Howie B has produced tracks for many major acts over his career — Björk, U2 and Tricky to name just a few — so when DJ Mag had a chance to pop over to the world-famous Abbey Road Studios to chat with Howie about his involvement with manufacturers of bespoke speakers Bowers & Wilkins and Italian car giants Maserati in a new music project, we just couldn’t refuse...
Howie, tell us more about this Seven Notes project?
“Seven Notes is a great project that I got involved with, it’s the coming together of two great companies, Bowers & Wilkins and Maserati. Basically I was approached by Bowers & Wilkins to create a record using the sound of a Maserati car. Car enthusiasts have always said that the Maserati’s engine held a certain musical mystique, especially when you hear it running to the point that you can hear musical notes, and this was what was thrown down to me. To create a piece of music using the notes of a Maserati engine. The project itself was a challenge, to make something tangible that would reflect the heritage of both these great companies whilst ultimately making sure that the end result was musical.”
How did you go about capturing the notes?
“We didn’t know what we were doing in the beginning, we thought, 'Let's see if we can find these notes from the engine', so we took the car to Woking, put it on a rolling road and we got the guy from Top Gear to come and engineer it for me, as I’ve never recorded a car before. Singers, bands, yeah, but this was something completely different, so we spent a full day experimenting. We mic’d up inside the car, outside the car, in the engine, all over just to try and find the best way to capture these so-called notes. Eventually I found a note, a low C at 500 rpm, then found different notes, basically an octave. Took the notes back to the studio and cut them up.”
What was the next process in creating the record?
“Once I got the notes I started to write minimal tracks using the engine as the bass, very simply rhythm patterns, very simple chord structures just to get the basics, to know if I was going in the right direction. I started to build two or three songs, finding music from the engine but making this thing beautiful, nothing too macho, the musical concept I wanted to express was brute and beauty. The best way to do this was to take folk melodies and put them onto something quite mechanical, electronic, so I approached a Liverpool band called All We Are, who were up for getting involved.”
Were you happy with the final results?
“For me the first mix that we came out with just covers everything — it’s got the engine, it’s got musicianship, it’s got everything that we wanted to do. It was recorded here in Abbey Road’s Studio Two and it’s a real, great collaboration with engines, musicians, just ideas. We’ve created something that is quite beautiful — there’s no gimmicks, for me the most important thing was that it couldn’t be gimmicky. I wanted to create something with musical substance, with validity, which we’ve done.”
So what’s next for you and the Seven Notes project?
“Now we’ve cut it and done a video, a short film, that really works well with the music, you can see how it works when it's all playing together, we’ve actually done a long version of it, a 12 minute mix that we’ll be performing as we take the Seven Notes project around the world doing a tour, which involves setting up an installation and bringing in a few other DJs, Gilles Peterson will be playing at the London show.
“We’ve also done other versions of the track — we’ve recorded two different mixes, one that would be mores suited to a dancefloor and the other a variation of the original recording. The project seems to have grown legs as it was only meant to be one track, and now we have three and I am now working on a whole series of other tracks to develop the project further.”