Sunday, April 25, 2010

The original version of "Passage"

I have blogged quite a lot about this composition in the past, which you can read here, and also referenced here and most recently here.

I decided it would be good to record the "original version" as it was composed for that Freshman Composition class at the Belmont College School of Music in 1979. This is pretty much exactly what I heard in my head at the time, and the music is exactly what I played for the class (if my 30 year old memory can be trusted). As I mentioned previously, I eventually want to showcase the entire "Suite" of "Serious Compositions" which I wrote between 1979 and sometime in the early 80's in a single blog post, and I only have a few more pieces to record before I can do that. But this is the piece of music that started it all, and this was my very first attempt at actually "composing" (not to be confused with the art of "songwriting" which I gave up on years ago!).

Recently, my amazing wife insisted I buy myself a really top-end laptop computer on which I can do my music "anywhere, anytime". After looking around at commercial laptops such as Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc, and reading music blogs (including many horror stories) and otherwise researching this, I decided to stick with ADK Pro Audio, where I purchased my main studio computer over two years ago. I have nothing but great things to say about Scott and his whole crew based on my past experiences...they are fabulous people with a passion for great, continuing customer support long after the sale. They sell computer systems specifically for the Digital Audio market, and they are extremely well respected in their field. Scott fixed me up with a killer laptop based on an Intel Core i7 M620 processor, with 8GB RAM and all the fixings, as we say here in the south (the "K" in ADK does stand for "Kentucky" after all!).

I was thinking that this new addition to "Studio B" would give me the ability to "start things", but that I would probably still transfer the projects down to "Studio A" to finish them. Well, I had no idea how much processor speeds have improved in the two years since I bought my quad-core machine from ADK! This laptop will do everything my big machine will do, and without breaking a sweat. It actually runs Pro Tools better than the other machine (still not completely sure why that is).

I recorded this version of "Passage" in Pro Tools 8 M-Powered using Kontakt 4 for the Rhodes and CP-80 piano sample that makes up the main "piano" part. The synths you hear are all from the CPU-hungry folks at Arturia, specifically the Moog Modular V (Taurus bass sound), the Jupiter V (String machine sound), and the Arp 2600 V (lead sound). I laid on the mastering and EQ plugins pretty heavy while mixing this down, and saw my CPU meter holding steady at less than 20%. Amazing.

In the few weeks since Studio B got this upgrade, I've only spent a couple of hours in studio A! I actually did start and finish this piece completely on my new laptop. Amazing technology. What a great time it is for musicians to be alive.

A HUGE "THANK YOU" to my lovely and amazing wife LoriLea for upgrading "Studio B"!

Hope you enjoy this "Original Version" of "Passage", composed in the 20th century...recorded well into the 21st!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Thursday, April 01, 2010


The year was 1981. February. I had been on the road touring with "Amy and Members Only" for several months, my first "professional musician" job. We landed this really sweet gig in Stratton, Vermont, where Olympic skiers train, to play a one night party for the U.S. Olympic Team. Payment was 6 days worth of lift tickets and lodging in a huge chalet for the whole band.

First day there, me and the bass player, Dow Tomlin, took some skiing lessons, since we were the only two newbies. It went pretty well, and by the end of the day we were doing the beginners slopes, him more successfully than me by far. I have never had a good sense of balance, and NOTHING about downhill skiing felt intuitive to me (plus I hadn't and still haven't ever been water skiing). I could get down and only have 3 or 4 major falls or tree crashes with each run.

Second day there, back at it that morning, my hardware kept malfunctioning and one or both skis would pop off when I would put any stress on them. They tried to tune them twice but it kept happening to me. Then it happened at a very bad time and I took a horrible fall, dislocating my "trick shoulder" which I had major surgery on just 18 months prior. Not good. As I writhed in the snow in excruciating pain, bellowing at the top of my lungs, I was finally able to pop it in myself, and then I somehow got down the rest of the way and went to see the on-site doctor. Well, he took one look at my surgical scar and dished out a huge bottle of pain-killlers. No more skiing for me this week.

With several days alone in the chalet with my keyboards, I decided to continue composing additional sections to the suite of "serious music" that I had started in college, and which I blogged about here and here. I had actually started a slow and very melodic piano-solo piece and finished it in my head for a third "movement", but since I couldn't actually play very well with my arm in a sling, I started writing a fourth movement, one I envisioned as being a very strong Proclamation of life.

I stumbled upon some very cool chords...the right hand playing F major and Bb major, over the left hand playing Bb and Eb (a 4th higher than the tonic). Sounded very progressive to me at the time...still does actually. Probably borrows quite heavily from Keith Emerson and Aaron Copeland, not surprisingly. Some shifting time signatures, and then a B-section in 5/4. I wrote it all down on staff paper, and got very excited about this piece. I remember that the guitar player, Dan Searles, loved the B-section and couldn't get enough of it. That is, until I kept playing (through headphones of course) after everyone else crashed. They would yell down, "Hey John, that clunky sound is keeping us awake" -- me banging the keys!

The amazing thing is that I have managed to keep up with the hand-written scores of this piece for the last 30 years. You can view the A-section here...and the B-Section here. Notice the pretentiousness on page one: "Sonata #1 for Polyphonic Synthesizer and Piano". LOL!!! and "Part 1 - Exposition". Ah youth...pretentious and didn't care a bit.

Now, those of you that listened to the the song "Passage" earlier may notice that the final section of Passage is exactly like the B-section of this piece, Proclamation. Here is the story. Originally, Passage was JUST the A-section, repeated twice. It only had to be 16 measures long to meet the requirements of the Freshman Music Comp class! But as the years went by and I continued to work on this "suite", I started playing a "reprise" version of Passage that ended with the 5/4 section of Proclamation, and that is actually what I recorded a few months ago for that other posting. Perhaps soon I will record the original Passage and the other three pieces in the suite and put them all up on one page so they can be listened to in order.

Anyway, for tonight, here is "Proclamation". Enjoy

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Painting courtesy of Ken Ahlering