Steve Knightley: My technology

The television presenter, songwriter and one half of folk duo Show of Hands, talks to Jennifer Rodger about his prototype multi-use DI box
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The Independent Online

With John Godsland, a local technology boffin, we have created a phantom powered mic, stand-mounted, mutable DI (Direct Injection) box incorporating an acoustic guitar pre-amp volume, tone controls and auxiliary output, and so replacing up to four or five units. He made a prototype a year ago and I've been road-testing it ever since. Eventually, we hope to go into manufacture with it.

With John Godsland, a local technology boffin, we have created a phantom powered mic, stand-mounted, mutable DI (Direct Injection) box incorporating an acoustic guitar pre-amp volume, tone controls and auxiliary output, and so replacing up to four or five units. He made a prototype a year ago and I've been road-testing it ever since. Eventually, we hope to go into manufacture with it.

I play three acoustic instruments and my partner, Phil, plays four, and they all have to be in tune, without the audience hearing us tuning. On top of this, we normally need six or seven DI boxes, one for each instrument, that go to their own channel on the mixing desk. Instead we have created one DI box that allows me to switch between instruments without "clunking", and that goes to only one channel on the desk.

Now I only have to set up one channel, which is great for festivals, especially when we have literally to walk on and play. The DI box has a mute switch, so you can turn off the signal channel, plug in another instrument, turn on and carry on. Then there are tone controls, so, for example, a cuatro is quieter than a guitar, and I can plug it in after the guitar and then turn the signal up slightly. Fortunately, the tone characteristics of my instruments are all fairly similar.

We then began thinking about mounting the box on the mic stand, making it easier for me to reach and control. This led us to discussing how all this circuitry needs some power and we could use "phantom power" rather than rely on batteries. This is when a mixing desk sends a small voltage down the line to power, for example, a specialist microphone, and instead we would power the DI box straight from the desk this way.

We have created a box that has these extras, yet it's small enough to fit in the string compartment of a guitar case so I can easily take it all over the world. I can basically control my instruments, and it means fewer problems for the sound engineer to worry about. At this year's Cropredy festival in Oxfordshire, we had 18,000 people waiting and no sound check time, yet with this DI box we avoided fumbling around with leads and a whole host of other problems.

The technology of amplification for acoustic instruments has improved so much in recent years, and yet it still looks and sounds like organic acoustic music. However, I think that there was an assumption, especially in the early days of folk revival, that acoustic musicians worked against using the latest technology. But, of course, if we are playing to audiences of above 70 or 80 we have to use electronic equipment, and yet when people look at the stage they just see a wonderful array of eight handmade instruments. The technology going into presenting it can still be completely hidden.

We've always been fairly close to the leading edge, and we were among the first to use a mailing list through internet. We've sold music online since early 1997. The way we look at it is that the internet is almost like giving us access to a shop window in everyone's front room. If it was easier for folk music to get heard through the mainstream, then perhaps we wouldn't have developed these skills, but marketing of this type of music has to be done in alternative ways.

Favourite Sites

For further information on Show of Hands' live dates, visit www. showofhands.co.uk

www.napster.com

To share music with people is an act of commitment to music. We gave a free tape with one album to encourage fans to copy and share. I've lost track of the number of people who have come to see us because they heard us on a bootleg. I disagree with the companies or bands who are cracking down on piracy - if you are big enough to sell as a bootleg, then you are big enough anyway.

www.exeterchiefs.com/Default.asp It's my local rugby team, and I'm a big fan. It's quite a nice site and puts the fixtures and profiles of players.

www.mulletsgalore.com/html/mow.html There are various mullet sites, and it's a reminder just to keep a watch on your hairstyle. It's usually filled with lots of great photographs of ice hockey players or footballers from the Eighties.

www.ibank.barclays.co.uk I do all of my banking online. I find it easy to pay a bill online, it's almost like not doing it. By contrast I am very tardy about posting a bill, but I do it in advance on the Net, which is a weird psychological quirk.

www.musicrobot.com You can get chords and lyrics of thousands of songs. It's such a great way of spreading people's song.

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