Electronica - the electronic music of Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend is a pioneer of electronic music. His work with synthesisers dates back to 1971, and he has used them to create amazing soundscapes, and to help build a rhythmic frame for some of his most famous compositions. His love of experimenting with forward thinking technologies stems from lessons learned in his days at art school. Pete’s early synthesiser work written for the Lifehouse project and later Who albums was groundbreaking, and the timeless quality of his music continues to excite new fans who recognize the hypnotic arpeggiated electronic effects used in the theme songs to the popular CSI television series. Pete continues to push the technical and creative boundaries of electronic music, using musical technologies extensively as a compositional tool to help build song structures and produce exciting new soundscapes and orchestration.

The following is a close look at Pete’s work in the world of electronica over the years, primarily told in his own words sourced from various interviews, articles, liner notes, diaries, and his autobiography.


Electronica Photo © Pete Townshend with ARP 2500

Electronica pioneer – Pete’s early influences and experiments

“My forward-looking notions were all implanted in me at Ealing Art College by Roy Ascott and Harold Cohen. They were able to see that computers were coming, and could also see (which is the amazing part) that they would change the way art would work, and language itself. For years I thought nothing about any of this. I had been sidestepped into mysticism and expressed some of that in Tommy. I was also involved in rock marketing and image making. By the time The Who hit 1971, the band was about to turn into a cartoon of itself; Roger dressed as a fringe topped with a curly mop, John using his fingers on the bass as though he was eating crab claws, Keith playing drums with his head on fire, laughing until he cried, me wearing a crown and a tie-dye jump suit, our managers had decided to turn to heavy drugs for amusement. I decided to move aside and back to academia, and art school inspired experimentation with no boundaries. I was getting steeped in extraordinary ideas by people like Tim Souster, Roger Powell, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and others. I was always trying to come up some new way to process sound that would take me away from the traditional processors used in studios. I quickly found that one of the principles of electronic music was its reproduction through reprocessing systems — “myriad” speaker arrays, or swept filters.

"I just let my imagination go crazy, and people like Tim Souster, in particular, just egged me on. I can remember Tim describing aural head implants for the reception of music and information in 1971. I nodded sagely, knowing he was probably right, and of course he could be proved so any second now. He introduced me to the folk at the BBC Radiophonics Workshop and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Roger Powell and I had some incredible brainstorm sessions over nothing more powerful than a cup of tea. On one occasion we invented a contra-rotating magnetic wheel echo device combined with a moving tape loop that would record individual guitar notes and immediately play them back in reverse.

Pete ARP2600Photo © Pete Townshend with ARP 2600

"What stopped me in my tracks soon after the research and the demo recording was the fact that all these effects were impossible to reproduce live. If I had been able to work live, The Who would have turned into Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. I saw a lecture at Ealing by Malcolm Cecil, one of the founders of Tonto — and he still has the big Moog I think — and he was an incredible inspiration. That would have been in 1963. Kit Lambert had been pretty wacky as our producer as well. During one session with The Who, he ran around the room holding a microphone to generate interesting phasing and ambience. The Beatles had challenged us all I think, to try new things.” [Electronic Musician interview Aug 1, 2007]

“I had given a lecture at Winchester Art College about the use of tape machines by non-musicians. In the audience was Brian Eno, the experimental musician, who cites the lecture as the moment he realized he could make music even though he wasn’t a musician. I wanted to go further. Encouraging our audience to become part of what I did as a composer and songwriter, and to contribute to the sound we produced on stage, was an important part of the second phase of my idea. I believed synthesisers would make it possible for non-musicians to express their creativity, but first I needed to be completely hands-on about them myself, as a layman.” [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

“Fiddling with three makes of Synthesiser and twenty brands of tranquilisers. If nothing else, the past year's preoccupation with electronics has bestowed on me an inate love of wire. The sight of a Moog Synthesiser smothered in patch cables brings me to a state approaching orgasm. A 13 amp plug starts my heart beating faster, and the inside of a television set is enough to reduce me to tears. My latest addiction is chewing solder. What a high man. Really burns me up. Keeps my mind in flux. Never get stoned on a dry joint, chew solder. Yuk.” [The Pete Townshend Page Melody Maker March 13, 1971]

“I envisaged the practical integration of synthesisers into the regular rock-band format. I imagined The Who playing along with rhythmic synthesiser sounds, or pre-prepared backing tracks on tape. By now musicians knew how to overdub in a recording studio, that is, play along with pre-recorded music, but in the live arena drummers were used to defining the tempo and pace of any particular song. In my home studio I played Keith a few synthesiser-chopped rhythmic demo backing tracks. It was a revelation how well and comfortably Keith was able to play along, and I realized this was how he had always played drums with The Who, following, rather than leading, the tempo set by John and myself.” [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

“I definitely want to start using cartridge tapes on stage. You hit a foot button and you get the sound. And also processing the voice through the synthesiser and also settin' up synthesisers to play rhythms. They have these things called sequences on ‘em. You do all the work before the show, you set the thing up then you start it going and play on top of that. Once the group establishes a way of monitoring the effects of the tapes or whatever, we're OK. […] We are electric musicians, after all. The guitar is a stepping off point . . . the guitar has become if you like the violin of rock orchestra. It's the instrument through which identities and personalities are established. You can much more identify a guitarist, even, than a violinist. . . it's become the instrument which is almost like a voice, there are different sort of sounds that are made from different ways of playing and it's like . . . you can recognize guitarists. So there's always that bit of humanness, if you like, but it's only a breaking off point because a guitar is not that much just a guitar, but once it becomes electrified it's turned into a giant instrument which can play to 60,000 people. It can also do a lot of other things, a guitar can be the control center for a synthesiser . A guitar can go into a synthesiser and have it's sound taken apart and put back together again in a different form, so that you're playing the guitar, but the actual sound that comin' out is a completely different thing.” [Crawdaddy interview Dec 5, 1971]

“I’m proud of what I did, but I was hugely supported, and guided. Tim Souster, Roger Powell, Ron Geesin and many others steered me when I started with electronics and rapid tape editing in 1971.” [Off Beat magazine interview Apr 20, 2015]

“I am clearer today about how my songwriting process had evolved by this time [1971], but I had been writing songs professionally for just six years, and was still getting used to the enormous technical jump I’d made during the summer by incorporating a multi-track tape machine into my home studio. Access to my first music synthesiser was important too. What I knew was that once I had a good musical idea I could work much more quickly and efficiently than ever before, and my songwriting could be more ambitious.” [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

Early electronica equipment

Pete EMSPhoto: Chris Morphet/Redferns/Getty  Pete with the Lowrey Berkshire organ and EMS "Putney" VCS3.

"I used the Lowrey Berkshire organ many times on Quadrophenia. These organs had more special effects built in than the more usual Hammond." [Quadrophenia – The Directors Cut liner notes 2011]

“I commissioned one of the first small synthesisers from a British company called EMS. Before the machine (the ‘Putney’) was delivered, I was given its manual, which became a vitally important resource. It opened with a simple description of how sound is made, how it travels through the air and how it is reproduced electronically. Clear diagrams made the basic physics behind musical sound easier for me to grasp.” [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

“My father-in-law, the orchestral composer Ted Astley, bought himself an EMS synthesiser (I think he bought two in fact), so I saw quickly how effective synthesis could be utilized to emulate orchestral textures.” [Off Beat magazine interview Apr 20, 2015]

“The first sequencer I worked with was in 1971, the analog one that came with the ARP 2500. Later I tried the digitally clocked sequencer made by EMS in 1973. In fact, the first filtering I did was with the little British EMS synthesiser called the “Putney” VCS3. I persuaded my genius father-in-law, Edwin Astley, to buy a couple, and he became quite adept at using them — great tool for such a gifted orchestral composer.” [Electronic Musician interview Aug 1, 2007]

"To be honest the main leap of understanding for me was the manual rather than the little synth. I suddenly realised what sound actually was, what timbre was, noise, frequency, etc. I still have a VCS3. I met its creator Peter Zinovieff recently and was surprised to hear him call it a ’silly little box’. Despite that I think he has great affection for it, but his dream was always computer music and now we all have that." [Three Questions with Pete Townshend Synth History 2020]

Pete recently hired CMS Technical Service to restore his ARP 2500 / 2600 systems for an upcoming electronic music project he has planned. You can view videos of the tuned up system being played here and here.


ARP2500 2600Photo: Phil Cirocco of CMS - Pete's fully restored ARP system

First use of synthesisers on Who's Next

“Perhaps unexpectedly for such a huge selling album, Who’s Next has an experimental and revolutionary edge in its use of synthesisers. The VCS3 and ARP synthesisers programmed by Pete weren’t used merely to add superficial gloss to the production but were utilised as a fundamental structure of The Who’s sound. At a time when the synthesiser was still very much a melodic novelty item, Townshend pioneered a cyclic synthesiser rhythm track upon which songs such as ‘Baba O’Riley’ were based. In 1971 this was a radical, indeed, unprecedented breakthrough, with only Stevie Wonder working along the same lines (even so, Wonder’s synthesiser experiments only appeared a year later, 1972). Pre-programmed synthesisers and sequencing are commonplace in pop and dance music nowadays, but Who’s Next, it should be remembered, is where they first appeared on record. As a matter of course, most all synthesiser tracks were recorded at Pete’s home studio and brought to the Who’s sessions as finished products.” [John Atkins from Who’s Next liner notes]

“I had planned to conduct rather simple experiments during these [Lifehouse] concerts producing pieces of music for some loyal audience members. In this experiment my most earnest champion was the late Tim Souster, composer-in-residence at Cambridge University and electronic music performer. He introduced me to Karlheinz Stockhausen and members of the BBC Radiophonics Workshop. I had no hope of producing anything like the expansive music I had envisioned and attempted to describe in my fiction, but certain people around me believed that was my target.” [Lifehouse Chronicles liner notes 1999]

"Tim Souster was helping me with my Lifehouse project. He introduced me to Karlheinz Stockhausen, Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson (BBC Radiophonics Workshop) and helped me see the inevitability of wireless technology." [Three Questions with Pete Townshend Synth History 2020]

"Baba O'Riley emerged from some experiments I'd been doing with tapes and synthesisers. The idea was to try and translate someone's personal details into music by inputting height, weight and various other information about them, which the synthesiser could then select notes from and turn into musical patterns. This is something that still fascinates me and I'm continuing to explore the possibilities of it with the Method Music software we've developed with mathematician Lawrence Ball and software-engineer Dave Snowdon, which allows a "sitter" to create a unique piece of music from their own personal data." [Song by song commentary AOL Oct 5, 2006]

“I was a big fan of Terry Riley, and in the 70's used Terry Riley and the Indian teacher Meher Baba for one of my first experiments in this particular process. The music that came out of that was called Baba O'Riley, Baba for the Indian teacher and Riley for Terry Riley. Put the two things together and produced a song now which to this day is the one that for some reason, particularly American audiences, go crazy about. But the ripply sound in the background is the characteristic sound that was produced when I started to program and work as a serious electronic music composer.” [Lifehouse Method launch 2007]



Won’t Get Fooled Again: Lowrey Berkshire TB0-1 organ and EMS VCS3  Listen to Pete's demo and alternate Record Plant recording

“We began on the first day with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Not a bad way to start. With Pete’s permission, I edited the synthesiser track from his original demo, as it was a little too long, and played it in to the band in the studio. They performed live to it with remarkable skill, the synthesiser dictating a constant tempo for every bar of the song, with them staying locked relentlessly to it throughout. Roger Daltrey’s powerful vocal equaled the energy of the band, capping the whole thing off with that amazing scream just before the end of the song. I have a residing memory of sitting in the truck, my hair being parted by what was coming out of the speakers, a massive amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins. There have been a few occasions over the years when I have been completely blown away, believing without a doubt that what I was listening to would become much more than just commercially successful but also a marker in the evolution of popular music, and this was one of those moments.” [Glyn Johns]

“I used gated Lowrey organ via EMS VCS3 gated filter. No sequencer. I got my ARP 2500 system (huge) just after I’d recorded the first few demos for Who’s Next.”

“Pete is playing block chords spread between the two keyboards of the 1968 Lowrey Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ. The output of the organ is fed into the audio input of the EMS VCS3 mk1 Synth. The first bit of processing to be applied to the organ sound is a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) controlling the frequency of a voltage-controlled filter (VCF), using a sine or triangle wave shape. In other words, the Synth is turning the tone of the organ from mellow to bright, up and down automatically. Step 2 has the output of Step 1 being fed into a voltage-controlled amplifier triggered by a square wave LFO . This means the VCS3 is turning the volume of the organ on and off in a repeating fashion.” [Rich Rowley WBTracks]

An early version recorded at the Record Plant sessions in New York features a different synth pattern that was recorded live in the studio. "No tape was used. What we did was play an organ through a VCS3 live with the session. So we had to keep in time with the square wave, but the shape was moveable. It was an experiment initiated by Roger and was fairly successful." [Who's Next Deluxe Edition liner notes]

Baba O'Riley: Lowrey Berkshire TB0-1 organ  Listen to Pete's demo and long instrumental version

"Baba O’Riley was a cheat. I couldn’t get the sequencers and mix-sequencers on the ARP under my fingers fast enough so I emulated sequencing and tape delays using the Marimba Arpeggiator effect on my Lowrey Berkshire. "

“I went out, bought a Lowrey Bershire organ, pushed the marimba button, and played. And people kept saying, ‘That’s incredible synthesiser work on that,’ and I’d say, ‘OK, sure, you’re telling me, right?’” [Musician interview 1982]

"For the Lifehouse series of electronic music experiments which involved trying to use statistical information about people to make random music… you know in this day and age you can go out and buy a $50 computer program to do the job. You put your height and weight and astrological details, the color of your skin and length of your hair, and away you go and you get a piece of music out the back. In those days it was a pretty tough prospect. But I thought I would start with an experiment based on the statistics of my Indian Master at the time, Meher Baba. When I finished I was amazed to hear that the end results sounded very much like a piece by a guy called Terry Riley, who I was very into at the time. So I called it Baba O’Riley. That was it really.

It was a mixture of devices. It was using organs, which were getting pretty fancy then, and synthesisers together, and trying to find ways to synchronize the clocks together. Recording random sections of stuff onto tape, cutting tape up, re-recording bits of tape, cutting the tape up again, and getting rhythms from it. That was really what that was all about. I was really into… you know I had a studio in my house, and I had an 8-track tape machine and a dozen quarter inch machines, and a basement full of weird speakers, and echo units, and chains, and synthesisers, and oscillators, and all that kind of electronic music stuff. But what I was very good at was cutting tape. In those days electronic music was about cutting tape. I could do that and I could do it fast. Baba O’Riley has something like two or three thousand edits in it. The master tape goes by and it’s all white, it’s just sticky plaster from start to finish. What’s really interesting is the stuff that I was cutting out, I was sticking together on a reel to keep it tidy. And that piece is a really interesting piece of music in it’s own right. But what I then did was put a piano over the top, put a guitar, and a vocal, and made it seem more like rock and roll." [In The Studio interview]

Going Mobile: Guitar into ARP 2500 synth envelope follower  Listen to Pete's demo

“On the album, on Who's Next, there's a very simple one which we use with the ARP synthesiser called an envelope follower, where you plug the guitar in and you get a sort of fuzzy wah-wah sound. But the guitar itself [on Going Mobile] was controlling the amount of filter sweep. When you hit the note the filter went Bwaaumm! And when the string stopped the filter closed so you got nothing.” [Crawdaddy interview Dec 5, 1971]

Bargain: ARP 2500  Listen to Pete's demo

“At this time I was still coming to grips with the incredibly rich harmonics that my ARP 2500 synthesiser produced, even with a single voice and here one part seemed enough. I still think that Who's Next is one of the best sounding Who albums because the demos for that record were so good. There were good songs, and good ideas, but Glyn Johns our producer stuck his neck out to enhance and evolve not just the songs, but also the sounds I had produced at home.” [Scoop liner notes]


Quadrophenia and ARP synthesisers

“Pete was really big-time into the synthesiser thing. The ARP 2500, which he used exclusively during the Quadrophenia sessions, was a modular synthesiser. He never brought that down to the studio. He kept that at home. You couldn't move that around. You couldn't keep sounds on it. When you got one sound, you'd have to patch everything up. You couldn't click a button and keep it. Then it used to go out of tune all the time, so you'd have to tune up all the oscillators. It was an enormous pain in the ass. You'd spend an hour getting a sound, then you'd play it, and then you'd have to take out all these patch cords and patch up for a different sound. You'd never get the sound exactly the same, even though you took notes. It would never be exactly the same the next time. So it was far from perfect. It was a beast. So Pete would work at night feverishly recording these things on his 16-track. That was mainly because Pete wanted to use the hours and hours and hours of synthesiser stuff that he'd put in on these demos, because there was no way that we could spend as much time as he needed for the synthesiser parts. He used them in more of an orchestral fashion. Beautiful strings and orchestra. When you think of Quadrophenia, you don't think of synthesisers so much. You think of strings and you think of horns. He used synth horns, and of course, Entwistle used his real horns. It was a nice blend, with the both of them. I never recorded any of the Entwistle horns. He did them in his studio. He would take the tapes home at night, and Pete would take the tapes home at night. They'd all record stuff at their own studios. John had his own studio in his house, and he had his own engineer. I don't think I ever met him. Pete did orchestral stuff rather than synth-y stuff. The 2500 ARP synthesiser was really brought in as an answer to the Moog. It was like its competition. It's very cool. It's all big modules with a keyboard in the front. I didn't record one synthesiser part. He did all of it himself, and it was all done before we started. For that matter, all the stuff on the Tommy film too was done at Pete's house. All of the horn parts were done at John's house.” [Quadrophenia engineer Ron Nevison, interviewed for Richie Unterberger’s Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse To Quadrophenia book]

“One condition that had to be met before I could launch into tackling the technical demands of Quadrophenia, was that I should have viable technical support. My experience with Lifehouse had been salutary for a number of reasons; not least my inexperience at writing a film script, but the main stumbling block had been the fact that the learning curve on the use of programmed synthesisers and the possibilities of using computers and stage tapes was so steep. I’d achieved plenty but my advisors were friends like Tim Souster (from the BBC), Roger Powell (from ARP systhesisers) and Andy Berazza (from Allan and Heath mixing desk builders), who were not employed by The Who or even contracted as consultants.” [Quadrophenia – The Directors Cut liner notes 2011]

“For Quadrophenia, and the string sounds for the Tommy movie soundtrack that I did straight afterwards, I used a combination of real violin (that I played myself, sometimes set up to open tunings to suit the track) and sounds from a combination of subtractive synth “chains” I set up on my ARP 2500 studio synthesiser. I was able to produce between six to eight of these “chains” at once, each one a single violin emulation. I used keyboard to state the note, but I produced the output by “bowing” one side of a ring modulator using a potentiometer with a knitting needle stuck into the shaft — the other side of the ring-mod of course had the combined six violin sounds passing through it. I probably took down four tracks of that, giving me a section of 24 to 32 “violins”. The real violin simply added “rosin”. I used that trick on a track on the latest Who album Endless Wire — listen to “Two Thousand Years” and you can hear Vienna strings combined with violin, viol and basic cello that I mixed in to create the “rosin”. It sounds hokey, but it’s really fun to do.”


Pete ARP Photo © Pete Townshend PR shot with the ARP 2600 synthesiser used on The Real Me


Pete discussed his use of synthesisers on the demos he produced for Quadrophenia in the 2011 Quadrophenia Directors Cut liner notes.

promo-arp-2600The Real Me: “The repetitively random electronic drum rhythm wasn’t particularly innovative for the time, but the American ARP synthesiser featured the ‘sample and hold’ module required to produce it, omitted in the British EMS VCS3 units I had used on the Lifehouse songs for The Who’s Next album written in 1970/1971. I used the same module to produce the irritating electronically modified guitar track on the song ‘Relay’ recorded in March of 1972."   Listen to demo

Quadrophenia: “Then, while I had six free tracks I recorded four synthesised string parts using my ARP 2500 studio synthesiser, employing the bowing simulation device I had invented to allow for tremulando effects, and mixed them down onto the track I’d used for the metronome. I still had six free tracks to use for synthesised horns, again using the ARP 2500 synth, but mixed just four tracks down to one including a pre-recorded drum roll flown in from a separate tape machine. I now had nine performances already, and most of the pseudo-orchestral colour I needed to make the track feel symphonic, and I had used just three tracks.”   Listen to demo

Bell Boy: “This demo began entirely as a conventional orchestral arrangement with synthesised bass and horns over which everything was added later. I don’t think I had ever worked this way before apart from my extramural efforts trying to write a proper opera in ‘Rael’, back in 1967. That began on manuscript paper. ‘Bell Boy’ began with a simple bar-count chart that provided a simple guide to the shape of the synthesiser tracks.”   Listen to demo

Quadrophenic – Four Faces: “The Lowrey organ I had used often on the songs for Lifehouse was employed again here. It is what gives the chorus of this song its clattering optimistic feeling. I had used the same organ sound on ‘Cut My Hair’, with a stuttering repeat.”   Listen to demo

Wizardry: “Recorded in August 1972, this electronica was a piece I was relying on to act as the musical transport conveyance for Jimmy from the frustrations of London to the ebullient, crashing waves of Brighton. Today, this kind of random electronic synthesis might sound hackneyed, you can push a button now on a variety of cheap toy keyboards you can buy, or even on your iPhone, and get a similar sound. In 1972, this piece probably took me several days to set up. I was trying to evoke a feeling of movement, and of pattering rain. The drum part sounds a little like modern Acid House slowed down somewhat (thus meaning it is probably not evocative of Acid House at all, but Jungle or something, and by the time of writing both those styles have probably been nudged aside by new rhythms with ever more inscrutable names. The drum shuffle was added to give the feeling of a train on the tracks carrying Jimmy to the sea.”

“An extended piece of electronic music - some of which was used on Psychoderelict.” [petetownshend.com website]


Electronic music used to produce Tommy film soundtrack

Pete produced the entire groundbreaking soundtrack for Ken Russell’s film production of Tommy in Quintaphonic Sound, primarily with the aid of his ARP 2500 and 2600 synthesisers. He recorded new electronic music based backing tracks for all the songs, including many new songs and verses written for the film to help add dramatic license, and also created the various sound effects throughout the movie. The result was a technically stunning cinematic experience for the time, and Pete received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score.

"First of all, I don't know how to write tor a real orchestra. It's easier for me to simply sit down with my synthesisers and create the sounds directly, right on the spot. And somehow the results are better, anyway. I can get a precise, tight arrangement with perfect balance and intonation. The synthesiser was used for all kinds of things; the planes flying at the beginning, the explosions, even Oliver Reed singing." [New York City press conference for film opening 1975]


ARP ad


More early synth work on Who tracks

Relay: ARP 2600 - listen to Pete's demo

"Pete's guitar is being processed through an ARP 2600 synth. The guitar output is fed into the audio input of the voltage controlled filter (VCF) section of the synth. Using the sample-and-hold function, the output is connected to the VCF, which automatically turns the frequency (tone) of the filter to different, random positions in a rhythmic style creating the effect we hear on Relay." [Rich Rowley WBTracks]

Join Together: ARP 2500/2600 and Lowrey Berkshire TBO-1 - listen to Pete's demo

"The Jew's harp on the intro is an ARP Synth. It sounds like a four or eight bar loop that Pete built the rest of the song on. The organ part that comes in two bars before the vocals is interesting as it's the same setting as Baba O' Riley, only set to a much slower speed. The organ is also fed through a low-pass filter, which can be heard on the demo." [Rich Rowley WBTracks]

Who Are You: ARP 2600 - listen to Pete's demo and isolated synth track

“I still had the full-size barn studio that I built for mixing Quadrophenia and, while working on the demo for this track, nearly blew my own brains out developing the backing track for the song. The weird background guitar sound on this was created with a top-secret ARP 2600 patch I invented, but the sawing guitar sound at its heart was generated with an ‘E-Bow.’”

“An overdriven ARP 2500 or ARP 2600 synth. The overdriven guitar is fed into a voltage-controlled filter (VCF), which is being controlled by a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) triangle wave. The LFO is set to the tempo of the song at eight pulses per bar, making the tone of the VCF rapidly rise and fall in time with the song. The next step is to make each pulse from the LFO to trigger sound alternately from the left and right sides of the stereo picture.” [Rich Rowley WBTracks]

Sister Disco: ARP 2500 - listen to Pete's demo

"For this track I spent a lot of hours programming my analogue sequencers in my ARP 2500 studio synthesiser. It isn't quite KRAFTWERK, but in 1976 I don't think they were doing much better. This is a perfect example of the progression I was making towards theatrical music writing. I was trying to evoke absurd Baron Munchausen musical textures. Roger sounds so seriously intent about everything that the pomposity becomes real and threatening rather than pictorial."

“I used my huge ARP synthesiser’s sequencer to create a set of pre-written arpeggios that I could trigger by pressing buttons. The effort that went into it was out of all proportion to the end result. Our keyboard player – newly hired at the time – Rabbit, complained that he couldn’t work out how I’d played it, and was relieved to hear I’d done it with a mini-computer.” [The Who Jukebox liner notes]

New Song: ARP Omni - listen to Pete's demo

"New Song' was the first song I ever wrote on a polyphonic synthesiser. It was blocked out on an ARP OMNI, that company's first polyphonic machine. It may have been the first multi-voice synth ever. But I cheated quite a lot; it had only one filter and envelope-shaping amplifier."

Love Is Coming Down: ARP 2500 - listen to Pete's demo

“One trick I used during the Who Are You album (the demo of Love Is Coming Down), based on the same thinking, was to modulate a polyphonic ARP string machine using the sound of a real violin through a vocoder. The sound of the real violin was the ‘voice’ that modulated the string pad. It sounded awful, until you combined it with a pad of untreated synthesized strings — then it seemed to add splashes of harmonics and colour to the synth pad that made it sound, if not exactly real, more like a human sound than a synthetic one.”

You Better You Bet: Yamaha E70 organ - listen to Pete's demo

Eminence Front: Yamaha E70 organ - listen to isolated synth track

"Both of these songs use the same setting, called “Auto Arpeggio.” When chords are held on the lower keyboard, it automatically plays the notes of the chord up, down, up and down, random, etc." [Rich Rowley WBTracks]

"Eminence Front was written around a chord progression I discovered on my faithful Yamaha E70 organ. This organ is almost a synthesiser rather than an organ, using entirely analogue synthesis chips to create its unique sound."


Eel Pie synth hire

Eel Pie synth hire Brochure for Pete's Eel Pie synthesiser hire

Composing with synths, samplers and sequencers

"Since 1972 I have used sequencers, arpeggiators and computer based random music generators as a part of my composing process. Tied to the guitar or piano, I write conventional songs, and I have been using the same chords for many years - unable to break free because of a lack of complete musical prowess at a classical or jazz level. In this respect I’m like many people. A lot of my music is what a poet might call ‘found’." [Korg ProView Magazine]

"The music computer had landed in two forms. There was the Fairlight CMI, a synthesiser/sampler workstation beloved of New Romantic bands; by the time I started work on White City I had bought my own. The other system was the Synclavier, a digital FM synthesiser with a microprocessor-controlled sequencer. I realized these developments meant I would soon be able to compose and orchestrate very seriously, without the expense of using real orchestras or the barrier of working with orchestrators like Raphael Rudd or Edwin Astley." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

"I actually favour organs based partly on synthesiser technology, and synths that are most like organs. So keyboards. Although I do work on electronic ambient music, Beats and chaos, I am principally a songwriter, so I like inspiration to emerge from what I put in front of me. (That said I can build sounds from the ground up, I’m not bad at some coding or object-based computer music like REAKTOR and MAX. My brain is still pretty keen.)" [Three Questions with Pete Townshend Synth History 2020]

Pete demonstrates his compositional process and use of synthesisers in a Southbank documentary in 1985.




“Years ago I learned to write some code (for the Fairlight CMI) and later wrote Hypercard code for my little Mac computer. I’m not great at code, but if you do even a little you quickly see how amazing it is that skilled coders are able to do almost anything one can imagine. I love the concept of “The Internet of Things.” I can see now how music–visual–installations could be controlled and modified from anywhere in the world. I’ll be able to tour from my bed. So expect more interference….” [Off Beat magazine interview Apr 20, 2015]

“The Mellotron, which used a form of analogue sampling, had been employed by The Beatles and Bee Gees back in the mid-Sixties. Digital sampling had been pioneered by Fairlight, and by Ray Kurzweil, who reserved his first invention for Stevie Wonder. Once I got my hands on a Synclavier, though, I saw that the composer, already king, would become omnipotent, freed from working with session musicians and arrangers and producers for hire. And as soon as the technology arrived to offer the compression of digitial music, it could be transmitted down a telephone cable, and artists like me wouldn’t even need record companies." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

Pete Synclavier2Pete with Synclavier

“[My demoing process] has gotten much more sophisticated because I’m using the Synclavier, so my original Portastudio four-track demos are now actually done on a four-track direct-to-disc system which costs more than my house, literally. It mean that odd little moments on Iron Man, like the vocals and basic accompaniment on “A Fool Says,” are knocked out very, very loosely. I tried redoing it, and I just thought, “Well, why” It’s all there.” So my demo process has changed only in terms of the more modern equipment, but that’s enabled me to work on a much more sophisticated level, more like a composer than a songwriter. Now, I don’t need the structure of a song before I start to work on it. Working on a Synclavier or on MIDI software or whatever it is that I happen to be using, I can actually approach a shape with a phrase, a musical phrase, and start to develop that. And I can actually try other intellectual ways of approaching a piece of music. … I mean, Tommy would have been so much better if I had had modern equipment. It would have been much, much, much easier.” [Guitar Player Sept 1989]

“The Synclavier is a right hand brain machine, it is part of the creative process. A computer is a left hand brain machine. When I am composing I want to stay in the right hand brain side, when I use a computer I have to keep switching between the two sides".

"I like synthesisers because they bring into my hands things that aren't in my hands: the sound of an orchestra, French horns, strings. There are gadgets on synthesisers that enable one to become a virtuoso on the keyboard. You can play something slowly and you press a switch and it plays it back at double speed. Whereas on the guitar you're stuck with as fast as you can play and I don't play fast, I just play hard. So when it goes to playing something fast I go to the synth."

“Creating sequenced arpeggiations should not require ingenuity. This is “found” music, like the individual elements in collages in art. One presses some keys, or fiddles around with some software or some setting on a Casio toy, and if what you hear is inspiring, fun, or interesting, you can move ahead with it. It’s what you do with it that counts. The problem with soft synths is never their sound — they often offer superior sound to the originals and terrific extras. But the human interface becomes one you have to construct yourself. For example, the [Arturia] CS80 emulation I use is amazing. But what made the CS80 so incredible was its polyphonic aftertouch pressure keyboard that could be set to change timbre, vibrato, and even pitch both on attack and after-pressure. Each note in a chord could be made to rise or fall in level, or swell with a change in timbre. Just holding a pad could be made interesting and evolving simply by adding pressure to individual keys after you keyed and held the chord. It is almost impossible to set up a good MIDI keyboard now with polyphonic aftertouch. The CS80 also had a great ribbon controller that could be set up to do all kinds of things. That is what gives Stevie Wonder his sound: the aftertouch on his big Yamaha GS1 organ — or me on my Yamaha E70 home organ — again, with polyphonic aftertouch on some sounds. The CS80 and the E70 were based on the GS1 experiment. The only keyboards I have that offer this now are my two Synclavier keyboards and one Kurzweil MIDIboard. Both are really tricky to set up. They are also huge and heavy, especially the Synclavier. Mind you, a used CS80 weighs about as much as a man. Imagine being as inspired as Stevie Wonder and being placed in front of a three keyboard and bass pedal synthesiser pretending to be a home organ, with swell pedals, knee pedals, poly-pressure, great FM string sounds and all. I dream of my own “Cyber-Organ” that once I start to play joins in with me, it has dozens of keyboards like a proper Bach organ, foot pedals, integrated syncopated arpeggiation and echo, a huge “myriad” speaker array with each sound with its own output channel and patch in audio space. I spoke to Roger Linn the other day, and although he has different ideas, we both agree that the stripped-down MIDI keyboard is a limiting interface for music. He speaks of all kinds of new and exciting interfaces.” [Electronic Musician interview Aug 1, 2007]


Pete home studio


“Finally, I think it’s really worth saying again, that although I like working analog, I think in some ways I’m just following a current trend, because lots of young musicians I come across seem to want to work that way too. I really believe that great new music comes from pushing at the envelope of creativity, trying new gadgets, new methods, new ways of doing the same old things. As a composer 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 that suggestion of mine that “finding” great sounds and loops can inspire new tracks.” [Electronic Musician interview Aug 1, 2007]

Inspirational electronic music gear - the tools of the trade

Pete Synclavier3“Since the late 1980s Townshend has predominantly used Synclavier Digital Audio systems for keyboard composition, particularly solo albums and projects. He currently owns three systems, one large Synclavier 9600 Tapeless Studio system, originally installed in his riverside Oceanic Studio, later transferred to a sea going barge moored alongside the studio on the River Thames, and currently based in his home studio. He also uses a special adapted smaller Synclavier 3200 system which can be transported, enabling him to carry on working away from his main studio. This 3200 system was modified to be of similar specification to the 9600, including the addition internally of FM voices, stereo Poly voices and with the large VPK keyboard. This is the only Synclavier 3200 system of this specification in existence, custom designed and built for Townshend by Steve Hills. The third system Townshend owns is one of the first Synclavier II systems ever built. The ORK (original smaller) keyboard of which is on display in his company's head office alongside a pink Vespa scooter.” [Liquisearch.com article on Pete’s Musical Equipment]

“I built myself a retro room. Outside my studio, which is a state-of-the-art type place near the river with a Neve, [N.E.D.] Synclavier, and all that kind of thing. I had an old barge that I built in the 70’s to record on the French canals, but I never finished it. I decided to use that barge as the site for my own room. It’s not very big, but it felt right. I found an old, dreadful Neve desk that I can work by memory. I put my old organs in there. I buy an organ every ten years, so there’s a group of organs, my old Yamaha CS-80, and my big synthesiser – the ARP 2500. I bought some new stuff – a Kurzweil K2000, which is fabulous. I think that gathering that equipment together really helped me. This is not a worship of the old, because at the heart of the thing I was going to a Mitsubishi digital tape machine. I was using the Synclavier all the time, which I still embrace every time I walk in the studio despite the fact that the company has gone down. I thank God for these things. It means you can work without fucking musicians. Go buy a fucking Kurzweil K2000, man! It fucking works! You’ve got a SCSI on it, you can put the shit in it, your whole life can be in there. Believe in this stuff. Don’t go back to where I was when I was a kid, fucking dreaming about it and thinking, “If only I had this stuff, how quickly I could grow,” and “How long do I have to wait?” Thank God it happened in my lifetime because I had to wait such a long time. I was making records with echo, bits of spring, and two old tape machines. It’s great to work at home. What’s great is to have time, stuff that works, stuff that you can afford. We’re so lucky now as musicians.” [Keyboard interview 1993]

“I mix old and new. I have pro analogue tape machines running alongside a computer running Digital Performer or Ableton Live. Things have got better. The emergence of digital was tricky. The sound was poor at first. I was lucky because I used Synclavier as my digital medium. That was sampling at 100KHz in mono and 50KHz in stereo back in 1984, with fabulous integrity. Now a laptop can deliver that if you wish.” [Premier Guitar interview March 11, 2010]


Pete organPete at his Yamaha E70 organ on the Sunday Morning TV show October 2012


“I bought a Synclavier and was one of the first people in the world to embrace hard-disk recording. Of course I predicted the internet (the GRID) in 1971 in Lifehouse, and music downloading in 1985 in a lecture at the Royal College of Art in London. This is not quite so clever as it seems when you realize that in 1961 my teachers at Ealing Art School were already talking about how computers would change the language and tools of art.” [Pete’s diary Nov 23, 2006 French Grasshopper – 6]

“First picture is me at my Synclavier computer, editing on hard disk. Nothing clever about that in this day and age until you realise the machine in front of me was delivered in 1985. The second picture is of the archaic screen of the hard disk front end. It now has prettier software floating above it that looks more like the kind of stuff you get on modern music computers, but I kind of like it. It looks MIT, Radiophonics Workshop - it looks DULL. SERIOUS. MILITARY. INDUSTRIAL. And thus feels like proper tools for art. ” [Pete’s diary Jan 27, 2001 Sharply focused and dizzy mp3]


Pete Synclavier screen


“Today I love how broad the spectrum of electronic music is, so much that is now software I used to dream about—I still have my old gear, and I love it, but I also love KYMA, MAX, REAKTOR and other software synth and sound manipulators.” [Off Beat magazine interview Apr 20, 2015]

“The ARP Odyssey is very, very close in sound to the original. I was surprised that it is a smaller scale. But it has MIDI IN so a larger keyboard can be used. Needless to say, like the big KORG keyboards, and the MS20 revival (which is also smaller scale), this is a fabulous instrument – and like the MS20 almost an educational tool for newbie synthesists. You can see the sound and controller pathways clearly, and learn what each does. The best thing for me are the modern fader controllers that are so smooth. Making very fine adjustments is easy – that's where this shines. I have only really started to use KORG instruments since the OASYS was introduced. I skipped the Triton. The first person I saw using KORG in a studio was David Bowie, so I decided to give it a try. Since then I've been a huge fan. I think the entire KORG range offers great sound, but also lots of fun especially in the smaller instruments, and the ODYSSEY is so much fun to use, and of course to play with. A child could make sounds come out of it. But when you want to get serious this takes one back to the early days of hard-wired synths and with Duo-Voices is especially great for voices set up in 4ths or 5ths. One advantage of the slighter smaller size compared with the original is that it takes up less room in my cramped control room, and most studios have a large MIDI keyboard. In practice this little synth will stay right where it is for a while. Centre stage. I love it. “ [Korg website Apr 3, 2015]


ARP Odyssey


“I love some of the computer software that comes with the MIDI and Pro Tools world. The Ivory piano module is genius. Ableton Live is beyond criticism, and just gets better and better (and thus harder to use, but it’s still intuitive). Vienna’s orchestral samples, now available with their own sample player, are just superb. I was brought up with the big Synclavier library — Denny Jaeger and so on — and the Synclavier processed each sample in its own DAC line, so there was great integrity to the sounds even though the sequencer quickly got left behind when [MOTU’s] Performer came along for the little weensy Mac. The Vienna samples on a Mac sound as good as those early Synclavier sounds to me (I use MOTU 192HD units in my home studio, not Pro Tools). I love the UAD plug-ins, McDSP — so much great stuff! My favorite sequencer is Digital Performer.” [Electronic Musician interview Aug 1, 2007]

AKAI“The AKAI Pro APC40 is an incredibly powerful interface for LIVE. LIVE is already an extraordinary composing tool, with big real-time capability that I have never thought I could ever use. I always thought LIVE would be great for deejays and veejays, but they'd need to be masters of MIDI-mapping to be able to make LIVE really fly the way it can when you have the software under your mouse. But the APC40 makes creating loops and rhythmic scenes, constantly changing and elaborating, so easy. It is intuitive, and everything is right under the fingers. This is going to change Live music based on loops and sample - and of course now LIVE itself is a fully functioning sequencer recording audio as well as MIDI and triggered loops, musicians are going to be able to model sound in the studio to perfection, but then bring exactly the same loops and tracks to life on stage in complete synchronicity with the band - but most important the mood and vibe of the audience. Astonishing. This simple interface has created the most powerful new tool for the stage and studio that I have seen in the last ten years. Deejays are going to go nuts for this – but musicians too, possibly even drummers. Everything is under the fingers. I will go further. This interface, loaded with drum loops makes you feel like that kid in Santana playing for Carlos Santana at Woodstock in 1969. It's a revolution, but this time the only drug is the APC40 . I am hooked. " [AKAI Professional website]

"I don’t use the Korg Karma as workstation. I am interested in it purely as an inspirational tool. I heard about it in magazines and then from my friend James Asher (drummer on some tracks on my first solo abum EMPTY GLASS). I knew from various classical organ scholars I know that the sounds on the Korg Triton were superb, so I decided to take a chance and buy the instrument. I have not been disappointed. The Karma has already allowed me to ‘find’ a whole range of compositions that I would never have worked on without the machine. It reminds me of the Yamaha E70 organ arpeggiation system combined with great Kurzweil quality synthesiser sounds all run from an engine like ‘M’ or ‘Jam Factory’ from the halcyon days of computer music generation. Only it is better. Much, much better. If this kind of instrument had been around in the 60s I would have found my lack of musical ability no problem at all. I would therefore not have needed to become the ‘Performance Artist’ I became when I smashed guitars. This instrument took someone a long, long time to put together. It ain’t quite the Well Tempered Clavier, but it is a definite step towards taking the old beast into a new world. It is, to be frank, one of the greatest new truly playable keyboards to emerge since the Prophet 10 and Yamaha CS80." [Korg ProView Magazine]

"The 1980 Yamaha E70 organ is my top pick. This is based on the PULSE-ANOLOG-SYNTHESISER-SYSTEM used in the GX1. Beautiful, sonorous sounds. Half of the E70 is organ, the other half is synthesiser. Downside? It weighs more than a Hammond. Second is Prophet 10. I still have one, just restored by the Wine Country company in California. With both foot pedals installed (both on filters or other controls rather than just volume) these things are really expressive. They are also entirely analogue, with some digital control. Third is Synclavier 9600. This is out of the reach of pretty much everyone today. Benny Anderson still uses his every day I understand. The technology is cumbersome, but the combination of sampling, FM synthesis and multitrack hard-disk recording challenged the imagination. Again, I still have one, maintained by Steve Hills at 500 Sound in the UK. It’s expensive to keep going, but I feel a duty to it. The keyboard sequencer interface does bypass the computer, so you can just sit at it and play it like an organ if you like. I have Moog, ARPs, Korgs and Rolands old and new. I am also into “boxes”. I love all the new battery powered gadgets, but if I’m completely honest without Cuckoo I wouldn’t be able to operate any of them.

If I were to buy new today, with less cash in my pocket, I’d pick the following: Toontracks EZ Drummer and EZ keys. These are software of course, but so easy to use, and to create even complex musical forms. I used EZ Keys to create the jazzy chords for I’ll Be Back on the new Who album. Made it all up as I went along. The chords were so tricky I had to write them out in notation, and even then had to record the acoustic guitar in short chunks. AKAI MPC LIVE. I love it that this is battery-powered. I used it to create rhythm tracks (that were replaced by real drums) on the latest Who album. I’m not great at finger-drumming, and I think since Dr Dre unquantized everything there isn’t much left to discover, but I like trying! I used to be quite a decent drummer, but not so much any more. Of course MPCs (and Macshine) do far more than finger-drumming these days. NEXUS. This company can be a bit of a shambles sometimes, but whenever I open up this module I get inspiration. It’s genius. The new update is impressive and at last works in 64 BIT. All this stuff is available today, even though OP-1s are sometimes thin on the ground they have just made another batch I believe." [Three Questions with Pete Townshend Synth History 2020]

Electronica work on Pete's solo albums

Pete used the Synclavier, Prophet, Yamaha CS80, and a variety of other synthesisers, organs and drum machines extensively in his solo work in the 80’s and 90’s, including many of the demos featured on his Scoop albums or released on his website.

“On my solo records there are sequences on “Let My Love Open The Door,” “A Little Is Enough,” “Uniforms,” and several others. Often on my solo records the demos became the finished tracks.” [Electronic Musician interview Aug 1, 2007]


 Listen to Let My Love Open The Door (E Cola Mix Long Version)

Pete ARP Avatar


Tough Boys: "I recorded this onto a half-inch analogue 8-track Tascam tape machine in 1979. I had no proper studio at home in London anymore and had put together a temporary and transportable rig around this machine. Great sounding machine usually, but in this case I was simply chucking down a very quick demo of a strange sound I'd managed to cook up by combining a Roland guitar synthesiser (which was polyphonic) with an ARP Avatar (which was monophonic). I used the ARP on just the lowest string of my guitar, creating a rather erratic bass line. The chord sustain noise is from the Roland, and you can also hear the strings being strummed from a mike I put near them. In the studio (Wessex) when I recorded the track properly I fed each output of the two synthesiser into a separate amplifier, creating a monstrous and wobbly wall of sound." [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Tough Boys

Rat Run: “This dates from the first years of the Yamaha CS80 synthesiser, an extraordinary machine I started to use way back in 1980 sometime. I expect this track was recorded around then. It seems to be the basic chord structure for a song called Man Watching that was the b-side of my solo single FACE DANCES I think. It was a little game I played on my Yamaha CS80 polyphonic keyboard when I first got it in 1977 or 78. I ran a dopey drum box, and just grooved along. We used it as the music you heard when you called my office - for quite a long time.” [petetownshend.com website] 

How Can You Do It Alone: "It began with a Yamaha E70 organ backing track which I recorded through eight separate outputs and then re-routed through various echo delays, dubbing in Reggae style. It is that process that creates the bubbling sound, but also all the interesting percussion 'scattering' sounds over the real drums which were added by Kenney Jones at AIR studios in London one night. The strange bass lilt was created by using the organ's internal drum-box on some quite conventional latin setting, but starting the bar halfway through. The organ track was made at my largest studio, Oceanic in Twickenham." [Scoop 3 liner notes]    Listen to How Can You Do It Alone

Prelude, The Right To Write: “In early 1983 I was desperately attempting to come up with a concept for the projected Who album that year. While I settled my mind, I did some inventing. I organized a synthesiser whose sixteen unison ‘string’ voices were reproduced through what I called a ‘Myriad speaker system’. This was simply sixteen separate small speakers on mike stands at about head height, distributed around the recording studio in formal string section grouping. As soon as I played a note I knew I’d hit on something. The synthetic string sound was rich and spacious. I recorded it in real stereo with the natural ambience of the room.” [Another Scoop liner notes]   Listen to Prelude, The Right To Write

Initial Machine Experiments: “This piece was played on my Yamaha CS80 synthesiser to test a TEAC half inch eight track machine. This is very much indicative of the kind of meandering I get into when locked away with a synthesiser. Someone once said that when you play around with a synthesiser you end up suffering from a disease called 'synthesiseritis'. I suffer happily." [Scoop 3 liner notes]



Elephants: "This was taken directly to a Tascam cassette portastudio. August 1984. It is a really good example of the fiery and bizarre Hammond-like sounds you can get out of synthesisers if you (like me) know what you're doing. The keyboard here was the incredible Prophet 10, introduced some time in 1977 I think. Essentially two Prophet 5 keyboards ganged together, the double layer of related sounds created the most extraordinary movement and harmonic complexity. It you are a keyboard player and you see one of these for sale at under $5,000-buy it. It will take you to a piece of heaven reserved for Hammond players who have taken too much acid. It is also very easy to programme your own sounds. The 10 had a simple step sequencer built into the lower keyboard. It is the sequencer creating the relentless blues pattern over which I played some stock Ray Charles organ tricks. You can read some details about the Prophet 10 on www.synthmuseum.com." [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Elephants

Man And Machines: "The track was constructed entirely on a 'small' Synclavier I used in my home studio in 1985. There are no real instruments at all. I did the drum programming using a tiny Apple Mac running a programme called UPBEAT I loved that little programme. It looked like a toy, but it was very powerful because it allowed many levels of random variation in feel, dynamic and tone. It was driving a Roland MT32 MIDI voice pack. The drums are only available as a single layer, but as you can hear, they make a good noise. The percussion solo was a series of about 40 two bar patterns set to vary in the most extreme way the software allowed. The use of sound effects over strings at the beginning is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever made I think. It seems to evoke a distant blacksmith's forge or something: a summer evening; buzzing insects; calm." [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Man And Machines

Ask Yourself: “One of the first things I did on my new Synclavier at this time was conduct a series of exercises round the 'Siege' canon I composed on sheet music the year before while I was working on the demos for White City. I had hoped to complete a symphonic piece based on the canon, but really such a task was - and still is - out of my scope. But I produced a large number of simple variations. One of the most harmonically satisfying for me is the one that serves as the middle eight for Ask Yourself which appears on Another Scoop." [Scoop 3 liner notes]

Theme 017: "Another variation on the Siege canon. The notes in my log for this say; SIEGE written variation in Eb. Chart 'Theme 014'. (B substituted for Bb in opening chords for some reason). Trombones, then oboe/flute/pipes take up a folk refrain over lush strings. This was recorded entirely within the Synclavier sequencer with a mixture of sampled and FM voices. ” [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Theme 017

Crashing By Design: “This is my home demo of the track that eventually appeared on my solo album WHITE CITY. I think the drum track is built up in a LinnDrum machine. I got my first Fairlight music computer around this time, and I loved it. I was crazy for it. But the LinnDrum machine, the first one to use real drum sound samples, was a true breakthrough for composers working in small home studios like mine.”  [petetownshend.com website]   Listen to Crashing By Design

Theme 015: "This 'variation in G' was composed sometime before I logged this take (with about 30 others) on 1 June 1987, therefore it was probably recorded in March of '87. I had recently taken delivery of a large Synclavier synthesiser. The harmonica sound is actually produced on the FM side of the Synclavier. ”  [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Theme 015

Iron Man Recitative: “This was recorded around October 1993 on the studio Synclavier I still use for the majority of my composing work. With a few tricks one can record a MIDI keyboard track and live vocal tracks at the same time. I could work in short sections and then edit them together later on. (This is something modern sequencing software manages easily today). ” [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Iron Man Recitative

Meher Baba M3, M4, M5, Baba O’Riley demo: Pete included 1971 ARP synthesiser demos from Lifehouse, which he reworked for Psychoderelict and used as the background to his Gridlife storyline.
Listen to Meher Baba M3
Listen to Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)
Listen to Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi)
Listen to Baba O’Riley demo

971104 Arpeggio Piano: “This piece was recorded to DAT tape at my home in London on 4th November 1997. When I first moved into the house in London in which I now live I chose the tiniest room (an ante-room off the main living room) and set up a Kurzweil MIDIboard 88 note heavy action keyboard on which to practice and compose. Built into it are a wide number of arpeggio 'algorithms'. I used the keyboard everyday for about a year, recording to DAT tape or cassette. When Helen Wilkins started to compile this collection I completed some of these pieces by editing them on Synclavier and orchestrating the result on the computer.” [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to 971104 Arpeggio Piano

Variations On Dirty Jobs: "This was recorded on piano on 7th November 1997 and completed in February 2001. I fully orchestrated it earlier this year. Although the chords are similar to Dirty Jobs from Quadrophenia it is an entirely original composition. It is intended to demonstrate the kind of tonal effect I could achieve should I develop a full orchestral version of Quadrophenia. The piano was recorded on a Kurzweil sequencer and later 'quantized' to a DAT machine. I then copied the DAT to my Synclavier hard-disk system and tightened it up, then added the orchestral parts using all synthetic sounds. The opening cascade of the piece is written in 7/8 time. It intentionally created a chaotic but processional sound. Later it becomes more conventional, but the piano arpeggios in the middle are difficult to play if you don't happen to use my particular 'three fingers on the right one finger on the left' two-hand technique. Although the piano sounds as though a computer has produced it, in fact all that has happened to my free part is that it has been 'quantized'. That means any out of time notes have been brought back into time, it gives it a real concert-pianist feel, but it's partly a bluff. It is, by the way, only the middle part that is 'quantized'."  [Scoop 3 liner notes]   Listen to Variations On Dirty Jobs

How Can I Help You: Pete describes his recording process and use of synthesisers to add the orchestration on How Can I Help You.



Guantanamo: “Technically this was created in rather a laborious way. I recorded a long organ drone using my vintage Yamaha E70 organ (used many times by me on Who and solo recordings in the past), and then cut it into something that sounded like a song using a feature unique to Digital Performer called ‘chunks.’ This creates blocks of groups of tracks that can be assembled and disassembled easily, like cutting multitrack analogue tape with a razor blade, but with less blood. The lyric grew out of the implicit angry frustration in the organ tracks.” [Rolling Stone May 19, 2015]   Listen to Guantanamo

Lifehouse Method – data generated electronic music

In 2007, Pete launched the Lifehouse Method software system that was designed to generate unique pieces of electronic music processed from various personal data that a user input into the website interface. Pete composed the song Fragments around one of the early Method sample pieces produced for the system by Lawrence Ball, which was released on The Who’s Endless Wire album in 2006.  For more information, please visit the Lifehouse Method page.

Pete Lawrence“The music that comes out of the Method software has been generated by a musical process that Lawrence Ball created. I first met Lawrence when we were engaged together in a music festival that he does every year called Planet Tree. Lawrence invited the American composer Terry Riley. I was a big fan of Terry Riley, and in the 70's used Terry Riley and the Indian teacher Meher Baba for one of my first experiments in this particular process. The music that came out of that was called Baba O'Riley, Baba for the Indian teacher and Riley for Terry Riley. Put the two things together and produced a song now which to this day is the one that for some reason, particularly American audiences, go crazy about. I don't know if it's the music or the lyrics, the refrain ‘it's only teenage wasteland’ is the one they love the best. But the ripply sound in the background is the characteristic sound that was produced when I started to program and work as a serious electronic music composer. Lawrence invited Terry over, he did a concert, we met, and then I listened to Lawrence's work and I loved it, I just loved it. So, what is produced by the program is music that is generally music that Lawrence and I tend to like. Whether you like it is absolutely immaterial to us! [laughs] The composer is king in this respect. But what we are trying to do is we are trying to approach the truth from the data we get. And we are trying to produce something that is an authentic compositional reflection of the data that we get put in.

If you listen to [the Meher Baba piece], you will hear the raw material that I worked with to produce [Fragments], and I did a lot of things that are very obvious. I listened to the whole thing, which is a 5 minute piece, and I picked pieces, chunks of it. Firstly I discovered that the cycle was not an 8 bar, or a 4 bar, or a 16 bar cycle, it was 15 bars. So, every now and then you hear a little drum flange, which kind of adds the bar on what became a 12 bar cycle.  I would take chunks that I liked the sound of, that felt to me fairly simple, but also to create the conventional ‘introduction - verse - chorus - verse - chorus - middle bit - verse - chorus – end’ that we are so used to in the current tradition of pop writing, at least conventional pop writing, the kind that I grew up with, and create a frame for it and then elaborate it. And you can hear to some extent that some of the lyrics are inspired directly by the sounds. For example, when I talk about snowflakes falling, the sounds felt to me like snowflakes falling, so I simply came up with that idea. The idea that we are fragments, we are pieces, we are coming together, this was a notion that came out of listening to many, many hours of Method music and thinking, ‘what does this feel like?’” [Lifehouse Method launch April 25, 2007]   Listen to Fragments

Composing new songs with Jean-Michel Jarre

Pete collaborated with French electronic music composer Jean-Michel Jarre on Travelator Part 2, a brand new song that was released in October 2015 on Jarre’s album Electronica 1: The Time Machine. The album features artists who have inspired Jarre over the years. A three part EP of Travelator will be released soon.

“Pete was the first guy to introduce sequencers into rock music with songs such as Baba O'Riley. As one of the creators of the rock opera as a genre, he has an epic approach to performance that's quite close to my approach of performances for big concerts.” [Jean-Michel Jarre USA Today Aug 2015]

"When you take the idea of Pete Townshend, I mean you’d think, ‘Why Pete Townshend?’ Pete Townshend, he’s the guy who introduced electronic sounds and sequencers into rock music with songs such as “Baba O’Riley” and ‘Who’s Next.’ Also when I came to visit him in Richmond in the UK, I picked three different demos and we discussed a lot of things. We spent half a day in his kitchen drinking tea and talking about different things.  Then, I played him the three demos that I had in mind. That’s always something difficult when you don’t know how the other person will respond. He immediately says, “I really love these three pieces. Why not do a mini electronica? I would be your lyricist in this and I will sing on it and I will play the guitar if you want.” And that was done in principle and we started from that. It pushed the track so far away by giving me so much. We were in the studio together and he was like a kid in his very earliest approach to music remains exactly the same. It was like he was a teenager." [Jean-Michel Jarre Artist Direct Oct 2015]



Produced, researched and written by Carrie Pratt

Music of the spheres - the orchestral music of Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend has often described hearing incredible orchestral music in his head as a young child that he refers to as the “music of the spheres”.  These early experiences with celestial music have helped inspire one of the greatest composers of our time.

Pete’s most famous contributions to the music world are his extraordinary rock operas. His story based songs are unified by themes and beautiful motifs that are more commonly found in classical music. While his greatest works were originally presented in a rock setting, orchestral music has been a heavy influence in Pete’s unique style of composing from early on, and his technique of incorporating classical ideas into traditional guitar based rock songs were groundbreaking back in the 60’s. His early song writing was influenced by classical music composers, and his musical mentor Kit Lambert encouraged Pete to explore grand ideas and themes, which Pete used to great effect in both his early pop songs and later in his longer form rock operas. In the late 70’s, Pete incorporated orchestrated music in many of his solo recordings, thanks to the help of his father-in-law Edwin Astley (famous TV and film composer), to create a wonderful orchestral backdrop to his stories. The music Pete composed as a young man and beyond is complex and intricate, full of fantastic musical themes that are loved the world over, and decades later sound as fresh and original as the day they were released.

Pete is currently working on transforming his famous story based rock pieces into full blown orchestrations that can be performed by orchestras and choirs for many years to come and will keep his music alive into the future. In June 2015, Pete released a fully orchestrated recording of his rock opera Quadrophenia, which was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in July.

The following is the history of Pete’s orchestral music and classical influences over the years, told primarily in his own words sourced from various interviews, diaries, and his autobiography.

The boy who heard music

MusicOfSpheresOriginal photo © Ethan Russell

"I was one of those strange children that heard stuff when I was young, right through to the age of 12. I heard orchestral music that my friend the poet Ted Hughes said could have been what he called the music of the spheres. Literally: the sound of outer space resonating in some way. We lose the ability to hear this when we lose our innocence. Indeed, on one occasion I heard such music on the river Thames, which inspired some of the plot of Quadrophenia. For me, when I listen to music – particularly my own recordings – I tend to hear something different to anyone else." [Discussions Magazine May 27, 2015]

"On my first Isle of Man fishing trip, I had a fiasco with a huge trout and was consoling myself by playing harmonica in the rain. I got lost in the sound of my mouth organ, and then had the most extraordinary, life-changing experience. Suddenly I was hearing music within the music – rich, complex harmonic beauty that had been locked in the sounds I’d been making. The next day I went fly fishing, and this time the murmuring sound of the river opened up a well-spring of music so enormous that I fell in and out of a trance. It was the beginning of my lifelong connection to rivers and the sea – and to what might be described as the music of the spheres." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

"As we swept past the Old Boathouse at Isleworth once again I began to hear the most extraordinary music, sparked by the whine of the outboard motor and the burbling sound of water against the hull. I heard violins, cellos, horns, harps and voices, which increased in number until I could hear countless threads of an angelic choir; It was a sublime experience. I have never heard such music since, and my personal musical ambition has always been to rediscover that sound and relive its effect on me. At the very height of my euphoric trance the boat ran up against the muddy shore at the troop’s hut.  As it stopped, so did the music. Bereft, I quietly began to weep. I kept asking the other boys if they had heard the angels singing, but none of them even responded." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

"Whenever we made a family visit to Horry and Dot’s, I got to see not only my beloved grandparents, but also my Aunt Tril. In her room was a piano, which became a real attraction for me, because it was the only piano in my life. After a time in her company I would always drift to the piano and—looking sideways to check that she was properly engrossed in her knitting, crochet work or a book—began to play. The instrument was never quite in tune, and I explored the keyboard until I found the combination of harmonics I was after. Then, I would repetitively play the same series of notes over and over, listening through the surface and deeply into what piano-tuners call ‘overtones’, the harmonics and resonances that all musical instruments produce as a characteristic of their timbre. One day at Trilby’s piano I found some chords which quickly sent me into another euphoric trance, this time the music that was releasing me was in my own head. My body buzzed all over and my head was full of the most complex and disturbing orchestral music, which in my own mind I was both hearing and, in a manner of speaking—because I seemed to be able to influence its movement and complexity—composing. ‘That was beautiful,’ said Tril, looking up. ‘Really, really lovely. You are a real musician.’ She was the first person ever to recognise my musical ability, to tell me I had musical talent." [Who He blog "Seventeen" March 7, 2007]

Pete playing Baba

"There is a difference between the inspired composer and the skilled orchestrator. A good orchestrator can sit with sheets of manuscript and, as the arrangement develops, can read the notes and actually hear a phantom orchestra in his head. But an inspired composer hears music in his mind so complex, so diverting, that any attempt to write it down seems facile. What this kind of visitation produces in the subject is a desire to rediscover what has been heard before."  [The Boy Who Heard Music chapter "I Heard Music" October 2, 2005]

"The music computer had landed in two forms. There was the Fairlight CMI, a synthesizer/sampler workstation beloved of New Romantic bands; by the time I started work on White City I had bought my own. The other system was the Synclavier, a digital FM synthesizer with a microprocessor-controlled sequencer. I realized these developments meant I would soon be able to compose and orchestrate very seriously, without the expense of using real orchestras or the barrier of working with orchestrators like Raphael Rudd or Edwin Astley. I found this incredibly exciting, although I have to add that nothing I’ve ever heard has surpassed what I heard in my imagination as a boy." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

Orchestral and classical influences on Pete's work

"There was something else too that I had not thought about for a long time, my ability to create alpha-state music in my head, to go into a creative trance, to have musical ‘visions’. What revived this latter attribute after nearly six years of dormancy was hearing orchestral music again. The college ran lunchtime clubs dedicated to new jazz (Bebop), Dixieland, orchestral music and opera. It was played in the lecture theatre on a large high-quality speaker system. Often an enthusiast would make some remarks, or give a short unpretentious lecture, sometimes critical. I attended all of them. When I started to hear classical music again, this time being fully informed about what I was hearing, I realised I was already very well grounded. While Jerry Cass had shaved each morning upstairs in 22 Whitehall Gardens, I had—as a child between the ages of seven and eleven—heard on his blaring radio tuned to the ‘Third Programme’ of the BBC, almost all the fugues, symphonies and concerti of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Haydyn, Handel, Mozart and the like.

fantasiaThen, when I had been about ten, at the Movietone News Theatre in Oxford Street I first saw the groundbreaking Disney animation feature ‘Fantasia’ which was projected with pioneering multi-channel sound. This film was my first exposure to true stereo sound. I had gone back at least ten times. Beautiful and powerful music literally intoxicated me long before I knew what intoxication was, and through this film with its complex and advanced audio recording I was to become a student and advocate of recording technology. At Ealing Art School’s lunchtime sessions, soon as a record began I could continue to sing it in my head." [Who He blog "Chapter 27" 2007]

"I love the way surround sound in movies has revitalized the recording of large orchestras, it’s the best way to hear new orchestral writing. My favourite composer is John Williams, but I really like Thomas Newman too." [Pete's diary "The Wise One and the Grasshopper - Lesson 1" November 18, 2006]

"I’ve listened to a wide range of classical music throughout my life. Most Who fans will know that my mentor Kit Lambert introduced me to the English composer Henry Purcell, I was just 19 years old. I was greatly inspired by Purcell. Later I was intrigued by Wagner. He found a new way of presenting music on stage, and telling stories (which often had wide-ranging mythical and spiritual function)." [Corren.se July 5, 2015]

"For me, when I started on Tommy particularly, and then subsequently on Lifehouse, which is looking into a dystopian future of advanced and destructive and invasive and dangerous technology, then finally Quadrophenia, which was really just about a young man having a few bad days, I started to realize that I had an incredibly good foundation. Kit Lambert had introduced me to the work of Purcell and William Walton, and his dad had a box at the Royal Opera House, which I could pop into at any time, and in so doing I saw a lot of operas that I loved. I saw a few that I didn’t like. I like Boris Godunov now, but I didn’t like it when I first heard it. I wasn’t keen on very much Verdi, I didn’t like very much Mozart, but which I do now, but I didn’t then. I found it very hard to get past. The sound in the Royal Opera House is pretty crap, it sounds very dry and dead, but there was one opera that I saw which I think lies at the very heart of Quadrophenia and that’s a Benjamin Britten opera called Billy Budd. It really seemed to me… in a sense that was a post First World War story. A Suffolk fisherman takes a boy out to the sea and one day the boy dies and there is the influence also in between Benjamin Britten and his singer Peter Pears." [Interview with Tim Cooper  2015]

Rock operas

"I had talked about rock opera to everyone who would listen, and, though I'm sure that, as with guitar feedback, many others had the same idea around the same time, I hoped we'd be the first rock band with a major thematic work." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

"One thing that might surprise people is that I believe [the rock opera form] gives me a chance to embrace the wonderful—but apparently limited—pop-rock song form more fully. A great rock or pop song can stand on its own. Its function is to grapple with whatever issue is on the table, but bring release, empowerment and mutual acceptance in the audience. So when you string a bunch of songs together to help tell a story, you are really just starting where we all spend most of our time in any case, in one of the many days of our lives. One way to appreciate our own ‘story’ is often to immerse ourselves in other stories. This is what art has always done I suppose." [Barnes and Noble interview May 15, 2015]

Early pop operas

"May 1966... Keith's best friend Ray Tolliday began to talk to me a lot about opera, and one day asked if I would help him write one. This turned out to be a joke, Gratis Amatis, which Ray said meant ‘free love’ in Latin. “Gratis Amatis I love Lionel Bartis” He wanted to play it to Kit for his birthday. When Kit heard it he laughed, but later suggested to me that Ray and I had really hit on something: he called it Pop Opera. I tried to develop Speedy’s Summer City idea, but couldn’t get very far with it. One of my songs worked out pretty well, Summer’s Gone. [...] I scratched out another ambitious, if rather daft, operatic story, which began life as Quinns, about four girls and a boy who nearly dies at birth. I tightened this up later into a single song with the working title of Quads, finally I’m A Boy. [...] In Soho at this time I wrote two other songs that I think were intended to be a part of another song-cycle about lunatics, misfits or people with unsound minds. They were King Rabbit and Lazy fat People. Happy Jack came a little later, part of the same idea. [...] A bigger idea was beginning to germinate: could I write a real opera? I began to contemplate the idea of creating something quite conventional. This was not a vanity. I thought it would be educational, would enrich and inspire me, and widen my powers as a composer. I gathered books and records I needed to begin a serious study of opera. I also began to scratch out more ideas for stories. One, which began as a few scribbled notes on a scrap of paper, suggested that in M, the instrumental I had written a while before, that later became Underture for Tommy, I had composed a very cohesive and powerful piece of dramatic programme music that would sound wonderful if it were orchestrated." [Who He blog "Sunbeams 2 - Operas in Soho" June 10, 2007]

A Quick One While He's Away - the mini-opera (released December 1966)

AQO"Kit came to see me at my Soho studio and I played him a few works in progress, songs about rabbits, fat people and 'Gratis Amatis', the opera dedicated to Kit and our beloved mutual friend the composer Lionel Bart. Kit asked whether I could put together a more serious pop-opera piece with several distinct strands, perhaps based around 'Happy Jack'. [...] Quick, quick, quick. 'A Quick One' became our new watchword and the title of the new album when it was finally released. I scribbled out some words and came up with 'A Quick One, While He's Away'. This became known as the 'mini-opera', and is full of dark reflections of my childhood time with Denny." [Who I Am autobiography 2012]

Rael (released December 1967)

"While I’m A Boy was being prepared for release as the new single, a task that took a mere two weeks in those days, we all took a holiday. I wanted guaranteed sunshine. I took my Dolly Bird to Caesarea in Israel. Her extreme miniskirts were a novelty and attracted a lot of interest, especially from the Arabs, several of whom I had to literally fight off to stop them assaulting her. The atmosphere was tense, especially in Jerusalem. When I got home I began to ask people I thought might know, what was going on in Israel. It quickly became clear that something awful was in the wind. One of my advisers moved from speaking about the growing tension between Israel and Egypt, to the emergent communist threat from China, a country with a population growing so fast – he said – that they would soon dominate the entire planet. From this came my idea for my first opera – which later became titled Rael. Briefly the plot deals with Israel being overrun by Red China. Over the next year I developed the story, and quite seriously planned to complete it as a major full-length through-composed operatic composition outside my work for the Who, even if it took a lifetime." [Who He blog "Sunbeams 3 - Arabs and Miniskirts" June 24, 2007]

"I hired a Bechstein upright piano from Harrod’s and installed it in the Dolly Bird’s bedroom. I wrote the first orchestrations there for Rael using a book called Orchestration by Walter Piston that I still refer to today." [Who He blog "The acidic cusp of 66 and 67 - and not a step further" July 6, 2007]

Tommy (released May 1969)

"It’s weird though, but when we were working on Tommy, Kit Lambert who was the producer, was the son of Constant Lambert, who was one of the people who started Royal Festival Ballet and the Covent Garden Opera House. He was the Director there for a long time. Kit Lambert really wanted Tommy to be a proper opera. If you listen to the recording, there is hardly any electric guitar on it, and that was because he always wanted to add an orchestra to it. And I fought, I really fought against that. Subsequently a classical or orchestral version of it was done by a guy called Lou Reizner, and I remember sitting and listening to it and thinking, this isn’t perfect, it is not precise to the music that I have written, which I think Rachel’s version of Quadrophenia is, but it made me realize that music is music. And actual fact what a rock band was, as my father once said, with a couple of guitars and amplifiers you are replacing an old fourteen piece band. You can make more noise, you’ve got less people in the band and of course the distortion was what created the harmonics the distortion of rock music was what created the richness of the sound, a couple of guys with a couple of distorted guitars are equal to a huge church organ." [Interview with Tim Cooper 2015]


Quadrophenia (released October 1973)

"The story is about a few very difficult days in the life of a young person. We’ve all been there. What is unusual in this case perhaps is that the difficulty becomes a conduit for an explosion of passion, sexual frustration, anger and awkward love. My music seems to be especially good at expressing all this, and The Who’s band members were great at performing it. Audiences respond according to their ability or need to reconnect with this part of their growing up. Or they might simply look back sadly or fondly to the way they got through it all." [Amazon Front Row interview 2015]

"When I wrote the original songs it’s perhaps obvious I looked to Wagner for inspiration for some of the instrumental passages that were intended to evoke [the main character] Jimmy’s uneasy mix of paranoia and grandiosity. Elsewhere, where the music is lighter, I refer to Bach (especially his preludes) here and there. The overall story of Quadrophenia was inspired to some extent by one of my favorite English composers, Benjamin Britten. His opera Billy Budd is also about a young man enduring a difficult rite of passage, and is set by the seaside and on the sea itself." [Barnes and Noble interview May 15, 2015]

Quad Synth"I had synthesizer backing tracks, which I already developed for some other pseudo orchestral elements, violins and horns and oboe. John Entwistle could play almost any brass instrument with valves and he put on trumpets, baroque trumpets, tubas, sousaphones and all kinds of things to complement what I’d done. By the time we finished, the demos sounded like a massive pseudo orchestra in places." [Amazon Front Row interview 2015]

"I have been amazed at how Who music (and some of my own writing) lends itself to orchestral performance. Probably all music would sound wonderful played by a good orchestra. But there are a number of reasons why Who music lends itself. Keith Moon’s style of drumming was almost orchestral, more about decoration, flourishes and celebration than just keeping a beat. Who bassist John Entwistle was classically trained on trumpet and French Horn, so his work—especially on The Who’s Quadrophenia—encompassed a complete set of brass instruments, and he made his own arrangements. By the time The Who came to record the original album Roger’s singing was probably at its peak, and he pulled all the stops to make the words come alive. I was also adept at using analogue synthesizers, especially for orchestral emulation (having used them extensively on Who’s Next)." [Barnes and Noble interview May 15, 2015]

Pete's mission to orchestrate his rock operas

"I am keen to make sure that my most serious compositions are properly archived and notated (scored) in an accurate way. I want to make sure that musicians in the future can access these scores, and adapt them to various purposes, so that the music will continue to be played into the future. And of course what I want is for it to be played live in front of living audiences. I want the scores to enable performance from the top down, as-it-were: a full symphony orchestra with choir at the top, right down to simply piano-vocal charts, so that if a music teacher at a school wanted to get students to perform any of my operas, they could. Starting with full orchestra scores is a big project, especially as I can’t read music. (I can write it, using computers, but I have never been trained).

LifehouseChroniclesI started this work about 17 years ago. Mainly looking at my rock operas and mini-operas. Billy Nicholls, Sara Loewenthal and Rachel Fuller were the main protagonists in ‘Angelic Ceilings,’ a group I put together to begin this work. Our first joint project was Lifehouse Chronicles in 2000. Finally, in 2012 I decided to commission someone to start on Quadrophenia. I didn’t have to look far because by this time Rachel Fuller and I had lived together for a long time. Rachel was keen to take this on. By a coincidence, I had first met Rachel when The Who were rehearsing at a London studio for the 1996-1997 tour of Quadrophenia that grew out of the charity performance I organized in Hyde Park for the Prince’s Trust, of which I had been a patron and activist since 1982. On that occasion my very old friend Billy (Nicholls) had asked Rachel to orchestrate some of his solo work, and that’s how the connection was made." [Discussions Magazine May 27, 2015]

"I had decided like twenty years ago that one of the things I wanted to do was to make folios of all of the story based collections that I’ve done and it started with one which is called A Quick One, While He’s Away which is on The Who’s second album, so that was 1966. I did another one in 1967 called Rael, I then did Tommy, I then did one called Life House which was a failed concept album, I then did Quadrophenia, and as a solo artist I did White City, Ironman, Psychoderelict, and then for The Who last time another mini opera short form collection of songs called Wire and Glass. I wanted to see each of these pieces in a book for orchestra and that was what I wanted. And I started on that and met Rachel at a rehearsal room in London and it turned out she was an orchestrator and she was pretty, but she was an orchestrator. So I managed to track her down and asked her to do some work for me, and the first thing she worked on was Lifehouse Chronicles which was performed with a small chamber orchestra and a band at Sadler’s Wells. So I started just really wanting these books, you know I imagined myself as an old man: I’m in my country mansion, you know I’ve got a couple of dogs, and I go into my study and I’ve got this A Quick One, While He’s Away that was a good one, and then Rael that was a good one, and then right the way through and somebody would ask me the daft question: ‘why would you bother to do this.’ And I would say: ‘Because I think this is fabulous work and one day perhaps an orchestra like, you know, the London Philharmonic will perform it.’ So that’s how it came about. That’s really something that I wanted and I started to want it quite early in my career." [Classic Quadrophenia press release interview for 2015]


"When we [Rachel Fuller and I] first met, I was hoping that she would do some orchestrations for me. And she did some for a project called Lifehouse Chronicles, which went on at Sadler's Wells. She did 4 or 5 pieces for me for that. And then we ended up in a relationship. I wanted Tommy, Quadrophenia, The Iron Man, Psychoderelict, White City, a whole bunch of things I had done both in the Who and as a solo artist that had stories in them, including my mini-operas, A Quick One While He's Away, Endless Wire, and Rael, I wanted them to be orchestrated so they could be played by anybody. By a symphony orchestra, by a chamber orchestra, by a brass band, by a rock band, by a school orchestra, by a guy with a piano and choir. I wanted the music, that's all. The written music, the paper. I wanted it to be available online. So I asked her to start this [Classic Quadrophenia] about 3 years ago, and commissioned her to do it, gave her a fee to do it, which was in installments, and she enjoyed doing it. Hans Zimmer, who's a film composer, he does all the big block buster films, helped her put together a studio in which she could make demos of this stuff so I would hear these fantastic orchestral demos which were all done with samples and synthesis. One day Deutsche Grammaphone got to hear a couple of these demos and commissioned a proper recording. I'm really excited because having now done some of the recording, we've finished now, once he had done some of the recording with the Royal Philharmonic, I kind of sat back and thought, apart from anything else, the original music is genius, I always felt that if ever there was a moment of genius from me it was in Quadrophenia, and I don't mean that genius in the sense of braggadocio, I'm not bragging, I just mean it was just a coming together of a load of serendipitous things that created this fabulous moment for me as a writer. ... What was interesting about this, what was so special, was that Rachel did it right under my nose as it were. So she would do a bit and she would say "what do you think of it?", and I would say, "well that's great but that note shouldn't be in there." So, in a sense, the modality, the mood, the atmosphere, it's very, very faithful to the harmonics of the original piece. That is what I think is so good about working with my partner, is that we have been able to grow this very, very precisely. And Rachel's mission was never to add too much decoration, never to try and improve it, but rather to just turn it into an orchestral score. I don't think anyone else could have done that." [Radio interview BBC Radio 6 June 29, 2015]

Lifehouse Chronicles

The 6 CD Lifehouse Chronicles box set that Pete released from his Eelpie.com website on February 17, 2000 included one disc entitled Lifehouse Arrangements & Orchestrations that contained a variety of orchestrated songs, featuring the London Chamber Orchestra conducted by Harry Rabinowitz. The disc featured orchestral versions of Pete Townshend compositions: One Note - Prologue, Baba O'Riley, Hinterland Rag, Tragedy Explained, One Note - Epilogue. Also included are tracks from classical composers Purcell, Scarlatti, and Corette, including Purcell's entire suite of the Gordion Knot Untied. Produced by Pete Townshend and Billy Nicholls for Angelic Ceilings, orchestrated by Rachel Fuller and Sara Loewenthal.


A live performance of Lifehouse took place at Sadler's Wells in London on February 25-26, 2000, which was released on DVD and CD.


Classic Quadrophenia

Produced by Pete Townshend, orchestrated by Rachel Fuller. Recorded at Air Studios London October 21-23, 2014 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Ziegler and the London Oriana Choir. Starring Alfie Boe (Jimmy), Pete Townshend (Godfather), Billy Idol (Ace Face / Bell Boy), Phil Daniels (Dad). Released by Deutsche Grammophon in June 2015.


The album was launched with a World premier live performance at the Royal Albert Hall on July 5, 2015. See the Classic Quadrophenia concert page for more information.


"About three years ago, Rachel and I had a conversation about Quadrophenia and she said, “Can I have a go at it?” I called Hans Zimmer, who let Rachel do some tests at his studio in Soho. I loved it. I thought, “I can record five of these tracks with a proper orchestra and have them in my back pocket. It will cost about twenty thousand quid, but they’ll be great on a Best Of. I can play them to people, they’ll see what’s possible.” So we went to Air, we got the Royal Philharmonic. The conductor, Robert Zielger, had a lot of contacts. Suddenly, it became a proposition." [Uncut interview June 24, 2015]

"Rachel was my only collaborator, but she commissioned an assistant, Martin Batchelar, to whom she gave fairly free rein. I didn’t give Rachel that much scope for interpretation. To begin with I just wanted an orchestral representation of what was on The Who album, no extra songs, no frills, no diversions. Rachel was very happy to work faithfully in this way, and I gave her access to the Who multi-tracks from 1972-1973 so she could analyze each instrument or vocal part very accurately." [Barnes and Noble interview May 15, 2015]

"Rachel took the [original] multi-tracks, put them on computer and listened to the actual notes John played. They’ve been extrapolated and interpolated back into orchestral form. What was interesting to discover then was that Keith Moon was an orchestral percussionist! Very decorative, not really interested in the beat at all – he left that to the poor rhythm guitarist. So it’s there." [Uncut interview June 24, 2015]

"What made this project evolve from one that would have ended up with me holding a ‘folio’ (a book of written music) to a fully fledged recording, was that Rachel decided to do demonstration recordings as she went along, so I would be able to comment and approve what she and Martin were doing. I had asked my friend Hans Zimmer if he could guide Rachel in setting up a composition studio (of the kind Hans uses to write his film scores) and he gallantly invited Rachel to use some time in his London studio. The first track she worked on was Love Reign O’er Me, and it sounded spectacular. The conductor Robert Zeigler heard this synthesized demo track. He invited us to perform it with Jeff Beck and the BBC Concert Orchestra at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Suddenly what had merely been notes written on a score began to take a life as real music. Later, when Mark Wilkonson, the President of the classical label Deutsche Grammophon, heard it, he gave us a deal and recommended Alfie Boe to take the lead role." [Barnes and Noble interview May 15, 2015]


"The opening piano on “Love Reign O’er Me” was so accurately transcribed by Rachel that I could hardly believe it wasn’t me playing, but from there on it explodes into the most romantic and moving string writing, very much in the ‘English’ style. Alfie’s vocal is astonishing. But the songs I love the most are the ones that prove that it isn’t only rock‘n’roll that can rock: “I’ve Had Enough” and “Dr Jimmy” are both huge blockbuster performances with every instrument in the orchestra getting in on the act, and the effect is literally stunning. The RPO can really rock. With respect to our fans, I asked Rachel to try her best to retain the flourishes and details from the original album, and because Keith Moon and John Entwistle were so dramatic and orchestral in their methods, I believe it worked. With Quadrophenia it also helped that she had the very simple blueprint of my analogue synthesizer emulations of strings and brass." [Amazon Front Row interview 2015]


"The most wonderful surprise was seeing the way orchestral musicians threw themselves into playing this music. The last orchestral sessions I had done had been a while back, and so much has changed now for orchestras. They are challenged all the time, not only by the demands of the usual repertoire like Brahms, Beethoven and Wagner, but also by complex and highly rhythmic and explosive film scores written by the likes of Hans Zimmer. So they only needed a few takes to get the music right. Indeed, it sounded right first time." [Barnes and Noble interview May 15, 2015]

"I was encouraged by the fact that a few people I spoke to who ran orchestras, particularly around the U.S. but also in the U.K. and in Europe, were really excited about the idea of having something like Quadrophenia available for large orchestras. They all said that the subscription audience for orchestras was getting into difficulty because the new music that's being written by modern composers is very radical, generally. It's not easy on the ear. So having something that sat in the middle between the established repertoire of Bach, Wagner and Mozart and the more radical stuff by contemporary composers, that it would help them. I think they're hoping that they will play this and bring people into the symphony hall who wouldn't otherwise go, and it might open up a world for them. So there was a lot of encouragement to see this through. [The Royal Philharmonic musicians] seemed so worldly about it all. They take all this stuff in stride, so when we put Quadrophenia in front of them and they realize that they could have fun with it and they could play it and really bring it to life, they started to get excited about the idea of playing it, and the fact that it would, I suppose, give them a way of jacking into a completely new audience. Some of those tracks on the album are the first take -- not all of them, but some of them are." [Billboard interview June 10, 2015]

Orchestral work with Edwin Astley

"My ex-wife Karen Astley’s father was Edwin Astley, who was a film and TV composer. Very much like my own musician father and Kit Lambert, he was against any kind of snobbery in music – especially the classical world where the snobbery tends to be in the audience rather than the musicians and conductors. One day we decided to start a project together. Edwin had scored “Street In The City” for me, for the Rough Mix album I did with Ronnie Lane in 1977, and that was the style we were shooting for. Kit Lambert was meant to be producing. I’m afraid to say that Kit’s condition was even worse than it had been when I invited him to co-produce Q with me in 1973, so the project stuttered to a halt. Max Hole, now Chairman of Universal Records in Europe, has been pressing me to do an album like this, and I may consider it." [Discussions Magazine May 27, 2015]


Street in the City (released on Rough Mix 1977)

"It's guitar and voice, essentially, and on top of it is super imposed, a orchestral arrangement. The conception of the orchestral arrangement is particularly interesting because it is definitely not the kind of thing which I would ever come up with say, if I did something on the synthesizer. And that is because I haven't got the skill of the man who did the arrangement, who is actually, coincidentally my father-in-law. We are a family butcher you know <laughs>. I asked my father-in-law to do it, Ted Astley, who's been an orchestral arranger and film music writer of great success, in this country anyway, for many years. He put this arrangement together ever so quickly, and it’s a double string orchestra thing, with a large string orchestra and 6 big basses, and stuff. And I actually sat down with the orchestra and played through on the guitar, which was a really good experience. I haven't done that since Lou Reizner's Tommy, play with an orchestra. But it's not really that unique. Whenever you write a song, you tend to go through it in your head a various number of ways, and one of those ways might be thinking about how it would sound with a bloody great orchestra behind it. But I think it stands out, because it's more of a cooperative effort musically then anything I have ever done. I mean I have contributed the music and the song, and Ted Astley has really contributed a very sort of innovative arrangement around it. An impressionist piece. I paint pictures with using the words, but Ted paints more vivid pictures using the orchestra. I've actually thought about doing a complete album of stuff like this with Ted, because Street in the City has attracted so much attention." [Radio interview December 1977]

The Ferryman (recorded September 1978, released on Another Scoop 1987)

"This song was written for an amateur production of SIDDHARTHA at Meher Baba Oceanic Center during the opening celebrations in June 1976. Ted Astley later composed this absolutely stunning impressionistic orchestral setting for my simple, droning, open-tuned guitar. The lyric tells of Siddhartha's first meeting with the ferryman who is to become his spiritual master. The song closes as the ferryman explains that Siddhartha must replace him and learn his art of selfless service. (SIDDHARTHA is a short novel by Herman Hesse.)" Instruments: Gibson J200 (strung and tuned as in PRAYING THE GAME), large string section, woodwinds, percussion.Venue: Abbey Road Studio 1, London. Engineer: John Kurlander, Executive Producer: Kit Lambert. [Another Scoop liner notes 1987]

Praying The Game (recorded September 1978, released on Another Scoop 1987)

"This song was written in Cornwall in 1976. a long hot summer. I wrote STREET IN THE CITY (which appeared on ROUGH MIX the album I recorded with Ronnie Lane) at the same time. I wanted to record a complete album of similar pieces. The orchestration is by Ted Astley." Instruments: Gibson J200 with open tuning and high strung on both low E and A strings to produce the lopsided arpeggios, large string section, woodwinds, percussion. Venue: Studio 1 Abbey Road Studios, London.Engineer: John Kurlander, Executive Producer: Kit Lambert. [Another Scoop liner notes 1987]

Brooklyn Kids (recorded September 1978, released on Another Scoop 1987)

"I had a nasty vision one sunny afternoon – a beautiful girl walked past my studio window in a white dress. Behind her walked a young black kid; hip and hungry. Their relative states of self-absorption produced the idea of the rape of a lonely girl by a lonely man. The piano demo was enhanced by a beautiful orchestral arrangement by Ted Astley (my father-in-law)." Instruments: Bosendorfer piano, large string section, woodwinds. Venue: piano and voice at Home in Berkshire. Orchestra at Abbey Road, London. Engineer: John Kurlander, Executive Producer: Kit Lambert. [Another Scoop liner notes 1987]

Football Fugue (recorded September 1978, released on Another Scoop 1987)

"Ted Astley composed this track over which I wrote the lyric. It reminded me of an orchestral battlefield. With the musicians wearing big heavy boots. Hence the analogy with football and hooliganism" Instruments: large string section, percussion. Venue: Olympic studios, Barnes. Engineer: Glyn Johns. [Another Scoop liner notes 1987]

I Like It The Way It Is (recorded 1978, released on Scoop 3 2001)

"Jon Astley thought he could hear wow and flutter on this but it is actually the action of an Antares autotune device I used to try to tidy up the vocal. This orchestral piece was one of a group already featured on Another Scoop, and is the only one not released. The others were 'Brooklyn Kids', 'Praying The Game' etc. Ted Astley arranged the orchestra which was recorded in 1978 by Glyn Johns at the incredible and wonderful Olympic Studios before Richard Branson brought it and turned it into a Japanese airport waiting room with microphones." [Scoop 3 liner notes 2001]

Odds and sods - other orchestral work

Wired To The Moon (recorded 1997, released on Scoop 3 and petetownshend.com 2001)

"On December 11th last year I started work. The first track logged (though not the earliest piece I have) was recorded at Midnight on 12th January 1997. It is thus - using a reverse two digit code for year/month/day - called '970112'. It has a vocal line on it, I sing :".....I'm wired to the moon....". So I've called the track WIRED TO THE MOON. What I've done is run a MiniDV camera in my studio as I tidy up, prepare, undergo delays, and then edit and mix this first track. It has come out quite well. It's a powerful orchestral piece, a little rambling. I wasn't feeling all that well when I sat down to record it, and kept muttering about having experienced some heavy dreams at the time." [Pete's diary "The train arriving" January 5, 2001]

"This is quite typical of the kind of piano driven orchestral writing I've been doing for last few years. Some of you will know that I used orchestrators to write out the parts for the music I wrote for The Lifehouse BBC play in late 1999. This is the kind of piece my orchestrating collaborators would be presented with for analysis, not always with a sketch score. Both Rachel Fuller and Sara Lowenthal are good at analysing the harmonic structure of my writing, and while they are around I will not bother to write the dots myself. (I should add here that in some cases Rachel and Sara contributed a lot more than mere transcription. They are both terrific composers in their own right, and their detailed work can often make or break an orchestral recording). Keith Grant, the orchestral engineer on the Lifehouse sessions, calls this kind of thing 'pfaffing around with synthesizers'. But nobody does it quite like me, unless they are Thomas Newman writing for a Hollywood movie and getting paid a million dollars." [Pete's diary "Wired To The Moon" January 12, 2001]


I've Had Enough - orchestral overdub arranged by Raphael Rudd (released on petetownshend.com 2001)

"[Here] is a recording from the studio floor of the rather out-of-tune orchestra overdubbing some invigorating stuff for the Quadrophenia film soundtrack. These strings were not used in the movie. Recently there has been talk of a release of the movie on DVD with a new 5.1 surround sound mix. I started to look for additional stuff and found this wonderful piece of writing by Raphael Rudd." [Pete's diary "Heat, Dust and Lust mp3" May 12, 2001]

Scarlatti (unreleased 2003)

"The orchestral session here is an audophile recording I've made in purist 5.1 for DVD-A and SACD release. It features the London Chamber Orchestra who played on the Sadler's Well's concert and the Lifehouse Chronicles orchestral CD. The Sadler's Wells DVD won an award for Surround Sound. The Oceanic studio here is one I've had since 1976 - it began life as a center for Meher Baba and spent some of its time subsequently as a film studio. Now I use it for recording and of course for events for my web site. For this session I created a system to fly artificial reverberation and echo into the studio so that the musicians would feel as though they were playing in a concert hall. We used a very high quality system based around several units provided by the sponsors of the last Who tour - JBL (owned and distributed by Harman-Kardom). The reverb was generated by several mikes spread throughout the orchestra, mixed and fed into a Lexicon reverb unit. The outputs of that were fed into a seven channel pre-amplifier (also made by Lexicon) seven channels were 'synthsized' creating a delicate but expansive echo effect and thence fed to seven JBL 'Tik' speakers - two of which were placed above the orchestra's heads to give a feeling of height. The amplifiers used are also made by JBL. To record the orchestra I used a British microphone called the 'Soundfield' mike. This mike outputs four cleverly encoded channels that can later be decoded and arranged as the six channels for 5.1. I recorded these channels to ProTools HD at 192Khz. 

The music is from Scarlatti. He wrote sonatas and fugues, principally for Harpsichord. I felt that some of them would sound beautiful if arranged for chamber orchestra (I included two sonatas on the Lifehouse Chronicles). This time I commissioned Rachel Fuller to orchestrate another twelve. Some of them are more successful than others - Scarlatti's gift was not as abundant as Bach's, but he did know how to compose powerfully strident pieces for the harpsichord, an instrument with little dynamic range. Orchestral translations of harpsichord works introduce dynamics that can sometimes distract from the composer's original intentions. We were careful not to overdo the dynamics with over-emotional readings. The session was a great success. The Surround Sound effect from the Soundfield mike is solid as a rock, and you can really feel the intimacy of the studio, but the airy space generated by the artificial echo. Some of Scarlatti's writing crosses boundaries: at times it is Italianate Baroque, as it should be. At others it is slightly Germanic and dark: the Fugues are often quite aggressive. Then there are segments when you can hear an almost pastoral English sound similar to that of the British composers of the 20th Century like Grainger, Britten and Bax. I was really pleased with the session and I hope to get it released very soon.The production was for Angelic Ceilings - a company I formed for Lifehouse Chronicles to record aspirational works - in other words to finish grand and adventurous 'serious' music projects I have the money and vision to start, but not the stamina or qualifications to properly finish. Billy Nicholls arranged the session, and Sara Lowenthal wrote out the parts and assisted in the session." [Pete's diary "Scarlatti" March 27, 2003]

Trilby's Piano - (released on Endless Wire 2006)

"Recording strings today was really enjoyable. I had knocked up a string orchestration on the Sibelius computer programme for my song Trilby's Piano and scored it for about 35 strings. Rachel re-arranged it for a string quartet, with some overdubs, and today we recorded it with a single stereo ribbon mike in my home studio, with the smallest dogs running in and out. Rachel is pretty classy at this kind of thing and really made it all seem very transparent." [Pete's diary "We've finished recording" May 26, 2006]

"She has skills I do not have, and may never have, and I have skills she needs to learn. But one thing I was able to do for the first time on this Who record was to confidently orchestrate a string section for one of my songs (Trilby’s Piano) and fix the players and record it without any adaptive work from an outsider. Rachel checked my work, added some dynamics here and there, and supervised the musicians on my session. Without her help I would have lost control." [Pete's diary "Grasshopper 5 - Who washes the dishes?" November 21, 2006]


How Can I Help You (released on Truancy 2015)

“I began this recording with an acoustic guitar, added drum loops and breaks (using a software program LIVE) then Gretsch and Rickenbacker 12-string guitars and John Entwistle’s hybrid Thunderbird Fender Precision bass. My rough string orchestration was replaced by the brilliant Martin Batchelar who usually works as Rachel’s orchestral collaborator.” [Truancy liner notes 2015]


Orchestrated Who

Lou Reizner's orchestrated Tommy (released October 1972)

ReiznersTommyProduced by Lou Reizner, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra with the English Chamber Choir, conducted by David Measham and arranged by Will Malone. The album was launched at a live performance on 9 December 1972 at the Rainbow Theatre, London, with The LSO, The ECC, The Who and an all star cast featuring Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Steve Winwood, Merry Clayton, Richie Havens, Sandy Denny, Maggie Bell, Graham Bell, Richard Harris. Read a review of the Rainbow show from Rolling Stone.

"Around the time of Ken Russell’s Tommy film, just before that there was an orchestral version of that, produced by a guy called Lou Reizner, with a star cast, Peter Sellers, Rod Stewart, and a bunch of other people, who sang the roles." [BBC Radio 6 interview June 29, 2015]

Daltrey Sings Townshend - A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who (released 1994)

Roger Daltrey put on a charity show featuring orchestrated versions of Pete Townshend's songs performed by the Juilliard Orchestra at Carnagie Hall on 23-24 February 1994 to celebrate his 50th birthday. Pete made a special guest appearance performing And I Moved and Who Are You. Roger later went on to tour the production around the US in fall 1994. Produced by Richard Flanzer and Bob Ezrin, arranged and conducted by Michael Kamen. Band: Roger Daltrey, John Rabbit Bundrick, Jon Carin, Jody Linscott, Pino Palladino, Phil Palmer, Simon Phillips, Billy Nicholls, Cleveland Watkiss. Special guests: Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, The Chieftains, David Sanborn, Linda Perry.

"Roger commissioned his own orchestrations in 1994 for a solo tour, and I have to say I was inspired to hear what he achieved. " [Amazon Front Row interview 2015]

Who's Serious - Symphonic Music of The Who (released February 10, 1998)

WhosSeriousProduced by Jon Astley, co-produced by Billy Nicholls, recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Peter Scholes at George Martin's Lyndhurst Hall Studio in London. Songs: Overture, I Can See For Miles, Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me, My Generation, Dr. Jimmy, Baba O'Riley, 5:15, Love Reign O'er Me, Who Are You, Listening to You. Band: Billy Nicholls: musical director, Zak Starkey: drums, Simon Townshend: guitar, Geoff Whitehorn: guitar, Phil Spalding: bass, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick: piano & organ, Jody Linscott: percussion, Peter Gordeno: keyboards. Choir: Jan Wilson, Simon Townshend, Billy Nicholls, Alistair Gordon, Steve Butler.


Produced, researched and written by Carrie Pratt
Special thanks to Ethan Russell!

The Iron Man

The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend is an adaptation of a children’s book, The Iron Man, written byTed Hughes. It was produced by Pete in his Eel Pie Studios, and released as a studio album in 1989. The Iron Man features guest singers who portray the characters in the story, and stars Roger Daltrey, John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, Deborah Conway, along with Pete Townshend, who plays the main character Hogarth. The songs sung by Roger Daltrey (Dig and Fire) also feature John Entwistle on bass, and are billed as performances by The Who, making these the first official recordings by The Who since the band broke up in 1982. The project was intended to be a full blown musical stage production, and was later expanded and staged at the Young Vic Theatre in London in 1993. In 1999 it was adapted as an animated film and released by Warner Brothers. The story in the movie version was modified to better target the American audience, and was renamed The Iron Giant to avoid confusion with the popular Marvel comic book, Iron Man. Although none of Pete’s music is featured in the movie, he received the credit of Executive Producer.

"Ted Hughes story provides me with a perfect fairy tale on which to hang modern songs. My intention was to write a modern song-cycle musical in the manner of Tommy." - Pete Townshend, Iron Man press kit, 1989.

"The story is very similar in a way to Tommy, to Quadrophenia, to a lot of early Who singles, it’s about the fear and depravation and isolation of children, particularly of a little boy in this context. I think it’s what I always believe lies at the essence of rock and roll." - Pete Townshend, Iron Man promo interview, 1989.

Iron Man

Track List

01 I Won't Run Any More (Vocals by Pete Townshend w/ Deborah Conway)
02 Over the Top (Vocals by John Lee Hooker)
03 Man Machines (Vocals by Simon Townshend)
04 Dig (Performed by The Who)
05 A Friend Is a Friend (Vocals by Pete Townshend)
06 I Eat Heavy Metal (Vocals by John Lee Hooker)
07 All Shall Be Well (Vocals by Pete Townshend w/ Deborah Conway & Chyna)
08 Was There Life (Vocals by Pete Townshend)
09 Fast Food (Vocals by Nina Simone)
10 A Fool Says... (Vocals by Pete Townshend)
11 Fire (Performed by The Who)
12 New Life/Reprise (Vocals by Chyna w/ Pete Townshend & Nicola Emmanuel)

Bonus Tracks

Dig (Vocals by Simon Townshend )
Man Machines (long version)
I Eat Heavy Metal (demo)
A Friend Is a Friend (live at the Fillmore West, 1996)
All Shall Be Well (live at the Fillmore West, 1996)

All songs written by Pete Townshend (except Fire by Brown/Crane/Finesilver/Ker)





The Studio Album

The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend

Release date - June 27, 1989
Label - Atlantic (US), Virgin (UK)
Recorded at Eel Pie Studios, London

Produced by Pete Townshend
Vocal Music Director Billy Nicholls
Orchestral Arranger Chucho Merchan
Recording Engineer Jules Bowen
Remix Engineer Bill Price



The Singles

I Won't Run Any More / A Fool Says
Released 1989
Label Atlantic (US), Virgin (UK)

A Friend Is A Friend / Man Machines
Released 1989
Label Atlantic (US), Virgin (UK)

Fire - released as promo only in US.
Released 1989
Label Atlantic (US)





Pete Townshend as Hogarth  
John Lee Hooker as The Iron Man
Deborah Conway as The Vixen  
Nina Simone as the Space Dragon
Roger Daltrey as Hogarth's Father
Chyna as The Crow
Nicola Emmanuelle as The Jay
Billy Nicholls as The Frog
Simon Townshend as The Owl
Cleveland Watkiss as The Badger

Pete IronMan


Pete Townshend (guitars, other keys)
Simon Phillips (drums)
Charlie Morgan (drums)
Chucho Merchan (bass)
John Entwistle (bass)
John "Rabbit" Bundrick (piano)
Peter Beachill (brass)
John Barkley (brass)
Patrick Claharv (sax)
Pat Halling (strings)
Gina Foster (chorus vocals)
Derek Green (chorus vocals)
Janice Hoyte (chorus vocals)
Ruby James (chorus vocals)
Julian Littman (chorus vocals)
Michael Nicholls (chorus vocals)
Earnest Pearce (chorus vocals)
Raymond Simpson (chorus vocals)
The children of ST. Stevens and Orleans schools (chorus vocals)



TV Interviews

Johnnie Walker Part 1 - 1989
Johnnie Walker Part 2 - 1989
French TV - 1989
Pay Per View Profile - 1989
David Letterman - 1989
German TV - 1989
I Won't Run Anymore on German TV - 1989


TedHughesIronManThe Book

The Iron Man - Written by Ted Hughes
Publisher - Faber and Faber
Publication Date - 1968

"I first read Iron Man when I was doing book publishing myself. Publishing rock books and children’s stories. Iron Man was a book that we felt we wanted to use as a model. That was in 1976. When I went to work at Faber and Faber as an editor, I met Ted because he was published by Faber and Faber, and I asked him if the rights were available. I told him what I was contemplating, turning it into a musical, a rock musical. I explained that to him and he seemed happy with that idea, and more than that, he seemed excited by some of the responses that I had to his story. We went from there." Pete Townshend - radio interview May 1989



Story Synopsis

"An Iron Man comes out of the sea and walks up onto a beach, as high as a building with eyes like laser beams. Nearby there’s a boy called Hogarth, whose fishing early in the morning, and he's obviously been night fishing, and he's dozing a little bit. A star shoots across the sky, and in the distance there's strange things happening... the sounds of distant wars and different distance historical atomic explosions and stuff. But basically you got a peaceful English scene. And the boy wakes up suddenly aware of this presence. He looks behind him, and there's the Iron Man, standing on the hill. As the boy realizes that something strange is happening, the Iron Man falls back and smashes into a thousand pieces on the beach. A seagull comes and picks up an eye and takes it to a nest. And suddenly you realize that the hand is moving and the legs are moving. And slowly but surely, the Iron Man puts himself back together again and walks back into the sea.

Hogarth is terribly afraid, temporarily, but is reassured by the normality of the English countryside scene. A little later he sees the Iron Man in some fields, eating barb wire, eating tractors, eating machinery. Generally consuming anything that is metal. Hogarth runs away to tell his father, and his father and he pursue the Iron Man in a car. At one point they actually hit it and knock it down. His father mobilizes the farming community and they set about to try and trap the Iron Man. And they dig a pit for it, a trap. But the Iron Man is a bit too clever to fall into the trap. Hogarth manages to attract him one day into the trap by clinking a nail against the edge of his pen knife. And it's the sound of the metal, particularly the stainless steel, which the Iron Man regards as a juicy treat, and he falls into the trap, and they pour earth on top of him. Hogarth feels very sad suddenly. In a way he's attracted to the Iron Man, and now he has betrayed him. As the Iron Man has fallen into the hole, their eyes have met and some kind of contract has gone down there, and he feels very badly about that. A little while later, some picnickers gather, and the Iron Man breaks up through the ground, and is released again. Again, Hogarth comes to the rescue by consoling the Iron Man by leading him to a scrap yard. So then instead of aimlessly running around consuming metal, he actually starts to deal with some of our waste problems.

Time passes in the story, and the star that we see in the beginning starts to get large, and starts to approach the earth. It lands on Australia, practically covering Australia, and it turns out to be this enormous, unbelievably awful dragon, which demands living creatures to eat. And gives an ultimatum that if it doesn’t get an endless supply of living things to eat then it's going to destroy the planet. We unify and solidify and throw our combined military might at this creature with no effect at all. Again Hogarth comes to the rescue when he goes and asks if the Iron Man will help out, and the Iron Man says, yes, I'll be your champion. And the Iron Man challenges the Space Dragon to an ordeal by fire, in which the Iron Man is roasted on a grid, on a funeral pyre, and the Space Dragon has to be tested in a fire of equal size, in proportion to his size in the sun. And the Iron Man wins. The Space Dragon gives up in the story quite easily, and the Iron Man becomes an international hero.  And it turns out the Space Dragon is quite a benign creature really, which has become a bit wayward because of being attracted by the horrible things that have been happening on earth. And whose original job was to create celestial music. So they pack the space dragon back into space to continue with the celestial music, and everybody lives happily ever after.

The variations that I make to the story are that as far as I'm concerned the Iron Man is obviously a father figure, the Space dragon is a mother figure. The Space Dragon isn't just about consuming living things, but also about consuming innocence in a sense, so when the Space Dragon lands, she contains everything that is innocent and beautiful, that she's managed to gather in her travels around the universe. Lots of children, and one very beautiful girl who Hogarth becomes infatuated with, just to give the story some kind of romance.

What actually happens at the beginning is, I try to make the point of what Hogarth is dealing with is adulthood. In the story he's 10 or 11 years old, he's actually contemplating the coming years of becoming a man, of growing up, and he is afraid of the responsibilities that that will bring, but is also afraid of some of the things that he's got to face, and when he first sees the star in the sky, when he first sees the shining light of the Iron Man on top of the hill, the first thing that comes into his mind is that "I can't run from this anymore, I can't run away." The story is about nightmares in a sense, it’s about fear, and what happens in the story is you see how we finally get to grips with encountering that."

-Pete Townshend, Iron Man promo interview, 1989.

Liner notes synopsis and lyrics


The Musical

"I have written a whole musical, with an overture, a recitative and narrative, and maybe another 8 or 10 songs that aren't on this record. I don't think they are the kind of songs that people would miss on an album. They are songs that would only really work on a theatre stage. So I picked the songs which I felt lived best on this record. If you take any of the songs from the original collection and they seem to capture the spirit of the story, cause the spirit of the story is so strong. I would like to see it on Broadway Theatre and West End stage." - Pete Townshend, radio interview, May 1989.

"I started with the idea of writing a theatre musical. I met Ted at Faber and Faber where I was working in the ‘80s and the rights had just reverted. I think he had licensed them to an Australian company to make an animation film, and many of my advisors felt that is what I should produce. But I really wanted to create a theatre production equal to those being mounted by Andrew Llyod Weber, and that had a wider appeal than the usual rock crowd. At Christmas in 1993 I put on a theatrical production at The Young Vic theatre with David Thacker directing. It was a marvellous, small production with a lot of promise and a great cast, but I found the work impossible to advance after such a busy couple of years mounting three different theatrical productions of Tommy, releasing Psychoderelict and touring it. I was shattered." - Pete Townshend interview, October 2005

The Iron Man musical began previews November 18, 1993 at The Young Vic Theatre, and ran from November 27, 1993 to February 12, 1994.


Production Credits

Young Vic Company Production
In association with Iron Man Productions
Based on the story by Ted Hughes
Adapted by Pete Townshend and David Thacker
Music and Lyrics by Pete Townshend
Directed by David Thacker
Designed by Shelagh Keegan
Choreographer Lesley Hutchison
Lighting Designer Alan Burrett



AP News Archive - review Dec. 1993
Los Angeles Times - review Nov. 1993
The Independent - review Nov. 1993


The Iron Giant poster

The Movie

"I went to LA in July 1999 to see the finished Iron Giant. It was beautifully animated with hand-coloured frames - one of the last animation films to be made that way. The film came too late for Ted Hughes himself, but his daughter, to whom the original book was dedicated along with her brother, loved it."
- Pete Townshend, Who I Am autobiography.

The Iron Giant
Based on Ted Hughes The Iron Man book

Release Date August 6, 1999
Distributed by Warner Brothers

Executive Producer Pete Townshend
Producer Des McAnuff
Directed by Brad Bird
Original Music by Michael Kamen
Screenplay by Tim McCanlies
Screen story by Brad Bird

Lifehouse Method

Method launch1The Lifehouse Method was a software system that Pete Townshend launched in 2007, designed to generate unique pieces of music processed from various personal data that a user input into the website interface. The songs generated by the system were considered to be authentic musical “portraits” of the “sitters” who took part in the Method experiment. The concept of the Lifehouse Method grew out of Pete Townshend’s 1971 Lifehouse story, which provided the inspiration and backing tracks to such masterpieces as The Who’s Baba O’Riley, and other classics that were featured on Who's Next. Pete's ultimate vision in the Lifehouse was to bring a large group of people together in a celebration concert to listen to music that was uniquely composed for each individual, with a grande finale that combined all the pieces together. Pete explored this idea further in "The Boy Who Heard Music", an internet novella that was published on his blog in 2005. Soon after, Pete’s vision finally became a reality, and the Lifehouse Method was created by mathematician and composer Lawrence Ball and software engineer Dave Snowdon, who worked closely with Pete throughout the design and development of this unique and groundbreaking musical portraiture system.

The lifehouse-method.com website launched on April 25, 2007, and over a 15 month period generated around 10,500 musical portraits before it was closed in 2008. In 2012, Lawrence Ball released Method Music, an album of elaborated music created for the Lifehouse Method project. The album contains a track called Meher Baba Piece that Pete used as a basis for his song Fragments that was included in The Who’s 2006 Endless Wire album. To date, the Lifehouse Method concert for sitters to gather and celebrate a performance of their portraits has not yet taken place.


The following is the history of the Lifehouse Method and the Method Music album, told primarily in Pete’s own words sourced from various articles, liner notes and transcripts from Method events, followed by exclusive interviews with Lawrence Ball, Dave Snowdon, studio engineer Myles Clarke, and graphic designer Richard Evans.



Pete playing Baba"Baba O'Riley was a number I wrote while I was doing these experiments with tapes on the synthesizer. Among my plans for the concert and film of the concert at the Young Vic was to take a person out of the audience and feed information – height, weight, astrological details, beliefs and behaviour etc – about that person into the synthesizer. The synthesizer would then select notes from the pattern of that person. It would be like translating a person into music. On this particular track I programmed details about the life of Meher Baba and that provides the backing for the number." Pete Townshend - NME - August 21, 1971

"In 1971 I wrote a film script of Lifehouse for Universal Pictures. It was never realised as a film or any kind of theatrical narrative drama until 1999, when it was developed by my company Eel Pie and broadcast as a radio play by the BBC. Many of the songs intended for the Lifehouse project as originally configured are of course familiar to listeners as staples of rock radio, television, and more: Baba O’Riley, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Behind Blue Eyes, The Song Is Over, and many more were all part of what was to be Lifehouse.

"The idea of Lifehouse originally centred on an idea about a self-sufficient drop-out family group farming in a remote part of Scotland who decide to return South to investigate rumours of a subversive concert event that promises to shake and wake up an apathetic fearful British society. Integrated into society is a Virtual Internet Grid through which users are delivered, via government-mandated ‘experience suites,’ everything they need: safety, energy, nourishment, and lavish entertainment programming so highly compressed that the subject can ‘live out’ thousands of virtual lifetimes in a short space of time.

"A young composer called Bobby intends to hack into the Grid and offers a festival-like music concert – the Lifehouse – which he hopes will impel the audience to throw off their suits (which are in fact not necessary for physical survival) and attend in person. The family arrives at the concert venue early and takes part in an experiment (represented in what I would come to call the Lifehouse Method) that Bobby conducts in which each participant is both blueprint and inspiration for a unique piece of tailor made music based upon his or her own specific personal data. Bobby hacks into the Grid and plays the music of all the participants of the concert, sharing them and their music with the world, and calling each other together to celebrate." Pete Townshend - adapted in part from the liner notes to Lifehouse Chronicles with additional material written in 2010 for the Method Music liner notes.


Lifehouse Chronicles

Lifehouse-ChroniclesIn 1999, Pete Townshend released the Lifehouse Chronicles box set. In the following excerpts taken from the liner notes, Pete describes his vision of the Lifehouse Method, including a brief that he created for software designers to build a system similar to the one that he envisioned in 1971.

"I have always hoped that the Lifehouse concert referred to in this play can happen in reality. I imagine a celebratory gathering at which a large number of individuals hear modest compositions or songs created specifically for them. In a finale, all those pieces could be combined, perhaps with creative and engaging images of each subject. I believe the result would have enormous impact and significance. I recently wrote a proposal to a friend of mine who owns a computer company that might have agreed to sponsor some events of this kind. For my purposes here, I shall call the company ‘Threshold’.


From vision to reality

In 1971, as the follow-up to his hugely successful rock-opera Tommy, Pete Townshend wrote The Life House for The Who. The Life House was first drafted by Pete Townshend as a film script. The film project stalled, but the legendary rock album Who’s Next was acclaimed by many as The Who’s finest. Songs like Won’t Get Fooled Again, Behind Blue Eye and Baba O’Riley have become part of the vertebrae of rock radio. A subsequent re-write brought forth Who Are You and Join Together. This year, 5 December 1999, the definitive story behind the famous songs will finally be told when the BBC broadcast in the United Kingdom a radio play produced by Pete as part of their Millennium Drama series.

In the first draft of the play was a fictional scene that, at the time, seemed almost inconceivable in reality. In the finale of the film members of the audience attending a concert provided personal data to composers working with powerful computers, and heard the results. Every single piece of music was then combined, and a mathematical – yet wonderfully creative – metaphor for the universality of the human spirit was demonstrated.

Thirty years on, as the Millennium dawns, Threshold Computers, in association with Pete Townshend, are going to make this fictional scene happen. Threshold to The Life House will give everyone a chance to hear a piece of music specifically composed for them by Pete and his team. Indeed, their piece of music will be unique and special, produced using special computer programmes, based on data produced from a questionnaire accessed on the web, and perhaps even from DNA extracted from a hair of each participant. Pete will, in some cases, involve himself more deeply with participants, and develop lyrics or poetry to complement certain pieces of music.

On a date (yet to be set) in the future, an event will be held at which many of the pieces of music will be heard in public for the first time. Impudently, there will also be an attempt to realize Pete’s 1971 vision for The Who’s ‘lost’ movie project, and every single piece produced in the exercise will be combined and broadcast world-wide. We could hear the Music of the Spheres, or a busy night on Broadway. Pete believes we will hear the ocean.

Threshold Computers make buying and working with computers easier for people. Now they are making it easier to step into their own creative reflection.

Threshold to The Life House


"But this is perhaps just my composer’s megalomaniacal dream. Such visions must be realised rather than described. That much I have learned on my Lifehouse journey which pauses here. Thus I move quickly onto the reality. You are holding a CD package containing all the music inspired by the Lifehouse story over the last twenty nine years. A limited edition of 2001 (called The Lifehouse Method) will contain a unique code and a free ticket to the as yet unscheduled Lifehouse Concert. This is an excerpt from the brief I am giving to my software designers.



  • The ‘Method’ package will offer access to music generation software.
  • Each ‘Method’ package will contain a signed certificate from me with a unique code.
  • This code will unlock a deeper area of software.
  • The software should be available in all computer formats and can be distributed and ‘shared’, used without the code.
  • The code, when entered, will bring up a special data-entry page which will lead the user through a process that produces a one-off, unique piece of music, that contains a unique lyric generated by lyric motifs written by me.
  • Users of the ‘Method’ can take their completed unique composition to the PT web-site, and expect to have their music developed further as the software is deepened. This process might unfold over a period of months or years.
  • The end-aim is that many buyers of the ‘Method’ will attend a concert in the future at which their piece of music is ‘premiered’ and contrapuntally or fractally combined with other pieces.
  • Attendance at this concert is guaranteed and free to every purchaser of the ‘Method’ package whether they take part in the experiment or not.


The Boy Who Heard Music

In 2005, Pete Townshend serialized his story "The Boy Who Heard Music", an internet novella that he released on his blog. Bloggers who participated in commenting on Pete's blog were invited to be a part of the first group of sitters in the Lifehouse Method experiment. In the following excerpts taken from the chapters entitled "The Glass Household" and "The Method", Pete portrays the characters discussing and participating in the Method.


‘I believe we will all be connected by a global grid of computers,’ I had been the speaker, a man of about twenty-five; scruffy, long black hair and beard in the gentle hippy style of the seventies’ musician or art-teacher. ‘I believe entertainment on this grid will be just like life. I believe that on this grid we will experience more lives than one in this lifetime. I believe this could be a fucking nightmare.’ The trio laughed at the man on their video screen. ‘Like when your satellite dish gets blown down?’ Gabriel was silenced by Leila. ‘Shush! There’s more.’ ‘I believe music is our only hope. I believe music can reflect who we really are – like a mirror. I believe that each of us has our own unique music.’ As I paced the dais at whatever art-college it was I lectured, an eccentric young man, Gabriel began to stare intensely at the screen. I continued. ‘I believe that that music can help us open a door in the mirror. I believe we will all eventually pass through this door. I believe that on the other side all our music will make a perfect symphony. I believe that that perfect music, that Perfect Music, will reflect God.’ The videotape sputtered. Leila turned to Gabriel and Josh. ‘He got the first bit right, didn’t he?’ she said. ‘I’ve been thinking. What if the entire global network of art, entertainment, philosophical thought and spiritual renewal – what he calls ‘The Grid’ – what if it all stopped expanding and began to compress? What if everyone on the Grid began to move in towards each other?’ ‘How could they do that?’ Gabriel felt Leila was now hijacking an idea of Josh’s that she had once ridiculed. ‘The Grid is merely a medium. It doesn’t exist, except as a means of connecting people, and feeding them.’ ‘They would literally start to travel towards each other.’ ‘What, physically you mean? Get on bikes?’ ‘We know where they went wrong. We know that some of the things they wanted to do then they couldn’t do – because there was no Grid. There were no domestic computers. People weren’t linked the way they are today. We are capable today of making a reality of what once seemed like a metaphysical brainstorm.’ ‘His critics called it a brain-fart,’ said Josh. ‘It was a premature vision. We can complete this work. But we need a method. A method with a capital ‘M’. We need a Method.’

In a modern, neat suburban white bedroom, a pretty young girl sat in her clean white night-dress and contemplated her computer screen. She typed her name. ‘Hello Victoria,’ said her computer in a kindly, quite youthful voice. ‘Please say something.’ Victoria looked around her. Her head was obviously empty; she had not expected an inquisition. ‘Sing something,’ offered the computer, helpfully. The girl cleared her throat as if to sing, but she stopped before she began. ‘Would you like something to read aloud?’ The computer offered a ‘Yes/No’ option. She gratefully hit ‘Y’ on her keyboard. ‘Good,’ said the computer. ‘My name is Victoria,’ the girl’s voice was even and theatrical. ‘I am taking part in the Method. I am providing material that will be processed and used to establish an accurate impression of me. That impression will be transformed into my own unique music. The music will belong in three equal shares to me, to Glass Household, and divided among the various agencies that provide the Grid. I am one of a number of participants in this process. In the future I will hear my music combined with the music of all the other participants. I do not know what to expect.’ Victoria sat back, pleased with herself. … ‘I need a rhythm for you,’ the computer program continued to run. ‘A beat. Please bang your table or something to hand any number of times.’ Victoria banged the computer desk about twenty times, slowly at first, then faster, ending in a furious but ragged drum roll. She burst into laughter. It was fun. ‘Good,’ said the computer. ‘Very good.’… Victoria’s bleached-modern bedroom was filled with sound, generated by her interaction with the BBZee computer that Leila with Damoo’s help had programmed to allow Method subscribers to jack into the Grid.


In the Attic

Pete chatted with Rachel Fuller and Mikey Cuthbert about his plans for the Lifehouse Method system and his work with Lawrence Ball and Dave Snowdon on the live webcast of 'In The Attic' that was streamed from Oceanic Studios on May 17, 2006.


SXSW keynote speech

SXSW   Photo: John Davisson

Pete announced his plans for the Lifehouse Method at his keynote speech at SXSW in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2007. Here are excerpts from his discussion.

"I hadn't read this book, but apparently Arthur C. Clark describes something like I describe, which is a grid where everybody gathers for survival in order to communicate and live through entertainment experiences. That was what the Lifehouse was about. So it wasn't quite like the internet, it was a bit like real reality TV. It was a bit like living your life through the lives of others. Vicarious living. Living as a ballet dancer without having to learn ballet. A bit like a kids video game, more like that. But the other side of it was the idea that if everyone was connected, what would they share? What would they share musically, and how would they produce the music that they shared?

"I came up with this idea called the Lifehouse Method, which is a system where you go to a computer, you enter data about yourself, you share some stuff about how you feel, you put a picture up, a photo, and you get back a piece of music. A bit like when a painter paints a portrait, you are the sitter. You just have to sit and keep still. And he paints, or she paints, and you sit. So, the artist is king. Nonetheless, the portrait that is produced is very authentic, because it has been channeled through a great portrait painter. So I thought, this software could be very fabulous, we could do this! In reality, this was 1971. So I got together with Roger Powell, who played with Todd Rundgren, a guy called Tim Souster, who became the composer in residence at Cambridge University, who introduced me to Stockhausen and a few other high brows in modern music, and people from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And I realized of course that there was no computer in 1971 big enough or powerful enough to do what I wanted to do. And there was no internet. So of course, everybody that I talked to about this kind of looked at me and went, 'nice idea but I think you are nuts, you should go and get treatment.' That came later [laughs], but it was a huge crash for me.

"I came up with this idea, I thought it would be wonderful, and I had to wait 30 years, for you guys to have computers that are powerful enough to just log onto the internet, and I give you, from April 25 we are launching it in London, a website, and I'm just calling it the Method. I dropped the Lifehouse bit. You come to the website and we give you a piece of music which is yours. Completely unique. In fact, we allow you to own a third of the copyright. So, if Coca Cola decide to use it for their next commercial, you might get rich! The idea is this music is elaborated, and that we take all of this music and bring it together, and play it in a big celebration. Not exactly a festival, but a big event. We gather, we share our music with each other, actually in the flesh, and we see what it sounds like. My idea is that it probably will sound terrible [laughs]. It might sound like the sea, it might sound like a plane going by, it might sound like the gentle undulations of the ocean. It might sound terrible, it might sound beautiful. I don't know."


The Lifehouse Method launch

Pete Townshend held a press conference at Oceanic Studios on April 25, 2007 to announce the launch of the Lifehouse Method system and website. Pete discussed the history of Lifehouse and the details of the Lifehouse Method project. Lawrence Ball presented his portraiture system to the press, and gave a demonstration using John Pidgeon as the test sitter. The visual presentation was run by Rob Lee, and the sophisticated audio system was run by Myles Clarke. Elaborated pieces, including Fragments from The Who’s Endless Wire album, were played back though a myriad speaker system that was set up in the studio. A Q&A session with Pete, Lawrence and John was held at the end.

The following are excerpts from Pete's lecture at the Lifehouse Method launch.

"I'm introducing today something called The Method, which is software, produced by Lawrence Ball, composer, and Dave Snowden, who is a software engineer. It's a website called the Lifehouse Method, which you can go to, to engage, put data in, and get a piece of music out. It's as simple as that.

Pete Method launch   Photo: Ghene Snowdon

"This is something that I've been dreaming about for a long time. I came up with the idea back in the 70's. I was working on a thing for The Who called Lifehouse, which produced a famous album for The Who called Who's Next. But the idea probably germinated many, many years before. I was at art college in the 60's, taught by a bunch of sharp, forward thinking guys, one in particular called Harold Cohen, who just by chance went on to develop the first robot that paints pictures subjectively. But the course leader was a guy called Roy Ascott, and he described the way that computers of the future would change the way the artist, and I was at art school remember, the artist interfaced and reacted with his or her audience. I think I was one of the students that understood what he was talking about. I don't quite know why, but I suddenly had this vision of the future of computers. It hasn't worked out quite as I imagined of course, but I had a vision. I'm talking about 1961. Computers, there were 3 in the world I think at the time, and one of them was as big as a planet practically. They were huge, and they were cumbersome, and in 1962 I think, the boss of IBM said ‘we think that probably 7 or 8 or a dozen computers will be enough to run the world.’ So the microcomputer we know today wasn’t in the picture, but I had a sense that it would be. I don't quite know why. And then I also had a sense later in the 70's that if you linked computers up it might be useful.

"Now the reason I did this simply was because I am a musician. I understand human interfacing; I understand that when you write a song, people respond to it in their own way. They come from their own place, they make their own decisions, they make their own conclusions. But you as an artist very much respond to the way that they respond to you. Roy Ascott called this ‘feedback’. An early Who trigger word was the word ‘feedback’. In those days it meant the noise that your guitar made when it fed back into the great big Marshall stack behind you. So, a lot of the arty farty ideas that I had at art school started to come into my thesis as a composer, and I was accused very, very often in the world of rock and roll of being pretentious. Who gives a fuck. That's what I am and that's what I do. I was trained at art school, and came from a musical family. But it wasn't so much a pretentiousness, but a hope in a sense that one day we would get to this place. Which is simply that, we've all got computers at home, we've all got a line, I hope, that you can plug your computer into, and you can all speak to one another. You can all share ideas, you can share data.

"The Lifehouse Method, as it is now launched today, is something that allows you to log on, put some data in and get some music out. This isn't a service. It's not like saying to someone, ‘I've got this beautiful golden retriever, and I want a picture of my dog to put on the wall’. And the painter does a picture of the dog and you say you are very happy. This is rather more like saying, ‘I've got this beautiful golden retriever, tell me the truth.’ How would you divine that? You might go deeply inside it, you might take a blood sample, you might do all kinds of things. Different people would do different things. I, as a composer, would try to get something out of this dog that would give me a chance to turn the dog into music. I might listen to the way it breathes, I might touch it and see how it feels, I might listen to its bark, I might look at the rhythm of its running, and so on. So I would gather data about the dog and turn it into [musical] data. This is a portrait. If you go onto the website, you become a sitter. You're in a sense inert. Your role is a part of an artistic process. You become part of a composing machine in which neither me, nor Lawrence, nor Dave, nor you as a sitter are any more important or less important than anyone else. We are all equal, and what comes out at the end is hopefully an authentic reflection or portrait of the data that you put in. So, I like to think of it as musical DNA. The music that comes out of the software, the software has been generated from a musical process which Lawrence Ball created.

Pete Lawrence"I first met Lawrence when we were engaged together in a music festival that he does every year called Planet Tree, which is happening here at the moment, or has been for the last few days. It's a new music festival, and Lawrence invited the American composer Terry Riley. I was a big fan of Terry Riley, and in the 70's used Terry Riley and the Indian teacher Meher Baba for one of my first experiments in this particular process. The music that came out of that was called Baba O'Riley, Baba for the Indian teacher and Riley for Terry Riley. Put the two things together and produced a song now which to this day is the one that for some reason, particularly American audiences, go crazy about. I don't know if it's the music or the lyrics, the refrain ‘it's only teenage wasteland’ is the one they love the best. But the ripply sound in the background is the characteristic sound that was produced when I started to program and work as a serious electronic music composer. Lawrence invited Terry over, he did a concert, we met, and then I listened to Lawrence's work and I loved it, I just loved it. So, what is produced by the program is music that is generally music that Lawrence and I tend to like. Whether you like it is absolutely immaterial to us! [laughs] The composer is king in this respect. But what we are trying to do is we are trying to approach the truth from the data we get. And we are trying to produce something that is an authentic compositional reflection of the data that we get put in.

"So simply, you go to a website, you put in some data, you get some music out. And that's it, and all about it. It works, it's simple, and 30 years ago I had this idea that it might be possible, and today I'm delighted to say that from now on, you guys at least if you are here, I think you get a password and username, and you can go give it a try. I would say that when you do try it, try it with an open mind and an open heart because Lawrence is convinced that there is a sense, very much a metaphysical thing that takes place here. I suppose it must be because this ultimately is art. We are talking about reflection, and although data is data is data, you know, paint on a paintbrush is data. If you do it in good heart you tend to get a different kind of result than if you do it kinda ‘go on, prove it to me that this is going to be good’ and you may not like what comes out. So give it a few tries and see how you get along.




"I've worked on a few elaborations. We can elaborate the information that is produced in the first pass on the computer. And the way that we do this is presentationally, we improve the sounds, we improve the arrangement to some extent, we can thin out the boring bits and just keep in the good bits. In a way, you'll all be familiar with this as journalists, this is the editorial process. Subsequently we can go even further, which is we can elaborate pieces of music by varying them, by adding lyrics, by reengaging with the sitter. In other words, giving certain sitters a chance to come back and have another go. This is the future.

Pete speakers"What [Lawrence] has done is divided the parts up so that we are using an electronic music multi speaker system as well. I call this a myriad speaker system. When I first worked on the Lifehouse story, Tim Souster, who was then an electronic musician, he went on to be the composer in residence at Cambridge so he got quite posh, but he introduced me to Stockhausen when he was doing a BBC performance. I remember asking him about when he did his compositions why he used loads of different speakers, and he said it was to create what you get with an orchestra, which is for example if you all began to sing, you actually have a space which is not just stereo, it's a field of sound. So in a sense it's to try and create a field of sound from instruments and sounds that are essentially electronic to make it sound more like an orchestra. It's a bit of a cheat. We have talked about how delightful it would be, how extraordinary it would be, and again it’s something modern computers allow us to do, which is to take this data that we have - remember data is musical data - we can print sheet music really quite easily, and immediately put that sheet music in front of skilled musicians, and they can play it. All that's happening here is this data is being played by electronic instruments. We could hire an orchestra and churn this music out, and instead of hearing it played by synthesizers, you could hear it played by musicians. How great that would be. That's something we may do further down the line. We'll give it a try.

Photo: Ghene Snowdon

"In your press pack you will have a copy of and you can listen to the Meher Baba piece. If you listen to that, you will hear the raw material that I worked with to produce [Fragments], and I did a lot of things that are very obvious. I listened to the whole thing, which is a 5 minute piece, and I picked pieces, chunks of it. Firstly I discovered that the cycle was not an 8 bar, or a 4 bar, or a 16 bar cycle, it was 15 bars. So, every now and then you hear a little drum flange, which kind of adds the bar on what became a 12 bar cycle.  I would take chunks that I liked the sound of, that felt to me fairly  simple, but also to create the conventional ‘introduction - verse - chorus - verse - chorus - middle bit - verse - chorus – end’ that we are so used to in the current tradition of pop writing, at least conventional pop writing, the kind that I grew up with, and create a frame for it and then elaborate it. And you can hear to some extent that some of the lyrics are inspired directly by the sounds. For example, when I talk about snowflakes falling, the sounds felt to me like snowflakes falling, so I simply came up with that idea. The idea that we are fragments, we are pieces, we are coming together, this was a notion that came out of listening to many, many hours of Method music and thinking, ‘what does this feel like?’

"Lawrence mentioned that you can take two pieces and put them together. I would like to go further and to try something of a much higher order of celebration, where we all gather and everybody in a years time or two years time, when we've had enough input here, to all gather, to share what we have done together, and to just celebrate in the flesh and see how it all feels. And hear a piece of music, and up comes your picture, and you go, ‘Oh my god that's me!’"


The Method portrait and elaboration

Pete Townshend was officially the first sitter to test out the Lifehouse Method system, after Lawrence Ball and Dave Snowdon completed their implementation and testing. The following tracks are Pete’s first original portrait taken in August 2006, and the version that Lawrence Ball elaborated using Reason - an integrated sequencer/synthesizer - in November 2006.


Method Music

Lawrence Ball released Method Music in 2012, a 2-CD set of music that was originally generated as sample pieces designed to demonstrate to Pete how the sitter portraits output by the Lifehouse Method portraiture system could sound. These Imaginary Sitter pieces were elaborated with the help of Pete Townshend’s studio engineer, Myles Clarke, who created high quality instrumentation for the midi patterns, which were played back and recorded through a “myriad sound system” designed to separate each instrument out through individual speakers in order to give each voice a distinct and individual character. The results are astounding, and the music featured on Method Music is rich and stunningly beautiful.

"Method Music evolved from Pete Townshend’s question to me about generating unique pieces of music from the input of personal characteristics as data, a question related closely to his ongoing project Lifehouse. I wanted to see what the music could sound like prior to designing the proposed system of portraiture, and I created the tracks on Disc One, Imaginary Sitters, as a touchstone towards designing the software which would eventually execute the task itself. I generated and then selected melodic streams, which were then woven together on computer with a sequencer. This is a part-programming and part-editing job, but it begins with imagining and developing patterns of notes, often cascading canons with intricate phase changes.

"Disc Two, Imaginary Galaxies, is meditative and mostly orchestral music, evolved from Imaginary Sitters and also from earlier pieces of mine such as ‘Crystal Mists In Silver Air’ (1994) and ‘Silver Stream’ (1985). These pieces use very slow tempi, and the unusual combination of slow, steady development and structure with floating sounds; the Galaxies have the same 10 segment structure as the Sitters, but are much slower.

"Work on Method Music was done primarily at Pete Townshend’s Oceanic Studios in Twickenham using a sophisticated array of samples and speakers (36 speakers, to be exact)." Lawrence Ball -  Method Music liner notes

For more information, please visit the Method Music website.



Track list

01 Imaginary Sitters: Meher Baba Piece
02 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 9
03 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 10
04 Imaginary Sitters: Victoria
05 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 11
06 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 12
07 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 13
08 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 14
09 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 15
10 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 17
11 Imaginary Sitters: Sitter No. 16

01 Imaginary Galaxies: Galaxy No. 1 (for the late Syd Barrett)
02 Imaginary Galaxies: Galaxy No. 2 (for tha late Hugh Hopper)
03 Imaginary Galaxies: Galaxy No. 3 (for the late Gyorgy Ligeti)


MethodMusic itunes


Lawrence Ball: Composer, Programmer, and Discoverer of Harmonic Mathematics (1983)

Pete Townshend: Conceiver (1971) and Producer of Method Music

Bob Lord: Producer
Myles Clarke: Co-Producer and Engineer
Dave Snowdon: Developer of Harmonic Mathematics (1993), Designer and Engineer of the Method web system (2004)

Richard Evans: Original Design and Art Direction (iTunes release)
Leeann Leftwich Zajas: Art Director / Product Designer (CD release)

Label: Navona Records
Release Date: January 31, 2012

Recorded at: Oceanic Studios, Twickenham, London


Interview with Lawrence Ball - January 2014

Pete Lawrence BallLawrence Ball is an innovative composer, a musician-philosopher who pushes the boundaries of what music can do or be. He has composed for orchestra, dance, film and choir. He has created a new medium Speak-Sing-Play where poetry is heard spoken, sung, and accompanied simultaneously. Since 2001 Lawrence has worked with sarod player Lisa Sangita Moskow and vocalist Manickam Yogeswaran on improvised music based on North and South Indian raga scales. He has created 6 multi-media audio-visual installations with the artist Genie Poretsky-Lee, including Anonymous Words (2007) and Image Of Sound (2008). In 1996 he founded Planet Tree Music Festival which he also directs. Ball is a pioneer in music, having addressed meditative and healing presence and state-of-mind, primarily, for over 35 years.

For more information about Lawrence and the work he did on the Method project, please visit his blog at meditationalmusic.net/blog/category/methodmusic/

When did you first become acquainted with Pete Townshend, and how did you become involved with the Lifehouse Method project?

I approached him about funding Planet Tree Music Festival in 1998, when I featured a Terry Riley solo concert, which he did do. Then we emailed back and forth about the relation between music, computers and consciousness. In 2003, he called me and asked if I could generate music from people's data. I said yes immediately. It took the portraiture project a while to warm up, and there were 3 strands to the work.

  1. The portraiture system
  2. My album which grew out of sketches for the Sitters' music
  3. Fragments, which Pete built out of "Meher Baba Piece" on Method Music album, which itself is on the Who's album "Endless Wire"

What was it like to work with Pete on something as technically and creatively innovative as this project? Can you describe his involvement, and how you were able to collaborate on ideas?
We had periodic long meetings, sometimes gloriously off topic, which were very enjoyable. I had my friend and collaborator Dave Snowdon involved although he took time to settle his role in, and approach to, the project. Pete is a seasoned high energy artist, I found him kind and very enthusiastic, but occasionally I got rather singed energy wise. Which was OK. He applied comparable levels of sound quality to my album to those he is used to, which stretched my impatience to complete the work. In retrospect I'm very glad he did. The scope of the project was somewhat daunting, the programme needed to be able to produce millions of distinct pieces, which I managed, although so far only 10,500 have been created.
How was Pete’s original vision of “The Method” first described to you?  What was your approach to making his dream a reality?

In a phone call in Nov 2003, Pete described to me the idea to generate "music from a person's data", in a simple, entertaining, possibly fractal, without a huge team of programmers, way. Baba O'Riley was cited (it was Terry Riley and our in common love of his music, especially "A Rainbow In Curved Air" (Pete had bought 30 copies) that brought Pete and I together for the 1998 festival appearance by Terry), and it was a landmark call.
Can you describe the difference between the synthesizer systems used by Pete Townshend and Terry Riley to create early cyclical electronic music, and the computer generated Lifehouse Method system that you helped to create? Were you able to incorporate any of the concepts of the original system into your new one in order to recreate a similar soundscape?

Baba O'Riley's paradiddle was made with a Lowrie organ, and the final loop taken from a longer "generation session" of sounds. Terry's bubbling firmament of sound on "A Rainbow In Curved Air" was created on one of the first studio multi-track reel-to-reel tape recorders, using tape speeds and echo to make rapid fluctuating figures with many different electronic keyboards. This was done manually, despite the speed change trickery. I of course, in 2003-2007, used MIDI. I wrote software that Dave replicated for the Lifehouse-Method portraiture that could generate related patterns with a wide variety of speeds and shapes, using my harmonic maths, developed mostly in the 1980s, that could generate melodic vortices changing gradually in fascinating ways. Similar target, but more contemporary means.
What did Pete believe the nature of a musical portrait should be, and what did he think an authentic portrait should sound like?

This was left to me largely, but Pete emphasised that artists often remove much imagery over and over before settling for the result they want.
What are Harmonic Mathematics, and how were you able to use them for this project?

I developed, out of the base of computer filmmaker John Whitney's "Differential Dynamics", and with the help of friends and students, a new kind of mathematics that generates beautiful patterns that dissolve and recrystallise continually. See my youtube video helix for a good visual representation of HM. From the experience of creating the "Number Rays" series of pieces in the 80s, I was able to create midi HM generation for the album, and realise the music with different HM melody streams through different instruments on synthesizer. Inspired by John Whitney's pre-computer and computer films, Michael Tusch and myself developed harmonic mathematics on the shoulders of his concept "differential dynamics" - and this was applied to graphic visuals, sound timbres and melodic loops that evolved, in the 80s. Dave Snowdon, with this input, developed a programme in 1995 called Visual Harmony, which embodies and further extends this work in the graphics area. This has and is being used as a live performance tool at musical events.  Dave Snowdon has a website about this at visualharmony.org.

See also http://meditationalmusic.net/blog/the-relationship-of-the-album-method-music-and-the-lifehouse-method-portraiture-to-my-1984-series-of-composition-called-number-rays.

How were you able to create the Imaginary Sitters, such as the Meher Baba Piece that was eventually used in the song Fragments on The Who’s album Endless Wire?
By loading DNA like strands of HM melody, and cascading canons of melody, into a sequencer, and manually shaping large orchestrations of them to taste.  See product notes section at navonarecords.com/methodmusic, where the album creation process is laid out.
How close did the system that Dave Snowdon programmed resemble your initial design? Did you have to make any major modifications to your plans in order to enable it to work in the real world?

There were many enhancements I had in the pipeline, some of which I used on the album, such as harmonic mathematical cascading canons, and some percussion part improvements, that never managed to get implemented by Dave, largely due to the pressure he worked under to get the more internet end of the programme working in a way to service the request traffic, and traffic quantity, for portraits that were considered likely. To his credit, the system never crashed, even when under heavy usage. So exact, but sadly not as complete as I'd hoped.

How were you able to elaborate the computer generated portraits to get such a rich and high quality sound for the Method Music album?

The album was not from portraits, these were sitters in the imagination, a touchstone set so that Pete and I could get a feel for what the portraits OUGHT to sound like. The Meher Baba piece however on my album was elaborated by Pete as "Fragments" on the Who's album Endless Wire.

How involved was Pete in the production of the Method Music album?

He listened to everything, and enthused greatly, clearly loved what I was doing. Then when I had completed an album's worth of material, he suggested we set about really shining up the sound big time. He made many suggestions, resulting in my re-recording the album the equivalent of three times: first to get better samples and sound, then to use a midi-controlled pianola in his home studio for all the piano parts, then to rerecord all the drum parts with partially pitched tones to add a melodic flavour to all the drumkit sounds, then to putting each instrument through a separate high quality monitor speaker to help the sounds really speak distinctly in the studio space, then he removed the stage at Oceanic as it sounded too boxy, and then Myles and I swung some of the monitors as pendulums to give a great phasing effect. A very ambitious recording.


Interview with Dave Snowdon - January 2014

Dave Snowdon was formerly a research scientist at Xerox Research Centre Europe in Grenoble, France where he created innovative systems for information sharing and worked with peer to peer and context-driven mobile systems. After Xerox, he co-founded Snowtiger Design, a small web/software consultancy, where he put a decade worth of personal experience in professional software development to work for his clients. While at Snowtiger he wrote the software and web user interface for Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse Method - a system to generate unique pieces of music for each individual user. Dave is currently a staff engineer at VMware, based in London.

Please visit Dave's website at davesnowdon.com/project/lifehousemethod to view details of the Lifehouse Method system and screen shots of the website.

How did you become involved in the Lifehouse Method project?

It was thanks to Lawrence that I got involved in the project. Lawrence and I had collaborated for many years to produce software to generate dynamic graphics based on Lawrence's system of harmonic maths. When Pete asked Lawrence if he knew anyone who could write the software to implement Pete's vision for The Method Lawrence recommended me.

How involved was Pete Townshend in the software development of the Lifehouse Method site? Did he work with you on the various stages of production and make any suggestions along the way?

Lawrence and I would send Pete examples as the project progressed and get his feedback. Pete also gave feedback on the design of the web interface, choice of instruments, sounds that users could select etc. Generally, Pete gave feedback when it would be helpful but did not try to micro-manage what Lawrence and I were doing.

Did you receive any particular brief from Pete or Lawrence that created a challenge for you to technically implement in the program?

There were several aspects that were challenging:

  • Working out how to generate pleasing music from the inputs provided by the "sitters" (as Pete called people using the software). We had to accept a voice sample, a sound, an image and a rhythm and turn this into music even if the sitters were not themselves musically gifted. This meant that we could not directly use the sounds and rhythms that people submitted and instead had to process the files and extract information about the sort of sound, rhythm and image a person had submitted. We then used an expert system to convert the thousands of numeric values to a set of parameters used to drive a composition engine that I wrote based on Lawrence's principles of harmonic maths.
  • Generating good quality audio - this meant that we could not rely on the sound cards in people's computers and had to generate MP3 audio  files on the server. This was actually the most computationally intensive part of the software.
  • We needed to give "sitters"  the ability to record a sound and send it to a server using only software on the web. This was before the days of HTML5 and we couldn't use Flash since the Adobe server software required was expensive and not a good fit with the rest of the system. In the end we wrote a java applet to record the audio and send it to the server.

How close did you come to recreating Pete’s 1970’s vision of Lifehouse? Was there anything that he dreamt of doing back then that was still not possible to implement today?

I think we came pretty close to recreating the vision. To my knowledge there wasn't anything significant that Pete felt we were missing.
How did you go about analyzing the data that was input by the sitter? Can you briefly explain the process that you used to convert the images and sounds into method music?
There were several stages in processing the data. As I mentioned above we first needed to do various types of signal processing to extract information about the inputs (for example the frequencies in the sounds, the variations in colours used in the image, the complexity of the image, the regularity of the rhythm provided and so on). This generated several thousand unique values. This data was then fed into an expert system that decided on the hundreds of music parameters used to compose the music. These parameters were fed to a custom written composition engine which generated MIDI data. The MIDI data was then processed by a software synthesizer to generate an audio file which was then converted to an MP3 file which was stored on the web site and made available to the sitter to play or download.
Did you place any emphasis on any particular input? For example, did the rhythm input have a heavier weight than the photo, or did all the inputs have equal weight?

As I recall they were all equally weighted.
How did you go about linking the song segments together? Was there a random factor as to which order these segments were placed, or was it specific based on the input?
We didn't make use of random values, as I recall everything was decided based on the data generated from the inputs provided by the sitter.

Was there anything more that you planned to implement, such as visual output, that you were unable to do? If given the opportunity, would you like to expand on the features some day?

As mentioned on davesnowdon.com/project/lifehousemethod there were several things I would have liked to have done.

  1. The ability for people to allow others to listen to their music
  2. A flickr-like way for people to comment on music
  3. A way to see & hear the inputs used to create a piece of music and to see a representation of how lifehouse-method.com saw those same inputs (ie. a visualisation of the data extracted from them).

Now with cloud computing it would be practical to dynamically adapt the number of servers used to run the site according to how busy the site was  - this would make it far more cost effective to run the Lifehouse Method software today than it was back in 2007.


Interview with Myles Clarke - February 2014

Myles ClarkeAfter years of teenage bedroom music programming, playing in bands, a series of educational courses including a Sound Technology degree from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Myles Clarke properly started his studio career in London. His first sessions were at September Sound, when that closed he moved on to Metropolis Studios for a while, and then onto complete the bulk of his training at Strongroom Studios. After years of assisting on sessions for many major artists, exhaustion prompted a move to freelance engineering in 2002 and allowed Myles time to compose music for various TV channels and work with more unusual projects, while still taking opportunities to work on traditional sessions in various studios. After a couple of freelance sessions on Rachel Fuller’s album ‘Cigarettes and Housework’ at Pete Townshend’s Oceanic Studios, Myles was offered a position as house engineer. Between 2003 and 2007 Myles worked on most of the projects that went through Oceanic, including studio work with Eelpie associated artists such as Rachel Fuller, Mikey Cuthbert, Echo Strings, Casbah Club and Billy Nichols. Myles worked as engineer on The Who tracks ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ and ‘Old Red Wine’ in 2004, and on the mini-opera ‘Wire and Glass’ and album ‘Endless Wire’ in 2006. He was also heavily involved in the studio’s more unusual and groundbreaking projects; the webcast show ‘In The Attic’, The Who’s Encore Series (fast turnaround DVD Stereo/5.1 official Bootlegs), and The Method project. When Oceanic closed its doors in 2007, Myles set up his own small studio in East London. He also continued to work on various Eelpie projects during this time, processing Who tracks for use in the RockBand computer game. In 2011, he worked as quality control (an extra pair of ears) on Pete Townshend’s demos of Quadrophenia. An opportunity to realign with Eelpie came about, and Myles currently runs the barge studio in London for Eelpie and continues to work on various projects as they come up, including the demo and live bootleg work on the 2013 Tommy deluxe box-set.

Tell me about your involvement in working on the Lifehouse Method project. How was it collaborating with Pete and Lawrence on this?

Initially my role was to help create a sound-palette that would work with the Lifehouse-Method website that Lawrence and Dave Snowdon were working on. In 2005 there were a reasonable amount of ‘General Midi’ standard software sound modules that could have been used, but I think the general consensus was that they sounded a bit ‘too’ standardised. We also felt that the note data generated by the Method software, often very pacey and dense, sometimes sounded a bit cloudy or mushy. The aim was to create a more bespoke collection of instruments that would act more effectively together, whatever the Method software threw at it. We collected and tweaked sounds from a wide selection of existing sound modules, sample libraries, synthesisers and also sampled our own. We then organised them down into a fairly unusual online playback file format, which could be used within the online program. I found the collaboration of ideas, computer programming, mathematics and audio technology satisfyingly nerdy, interesting and enjoyable.

How did you go about producing the Method album?  What was your process for adding such high quality instrumentation to the Portraits?

As I said, I was initially tasked with creating a collection of sounds that would work across the massive variation created by the Method within the online experience. When it came to producing the album we had the opportunity to tweak, improve, or even completely change the sounds to suit the individual Musical Portrait. We’d begin by listening carefully to the online generated output, we’d then listen to the same note data being sent through other sources in the studio. As we worked through each piece, we began to build a sort of ‘Mark2’ sound palette that was more editable, depending on the feel and density of music generated. For example, we were able to change the way a sound reacted to MIDI parameters such as Velocity (the ‘force’ of the note), or were able to control the attack and release times of the sounds (particularly useful with String and Brass sounds).

I remember we spent quite a lot of time with the Drums. The Method rarely spat out anything that really resembled ‘familiar’ drum patterns that we are all used to. We could have cheated here and changed the note data  to create more familiar patterns, but that wouldn’t really have been in the spirit of the Method. If you DO put a nice chunky, familiar drum pattern under any of the Portraits, you almost always get a really useable backing track. That’s part of what Pete did with FRAGMENTS.

What we ended up doing with the Drums on the Method Album, was to make them even more ‘out-there’ by applying the Harmonic Maths to the pitch of the drums. From what I remember, we created a massive drum kit program where a resonant filter ‘barked’ out accordingly. So we had 8 Kick drums, each resonating its own note, the same for Snare, Tom Toms, etc. The result was very weird if programmed a lå Pop music, but with the Method data we used this ‘tuned drum kit’ lower in the mix to add percussive, harmonic texture, rather than it being a leading element.

The use of a Yamaha Disklavier was particularly effective with pieces that included Piano; we were able to send note data to a real piano (which uses solenoids under each key) and recorded it in a traditional manor.  This really helped to glue those pieces together - In fact, the ideal solution to have brought the Method to life would have been to have a completely robotic orchestra… Instead, Pete suggested we ‘put the orchestra into a space’ by using a system that he calls a ‘Myriad’ of speakers.
How did the myriad speaker system work, and how did you use this to record the album?

If you imagine a group of musicians on a stage, or in a studio, where each musician/instrument has been replaced by a loudspeaker, that’s the basis of the set-up. For each Portrait we drew a ‘map’ of where each instrument would be placed if we were working with a real group, and sent the sound to the corresponding speaker set up on the studio floor. (That’s a very basic way of explaining it, sometimes we might position an instrument between two speakers, or feed some low frequency to various sub-woofers within the system, sometimes we’d pan gently between speakers to give a feeling of movement…) Speakers were placed low, middle, high, pointing forwards or backwards, depending on how it sounded through the microphone. We learnt with trial and error as we progressed through the pieces.

The sound in the room was captured with a single microphone. This was to give a natural coherent feel to the sound in the room, coming out of the speakers. The Soundfield microphone uses capsules fixed in a very precise tetrahedral shape that, when processed accordingly, gives a very accurate reproduction of the sound in a room. This can be processed to give true stereo or 5.1 surround sound, depending on your needs. For the Method, intended for CD/Online release, we used the Stereo recordings as masters.

Did you encounter any technical challenges setting up the sound system for the launch presentation?

With an experimental project like this, it usually feels like one technical challenge after another - once one is solved, another crops up. There was certainly a lot of quick thinking and problem solving. But I don’t think there were many problems that we couldn’t overcome one way or another. The only frustration I remember having was working out ways to overcome the speaker sound-colouring that accumulated as more material was played through more speakers. The Genelec speakers were chosen because they were inherently fairly colourless (the ‘colour’ is a slight ‘honk or bark’ that most speakers have, if you switch from any one pair of speakers to another pair, you will hear the difference). We found that these frequencies could become quite extreme when there were 32 speakers playing music simultaneously. With some sounds I had to change the sound being sent TO the speakers considerably to calm down the sound in the room.
Did you learn any new recording techniques from the Lifehouse Method that you have incorporated into other studio projects?

Not specific techniques as such, but from my side of things the project was very reliant on working out and honing processes to make repetitive tasks as painless and speedy as possible with large quantities of data. I’ve certainly found that since then I’m fairly unfazed by ideas that might have formerly been overwhelming. For example, I’d often thought about emphasising resonances within percussive sounds prior to the project, but I’d never had a reason to use the brainpower needed to create a ‘tuned drum kit’ before. Since then I’ve used some (more subtle) elements of ‘tuned drums’ on various projects.
Do you know if there are any similarities between the Lifehouse Method and Floss, such as recording processes or soundscapes?

Not as yet. Time will tell.


Interview with Richard Evans - March 2014

Richard EvansRichard Evans' association with The Who goes back nearly forty years to when he first photographed Keith Moon naked on a hotel room sofa for the centre-fold of Bellboy, the tour programme for the Who Put the Boot In gigs. Since then he has worked continuously with the band, designing pretty much everything including countless album covers, programmes, posters, badges and buttons, stickers, t-shirts, tour logos, back stage passes, even the web site – you name it, he's probably designed it. Related design work includes solo projects for both Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.

For more information about Richard Evans and to view his impressive artwork, please visit rdevans.com.

How did you come to be involved with creating the artwork for The Method? Did you receive any particular brief from Pete or Lawrence for this?

Lawrence's Method album came as a sort of follow-on to The Who's Endless Wire album. Pete launched the Method site where you could feed your information in and wait five minutes and out popped a piece of music that was YOU and you alone. I had done this about three times and was quite intrigued by it all. It was like listening to your own body's engine ticking over. I met Lawrence when I was doing the final artwork for Endless Wire and he showed me what the Visual Harmony software, which he and Dave Snowdon had developed, could do. I just sat at his computer monitor and watched all the endless and colourful possibilities swirl away in front of me. Again, intriguing stuff.

I should think the only brief that I got was from Lawrence in that he wanted the album cover to reflect what the music within was all about. Now that, of course, is the basic brief of any album cover. I had a wealth of material that I had gathered from the Visual Harmony software and I took some of that as my starting-off point. I narrowed my designs down to two or three and showed them to Lawrence and Pete and they chose the one that was used. My second favourite concept was used in the digital booklet and was also used for the launch invite. That's the swirling red and orange spiral against royal blue you see here on this page.

How different was this project from previous artwork that you have done for Pete and The Who?

No different at all really inasmuch as it, like Endless Wire, was a new album and therefore you like to come up with an innovative concept that says in pictures what the music contained therein is all about.

What all was involved in utilizing Harmonic Mathematics as a basis for your designs? Did you have to change your typical design approach due to the technical aspects involved?

I'll talk more about that in the following question relating to Endless Wire but on a purely technical note, it may have been very advanced software but even in 2006/2007 there were still very basic problems to overcome starting with the fact that Dave and Lawrence were PC people and I am a die-hard Apple Mac man and rarely do the two meet compatibly – the platforms I mean, not the men! The two of them had managed to produce a Mac version but unfortunately it was only for OS 9 whereas I was already on OS X so their software didn't work on my Mac. In the end I had to use the software on Lawrence's PC.

Basically once the software is up and running it's just one mass of swirling shapes, blocks, liquid blobs, and discs flying through the blackness of space – sort of like a giant sophisticated lava lamp being operated by some crazed mad man on a trip! With the software you can steer your path through these shapes and turn and reverse and see them from a completely different angle. As I was doing this I was taking screen grabs of bits that I really liked. After ten minutes or so I had dozens of screen grabs, all really beautiful and all very useable.

Back home on my Mac I went through them and selected my favourites. Now, the trouble with screen grabs is that they are very low resolution (72 dots per inch) and I needed the images to be a much higher quality for print (300dpi). So once I had chosen the ones I was going to use I re-drew each and every blob and block in high resolution. I then tweaked and adjusted some of the colours and added saturation where it was needed.
You also used Harmonic Mathematics for creating The Who’s Endless Wire album cover. Can you tell us a little about your work for that?

EndlessWireThe concept that Pete chose for the cover of Endless Wire was pretty much what you see, but without the blizzard of blocks of colour. The original idea came from the lyrics to 'Mirror Door' and I had squares (album covers?) of the various artists mentioned in the lyrics flying up through the pillars and down the steps. I have always had a fondness for maelstroms, blizzards and hurricanes where you see people's possessions hurtling through the air. Think of the end of the movie, Zabriskie Point with the house exploding in slow motion to the music of Pink Floyd. We did lots of things like this in my time working with Po and Storm at Hipgnosis – stuff coming over the horizon, flying saucers, spacey Syd Barrett-type things. In 1989 I did a cover with Po for Deep Purple called Nobody's Perfect where I had imperfect objects flying across an Arizona landscape in one long arc – things such as a square peg in a round hole, a bearded circus lady, a nine shilling note, black tulips, that sort of thing.

So with Endless Wire I had pictures of all the people who had passed through the Mirror Door – Howlin' Wolf and old Link Wray, Bobby Darin, Brownie McGhee, Elvis, Buddy and Eddie C. In March 2006, when I showed the concept to Pete, I said "Pete, You can't have Doris Day in here. She's still alive. She's on this side of the door!" Pete thought she had already passed away, I think. Anyway, Doris Day rhymed very nicely with 'old Link Wray' so she stayed in. It was at this moment that Pete told me about Visual Harmony and Lawrence Ball and he played me a snippet of what was to become 'Fragments'. Once I had seen what the software could do it was a simple choice to replace the faces with the 'barrage of coloured bits'. It was less obvious than the faces and more intriguing. But, as with Method Music, I had to re-draw each and every damn block of colour. No wonder I went for a simpler design for Method Music!

The white psychedelic doves or 'angels', incidentally, came from a part of Pete's original working script and the story boards for The Boy Who Heard Music – from which came the mini-opera Wire & Glass (originally titled The Glass Household). For the steps and pillars, which, in the story, Ray High climbs as the angels circle overhead and jewels and gold hurtle down, I looked, and was inspired by images of the Lincoln Memorial and the seated figure of Lincoln at the top of the shallow steps. I love the majesty of that view point, looking up the steps to the pillars.
Have you learned any new techniques from this project that inspired new ways to design graphics?

I've always had a love of strong, vibrant colours, especially when they are set against black or a warm dark grey and that is reflected in the rest of the Endless Wire and Method Music packages. When Navona Records came to release the CD version of the album I sent them my imagery that I had collected from the Visual Harmony software and they used another of my images which looks great. I didn't really learn any new techniques per se, but it was great fun using the Visual Harmony software and then taking it a step further.


The future of Lifehouse Method

"Since the closing of the Lifehouse Method site there has been much speculation as to the fate of the music generated, the possibility of re-opening a new, revised Method site, the staging of a Method concert for large live ensembles, and various other ideas affiliated with Lifehouse. While I can say nothing specific regarding those potentialities (or eventualities), the fact remains that Lifehouse, despite my best attempts, is a book that simply will not let itself be closed. That there is more to come is inevitable; what form it takes remains to be seen.” Pete Townshend - Method Music liner notes



Produced, researched and written by Carrie Pratt

Many thanks to Lawrence Ball, Dave Snowdon, Myles Clarke, Richard Evans, and Ghene Snowdon for all their help and additional references.


Psychoderelict was a conceptual music project released in 1993 that mixed spoken word drama with songs and musical interludes. It was presented in a similar manner as a radio play, with actors portraying the characters onstage between songs during the live performances. The story features the character Ray High, a washed up rock star who has lived as a recluse for a couple of years dreaming about a musical project that he abandoned years before called Gridlife. The storyline draws on elements and ideas from Pete Townshend’s abandoned Lifehouse project from 1970-71, and includes synthesizer demo recordings from that period which are interspersed throughout the Psychoderelict production. The Ray High character was brought back years later in The Boy Who Heard Music, a novella that Pete posted on his website in 2005, which turned into the mini opera Wire and Glass on The Who’s 2006 album Endless Wire.

"Now I’m going to do this Psychoderelict thing that I’m dragging around America at the moment. Let me tell you something about this. This is a thing where we have actors on the stage, we have some projections, we have some story, we have some drama, but mainly it’s about a way to get across and get you into the songs which are as always, songs. The songs have a number of shades to them, and that’s really what is important today is to actually try and see through the piece that you see before you and enjoy it for what it is. It’s not meant to be a deep thing, but let the music get to you, and let the ideas behind the music get to you, and think about what’s happening in all of our lives. I know you think I’m a stratified individual. I live in a little house, and I have a little family, and I read the fucking newspapers and wonder what’s happening, and that’s what these songs are about. Where our future is gonna be and how we are gonna go on from here. I know who I am!" - Pete Townshend, intro to Psychoderelict concert in New York, 1993


Track List

01. English Boy
02. Meher Baba M3
03. Let's Get Pretentious
04. Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box)
05. Early Morning Dreams
06. I Want That Thing
07. Dialogue introduction to "Outlive The Dinosaur"
08. Outlive The Dinosaur
09. Flame (Demo)
10. Now And Then
11. I Am Afraid
12. Don't Try To Make Me Real
13. Dialogue introduction to "Predictable"
14. Predictable
15. Flame
16. Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi)
17. Fake It
18. Dialogue introduction to "Now And Then"
19. Now And Then (Reprise)
20. Baba O'Riley (Demo)
21. English Boy (Reprise)
22. Psychomontage (bonus track)

"I wanted to write songs about the nature of truth, how it's changing in the modern world, how computers--databanks and computer preservation of newsprint in particular--are elevating fact to a level of truth. Facts, as I say on the record, don't always lead to the truth. They should, but they don't always." - Pete Townshend, Guitar Player, Sept. 1993.

The Music

"I use my usual group of musicians. I like to have the same people that I used on 'Chinese Eyes.' Jody Linscott on percussion, Peter Hope-Evans on harmonica, John Bundrick 'Rabbit' on keyboards, and, if I can get them, Mark Brzezicki or Simon Phillips on drums, Pino Palladino or somebody like him on bass, and nowadays I like to have a guitar player around. We kicked off with that group of people and they played along with the things that either I was doing in the studio or that were on tape. Then I started to finish the tracks off. I suppose I play really about 80% of the music on it, because some of the stuff they played, I don't. (laughs). But I like them there for spiritual reasons." - Pete Townshend, Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993.


Pete Townshend (songwriter, vocals, guitar, synthesizer, organ)
Gavin Lewis (guitar)
Phil Palmer (guitar)
Adam Seymour (guitar)
Jaz Lochrie (bass, co-author "Flame")
Paul 'Tubbs' Williams (bass)
John "Rabbit" Bundrick (keyboards)
Josh Phillips-Gorse (organ, co-author "Flame")
Mark Brzezicki (drums, co-author "Flame")
Jody Linscott (percussion)
Peter Hope-Evans (harmonica)
The Kick Horns (Horns)
Jon Astley (Fairlight synth drums, co-author "Fake It")
Ian Broudie (synthesizer programming)
Simon Rogers (synthesizer programming)
Billy Nicholls (vocals, co-author "Fake It", "Psychomontage")
Chyna (vocals)
Cleveland Watkiss (vocals)
Tessa Niles (featured vocalist)
Ian Wilson (featured vocalist)
Simon Townshend (co-author "Flame", vocal on bonus track demo)
Jon Lind (co-author "Fake It", "Psychomontage")




The Drama

"I decided to enlist my friend Richard Barnes who wrote this book, 'Maximum R&B' about The Who back in '82, and I asked him to consult. So I wrote scripts and I'd throw them at him and he'd blue pencil them and tell me that was happening and that was happening and we honed it down to the edited form that you have...I've workshopped the writing of the play with actors. Originally there were a lot more characters. I think there were about ten. I started to hone them down. We consulted with various actors. Michael Ceveris who is the lead in Tommy came over and helped me with some of those workshops. He actually for a while had a part on the record but, unfortunately, he was one of the parts that I finally cut. Jan Ravens, who was the woman who plays Ruth Streeting, was the most useful in workshops because she's a radio producer, actress and a writer. She was really valuable, helpful to me." - Pete Townshend, Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993.

"I suppose I was much encouraged by the success of Tommy in its first theatrical incarnation in La Jolla under Des McAnuff’s direction in late 1992. I had only agreed to work on the production after a bad bicycle crash in 1991 had damaged my wrist, and I had had to put a hold on a series of songs I was working on at the time. A few of these songs had been inspired by a story called The Glass Household that I had shared part of with Robert McCrum, the editor of my short stories in Horse’s Neck. He said I had found ‘a voice’, and I began to write what I thought might one day become a novel. As always, writing fiction, doing charity work or simply going on holiday all seem to stimulate my music writing and I decided, as soon as my wrist was better, to quickly gather everything I had to make a new record. I was working on it all the way through 1992 and into the first part of 1993. My best friend Richard Barnes came in towards the end to help me tighten it all up, and when the profits started to roll in from the success of Tommy on Broadway I realized I could afford to put up a rock-theatre version. It was an incredible experience for all of us, and great fun. Everything is autobiographical in some way, but the songs from Psychoderelict come from a snapshot slice of the Glass Household story that was indeed partly about my life in rock, but also partly about the future of the internet – a look at its potential dangers. I have since completed the writing side in my novella The Boy Who Heard Music that - by rights - would include quite a few songs from Psychoderelict if it was ever produced as play or film. Such a story would also include music from the Who’s Lifehouse experiments, and hopefully new writing. I suppose since 1993 I have been waiting for the emotional strength to complete this piece." - Pete Townshend interview, October 2005


Pete Townshend as himself
John Labanowski as Ray High
Jan Ravens as Ruth Streeting
Linal Haft as Rastus Knight
Lee Whitlock as Spinner (voice)
Deirdre Harrison as Athena (voice)
Additional actors: Allan Corduner, Dee Lewis, Michael Nicholls, Paul Townshend, Simon Townshend, Suzy Webb
Richard Barnes (story consultant)
Julia Duff (casting)

Story Synopsis

Veteran rock performer RAY HIGH has lived for about two years as a recluse in plush isolation, dreaming about Gridlife, a musical project he abandoned in the '70s. Witty, cynical, clever, and ambitious music critic RUTH STREETING devotes an edition of her successful network radio show, Streeting's Street, to attack Ray, whom she despises.

Ray's manager, RASTUS KNIGHT, is unaware of Gridlife and is frustrated that Ray has lost interest in recording and performing. Meeting Ruth in a nightclub, he confides his problem to her. Ruth surprises Rastus by claiming that, of all people, she could find a way to inspire Ray and resurrect his career. When Rastus offers her a percentage, she hatches a plot.

Meanwhile, we learn that Gridlife is a futuristic musical about a global Virtual Reality system which provides its subscribers with entire lifetimes of karmically tailored experience. ATHENA, the controller of the Grid, uses a jingle to promote her Gridsuits as safe havens from the heavily polluted atmosphere. But the young hero, SPINNER, is concerned that Athena has too much power and is distorting the truth. He plans to expose her and lead a rebellion.

Back in real life, Ruth believes her attack has forced Ray out of isolation: he appears in a London club with Rastus. Ruth returns to the fray, broadcasting a second public assault, with increased venom.

Around the same time, Ray receives a letter from a young American fan, ROSALIND NATHAN, who encloses a provocative photo. She wants to be a singer. Ray recognizes something in her and begins a correspondence, helping Rosalind with her problems and inducting her into the mysteries and mechanics of stardom.

Ray sends Rosalind a song which he says is from his Gridlife project. She returns a tape of her singing. He ends the correspondence, in his last letter revealing his innermost secret.

At this point, Ruth informs Rastus that her plan is nearing its climax. During her next radio show, she viciously lays into Ray. Ruth has obtained all his letters to Rosalind, and she twists and distorts the contents, insinuating that Ray was sexually exploiting Rosalind, an innocent, naive, underage fan.

Ruth blatantly exploits the situation, creating controversy about Rosalind, who, with Ruth's help, has just released a record. A huge media furor follows, and the "Porno Pen-Pals" scandal looks as though it could destroy Ray.

Later, Ruth shows up at Ray's house for an encounter with Rastus, during which she claims credit for both Rosalind's hit and the resurrection of Ray's career. Rastus is overwhelmed at the scale of Ruth's deceit. Ruth collects her commission from Rastus and is impressed at the amount Ray is now earning as a result of the scandal.

Ray finally gets to record his Gridlife project. We hear Spinner, in a scene from Ray's dream, explain that everything in the Universe is composed of music and vibrations, and that soon the whole world will experience their adventure. Ray's story closes as he compares the deceit of today with the optimism of the time when he was composing Gridlife. He longs for a return to the values and visions of the early '70s.

1993 Tour Dates

The Crystal Room, Mayfair Hotel, London July 2
Massey Hall, Toronto July 10
Beacon Theater, New York July 12
Beacon Theater, New York July 13
Tower Theater, Philadelphia July 15
Arie Crown Theatre, Chicago July 17
Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles July 29
Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles July 30
Community Theater, Berkeley August 2
Community Theater, Berkeley August 3
Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego August 4
Brooklyn Academy, New York August 7
Great Woods Amphitheater, Mansfield August 9
Tower Theater, Philadelphia August 10
Jones Beach Theater, Wantaugh August 12







MusicKO - album review
Concert Overload - concert review

Psychoderelict Press Kit

PressKit1 PressKit2

Pete's introduction in the press kit

"I started this record in 1990. It was ready to deliver as a bunch of songs in September 1991. On Friday 13th of that month, in that year, I fell from a bicycle and shattered my right wrist into a dozen fragments. Rather than put out an album I wouldn't be able to play live, or even feel inclined to talk about much, I held it back.

In '92 I listened occasionally to the songs I had recorded and wondered about them. While writing them I had been obsessed with an idea: that in this highly computerized age the truth is being lost in our easy access to facts. I saw some moral issues too; is the nature of truth actually changing? Each song I'd written addressed this in a different way. It was a good notion. They were good songs. But the real idea didn't come across.

Heart Of Darkness, the best known work of Joseph Conrad, first reappeared in modern life in the '30s as an Orson Welles radio play. I think he may also have intended the play to be a treatment for a movie. Many years later, Francis Ford Coppola used the story once again as the basis for Apocalypse Now. It struck me that my new album could also begin its life as a radio play. The songs might be better served and clearer in this context. For a while I toyed with the idea of using my own favorite Conrad story, Nostromo, as the basis for my play. But let's fact it, I ain't Francis. I decided I would instead utilize a small story of my own I had been working on since 1989. It was originally called Ray High and The Glass Household.

Later, with the help of my old friend, Richard Barnes, I hit on the proper rock and roll form for this thing. IT'S GONNA BE A FUCKING CONCEPT ALBUM! A CD-rama; Headrock; Rockertext; Cock-o-text; Pop-o-scope; Cyberopera; Yobbogram; Grid-o-gram; Vertigram; Matrix-o-gram; Gramodream; Talkup; Poptalking-Dream-o-gram.

The triangle of characters you meet in the play are metaphors for real people. RAY HIGH is a rock artist (he might in fact be several rock artists), but also a complex child. RUTH STREETING represents the press, the political establishment and the audience all rolled into one, but also the critical and loving mother, ultimately forgiving. RASTUS KNIGHT is the symbolic father, always absent even when he's around; ambitious, stupid and heroic in pursuit of opportunity and sustenance for his kids. Finally, tired and apologetic: doing his best.

That's the story of how PsychoDerelict took its final shape. If you are a rock artist, work in radio or press, or you're a manager or an agent - don't be hurt by the story I've written. I don't put myself above you. I am certain that you feel pissed as I do about what's happening to the world. Look at it! To borrow an image from Somerset Maugham as one of his imperious heroines looks at a cholera-stricken corpse: "It's hard to think that not so many years ago he was just a little boy tearing down a hill and flying a kite."

As a new convert to Eric Bogosian, I now believe tragedy can only really be sublimated in comedy. For years, probably because of a life with Keith Moon, I had started believing it was the other way around. These new songs are for you if you still believe in truth, or you still believe you can find truth if you try hard enough. Whether you read newspapers or listen to the radio, you probably think that what you suspect is what is really going on is - in fact - close to the real truth. I know I do. We need to be told.

Talk to me. I need to know. Talk to me soon. Tell me a fucking joke for God's sake."

- Pete Townshend, Psychoderelict Press Kit, 1993.

The Recordings

"It was made at my home studio. It was made on a boat which is part of my studio complex near my house on the river Thames. It's a big old Dutch barge and that's my demo studio now." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993.

Psychoderelict1 Psychoderelict2 Psychoderelict3 Psychoderelict4

Production Credits

Pete Townshend (producer)
Bob Pridden (sound engineer)
Andy MacPherson (additional engineering)
Bruce Davies (sound effects, additional engineering)
Paul Stevens (additional engineering)
Nigel Walker (additional engineering)
Roger Knapp (technical supervisor)
Jeremy Allom (mixing)
Jamie Lane (additional mixing)

Songs primarily recorded Dec 1990 - Sept 1991

"I delivered an album of tracks to Virgin in September '91 with a plea to not put it out. I said, 'It's here. I'm subject to contract, but please don't put it out,' because I had a bike accident and I couldn't play the fucking thing. They respected that." - Keyboard magazine, Oct. 1993.

"I had written a bunch of songs, but I thought, what the fuck am I doing making records, anyway? What's the point? I don't belong here anymore. I'm not willing to do what is necessary. But still, I was about to deliver the songs because they were done. Then I had a bike accident and fucked up my hand. It took a year to heal, so I had all that time to think. And I decided, fuck it, I'm not going to put the record out. It doesn't mean anything. Before the accident I would have delivered the record. I think it would have got some interest. I would have carried on about what it was supposed to be about, and people would have thought, Fine. The guy's getting old. Then I would have announced to the record label that I really didn't want to deliver the last couple of albums in my deal. And that would be it." - Playboy, Feb. 1994

Drama written and recorded Nov 1992 - Feb 1993

"[after the bike accident] I had a year to sit there, recovering, and I thought about why I was so bored and realized that it was because I forgot why I do this for a living. Then I worked on the Tommy play and again became inspired about the form. I went back and listened to the new songs and asked what I was really writing about. I remembered that when I wrote the songs I was thinking about my son and thinking I wanted an honest vision of his future. That's what the songs were about" - Playboy, Feb. 1994

"...when I discovered it [presenting the songs with a story] I really did whoop for joy because I thought, 'This is it. I don't have to sit and have my work dismissed because it's self-analytical now.' I can actually create a voice in a context and people will have to address it. They will have to address it whether or not they think I'm full of shit..." - Musician, July 1993

Released in the U.K. 4 June 1993 (does not chart). Released in the U.S. June 15, 1993. Peaks at #118 in the Billboard charts. At the time of release a double CD promo is sent out consisting of the album with the dialogue censored and a CD of just the music. Commercial release of Psychoderelict - Music Only follows Sept. 14, 1993 (does not chart).

"His record company bosses were confidently expecting the album to sell five million copies and allocated a marketing budget to match. In the event it sold fewer than 200,000 copies worldwide, the worst result of Townshend's career. 'I abandoned my recording contract after Psychoderelict,' Townshend says. 'I'd always told myself that when I sold less than 200,000 I'd stop. I had imagined myself triumphantly arriving at the Edinburgh Festival with it, so it was a bit of a blow.' - The Times, 6 Nov. 1998.

Track Details

1. English Boy (dialogue 5:07, non-dialogue 4:49) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"In 'English Boy' there is an attack on what I call the reducer, which is that whenever there is a difficulty in society, particularly in British society, we go back to our pre-colonial, Victorian, Edwardian tradition and we bad-mouth the young man, the very man we turn to to blow up the Germans or the Iraqis or whoever it is we want to blow up this month...I think where 'English Boy' became the pinion song of the whole piece is that it encapsulated Ray's anger, and this was the anger that I kept feeling from the boys and the men of my generation, the postwar people, the emasculated generation, the boys with the toys, with no jobs, no tools, no function but lots of toys." - Musician, July 1993

"I don't think we have a rock 'n' roll voice which is loud enough to protest at the way that boys are put on soapboxes and people say, 'There you are. That's what's wrong with society. These guys, in the wooly hats, in the wooly scarves on the football terraces. They carry knives, you know! That's what's wrong with society!" It's society that's wrong with society. That's what the song's about. The boys are a product of it. I think what was so great about the generation that I was brought up with, why we were so lucky, was that we were the first people to kind of loudly protest and they had to listen. But they've stopped listening now." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

Released as a 45 in the U.K. ("English Boy" [non-dialogue]/"English Boy" [dialogue]) and as a CD single in the U.K., Australia, and Germany. A promo CD single was issued in the U.S. None charted.

2. Meher Baba M3 (dialogue 3:31, non-dialogue 3:39) (Pete Townshend) Towser Tunes, Inc.; Suolubaf Music; ABKCO Music, Inc.; Careers BMG Music Publishing (BMI)

"I went to my archive, which is not quite a Frank Zappa scenario, but it's pretty cool. I've got alI of the Who stuff - that is, I look after it for the band - and all of my own demos. I listened to the Lifehouse demos. It was fucking fabulous stuff that I had forgotten about. It surprised me because I thought I had heard it all when I did the Scoop collections of demos. Somehow I missed two or three wonderful things. I got very energized." - Keyboard, Oct. 1993

From the press kit: "On the album, the songs associated with Gridlife are prefixed "Meher Baba" and originated on eight-track demos first recorded in 1970/71 for Lifehouse."

3. Let's Get Pretentious (dialogue 3:36, non-dialogue 3:27) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"'Pretentious' was also the idea that for the English boy, for the little kid who was throwing rocks and is now a man without a function in society, if you're lucky enough to be a rock 'n' roll star, you have a function, but if you don't, you don't. And when you try to go outside that you're both accused of and guilty of a degree of pretentiousness... The song is not to say, 'Don't call me pretentious because I got in there first.' I'm not trying to criticize the critic. I'm just saying that you have to be fairly courageous to deal with a new idea or something that might actually be out of your scope. If you don't artistically try to struggle with new ideas, and meet new people, I don't think there's any point in living." - Musician, July 1993

"I've never had a problem with people that call me pretentious, never. I don't regard it as an insult (laughs). But in the context of the piece, the song is actually about what Ray feels is the setting for his manager and the journalist's lifestyle. He feels that it's frippery, it's fluff, it's puff to use the modern expression." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

4. Meher Baba M4 (Signal Box) (dialogue 2.23, non-dialogue2:42) (Pete Townshend) Towser Tunes, Inc.; Suolubaf Music; ABKCO Music, Inc.; Careers BMG Music Publishing (BMI)

"What is great about the demos is not just that they were about dreams and visions, which are now possibilities thanks to computers and technology, but that they were recorded on eight-track analog tape and sound fucking great. I jumped on the idea." - Keyboard, Oct. 1993

Recorded late 1970 - early 1971.

5. Early Morning Dreams (dialogue 3:54, non-dialogue 3:06) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"The problem that Ray High has is that he has a creative vision, he has something that he wants to...he has an idea that he thinks has been lost in the sequins and glitter and nonsense of the Seventies, a dream that was rooted in the Sixties, a good dream, a good idea, a good take, a good feeling about what rock 'n' roll was going to do, what music was going to do, what young people were going to do in that first flush of Sixties' rock which was somehow forgotten in the Seventies. What I am asking the audience to do in the story is to look at what Ray is really saying when he is saying 'I can't do it again, I can't discover it all over again.' You only get one opportunity to do something for the first time and somehow we blew it." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

6. I Want That Thing (dialogue 3:58, non-dialogue 4:04) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"I started to look at the idea that the moral consequences of art have never been properly examined. When you start to say to somebody, 'Listen, I can help you live your life - your view of things is inferior to mine,' which is what the artist says, the artist is imperious and elevated. If you say, 'Listen, you can have a good life, but if you come to me I can give you a better one,' that implies that you're taking responsibility for somebody's life. I really felt that there was potential for a karmic consequence." - Keyboard, Oct. 1993

7. Dialogue introduction to "Outlive The Dinosaur" (0:32) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

8. Outlive The Dinosaur (dialogue 3:24, non-dialogue 4:23) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"A song such as 'Outlive the Dinosaur' comes out and people think I'm writing about how it feels to be a dinosaur. But the song is actually about outrunning history. It's not a nod in the direction of Jurassic Park or the Rolling Stones. It's about trying to not become extinct, for heaven's sake." - Playboy, Feb. 1994

"We're probably the only time-conscious animals on the planet. When you look in the mirror as you grow older you see this person that you regard as yourself growing old, but you start to move away from him. You start to kind of subtract yourself from that person. Nonetheless one day you look in the mirror and you see this decaying individual and you cry. And the person sitting next to you says, 'That's self-pity.' You're as young as you feel. You've got to hang on to the end. You've got to believe. My belief is that you're not crying for yourself but the child you once were and you're crying for youth, which is an indeterminate and something you can't have. That's what Ray is doing." - Musician, July 1993

Pete recorded a demo version of this track Dec. 12, 1990. It was released on the album Scoop 3, Dec. 11, 2001.

9. Flame (Demo) (1:07) (Simon Townshend, Josh Phillips-Gorse, Gavin Lewis, Mark Brzezicki, Jaz Lochrie) Rock and Roll Stew Songs (ASCAP)

10. Now And Then (dialogue 4:25, non-dialogue 4:13) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"It is the notion of infatuation, when you fall in love with somebody [Pauses]. This is painful. When you fall in love with somebody, do you really know who they are? Do you actually care? We joke about it. We shout, 'I love you,' to girls on the street, and we fucking mean it. That's what is so pathetic. Sometimes what you find can be wonderful, but it can also be a nightmare." - Keyboard, Oct. 1993

11. I Am Afraid (dialogue 4:34, non-dialogue 4:22) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"What struck me when I first got this sequence in the middle worked out properly is that 'I'm Afraid' becomes a song for Ruth, the journalist. She suddenly realizes that she's afraid of what she started. There was a period when I was like that. In rock 'n' roll, I was afraid of the consequences. It was a great business to be in, but I used to look at Keith and think, 'This guy is gonna die,' and I was afraid for him. And I still struggle with, as I think Roger does; our complicity in that. It was useful for us to have this crazy man in the band. It got us publicity. It got us inches. And he eventually died. And that song suddenly, for me, got life breathed into it." - Musician, July 1993

"Some of the songs I wrote for 'Psychoderelict' are among the most profound I've written. 'I Am Afraid,' a song about fear for our children's future, and our constant abnegation of our duty to change, and thus our despicable hypocrisy, went as deep as I could go as a writer -- I could never have written it for my own voice, but my screwed-up hero could sing it. - MSN interview Mar. 1, 2007

A demo version, recorded 11 Dec. 1990, was released on the album Scoop 3, Dec. 11, 2001.

12. Don't Try To Make Me Real (dialogue 2:59, non-dialogue 3:30) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"'Fake It' and 'Don't Try and Make Me Real' were written together. What they were supposed to be was a conversation between a man and a woman and the way men and women seem to fall into stereotypes of requirement in relationships. The man says, often, 'don't try and put me in a pocket.'"- Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

"I see that as a song about the process of the star system that exists between the performer and the audience. So I suppose the press is somewhere in the chain." - Musician, July 1993

"Don't Try To Make Me Real" was issued in the U.S. as a promo CD single in late 1993. It was the only other track from the album issued in a single format.

13. Dialogue introduction to "Predictable" (0:34) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

14. Predictable (dialogue 2:16, non-dialogue 3:11) (Pete Townshend) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"'Predictable' is about somebody saying, 'What I like about you is that I know what's going to happen. I know what's going to happen. I know I'm not going to have an orgasm (laughs). But I like that. I know how it's going to feel. I know how it's going to go today. That is what makes it exciting is that I'm certain that it's going to go a certain way,' and often it doesn't, maybe. I don't know." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

15. Flame (dialogue 2:41, non-dialogue 4:16) (Simon Townshend, Josh Phillips-Gorse, Gavin Lewis, Mark Brzezicki, Jaz Lochrie) Rock and Roll Stew Songs (ASCAP)

"I don't know whether Ruth and Rastus have pulled off a coup, whether Ray knew that Ruth was Rosalind or Rosalind was Ruth. Whether in fact there really is a Rosalind. We don't know that. We don't know whether Ruth has really used the song that Ray sent or not. We don't know whether 'Flame,' the song that we hear Ruth sing is actually sung by Rosalind and she's taken Rosalind's song and paid her off in San Francisco or shot her. We don't know whether Ray wrote it. None of these things are stated. That's deliberate. I want to leave that open. That's for you to decide." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

16. Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi) (dialogue 2:35, non-dialogue 2:41) (Pete Townshend) Towser Tunes, Inc.; Suolubaf Music; ABKCO Music, Inc.; Careers BMG Music Publishing (BMI)

"The big debate for me that is central to the original Lifehouse story is not a debate about truth and fact, but a debate about what happens when you turn experience into data, in the way that truth has been turned into data and frozen. You get a view of history and the past...Unless you're a very careful and earnest researcher, you have to get up off your ass and talk to people when you write books. You can't make the mistake of thinking you can put together a book by plugging your Mac into a modem. I'm afraid that so many people think the truth is already in the data banks, but it's not." - Keyboard, Oct. 1993

Recorded late 1970 - early 1971.

17. Fake It (dialogue 3:29, non-dialogue 3:38) (Pete Townshend, Jon Astley, Billy Nicholls, John Lind) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. / A Sharp Publishing / Twickenham Tunes, Ltd. / Big Mystique Music / EMI Virgin Songs (BMI)

"In 'Fake It' a woman is saying, 'I don't care if you really love me. Bring me flowers. Touch me. Hold me. It's now that matters to me. You're passing through my life from one end to the other. Grab me as you're passing. I don't care if it's not true. You tell me anyway.' In the play, 'Fake It' becomes about information, about law, about justice, about orgasm rather than just, 'say you love me and that will get me through the day.'" - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

"When you relate to somebody who is an artist, who is involved in your life, there is a sense that...and the song that exemplifies it in Psychoderelict is 'Fake It'. It's like 'Actually, I really don't care'. It goes back in my career to somebody saying 'jump, jump, jump, jump, jump... smash a guitar' and me saying 'but this is crap' and them saying 'but we don't care, do it anyway'. - Pete's website interview Nov. 2, 1999

18. Dialogue introduction to "Now And Then (reprise)" (0:32) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

19. Now And Then (Reprise) (2:58) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

20. Baba O'Riley (Demo) (1:20) (Pete Townshend) Towser Tunes, Inc.; Suolubaf Music; ABKCO Music, Inc.; Careers BMG Music Publishing (BMI)

"I wrote some quite beautiful songs for Psychoderelict, and as I listened to them on the finished CD, I realised I had been more deeply wounded by the failure of Lifehouse than I had previously been able to admit. My problem was not simply one of failure to let go of the idea, or an unwillingness to accept defeat. I had been, in a sense, humiliated and broken by its non-appearance as a drama." - The Richmond Review, Dec. 1999

Recorded late 1970-early 1971

21. English Boy (Reprise) (dialogue 7:04, non-dialogue 7:05) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"What I think it really is, what I think Psychoderelict is, is 'Watch out. We've been down this pathway before.' There was a revolution in the Seventies. It was driven by psychedelic drugs. It changed society. A lot of those changes were fun and a lot of them were lasting but most of them were really, really quite horrible, I think. Certainly it produced wonderful music for a short period of time but in the end it produced this undermining of what I believe was so wonderful about early rock 'n' roll; the fact that it gave people who were fairly inarticulate and frustrated and lost and isolated, a voice. I'm asking, 'Is Ray right to long for that?' I don't long for it." - Interview with a Psychoderelict CD, 1993

Bonus Tracks

"Sadly, I lost a lot of good songs that didn't get used on the record...They just didn't fit. I think this is a black art. I had to accept the fact that I was working for something very serendipitous. I was going to pull from here and there, put it all together, and it was going to work, like Tommy did." - Keyboard, Oct. 1993

22. Psychomontage (12:37) (Pete Townshend, John Lind, Billy Nicholls) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. / Big Mystique Music / EMI Virgin Songs / Twickenham Tunes, Ltd. (BMI)

Originally released on "English Boy" Limited Edition CD single in the U.K., 1993. Now included on 2008 Psychoderelict re-issue.

Flame (Simon Townshend demo) (Simon Townshend, Josh Phillips-Gorse, Gavin Lewis, Mark Brzezicki, Jaz Lochrie) Rock and Roll Stew Songs (ASCAP)

Released on "English Boy" regular edition CD single in the U.K., 1993

Early Morning Dreams (Pete Townshend demo) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

Released on "English Boy" regular edition CD single in the U.K. and Germany, 1993

English Boy (non-dialogue) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

Released as A-side of 45 in U.K., regular edition CD single in the U.K., Australia, Germany and on U.S. promo CD, 1993

Electronic Wizardry (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

Released on German "English Boy" CD, 1993. Section of this appears in "Psychomontage".

Uneasy Street (4:39) (Pete Townshend, John Lind, Billy Nicholls) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. / Big Mystique Music / EMI Virgin Songs / Twickenham Tunes, Ltd. (BMI)

Released 1996 on the CD coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking - thebestofpetetownshend.

"'Uneasy Street' was supposed to be on Psychoderelict and was set to one side. There's a very difficult area on Psychoderelict, which is unexplored, which is the notion that if 'English Boy' is about the exaggeration of evil in society, that there is also real evil in the world, and it's important not to forget this. There is real evil at work. It tends to express itself through the individual, who indeed, if charismatic, can inspire masses of people. But 'Uneasy Street' was supposed to be about that moment when the hero of the story, Ray High, suddenly realizes that his sexual passion, his desire to be seduced by a glamourous woman that he meets - and the reason the song's not in is that I wrote her out of the play in the end - is a bowing to something in himself which is incredibly self-destructive. In other words, this is not romance, this is not love, this isn't even lust, this is like, 'I am going to destroy myself, I am going to go into the world and find a spectacular woman, and give myself to her, and let her do whatever she wants.' It's about the fact that this does sit very uneasily in modern life, that if you're talking about a woman doing this it's more common, it's easier to accept somehow, and that in the song this guy meets this beautiful woman, finds her very attractive, and then at the very last minute she whips off her mask, and whips off the mask underneath the mask, and turns out to be Satan himself, and that a contract has been written somehow, and the contract is that, you know, 'Yes, I am prepared to destroy myself,' which is the ultimate evil act. Heavy stuff, but a nice little ditty (laughs)." - liner notes to coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking - thebestofpetetownshend, 1996.

Wistful (2.58) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"Recorded directly to Technics portable DAT using a SONY stereo mike in The Cube home studio1991. I planned to use this piece of guitar as an incidental underscore for some dialogue in Psychoderelict. The hero Ray High is playing the guitar while reflecting the joys of not touring. It was set aside with a lot of other stuff when I elected to release a single CD." - liner notes to Scoop 3, 2001

Released on the album Scoop 3, Dec. 11, 2001.

Squirm Squirm (4:08) (Pete Townshend) Windswept o/b/o Towser Tunes, Inc. (BMI)

"Fylde guitar tuned DGDADE. Recorded some time in 1990 in The Cube to DAT, then transferred to Synclavier Hard Disk, edited a little, and a tabla added. At last, a song with a happy inspiration. One day I was holding my new-born son Joseph and singing him to sleep. It came into my mind that seen from high above we humans must look just like insects, or worms. As he wriggled in my arms I sang to him about the messages we all believe we get sometimes from above. At the time I was gathering material for Psychoderelict, which was-among other things - about the loneliness and collapse of a once famous and beloved rock star. The song seemed to contain and reflect both the peace and safety of this child in my arms, and the chaos and danger that surrounded us out there in the crazy world. The song did not work in the final album but when my friend Ethan Silverman and the actor Peter Gallagher did a workshop of Psychoderelict in New York in 1999, this song was included. Peter sang it and it was deeply and profoundly moving." - liner notes to Scoop 3, 2001

Released on the album Scoop 3, Dec. 11, 2001.

Background notes and quotes provided by Brian Cady

Page 1 of 2