Jeff Blenkinsopp, the "sonic wizard", has been involved with innovative music since the late 60's. Playing with wires and speakers, shocking his schoolmates, blanking out his parents’ TV set. Jeff Blenkinsopp’s priorities were certainly different from most. “He’s either a genius or a bloody idiot,” said his Mum. That was a lot of years ago, and no one today could call him an idiot. Rather, “reclusive studio magician” and “technological wizard” are some of the phrases used to describe Jeff.
At the age of 20, he quit his apprenticeship in process control (nuclear power plants, oil refineries) to secure a dream position with General Electro Music, who distributed Arp synthesizers (the world’s most cutting edge synthesizers of the day) and organs, electric pianos from Italy and acoustic pianos from Ireland. Part of his job was liaising with many of England’s top acts including ELP, Genesis and The Who. Synths were new instruments and very few people knew how to program them. Jeff was programming them, he understood the electronics of how they worked and he could build them.
Jeff always knew that he would be an active part of the thriving music scene in the UK.
The year 1974 found Blenkinsopp working for I.E.S. (International Entertainment Services) the UK’s largest PA and back-line rental company. One of their clients was Pink Floyd who was starting a tour in France, playing “Dark Side Of the Moon” and new songs from “Wish You Were Here”. Blenkinsopp began the tour as Rick Wright’s keyboard tech. The band soon realized the extent of his electronic expertise and Jeff rebuilt David Gilmour’s pedal board, serviced the PA system, and maintained their back line. So began a relationship that lasted until after “The Wall” tour. During this time he also worked with other top artists including Vangelis, The Sweet, and The Clash, and worked a number of innovative projects including, sensurround (sub-bass) Quad and surround sound (5.1) powered, studio monitors, as well as, technical director for the London Jazz festival (yes, he was there when the Alexander Palace burnt down) and worked with other leading artists (Tom Waits, T-Rex, Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading).
In 1980, with Pink Floyd no longer on the road, Jeff moved to New York and took a position with Octave-Plateau Electronics (manufacturer of the CAT and Voyetra 8 synthesizers) where he liaised with many of New York’s top session players and bands. It was an innovative time in early computer-based studios, especially with MIDI, and Jeff decided to go freelance, designing and building MIDI equipment and wiring computer-based studios. Among the many studios he designed and built was Quantum Sound for producer Reggie Lucas (Madonna’s first album), and Suzannne Cianni’s.
Now “Dad” to two young children, Jeff made a conscious decision to be actively involved in their lives. He crafted his life so that he was able to be with his kids while maintaining a workshop/lab at home. It was during this time, while he was developing his new approach to sonics, that Jeff met Doug Tow. Their friendship blossomed and over the next 5 years Blenkinsopp and Tow developed several ideas including the “Balls Box”, a method for recording guitar at low volume (Jeff Beck and Stanley Jordan were among their early customers). In 1998, they opened Expert Audio Repairs & Services Inc. (EARS) in NYC.
Blenkinsopp turned his analog processing prototypes into finished equipment including different-sounding FU2s. EARS sold several FU2s, (to producers) but they were looking for a band to use their new processing equipment. Things fell into place when The Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis walked into EARS. Jeff was intrigued and went to hear them play. “When I heard them, I knew exactly what they were trying to do.” He told them, “EARS is looking to sponsor a band and I think we should work together. I don’t know exactly what that entails, but let’s just get on with it.” The band said OK and that was the beginning of their relationship.
Because Blenkinsopp had a very clear vision for the band’s sound, he customized his FU2s to achieve that sound. “I knew it was the only way we were going to get what we wanted.” He started with Ben’s guitar sound and then Brandon’s bass/piano sound. Blenkinsopp knew he could help them get to the next level. “After each show we would review the performance. At rehearsals, we would work on the set for the next show. Basically, we just wanted to rock, and that developed into a very natural relationship.”
Blenkinsopp and the band knew that in order to translate their unique live sound to an album that they would have to produce it themselves. “We weren’t sure how receptive Warner Brothers would be,” Jeff said, “but we were able to convince them.” And so, with Blenkinsopp as co-producer, The Secret Machines’ debut CD on Warner/Reprise records, “Now Here is Nowhere,” was made.
Armed with the expertise to change the way music is made, EARS Productions opened a facility with its own approach to recording, shaping a unique sound in a totally creative environment for each artist they work with. “The FU2s are an extension of the music in my head. They were built for my use, to get the sound I want. I’m bringing music into the 21st Century.” We should all be such idiots!