P26 FEBRUARY 2016
Station to (work)station: Bowie’s studio milestones remembered After a lifetime of innovation in and out of the recording studio, David Bowie’s musical odyssey came to an end with his death last month aged 69. David Davies looks back at some of his artistic highpoints – and the collaborators, studios and technological advances that helped to make them possible
detour into soul with 1975’s Young Americans, Bowie embarked upon his most intensely creative period in the studio with the following year’s Station to Station.
he shock and sadness expressed at the news of David Bowie’s death when it was announced on 11 January was without recent parallel in popular culture – but then so too was his ability to inﬂuence every area of the arts, becoming in the process the very deﬁnition of the multidisciplinary artist. Tony Visconti – Bowie’s regular co-producer and collaborator from the late 1960s through to his ﬁnal release, 2016’s Blackstar – perhaps knew this best of all. “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way,” he wrote on Facebook shortly after the news was announced. While Bowie’s extraordinary qualities as a live performer will rightly be celebrated, it is his recorded legacy that will inevitably be the greatest focus of attention in the months and years ahead. Of course, this was founded upon his own visionary songwriting voice – present and correct from his ﬁrst, eponymously-titled album released in 1967 – but also on an ever-astute selection of collaborators in both production and performance. Without doubt his ﬁrst individual studio landmark was 1969’s Space Oddity, whose shimmering production by the late Gus Dudgeon renders it otherworldly even today. But it was 1970’s Visconti-produced The Man Who Sold the World that represented Bowie’s ﬁrst cohesive LP-length statement – a surprisingly heavy rock album captured over little more than a month at London’s Trident and Advision studios. As it turned out, the album initiated a golden period lasting until 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) during which Bowie would barely make a bad move creatively. Decamping to Trident again – this time in the company of co-producer Ken Scott – he would next record some of the era’s most immediate and enduring pop-rock songs on albums such as Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Having made an unexpected but hugely successful
David Bowie at the launch of his book, Little Pieces from Big Stars, for the War Child project, 27 September 1994
Informed by the emerging wave of experimental German bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk, the album possesses an unsettling ambience that makes it the most obvious antecedent of Blackstar.
Bound for Berlin Shifting operations to Château d’Hérouville (aka the ‘honky château’) and Hansa Studios in the then-West Berlin, Bowie worked with Visconti and Brian Eno on the unofficial trilogy comprising Low, Heroes and Lodger.
Emotionally vexed yet futuristic in feel, the albums found Bowie experimenting with instrumental textures and beneﬁting from some historic outboard, not least the Eventide Harmonizer H910 that is particularly evident on Low. “Tony Visconti has used Eventide effects in wonderfully creative ways throughout his career,” conﬁrms Eventide director Tony Agnello, adding that the connection continued through 1980’s Ashes to Ashes (a rack-mount Instant Flanger to deliver the ‘warbling’