Tuesday, June 05, 2001

Electro Art Jams with Philharmonic Strings

When I finally assumed something approximating a degree of professional and technical studio competence I began to collaborate on a number of sonic art projects with both Chris Fosdick and Michael Sweet (both of them assistants and engineers to record producer and film composer, Jonathan Elias).

For a song I wrote, called ‘Return to Zero’, I asked Michael to record me in Studio B while I was making a local call from studio A. To accomplish that I sang the vocal to a mix patched in from Studio A. I always loved the thin sound of trebly mono. Must have something to do with growing up with Panasonic cassette decks. Sure, you could dispense with the phone system and simply EQ a normal vocal take that way, but would it be half as fun? No.

Overwrought productions replete with inventive recording techniques taught me a lot about practical hands-on music production. And of course, if I discovered anything interesting in the process, you can be sure I found a way to incorporate it into the work-for-hire projects that were the bread and butter of the business.

It was on such personal musical projects that I tried out techniques and talent before introducing it or the Creative Director or to the compositional staff, which I did usually in the way of a recommendation for a commercial job.

In the process, I also became acquainted with the talents of –and made friends with– many of the session musicians and singers that I would work with throughout the rest of my career. Valerie Wilson Morris of Val's Artist Management and Sandra Park Tremante who played fiddle at the New York Philharmonic were early supporters, and they also gave me good career advice along the way, too.

Today when I listen to those tracks, more than the songs themselves, I get a thrill out imagining the people playing those parts: Doug Hall’s Hammond B-3 and Fritz Doddy’s funky bass kicking off ‘Outer Space’; Alexander Lasarenko’s ambient piano intro at the top of ‘Never Going Back To Earth’, and his lush harmonies throughout ‘The Strangest Boy’; Sandy Park’s psycho pizzicato and Valerie’s ethereal vocals floating just under the stoic sentiment of ‘Return to Zero’. Chip Jenkins, Chris Fosdick, Eric Schermerhorn, Kerry Smith, Ben Sher and Alton Delano all provided amazing guitar work throughout my entire repertoire.

I had a real penchant for space age themes back then, but the music was also always flavored with the terrestrial world rhythms that had served as the soundtrack to my childhood.

While Brian Eno may be a human touchstone for many electronic musicians today, Jonathan’s pop aesthetics were skewed somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Trevor Horn.

In retrospect, I think Elias attracted people who shared a similar taste, of which I was certainly one by virtue of my penchant for mixing tribal percussion with pop harmonies –and that was probably one reason that our mutual composition professor (Joel Chadabe) sent me knocking on Jonathan's door in the first place.

While a world music production for broadcast may not have been quite in sync with the American grunge zeitgeist of the time, those years at Elias Arts proved to be a great personal opportunity to seek out and work with global trend setters in music from Brazil and Kenya to China and the Caribbean, and certainly more interesting than, you know, well, just about everything.

I saw myself in motion pictures
Standing in the melting snow
If you believe in hallucinations
I'll give you some place to go

Return to, return to zero
I don't know, I don't know
If I can... 

Y'know, I'm just one man...

Return to Zero
(C)1994 by Terry O'Gara

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