinks, I walked away with the basis for all of the audio / guitar sound design I’ve consequently done in the ensuing thirty years or so!!

That day changed everything – and thanks to John’s persistence and patience, I came away from that session with a new and exciting understanding of what is possible for the modern guitarist using technology applied with intelligence and care.

What an absolutely brilliant day that was – and sadly, I never had the opportunity to thank John for taking so much time to explain so very, very much about guitar signal processing – so I am saying it now:

“Thank you John Sinks.”

Thank you for sharing so, so much of yourself with us that day, and for giving so unselfishly of your hard-won knowledge, experience and skill that we who listened that day…might someday benefit from what we learned then – and the value of what i learned that day cannot be underestimated- it changed EVERYTHING for me…in such an incredibly good way.

The patient explanations and the generosity of spirit that moved John to share so very much of himself with a group of complete strangers – also cannot be underestimated.  What a remarkable gentleman and a great loss to all who knew him – and even those of us who only briefly encountered John – like myself.  But as in my case, that brief encounter was such a positive and uplifting experience that it was an all-encompassing, incredibly, and very practically useful for anyone pursuing the craft of playing the electric guitar well experience  …his skill and knowledge were an unexpected and truly valuable , and inspirational – input into my life.    

Thank  you,  John  Sinks.

 

And also thank you for co-composing (with Antonio de Honestis) one of the most singularly beautiful pieces of Crafty Guitar repertoire that will ever exist – the exquisite, delicate, ethereal, melodic and simply stunning one of a kind song that is “Hope”.

 

Rest now.

studio diary 20150315 – or, that was then…this is NOW

today I had the uncanny realisation, that I am about to embark on the creation of my 18th “eternal album”, which is a large series of recent recordings featuring mainly apple iPad music applications, along with the odd PC music program or “generic eternals” such as the “classical” album.

that in itself is no more significant than the fact that I launched the 17th one today, “music for apps: thesys – an eternal album” and while this album focusses on the fantastic “thesys” application from sugar bytes,  I am already planning the next (which is set to feature the absolutely remarkable app “SECTOR” from Kymatica – which involves one of my favourite developers, Jonatan Liljedahl – inventor of audioshare, and the AUFX series of awesome effects apps).

I did some pre-planning last night, and I could see that I had sufficient material for at least two new albums in the series almost immediately – and I’ve been a bit remiss this year, waiting until March to release the first eternal album of the year – of 2015 – but – hey, I’ve been busy. 🙂

 

what is significant about the fact that I am about to release my 18th album in the “music for…” or “eternal album series”, is this:

prior to the world of ios applications, I used to make “normal” albums ( from the mid 1980s till about 2011, when I got my first ipad…)  – so, you would record music, work on songs, mix and master those songs, and after x amount of time, usually, months, sometimes, years, you would release another finished album of music.  that’s how it always worked – until ios applications came along.  so the compile, wait, compile, wait, compile, wait some more, way of making albums, gradually gave way to a new way – a single album, dedicated to one instrument, app, software or even genre, where there is no limit on tracks, and I basically just keep adding tracks to each one of these “eternal albums” –  forever. so in 20 years’ time – I could have a very, very large number of tracks up there 🙂 on a broad variety of topic-based albums.

so – in the period between 1992, which is the year that my first album proper came out (“voices from the desert”) and 2012, which is the year my “last” “normal album”, “gone native”, came out – so, in 20 years, give or take – I had released 18 “normal albums” during this time – or, I should say, 18 normal “dave stafford” albums – I am not counting bands or collaborations here. that would have probably put the total count for the 1992 -2012 period to “over 30” – but I am focussing solely on my “solo” albums now.

however, more recently, and, overlapping the end of that period slightly, I realised tonight that as I am planning my 18th eternal album album right now, that this means, that I have done exactly the same number of applications-based, or pc-based / generic, albums in the “music for…” series, in just over three years, that it took me to make 18 “normal albums” in !!

 

that is – remarkable.  and difficult to believe, too.

but – it’s real.  I started out working with apps in about December, 2011, and of course, have worked with them ever since (in some ways, it feels like I am just getting started!!) so that means through 2012, 13 and 14 – and here we are, now, in March 2015 – so actually, approaching 3 and 1/2 years in total.

twenty years – to make 18 Dave Stafford albums in the traditional way.  Then, a mere three and a half years, to make the NEXT 18 Dave Stafford albums – in the “eternal album” way.

 

that is simply – astonishing.  oh, how I wish I had thought of the “eternal album” concept back in the late 80s, when I started recording in earnest, as an adult, and as a looper.  just imagine the one, massive “music for loopers” album I would have compiled by now – featuring 246 looped or live improvs played with guitar, ebow and looper, over twenty years.  and, another similar one for rock and prog works…and so on.

instead, I worked the way we all worked, we would not release anything until we had the whole album, built painstakingly one track at a time – “in the can” – even if that took three or four YEARS !  You just kept going, until you had “enough” songs, to make a decent length record, or, until you had the right songs for the album concept you had. it was quite a realisation, though, that, thanks to the “eternal album” concept, and thanks to advances in recording techniques and processes (no more tape recorders for me!) that I was able to mirror my first 20 years’ output, in just 3.5 years, using these new tools to my distinct advantage.

I would stress, too, that it’s not just that things took longer back then, or that it’s more time consuming when you are working with tape machines than in a purely digital environment, and so on – it’s also because, the tablet itself, in my case, the apple iPad – has radically, and unalterably, changed the way musicians work.  if you ask me, it’s revolutionised the way we work. everything is designed for speed, and ease of use.  everything can be done quicker, and usually easier, than in a real studio.

so the ipad, the tablet, the way that some of these absolutely, practically magical applications work…that just changed everything – and that is why I was able to produce 18 albums, with probably, more tracks than my previous 18 albums, in such an incredibly short span of time – 3.5 years.  that’s something approaching six full length albums each year – which, back in the day, would have been not only a prohibitive schedule to maintain, but also, a punishing one.  No one would “try” to make six albums in one year – it was unheard of.  OK, maybe two or three albums per year, at a stretch, maybe, in pop’s heyday, or at the beginnings of rock music – but generally, established patterns of record production mixed with touring, were established and pretty much, followed, by all bands and artists.

then, in 1967, the Beatles actually slowed down this process, by taking an unheard-of six months to complete “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. and for a while anyway, from then on, bands would compete to see how long it could take them to make one record, in the same way they competed for the “biggest crowd” or the “loudest concert in history” or whatever silly, prideful contests went on during the worst of rock’s excesses – whenever you consider that period to be (1980s, anyone?) 😉

 

of course, you do tend to work more quickly with applications, in most cases.  There are exceptions, and certain pieces just require a little more time.  But nowadays, even if it takes me, say, six weeks to finish a concerto in three long movements – the MOMENT it is finished, I can load it up to the “classical” album to join other tracks in the classical genre.

so the new system is working really, really well – for a number of reasons, and I can’t really get my head around the idea of making 36 Dave Stafford albums across 23 years – with the first 18 taking up the first 20 years, and the second 18 taking up a little more than the remaining three years!!! that is just – really stunning.  something to think about, I suppose.

and of course, at this rate, it won’t be long before the “eternal album” series exceeds the pre-2011 “normal albums” in numbers, and I cannot imagine how many albums, not to mention, how many tracks, these 17 soon to be 18 eternal albums will have at the end of THEIR first 20 years – a staggering amount, even assuming that my output will slow somewhat, as I grow older 🙂

track wise, I am not sure how it rates, I would have to do some manual counting, but I would guess that it’s probably a case where there are nearly as many “eternal album” tracks, or maybe more, than the original 18 albums would bear – because back then, tradition said put 12 or 14 tracks on an album, and of course, I would ignore tradition, I had one double album, “other memory / sand island” that had a whopping 33 tracks; while other “normal albums” maybe only featured seven or eight lengthy pieces – and EPs, of course, which I’ve counted as “albums” – might be as short as four tracks.

so I would bet that the track count of the “eternal album” HAS already exceeded that of the original “normal” albums.

I will actually be able to find out over the coming weeks, I’ve begun work on a thorough updating of the discography on the old pureambient website, I plan to pair it up fully with bandcamp, which has all of the albums, old and new, up there – so I will get full counts as soon as I expand the track details and so on, I will have a more concise resource that I can “count tracks” from much more easily.

however, please do not hold your breath, to include more useful information, I’ve had to alter the format of the discography entries slightly, which means an extensive, laborious re-write – but, I really want to do this, for one reason, so there will be a one-stop resource for information about each of the albums, old or recent, for another because it appeals to my own internal sense of order :-).

I do have an interest in statistical information, I can’t really help it, so things like this fascinate me, but it’s a really interesting comment on the speed of life, too – now, I have tools that I can use, to VERY, VERY quickly, build music of real complexity and beauty, on a tablet device (that’s where the magic comes in, I reckon – anywhere and everywhere, I can work on music – with dozens of amazing, powerful music-making tools – incredible!!!), which I can also use to make high quality art work, and then the music can be uploaded to bandcamp, instead of being made available on media as it used to be – it all happens so incredibly quickly now, it’s no wonder that I was forced to invent the “eternal album”, just to deal with a situation where suddenly, after 20 years of slow and steady music production; the ios music apps suddenly turned me into the most prolific musician on the globe – and I had to do something about it if I was to even be able to process the ios music I was creating!

what I did, of course, is invent the “eternal album”.

it took a while to get it all working, but in a very short time, for example, I was able to upload no less than 61 tracks to the album “music for apps: mixtikl – an eternal album” – and that right there, is the equivalent of five or six normal albums – produced in perhaps, six months at the most – astonishing!  so everything is…very much faster, there are no more endless delays waiting for the drummer to set up, or dealing with instrument problems (although, I do still get those, since I DO still use real instruments, and I do plan on making at least a few more “normal” albums of guitar music over the next few years – so please, watch this space!).

music just took longer back then, you had all hardware devices, so to do looping – you needed a LOT of gear.  And a nice rack mount to put it all in.  with a nice digital reverb in it.

now – all of those rack mount devices, exist not just on your computer, where all your recording takes place, too, but also – on your bloody tablet device as well ! and that is a downright miracle – multi-track studio apps like auria, sophisticated effects units like effectrix and turnado, begin to rival the quality of that expensive hardware that now sits in a corner in the studio, rarely if ever used any more, which is really sad, so I continue to make the time to use both – because as much as I love and fully embrace the music / ios technology – I still have a huge love for real guitars, basses, keyboards and drums – real instruments, recorded the old fashioned way – that still has a lot to be said for it!

 

sure, for playing guitar, I still use a LOT of hardware, especially, “loopers”, but more and more, any processing, any effects – are almost easier to apply using your PC, or even your tablet – which to someone from my generation, who grew up with electric guitars and amps, where basically, it was all about the hardware – hardware was the only option in 1971, when I started playing electric guitar for the second time, in earnest, when I was in my first few “garage bands” – is almost incomprehensible.  yet – it be.  it definitely be !!

I was really quite taken with this revelation, then, about just how much has changed.  but it’s today’s young musician that can benefit the most from all of this amazing technology, bypassing the difficult skills of learning to actually play the guitar, bass, drums or keyboards, but instead, in their bedrooms, using technology – to replicate it – and, much, much faster than we could ever do it back in the 1970s with hardware.

sure, they won’t have some of the hard-won skills that those of us who grew up in my generation will have, but, they will have the advantage of the “quicker, better, faster”, etc. – technology – and I hope we hear some amazing music being created by bands that, for example, have five members who all play the iPad.  how fun would that be!

things have changed, and today’s music making person, has a huge range of devices, software for PCs, and apps for tablets and phones, none of which we had back in 1970.  I think that this unavoidable fact has both positives, and negatives, and I can only hope that the former outweighs the latter – because the danger is, that we get too many folk who have no musical talent, “playing” the iPad, and finding limited success – because of the mediocre skill levels that CAN be used to operate some of the simpler music apps – we will, unavoidably, have an even larger stack of not-so-good “electronic musicians” to wade through than we did five years ago – but, at the same time, there are still a fairly large number of “traditional musicians” around – so, I am hoping for a balance – and I think there is merit to both types of musician – the traditional such as myself, the electronic, and, hybrids – such as, myself again – because I absolutely love playing with ios music applications, very nearly almost as much as I love playing my Gibson SG – so, for me, it’s win, win – and win.

 

have fun – until next time –

 

 

peace and love,

 

dave at pureambient