Photo credit: Ellen Reay
Nick Carlisle has played an integral role as writer & producer in a handful of projects on the UK DIY music scene over the last 15 years, from Peepholes (Upset The Rhythm Records) 2006-2014, through Bamboo (Upset The Rhythm) 2014-2020, Katy and Nick (Gob Nation) 2017-2022, and Lean Logic (O Genesis Recordings) 2020-present. Originally from rural Northern Ireland and now residing in Brighton, England, Nick’s music blends vintage analogue electronics & acoustic instruments with more contemporary digital sounds and samples to paint a world that’s instantly recognizable but simultaneously unfamiliar & often unsettling.
On 24th November 2023 Nick released his solo album, Bloody Saturnalia. Whilst this is Nick’s debut album, in 2022 he released a largely instrumental album, Häxan, having been commissioned by Queen’s Film Theatre to compose and perform a new soundtrack for the 1922 horror film of the same name, as part of the BFI In Dreams Are Monsters season. Nick performed the soundtrack live at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, and the Ulster Folk Museum Picture House, Northern Ireland again earlier this year, and on 28th January 2024 takes the live score to the Barbican in London.
We chatted with Nick on how he uses the Prophet-5 Rev4 in his music:
What made you choose the Sequential Prophet-5?
Many years ago in the early ‘90s I bought a second-hand Sequential Circuits Pro-One. It just happened to be the analogue synth for which there was a ‘For Sale’ notice in the local musical instrument shop but once I got it home and played those two analogue oscillators in unison I instantly fell in love with the sound and looks. Fast forward many years later to the year of the pandemic, 2020, and I was so excited when Dave Smith announced the Prophet-5 Rev 4 – a modern iteration of the Prophet-5 which my original Pro-One was a close, if monophonic, relation. The Prophet-5 Rev 4 doesn’t disappoint: it’s a throwback to a time when synth panels didn’t cut corners with tiny fiddly dials and plastic housing; this thing is no toy, it has big controls for dialing in those sweet spots, and a big sound as weighty as the beautiful walnut wood the waveforms seem to emanate from.
How are you using it?
The Prophet-5 is often described as one of the best polyphonic synthesizers there is, and a good polyphonic synth is great for writing on. It’s a pleasure to switch it on, dial in a sound and start improvising. I spent so many years working in monophony, deliberately avoiding chords in my writing, so far as I was into exploring the possibilities of the Pro-One. So at this point it’s been a blast to kind of remind myself – hang on, chords! And with the Prophet-5 you still have that beautiful dual oscillator analogue sound. So it’s my main writing tool at the moment; most of the songs on my new album Bloody Saturnalia started with finding chords I liked on the Prophet. “2039” and “Life In A Major Key” for example were both borne of the joy of listening to the sawtooth waveforms phasing away in a pleasing chord progression.
I also use it live for my Häxan With Live Score By Nick Carlisle project, performing the new score I composed for the 1922 Benjamin Christensen film Häxan at cinema screenings. The next one is at the Barbican in London in January 2024. The Prophet-5 is perfect for this: it’s basic stuff in that along with being the bona fide analogue beast it is, it of course has presets, and also has MIDI now so I’m able to also use it for software instruments I use in the score too. So it’s the mix of great sound with ease and pleasure of use – a hefty instrument you can sit in front of and feel you can rely on certainly calms any nerves you might have on the night.
What is one of your favorite things about it?
I’m a big fan of the Vintage knob! Ever since the 90s on my recordings I have always tried to give my synth sounds a bit of character by knocking them a little out of tune occasionally or adding a slow LFO to take the sound away from perfection. Perfection for me isn’t something that exists in the real world, at least not in terms of flawless lines and spotless colours. What I’m looking for in a new analogue synth, is that wild untamed character of the original analogues of the 1970s. The Prophet-5 pretty much captures that already even with the Vintage knob set to ‘4’ (as in ‘Rev 4’ and so no ‘vintageness’ applied). But turn that dial up to 3 or 2 and things really loosen up, and those chords you are playing have that elusive vintage analogue character of days of yore. There’s perfection in the flaws.
What does it give you that other synths might not?
Again, it’s that unmistakable big analogue sound. That is of course the most important thing, but on top of that is the build quality and sheer size of the instrument. After ten years or more of miniaturized synths on the market which of course are great for home studios with limited space, it’s great to return to that feeling of turning a big dial and hearing a big sound, rather than struggling to fiddle with a tiny plastic Cut-off Frequency dial whilst inadvertently nudging the Resonance dial too due to the panel being so cramped. Those tiny instruments often have a knack of tricking the brain into thinking they have a tiny sound too, and in some cases they really do!
Any interesting tricks or techniques you would like to share?
A very simple thing I like to do is plug in a sustain pedal & in Globals set the Release/Hold switch to Hold, and then keeping the sustain pedal pressed, play around with 5 note chords. Since the Prophet-5 is 5-note polyphonic, it’ll steal those 5 notes for each new chord so it’s a great way to quickly leap from chord to chord with no gaps in between, and perhaps encourages some left of field changes that normally you wouldn’t consider if it weren’t for Hold being engaged by the sustain pedal. This way you can strike a chord and immediately lift your fingers off to take time to find the next curious pattern without losing the sound in between.
Do you have any new releases featuring the Prophet-5?
Bloody Saturnalia, released 24th November 2023 on The Colour Inverted Records, is really my “Prophet-5 album” as many of the songs emerged from sitting at the Prophet-5 and playing around with big analogue chords until something interesting emerged. The Prophet-5 also adds icy peaks to the single ‘End Of Terrain’, sitting behind the piano in the Icelandic aural landscape. ‘End of Terrain’ is accompanied by a video created by award winning neural networks artist Glenn Marshall, who has previously made videos for Tangerine Dream and Peter Gabriel. Here’s a link to the video:
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