A Musician Possessed

A Musician Possessed

I like to say that being a musician is like being possessed. Once it is in your blood, it is there to stay, and the only way to “exorcise” it is by playing music. It can, and will, haunt you for the rest of your life if you try to cast it aside and the harder you try to repress it, the stronger the force it will exert upon you.

Once you pick up your instrument and begin to play, it turns from a malevolent “spirit” into a benevolent muse.

“There is no place for grief in a house which serves the Muse.” – Sappho

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The Tama “Catalyst”: a tale of practical functionality & creative fulfillment

The Tama “Catalyst”

Many years ago, my beautiful 1974 Slingerland kit (similar to this) disappeared from storage. I replaced it with a poorly made Ludwig Rocker II Power-Plus 9-piece kit (1986). I wanted a large kit, and at the time, that was an affordable option. After years of abuse, it began falling apart (couldn’t afford the big kit AND cases…lesson learned) and I gave most of it away to a friend for his daughter to play.

I took a break from the kit to study various world percussion instruments which lasted over fifteen years and turned into a career. After awhile, I began to miss having a kit to play. I visited a friend at a local music store one day and found this cheap, used Tama Swingstar kit and bought it for $600 (cymbals & hardware were included). Since I wasn’t sure how much I would be playing or what application it would serve (aside from sporadic practice in the basement), this was a very practical and functional purchase at a price that I could easily justify without making a major investment.

I salvaged the 8″ tom (cracked wrap, missing tension rods, rust, mangled heads) from the destroyed remains of the old Ludwig kit and held on to my 1980 Slingerland Magnum snare (with the annoying and expensive to replace slapshot L-shaped strainer) to assemble a Frankenkit. I also added a few cymbals and a very nice Roc-n-Soc throne. I didn’t play it much as I was still on the road quite a bit (playing percussion).

Not long after that, I became frustrated with bands/travel, was very tired and suffering from burnout, and had already begun to start a family, so I retired from the road. My daughter likes to play the kit once in awhile and now I have a son on the way. :)

I have always been fascinated with recording studios and used to do session work a long time ago. I really enjoyed it (and the pay was good). After buying a house, I decided to start buying gear to set up a simple/small home studio in the basement. I already had been gifted an old AudioMedia III sound card and a copy of Pro Tools (v5.x, I believe) that came with it. Over time I assembled enough bits and pieces to begin the learning process.  In my “top-notch” studio, I had home-made mic stands (broken camera tripods, pvc, etc.), a collection of 30+ year-old microphones pulled out of storage (a few SM58s and some really terrible junk), mics draped over plumbing, plenty of duct & hockey tape, no studio monitors, no room treatment, and only two inputs with a cheap/broken Samson mixer to work with. It didn’t deter me in the least and home-recording and writing music became my obsession.

I began working with a handful of friends on songs (albeit not all living in the same cities or countries) as well as my own solo material. There have been equipment upgrades made along the way – new mics, recording hardware, various drum heads, a drum dial, a Pearl snare, DW double-kick pedal, piles of drum sticks/brushes/mallets, two sets of monitors, hundreds of instructional videos and books absorbed, some room treatment, and now I am using Pro Tools 10.3.9. In that time, only one cymbal has broken. Sticks? Well, quite a few more than that… Was I inspired? Over the course of the last four years I have worked on easily over 700 songs, created thousands of mixes, and had to vacuum many piles of wood chips from the carpet around the kit. So, the answer is YES!

All of that time in the woodshed has been the most rewarding creative experience in my almost 40 years of playing music. I have released various projects (thanks, Bandcamp!), made some new friends, made a few music fans, written well over 100 songs of my own, learned quite a bit (with so much more to learn) about audio engineering, mixing, mastering, songwriting, and I have never been happier as a musician in my life.

…and thanks to this cheap, used, dusty old Tama drum kit I call “The Catalyst” that helped start it all.

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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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