Pete Townshend: The Kid Is Alright
As lead guitarist, songwriter, producer and all-around indomitable force of nature for The Who, Pete Townshend has probably seen, heard and done enough in one lifetime to erect his very own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, let alone get voted into one (as he and The Who did in 1990). To call him a "rock legend" or a "rock icon" simply falls short — somehow "rock iconoclast" feels more a propos, particularly when considering his monumental journey toward reinventing not only how the guitar is played (and, for that matter, bashed to pieces), but how rock music sounds today.
To that end, Townshend has thoroughly schooled himself, over the course of his more than 40 years in music, in recording, engineering and producing. He's worked with some of the best to ever tweak a mixing desk — Glyn Johns and Ron Nevison being two of the standouts--and has proven himself to be a more than apt pupil when it comes to learning and employing the arcane secrets of analog recording. (Townshend's 1980 solo debut Empty Glass remains a timeless example of his ear for stereo separation, extreme tape saturation and a full-range tube-cooked warmth; even the tinny Roland guitar synth tones of "Rough Boys" maintain a Townshend-esque thickness.)
What often goes unrecognized is that aside from being a veteran of old-school recording technology, in the last decade or so Townshend has become a veritable software geek in the digital realm. In a recent interview with EQ magazine, he smiles favorably on the era of democratization that digital recording has ushered in, and cites Live 6 as his main vehicle for looping and quick-drop composing. "Ableton Live is beyond criticism," he observes, "and just gets better and better. [It allows you to] get used to making very frequent jumps from one side of the brain to the other."
Townshend's analytical yet instinctive left brain-right brain approach (the left side being the seat of technical thinking, with the right side handling the creative) informs his use of software in general, but Live in particular. He cites the ease of realizing an idea before getting bogged down in a virtual morass of screens and toggles as the key to the program's user-friendly reputation.
"As a composer," he explains, "I think Ableton Live has to be the software that has given me the most immediate way to write new things on a computer, rather than tape. At the same time it allows several additional levels of creativity, including [this notion] of mine that 'finding' great sounds and loops can inspire new tracks."
For an intimate and fascinating look at Pete Townshend's use of Live 6 at his home studio in Twickenham (UK), check out http://youtube.com/watch?v=WAzLAYGZCGg