Network: My Technology: In the bedroom with my beautiful grey box

The Perrier award-winning comedian and self-confessed gadget freak Julian Barratt talks about his Akai S300XL digital sampler
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The Independent Culture
It makes my life complete. It's a beautiful grey box, with a blue eye in the middle that looks at me. It beckons me to come and play with it. It sucks up chunks of my favourite beats, chews them up, mixes them all around, changes the sounds, adds new sounds, layers them and then chucks them out. I record the sounds and make music with it.

It takes a while to use. It is rather awkward and in way, badly designed; you go into a certain section of the screen and then to a certain bank of effects, all without a keyboard or any interface. It's a weird process that you have to learn.

But any piece of equipment is idiosyncratic, and you learn to love those little quirks. I suppose that, one day, you go and upgrade it to something that's much easier to use. But the way the thing works affects the music you produce. If some things are more difficult to do, for instance, you probably pass over those things and leave them for later. And occasionally you'll find a section that opens up like a magical room you didn't know was there. You find a secret door.

I have got a manual, so occasionally I'll be making music and I'll be thinking that I'm going about it a long way round, so I'll look at the manual and discover that there's a much simpler way. But it's generally intuitive.

I build up banks of samples by finding records in charity shops, locating some bass and string sounds, and loads of samples that will fit I don't know where. But they can all be stored on the Zip drive. Then you lose them. Then you find them again, weeks later. Then you think something is good that you didn't like weeks ago. So you get loads of sounds. It's like being a creative librarian because you have to be able to file stuff away and then dig it up again.

When make a tune, I first of all potter about on an acoustic guitar for a while to get an idea for something that might be quite nice. Sometimes the sampler's just looking at me, and I know it wants me to work on it even though it's turned off. The almost limitless possibilities can be quite scary. Sometimes I have to turn the sampler off because I know that it'll have me sucked in for the next eight hours.

It's a bit of a one-man-in-his-bedroom-creating-marvellous-new-vistas thing with this little box. I have been in bands, but I enjoy creating in a room. You use things that you've learned from playing traditional instruments, and bring those to the table. But you also kind of throw it away a little bit, because the sampler is an instrument in itself. Its got its own rules and its own systems, and it's a little bit like learning a new instrument.

You can hear when people are good at it. And when people aren't. Even though you can make something that sounds like a real band with the sampler, it can easily have no soul, idiosyncrasy or personality, whereas someone like the Aphex Twin creates music that is very personal yet digital. The sampler becomes an instrument.

Otherwise you get people using it just to fill up a sound. You also get a lot of people who are a little bit over the top, showing off what their drum sampler is capable of doing. I also have lots of software designed by bands like the Propellerheads that works in conjunction with a lot of samplers. It's good because it's built and designed especially for and by people who are doing what you are doing. You can use the software quite intuitively, and quickly see how it works.

I do all the music for the Arctic Boosh comedy show. I like the idea of blending music and comedy - not in the comedy song kind of way, but like Frank Zappa did; it's funny, but it's good music as well. Otherwise music and comedy can cancel each other out.

For the stage show we have all the music put on to mini-disc, but there is no pull in the music, no give or take, or any jam. I am thinking of doing a live set on the sampler, with a real band - I like the idea of taking it out of my bedroom and on to the road.

I am a bit of a gadget freak. I am always on the lookout for stuff, and the next step should be going DVD. But then you want to wait, but how long do you wait? It's a constant nightmare.

Interview by

Jennifer Rodger

Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding appear in Arctic Boosh at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith, from 13 December to 8 January (0181-741 2311)

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