My early music production experience (12-13 yrs old) consisted of a Casio keyboard, $50 Randix dual cassette deck boom box, Radio Shack DJ mixer, hand-me-down short-scale Telestar bass and a Harmony acoustic guitar. My father also built a number of effect boxes and gadgets that I’d play with from time to time. There was never really a time when I thought of music as separate from the recording process. So from the very beginning I have always liked creating and capturing different sounds.
Money was always tight, so I never had the best of anything musically. Later, in high school, when I became more serious about music, I got a Fostex 4-track cassette recorder to make demos. That was life changing. These were the early days of CDs, long before the digital revolution truly took hold. When the KORG M-1 came out, I was still dabbling with a Poly 800 and a pre-MIDI KORG Lambda. My fascination with sound continued, usually in a musical context, but sometimes in a more abstract sense. I’d listen to records and tapes with headphones late at night so I could concentrate on how things were structured. I listened for the subtle things that you could miss listening through speakers in a room or on a car stereo. I was always aware that there was more at work than just words and chords. That soon led to exploration of the theories of psychology and music, and more esoteric ideas such as those of Hazrat Inayat Khan.
It just so happened that the technology and my influences at the time steered me into the direction of producing lyrical music focused on guitar as the accompanying instrument, usually acoustic. So that approach became the centerpiece of my writing and recording adventures throughout the 90s and into this decade.
Yet, there were always little experiments happening along the way. Abstract instrumental interludes, sonic washes of sound, microphones tossed out windows to record whatever was there, reel-to-reel tapes slowed down or sped up, and combinations of new instruments and used equipment that I knew would (probably) never see the light of day. What frustrated me most about these experiments wasn’t their obvious obscurity and questionable marketing potential – it was the amount of time/energy it took to work on them, and the fact that they were not very reproducible in a live setting. There’s also the obvious criticism from some, including my wife, that some of the stuff is “Nintendo music” – meant as a derogatory term. And in some cases, I might agree.
So from album to album (1997 – 2007), all of the experiments that piled up were brushed aside for “one day” when I had to the time to work on them – or the tools that would make them easier. I think I was also looking for a reason to pursue them – some validation that others had done so and reaped some reward. As other influences permeated my experience (Dan Lanois, Tom Waits, Beck, Bjork, Ry Cooder) I saw that there were producers and artists who were doing things with sound that were not always mainstream, but always interesting. This led deeper into private studies of experimental music, electronica, found objects, etc.
Along with those discoveries, I had a new-found appreciation for the function/meaning of music in a post-modern world. Those insights came largely from studying intercultural communication and rhetoric. In the last 5 years in particular, we’ve seen musical success codified in “American Idol” terms, so the carrot of that sort of musical success became much less appealing.
The simple joy of sitting down with an acoustic guitar is a special thing. I would not trade that for anything. I think one reason that experimental music may have such a bad rep is that some composers miss that point of connecting with something organic. But we’re also in a golden age of musical creation that. There are new instruments, new audiences and new mediums for carrying music and sound to others. To not become educated in these areas is to be less of a musician. The term “musician,” as I see it, should be redefined to include producer, scientist, and alchemist.
That “one day” mentioned earlier is getting closer. Time is a funny thing, and really the fact is I have not taken the time. So I’ve decided to change that. As for the tools, they have actually been available for a couple years, and with some recent upgrades to my PC and studio, I really have no excuses. As for my self-assessed “obvious obscurity and questionable marketing potential,” media has changed so much in the past 10 years that I can see more outlets than ever. Web, video games, movies, cable… are all screaming for new music. New media outlets have broken down their barriers of entry to the point that it is now more feasible to think of experimental music in the context of a career. So while chasing the carrot of stardom with this material is not the point, there is some case to be made for thinking of this as a more productive exercise than perhaps I once did. …