The Origin Of How I Began Writing Electronic Music

The Origin Of How I began Writing Electronic Music

(While this may seem to be nothing more than a narcissistic meandering of some musician no one knows or cares about,
it
was written to include things that other musicians who enjoy electronic music might find interesting in some way.)

To explain the origin of my own electronic music, I have to look back at horror films and television programs. As far back as I can remember, I have enjoyed electronic music and film scores and even aspired to writing scores for movies (a guy can dream, right?). While I prefer film scores that use electronic compositions or any hybrid which incorporates synthesizers with rock or classic orchestration, my interest in music with synthesizers/electronic music is very diverse.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  Synthesizers, to my young ears at the time, sounded like the future…and they still do. One of the first times I really took notice of music used in film or television was “The Andromeda Strain” by Gil Mellé. Gil was an artist and prolific musician who also scored music for two other programs that were a big influence on me, “Night Gallery” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.”

“Wildfire” from “The Andromeda Strain” was terrifying music to my ears…and I loved it.

I was too young at the time to make the connection between this soundtrack and his work on “Night Gallery” or “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” The theme that played over the opening credits is unforgettable to me.

Later, I discovered the music (and films) of John Carpenter who worked with Alan Howarth.  His use of synthesizers in his scores really tickled my brain, which had an insatiable appetite for synths. …and when used in film, ambient settings (perhaps that’s why I enjoyed Tangerine Dream’s “Phaedra” album so much) or mixed with rock was what I craved.

Who could ever forget this theme?

I also really enjoyed his music from “The Fog” and “Prince Of Darkness.” “Matthew Ghost Story” from “The Fog” is, in my opinion, one of Carpenter’s best compositions.

Not long after my discovery of John Carpenter, I also found out about Dario Argento and Goblin. Goblin fused progressive rock, jazz, fusion, classical, and ambient/experimental music into what I think is some of the best music ever used in film. Their powerful music fused with the strange, beautiful, and horrific aesthetics of Argento combined to make an incredible chemistry of sight and sound.

It is with great excitement that I look forward to having a chance to see Goblin perform live in the United States this fall.

While discovering more foreign films, I eventually learned about Werner Herzog. “Nosferatu the Vampyre” was the first film by Herzog I recall watching. From the opening scene in the catacombs, I was immediately hooked on the soundtrack by Popol Vuh.  Florian Fricke combined beautiful folk instrumentation with synthesizers and vocals to make one of the most hauntingly unique scores I had ever heard. While Popol Vuh CDs were a bit hit and miss for me, each one contained very interesting work with beautiful textures and almost always fascinating vocal work.

Here is a link to the track played at the beginning of the film.

“Aguirre, the Wrath of God” also contains one of my favorite Popol Vuh compositions.

I also recommend their music from “Fitzcarraldo,” “Herz aus Glas,” and the album “Agape Agape,” which has one of the most hypnotic, and dream-like piano compositions I have ever heard.

Along with Goblin, John Carpenter, and Gil Mellé and their fascinating film music, there were seemingly countless bands that inspired me to work on electronic music as well.

I had an uncle who played guitar. He also had a powerful home stereo as well as huge home speakers in the back seat of his car.  He was the person who introduced me to Kraftwerk via “The Man Machine” album. “The Robots” came on and my mind was blown. What a sound! I believe I was fourteen years old at the time and it left a permanent impression.

Even though it didn’t register as an influence at the time, the music used in the original “Cosmos” series with Carl Sagan certainly played a role in shaping my musical future. Specifically, I am referring to the songs by Vangelis.

Even though I had heard “The Four Horsemen” by Aphrodite’s Child, I only learned many years later that Vangelis was in the band.

Gary Numan is considered to be one of the pioneers of electronic music, primarily through synth pop.  He appeared on the scene when punk rock was in full-force with his band The Tubeway Army.  During their recording session, Numan ran across a Minimoog and things have never been the same for him…or me, for that matter. He has been a major inspiration for me when it comes to writing electronic music.

From the first time I heard Gary Numan until the first time I wrote my first “electronic” music track was approximately twelve years. The following old demo was made on a Yamaha SY55. It’s not great, but it gives you an idea of how things started out for me back then.

Yamaha SY55

“October”

I was living in Nashville, Tennessee at the time and met a talented musician named Todd Gerber. Todd is a musical wizard and was a real wiz-bang with the Casio SK-1 sampling keyboards he had at the time (perhaps he still has them). He was able to flow with anything you cooked up and he always had interesting ideas. We recorded a few times before I moved to Cincinnati. Here is an untitled demo from around the same time (1992). Apologies for the poor source material, but the tapes didn’t age well.

“Untitled”

At the same time, I was learning how to code music in tracker programs on the Amiga computer (A500).  While my work on the Amiga was not very good, the time spent tracking was certainly a very educational experience and introduced me to sampling and editing digital audio. That information has been invaluable to me as a producer, composer, and learning audio engineering with Pro Tools. The following track was written in OctaMED and eventually bounced a long time ago to mp3 with an unfortunate reverb effect. The edited speech is from the original “Planet Of The Apes” film from 1968.

Amiga 500

“ZPG”

I did manage to get a couple of Amiga mods published (one in a game and one as part of the sample songs in a distribution of some music software).  Nothing major, but certainly encouraging for me.

Eventually, the Yamaha SY55 and the Amiga 500 were gone and replaced by a Korg Triton. It was very overwhelming when I began writing on the Korg sampling workstation. I rarely used the sampler as I had already switched over to a PC and enjoyed manipulating audio samples in the box as opposed to using the tiny screen of the Korg. Almost everything from the “Umbra” album was made using the Korg Triton.

Korg Triton

After writing material for my first electronic music album (ambient and dark ambient compositions), I uploaded them to mp3.com back around the turn of the century. Some of the tracks charted and caught the ear of Don Adams Jr. who contacted me about licensing some of the compositions to be used in a horror film. I was extremely excited and completely on board with the idea. It wasn’t that many years prior to that when I had wanted to work on soundtracks and now it fell in my lap. I was truly grateful and Don was really courteous and professional about the whole deal.

Over the next ten years, I dabbled here and there while spending most of my time playing drums and learning guitar. After retiring from the road after the birth of my daughter, I began working more in my little home studio and writing a lot of music.

Speaking of Gary Numan, I produced a collection of songs inspired by and released as a tribute to Gary Numan in March of this year. The Replicon Project is different from other tribute albums in that all of the songs are original compositions written under the influence of Numan’s music.

More recently, I have worked on synth pop, dark ambient, industrial, dark/cold/new wave, tracks using synths, VSTs, and samples. Here are some demos of what I have been working on recently.

“Circles of Black and Red” is a bit of synth pop and was written back in April.

“Circles of Black and Red”

“Codin Roil” (another synth pop tune) was written December 8, 2012

“Cells” was loosely inspired by Kraftwerk.

“Tree of Tears” was written a few days ago and came about during a late night session while playing with a Rhodes keyboard patch. My four-year-old daughter heard it the following day and told me that it sounded like “someone crying in a deep, dark forest,” hence the name.

“Tree of Tears”

Not everything I have been doing lately has been solo. I have also been collaborating with friends on various projects. One of my favorite pieces is something I wrote with Jason Whitcomb.  We have a handful of projects we work on together, but this is from the “dark ambient” side of things. It started off like so many other recording sessions I work on…late at night…in a darkened basement studio.  As I played the piano, a visual of a face of a woman trapped under ice began to appear in my mind. It didn’t take long to come up with the foundation.  Jason added some truly frightening elements and “A Face Under The Ice” was completed.

“A Face Under The Ice”

Speaking of collaborations, did I mention I worked with Trent Reznor on a project?  Well, not exactly.  NIN has a remix site where they provide stems from songs so you can remix them however you see fit.  It was eye-opening to hear the stems from some of his tracks (impressive quality). I did a “metal-esque” remix of “1,000,000” and sent it up to the site. It sounds like this.

“1,000,000” (Rodin Coil Remix)

That should give you a “brief” overview of my origins and where I have been heading so far. My music has been used in commercials, film, music videos, dance performances, audio plays, played on the radio, shown up on bootleg mp3 sites, played live, and even had a track top the mp3.com Dark Ambient chart at one point.

I currently have quite a few projects in the works.  Some are solo, some are collaborations, all of them are great fun to be working on. I am very grateful to those who have inspired me along the way, to those who have helped me on my musical journey, and I look forward to creating new music and sharing it with those who are willing to take a moment to listen.

Thank you!

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My Top 20 List of Film and Television Soundtracks From 1970-1980

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 My Top 20 Film & Television Soundtracks From 1970-1980

(with a focus on horror, science fiction, and fantasy)

On rare occasions, when I am not making music, I have time to listen. When I listen, it is generally to radio plays. I also enjoy listening to soundtracks. There were a lot of great films made in the 70’s and 80’s and, as you would expect, some great music was created to go along with them. Of course, there is no guarantee that a great film will have a great score. Sometimes you can find great music in a bad film.  Whatever the case, there are many excellent films out there to enjoy and just as many fascinating soundtracks and scores to listen to.

I have enjoyed horror films and the music contained therein since I was a kid. Speaking of my childhood…the first film I remember seeing (not at home) was “Escape To Witch Mountain” at a drive-in theater in 1975.  They also played Pink Panther cartoons that night. While none of the music from “Escape To Witch Mountain” stuck with me, the theme from the Pink Panther cartoons certainly did.  It wasn’t the beginning of my life-long love affair with film and television music though.  That happened when I heard the theme from “The Twilight Zone.” There was a lot of great music in “The Twilight Zone” created by incredibly talented artists like Nathan Van Cleave, Jerry Goldsmith, Fred Steiner, and Bernard Hermann, just to name a few.

Twilight Zone ComposersIn my youth, I also enjoyed watching classic Universal and Hammer horror films, Godzilla movies, Three Stooges shorts, Marx Brothers films, and plenty of cartoons.  Speaking of cartoons, Carl Stalling, anyone? \m/ Since I’m digressing a bit, I should mention that there are some great pieces of music hidden away in thousands of radio plays. Not just CBS EZ Cue drops, either. Okay, back to film and television. Once the 70’s came around, synthesizers became more commonly used in film music. This is where my interest comes in.

The first time I heard synthesizers, I knew it was the future pouring into my ears. Hearing them used in film music was inspiring to me…no matter how cheesy or how low the film budget may have been, I couldn’t get enough of those futuristic sounds! Quite a few of my favorite tracks from film and TV have synths in them and most are from horror/science fiction/fantasy genres with a few exceptions. I will also confess I may have some sort of Mellotron fetish, but that can be addressed in another post.

On to the list!

20. Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – Brian Song by Michael Palin, André Jacquemin, David Howman, John Du Prez, and Sonia Jones (1979)

Lyrics by Michael Palin….and fine lyrics they are!

19. Exorcist II – Magic and Ecstasy by Ennio Morricone (1977)

Sure, the movie is…uh…not the best, but this track is rockin’! Speaking of, I like Exorcist III the best out of the three. Snakefinger did a great cover of this track on his “Chewing Hides The Sound” LP from ’78.

18. Andromeda Strain – Wildfire by Gil Mellé (1971)

Talk about futuristic sounds…lots of found sounds and atonal noise to put you on edge. The soundtrack was released on a hexagonal-shaped LP and can set you back $30-400! Perfect for fans of noise and difficult listening. You can see some photos of the LP on this blog.

17. Eraserhead – In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song) by David Lynch and Peter Ivers (1977)

Yes, it was THAT Peter Ivers. This song (and the film) is haunting, to say the least. I consider this track to be an incredibly powerful earworm. The rest of the soundtrack is worth listening to…in the dark.

16. Maniac – Maniac’s Theme (Main Titles) by Jay Chattaway (1980)

This is a beautiful and fiendish piece of music. I especially love the great melody and tasty fretless bass guitar work.

15. Suspiria – Suspiria by Goblin (1977)

Goblin is one of my favorite bands. Hell, I even own a Goblin t-shirt that glows in the dark! \m/ They were originally a prog-rock band when they were called in to replace the composer for “Profondo Rosso.”

14. Zombi 2 – Sequence 8 by Fabio Frizzi (1979)

Fabio Frizzi, another talented Italian composer on my list, has created seriously creepy music for Lucio Fulci films. Does it have synths? Oh yeah! Does it sound dated? Oh yeah! Is it good? OH YEAH!

13. Kolchak: The Night Stalker – Theme by Gil Mellé (1974)

I used to watch this show with my father and it scared the hell out of me. I still love it and the theme remains a favorite of all-time.

12. Fantastic Planet – Deshominisation (I) by Alain Goraguer (1973)

Having enjoyed cartoons since childhood (Warner Brothers, Tex Avery, Hanna Barbera, Filmation), I also love quite a few animated feature films.  This is one of the best from the 70’s in my opinion and the groovy soundtrack is quite enjoyable.

11. Phantasm – Intro and Main Title by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave (1979)

Do you like silver balls? Do you like silver balls that can fly? Do you like silver balls that can fly through the air, pierce your skull, and suck your blood out? Hell yeah! Don’t we all?!? This soundtrack has a strong scent of the 70’s, but don’t let that discourage you. It’s worth throwing on your over-sized headphones, kicking your bellbottom-covered legs up onto the speaker, and staring at your black light poster collection as you wig out to the freaky sounds created for this happenin’ film from 1979.

10. The Fog – Matthew Ghost Story by John Carpenter (1980)

John Carpenter is not only a great filmmaker, he is also a very talented musician who created some of the coolest soundtracks in the 70’s and 80’s.

09. A Clockwork Orange – Title Music by Wendy Carlos (1971)

This powerful title theme  (Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, Z. 860 by Henry Purcell) reinterpreted by Wendy Carlos still resonates with me after all these years. It’s hard not to visualize pieces of the film when you hear the music. Some may accuse electronic music of having no “soul” or depth or warmth, but I say Wendy Carlos proves that to be wrong.

08. Profondo Rosso – Profondo Rosso by Goblin (1975)

Goblin returns again! This was the track that sent them into the soundtrack stratosphere.  Claudio Simonetti blends a taste of classical music, prog-rock, and his own unique compositional styling into an incredibly memorable tune.

07. Nosferatu the Vampyre – On the Way by Popol Vuh (1979)

Florian Fricke, founder and mastermind behind Popol Vuh, worked on a handful of great Werner Herzog films. While originally interested in electronic music, he returned to acoustic music and composed some of the most majestic and beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. This particular track is fairly minimal and works quite well outside of the film.

06. Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) – Main Title by John Williams (1977)

What 70’s soundtrack list would be complete without something from John Williams? What else is there to say? Well, I can still remember quite a lot about seeing this in the theater when it came out. When the music started, everyone in the room new it was going to be something special.

05. Halloween – Halloween Theme by John Carpenter (1978)

Yes, it’s the Top Five! This is a legendary piece of horror film music. I recall John Carpenter saying that the origins of the piece came from his father teaching him an exercise in 5/4. If you are a horror film fan and you haven’t heard this theme, you may live under a rock.

04. Aguirre, the Wrath of God – Lacrime Di Re by Popol Vuh (1972)

This is an incredibly beautiful piece of music. I never grow tired of it. While I have only seen the film once and enjoyed it, this track stands by itself extremely well.

03. Doctor Who – Main Theme (originally by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire) updated by Peter Howell (1980)

Doctor Who left quite an impression on me as a young teenager. Who can forget Tom Baker and his impressive hair, long scarf, and wicked grin? The original theme is my favorite version, but this list only covers ’70-’80 and I really like the Peter Howell version too!

02. Dawn Of The Dead – L’alba Dei Morti Viventi by Goblin (1978)

If you will recall, I mentioned Goblin being one of my favorite bands, so it should come as no surprise to see them appear in the Top Five! Great movie, great soundtrack, great film library music cues, too! This track has been very inspirational to me as a musician (as well as Goblin). It is also another example of film music that needs no film to be thoroughly enjoyed.

01. The Shining – Main Title “The Shining” by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind (1980)

Finally we arrive at my #1 pick for the best film/TV soundtrack. The film itself is also at the top of my list of favorite movies. Symphonie Fantastique: Dies Irae connection? Sure! Dig those crazy tubas, man! But…this is so much better to me. I find it almost impossible to hear this theme and not picture the car driving through the mountains at the beginning of the film. I love all of the music used in the film. Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti, Béla Bartók, Henry Hall and the Gleneagles Hotel Band, Al Bowlly & Ray Noble Orchestra, Jack Hylton And His Orchestra. It is an unforgettable piece of music and will probably remain at the top of my list for the rest of my life.

There you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and perhaps discovered something new. Feel free to leave a comment with your own top 20!

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