Have Laptop, Will Travel: 1 Giant Leap's Portable Studio Setup
 The initial work on 1 Giant Leap's tracks was done on Eilean Shona off Scotland in Emagic's Logic Audio running on Duncan's 400MHz G3 Powerbook laptop. A variety of hardware was used, including an Emu sampler and numerous synths, such as a Roland JV2080 and JD800, a Korg Prophecy, Wavestation and Wavestation AD, and an Oberheim Matrix 1000, as well as guitars and basses. These were all recorded into the laptop as audio before Duncan and Jamie left the UK.

The G3 400 laptop running Logic Audio also formed the heart of the 1 Giant Leap portable setup. Two AKG C1000 condenser mics, and Shure SM57 and 58 dynamics, plugged into a compact Roland VM3100 digital mixer, the stereo digital output of which plugged into a Digigram VXPocket PCMCIA soundcard in the G3 Mac (the VXPocket was, for a while, the only PCMCIA I/O card suitable for use with laptops). "I only had a stereo input to the computer, and it meant I had to balance all the mics quite carefully in the mixer, but it wasn't much of a problem, as it was only at the beginning that we attempted to record groups of people we soon realised that it wasn't really practical."

For monitoring, Duncan took five pairs of Sony headphones, and a Yamaha DJX keyboard with built-in speakers, which he'd had modified. "Whenever I put a jack into it, it killed the internal sounds, and whatever I put in came out of the speakers. So I used the keyboard for monitoring. I'd come straight out of the laptop, into the DJX, and then I'd have my headphones in the back of the DJX. My contributors would all be listening to headphones, and I'd play them a bit of whatever music I had at that moment. I could juggle the mix and control what they had to react to; sometimes I'd only give them one thing, if I particularly wanted them to listen to that."

The Yamaha DJX also doubled as a table, onto which Duncan usually put the G3 laptop. "I had it all worked out. I had a guitar with me in a flightcase, so I could sit on that, and get my legs under the DJX, which had a metal panel on top with velcro for the laptop to sit on so that it wouldn't fall off... the Roland mixer was down at my side, and in the metal box that I took, there was a MIDI interface, so I could play MIDI in from the DJX into Logic, and a half-rack Roland JV1010. There were no proper virtual instruments then, you see, so the JV1010 was my main synth for composing on the road.

"I had 12V battery belts, with 12 elements, like cameramen wear, and I fed that into the metal box. That powered the DJX, the laptop, the mixer, and the JV1010. The power requirements weren't too bad I could work for about five or six hours before the belt pack was exhausted."

The visual side comprised two cameras (operated by 1 Giant Leap's cameraman Ben Cole and Jamie's girlfriend Jessica Howie), a tripod, and a circular blue screen, so the background could be replaced later at the video-editing stage.

"And that was it! Oh no, it wasn't there was also a mic stand. That was a bastard to carry around..."


The New 1 Giant Leap Portable Setup

The portable setup served 1 Giant Leap well in the field, but on his return to the UK, Duncan knew it was time to upgrade. "I knew I had to get something edited fast, and by the time I got back, the G3 laptop was starting to look a bit old, so I got a G4 500MHz dual-processor Mac they came out at just the right time, and made a phenomenal difference. Luckily, Emagic were really together and brought out dual-processor support for Logic just as the Macs came out.

"I used a Yamaha 01V desk, but just to control the outputs to my speakers apart from that, I had no outboard gear at all. My synth parts were all already recorded as audio, and there was no need for processing outboard, because that was all done in the computer, mainly with a lot of native Logic plug-ins, because you can use lots of them without eating up your computer's DSP. There was also the inevitable Auto-Tune plug-in, which was invaluable on ethnic flutes and the like. When you've been to Thailand, you really need Auto-Tune!

"I've still got the Dual 500 here in my studio, but now, I'm doing almost everything in my Titanium G4 laptop. I've got a Gigabyte of RAM and a 48GB drive, and I'm really enjoying using Logic and nothing else. A couple of years ago, I had this program to do one thing, and this to do another, and now Logic's much more all-encompassing, with the synths and samplers built in. As a former AkaI S-series sampler user, it's a joy that EXS24 saves its samples with your song. I still can't believe that; I keep expecting the bass to be missing or something."

Given the strides in technology since his first trip, I assume Duncan would do things rather differently now, but it seems I'm mistaken. "Well, I could take a multi-channel input to the computer, but as I said, I didn't record more than one person at a time very often anyway. And I think I'd still take the Roland JV1010 over a software synth. The JV is a real workhorse, which is something that I don't think there's a virtual instrument equivalent of yet; they're all specifically targeted, like the B4 at Hammond users. Personally, I think Roland should bring out a PCI or PCMCIA card with a JD800, a D50 and a JV2080 on it, and maybe even an optional hardware controller like their little grooveboxes. I hope their engineers are on that right now!

"The one bit of kit I really need is the Apogee MiniMe. At last, a battery-operated mic preamp with a compressor! It's amazing how many people have made one without a compressor.

"Finally, I'd take a new mic stand of my own design. It's three-legged, and made of lightweight aluminium, but has a bag hanging underneath. Then, wherever you are, you fill the bag with rocks, soil or sand, and you've got a stable stand."


complete interview: