Music Matters! To Me, Anyway …

When I first meet someone I often ask them what music they like. The most common response by far is, “Oh, you know, a little bit of everything.” I will occasionally press, and ask "If you could take only CD's by 10 artists to a desert island what would they be?" It's difficult to get people to commit.

I find that disappointing. I think it matters, at least a little, what books, movies and music people like. Or even that they have strong feelings.

I am passionate about music. It has at different times transformed me and transported me; some of my life's best moments have been at concerts. This page is devoted to some of my favorite music; I hope you discover and enjoy something as well.

Latest

Recent Articles

Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams

Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber Several years ago I was fortunate to befriend Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams. Tom is a master of the Chapman Stick, which combines six guitar strings with six bass strings. The strings are tapped rather than strummed, allowing the player to create separate parts with each hand. Tom's Stick also can drive a synthesizer, and he uses live looping in his performances as well.

Bert is an acoustic guitarist who graduated with honors from the Royal Conservatory of music in Brussels, where he studied with Monique Vigneron and Albert Sundermann (himself a student of Andrés Segovia). He is also a founding member of the California Guitar Trio.

Unnamed Lands Their latest CD Unnamed Lands blends their eclectic styles along with elements of progressive rock, folk and Americana. It is available at the Thossounds Store, Stick Enterprises and Spotted Peccary.

Tom and Bert have also worked with two legends of the Prog Rock scene, guitarist Robert Fripp and Stick master Tony Levin.

Brian Eno in the New Yorker

Brian Eno I'll be including specifics about Brian Eno's recordings and light shows elsewhere, but this article by Sasha Frere-Jones gives an excellent description of his career and methods.

Pulitzer Prize Prog

Telegraph Hill, by Michael Chabon Given my passion for "Classic Prog" rock bands such as Yes and Genesis I really enjoyed this interview, on WNYC's Soundcheck show with John Schaefer, of Pulizter Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, about his novel Telegraph Hill. Chabon discusses his passion for Prog and the role music plays both in his writing and the storyline of the novel.

Rock

The History of Classic Prog

Fragile album cover "Classic Prog," or simply "Prog," refers to a style of rock music, almost entirely English, that was born in the late 60's, exploded artistically and commercially in the mid 70's, and was basically dead by 1980. Prog bands included Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis (especially their ealier work featuring Peter Gabriel), Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Yes. Rush were heavily influenced by Prog, reflected most strongly in their albums from 2112 through Moving Pictures; in America, Kansas captured much of the Prog spirit, especially the period spanning the albums Kansas through Monolith.

David Weigel at Slate has has authored the excellent (and brilliantly titled) series Prog Spring. If you're into Prog at all, or interested in learning, it's a must-read:

Hubris is Funny – Two Prog Parody Videos

Electronic

Synthesizers and the Evolution of Modern Music

Wendy Carlos Moog Synthesizer Electronic Music is a term that's in declining use, since so much music today is produced using various forms of electronic devices. But during the latter half of the 20th century the term generally applied to music created using electronic instruments, particularly synthesizers.

For decades electronic music was created in research or academic environments, such as the Columbia-Princeton Computer Music Studio, using large, complex hardware systems. And the resulting music, while often interesting, was principally created by and for academic composers.

But in the late 1960s affordable synthesizers became available, initially from Dr. Robert Moog. One of Moog's first clients was Wendy Carlos, who'd studied music and physics at Columbia University. Carlos assembled one of the first large-scale Moog "modular" synthesizers (pictured above), and used it to create the album that brought the synthesizer to the attention of both working musicians and the music-buying public: Switched-On Bach.

This is an incomplete chronology of important early synth works, and some of the music and artists important to me.

Wendy Carlos – Switched-On Bach, 1968

Switched-On Bach The one that started it all. Carlos's Moog synthesizer was monophonic (capable of playing only one note at a time), but using an 8-track tape recorder she painstakingly overdubbed single-line parts to assemble complex, orchestrated polyphonic and contrapuntal music. Read more …

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1970

Emerson Lake and Palmer ELP's eponymous debut album is more Classic Prog than Electronic, but is included here because of the hit single "Lucky Man." Read more …

Tangerine Dream – Phaedra, 1974

Phaedra by Tangerine Dream Phaedra was the fourth album by the German trio Tangerine Dream, and the first to heavily feature the sequencer … Read more.

Isao Tomita – Snowflakes are Dancing, 1974

Snowflakes are Dancing by Tomita “I saw a synthesizer on the record jacket, behind Bach … I discovered that the synthesizer is not an instrument to compose music by using the sounds of existing instruments … Read more.

Klaus Schulze – Timewind, 1975

Timewind by Klaus Schulze Klaus Schulze was a founding member of Tangerine Dream, but departed after only one album to pursue a prolific solo career. His fifth album … Read more.

X

Wendy Carlos – Switched-On Bach, 1968

Switched-On Bach In the late 1960s affordable synthesizers became available, initially from Dr. Robert Moog. One of Moog's first clients was Wendy Carlos, who'd studied music and physics at Columbia University. Carlos assembled one of the first large-scale Moog "modular" synthesizers, and used it to create the album that brought the synthesizer to the attention of both working musicians and the music-buying public: Switched-On Bach.

Carlos's Moog synthesizer was monophonic (able to play only one note at a time), but using an 8-track tape recorder she painstakingly overdubbed single-line parts to assemble complex, orchestrated polyphonic and contrapuntal music.

Her seemingly effortless mastery led many to believe that electonic music was easy, because "the machine does the work for you." The success of SOB (as Carlos affectionately refers to the record today) led many to buy Moogs, only to discover that it was very difficult to make good synthesizer music. The Wiki page for SOB lists the slew of "switched-on" copycats that SOB spawned; most were awful. Carlos's own discography, however, includes several excellent Switched-On sequels.

The one that started it all. Carlos's Moog synthesizer was monophonic (capable of playing only one note at a time), but using an 8-track tape recorder she painstakingly overdubbed single-line parts to assemble complex, orchestrated polyphonic and contrapuntal music.

X

Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1970

Emerson Lake and Palmer

ELP's eponymous debut album is more Classic Prog than Electronic, but is included here because of the hit single "Lucky Man." The acoustic ballad, which became a staple of FM radio and ELP's signature song, features a Moog solo by Keith Emerson during the outtro, which caught the ears of many pop/rock musicians and producers.

It was a significant moment in the dawn of popular synthesizer music, and former Moog technician David Van Koevering praised "Lucky Man" as the instrument's "big breakthrough" in popular music. Emerson, however, has remained somewhat embarrassed about the song, saying "That's the solo I've had to live with!" He noted that during the recording of the solo, he was "just jamming around," and was "devastated" to learn that it was going to be used in the final version of the song without having the chance to record another take, as all the tracks had been used.

In fact, when called upon to play the solo in concerts in later years, Emerson found he wasn't sure how it went:

… [by] late 70s I hadn't played the solo from ‘Lucky Man‘ for quite a long time, so I actually called up Keyboard magazine. I knew they'd done a transcription; “do you think I could have a copy of the solo from ‘Lucky Man?‘” They said “What?” I said “It'll save me time if you send me what you came up with … so that was it. Thank you Keyboard and Dominic Milano.”

Full Wikipedia Entry

X

Tangerine Dream – Phaedra, 1974

Phaedra by Tangerine Dream Phaedra was the fourth album by the German trio Tangerine Dream, and the first to heavily feature the sequencer, a device which plays repetitive sequences of notes and which became a hallmark of the band's sound. The album is considered one of the band's best, and reached No. 15 in the 1974 British album charts with virtually no promotion or airplay.

Tangerine Dream in Coventry Cathedral In 1975 the German trio performed live in the Coventry Cathedral, an iconic structure built on the ruins of the original cathedral destroyed by the German Luftwaffe in 1940. The concert was seen by many as not only a showcase of great contemporary art, but also a celebration of peace and reconciliation.

Sorcerer soundtrack by Tangerine Dream Thief soundtrack by Tangerine Dream

The band would be principal architects, along with Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk, of the "Berlin School" and "Krautrock" sound of the 70s, and later did numerous film scores, including Michael Mann's Thief, William Friedkin's Sorcerer, (more on Sorcerer on the Movies page) and the Tom Cruise mega-hit Risky Business.

Logos by Tangerine Dream Poland by Tangerine Dream The band also produced some some excellent live recordings, including my two favorites, Logos (1982) and Poland (1984). The latter took place in Warsaw in 1984, where it was five degrees Celsius inside the arena. The crew almost cancelled the show, and the trio wore gloves while playing.

X

Isao Tomita – Snowflakes are Dancing, 1974

Snowflakes are Dancing by Tomita “I saw a synthesizer on the record jacket, behind Bach ... I discovered that the synthesizer is not an instrument to compose music by using the sounds of existing instruments, but a new instrument ... which creates unlimited sound sources".

So recalled Isao Tomita in 1977 on having heard Switched-On Bach. Tomita acquired a Moog similar to Carlos's, and less than three years later released Snowflakes are Dancing, the first of a series of classically-based electronic recordings. While clearly inspired by Carlos, Tomita steered clear of Bach and interpreted works by Debussy (on Snowflakes), Stravinsky, Ravel, Mussorgsky, Holst and Grofé.

Isao Tomita in his studio, early 1970’ Eventually assembling a large array of instruments, he adapted contemporary music, created original works, and performed large-scale outdoor concerts – his 1984 'Mind of the Universe' concert in Linz, Austria drew more than 80,000 people.

X

Klaus Schulze – Timewind, 1975

Timewind by Klaus Schulze Klaus Schulze was a founding member of Tangerine Dream, but departed after only one album to pursue a prolific solo career. His fifth album, Timewind, gained international recognition when it was awarded the 1975 Grand Prix du Disque award from the French cultural organization Académie Charles Cros.

Evolving slowly but deliberately over the course of each album side, Timewind is like an electronic version of an Indian raga. It's two track titles, "Bayreuth Return" and "Wahnfried 1883," are references to the composer Richard Wagner, to whom the album is dedicated. A page of Schulze's notes and score for Timewind show his sketches for structure and synthesizer orchestrations.

X

Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygene, 1976

Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre Jean Michel Jarre was probably born with music coursing through his veins – his father is film composer Maurice Jarre, famed for his scores to the David Lean epics Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, among many others.

Jarre studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (IRCAM) in Paris, as a protogé of Pierre Schaeffer, the chief developer of musique concrète.

His breakthrough album was Oxygène in 1976, composed over a period of eight months using synthesizers set up in his apartment's kitchen. Jarre struggled to get the album released, but publisher Francis Dreyfus's wife had studied with Jarre under Pierre Schaeffer, so Dreyfus skeptically agreed to gamble and press 50,000 copies. It would sell over 15 million.

Equinoxe by Jean Michel Jarre Oxygene was followed by Equinoxe in 1978, which sold more than 10 million copies. In 1979 Jarre performed both albums at an outdoor concert in Paris's Place de la Concorde; over 1,000,000 packed the Champs-Elysées, putting Jarre in the Guiness Book for the largest-ever concert audience.

X

Synergy – Electronic Realizations …, 1976

Electronic Realizations by Synergy In 1976 synthesist Larry Fast released Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra, the first of ten albums he would create under the name Synergy. Working from a relatively modest home studio Fast created lush, orchestral music that combined elements of classical, prog rock and even Broadway (Rodgers and Hart's Slaughter on Tenth Avenue). Fast's impressive debut led to a 10-year gig as the keyboardist for Peter Gabriel.

Sequencer by Synergy Cords by Synergy

Each Synergy album is a minor masterpiece. Sequencer and Cords showcased Fast's sophisticated song- writing and orchestrations; 30 years after its release Fast would perform "Phobos" from Cords live with the Tony Levin Band.

Games by Synergy Computer Experiments Volume 1 by Synergy Games juxtaposed pop rhythms with sounds and passages created on the Hal Alles digital synthesizer at Bell Labs; Computer Experiments utilized algorithmic composition, controlling a Prophet 5 synthesizer with a computer.

Metropolitan Suite by Synergy

Metropolitan Suite saw some of the earliest and innotvative use of digital sampling; for example, creating a flute sound by combining a sampler to create the breathy "chiff" on the front of each note with a synthesizer to create the body of the note. Synthesizer maker Roland would incorporate Fast's ideas into their hugely successful D50 synthesizer, and "sample + synthesis" technology would re-shape the electronic music landscape for years.

Semi-Conductor by Synergy The "Synergy canon" is captured beautifully on the two-disc set Semi-Conductor: Release Two, including previously unreleased material created for the film The Right Stuff.