One of my favorite jobs as a young studio assistant at Elias Arts –then Elias Associates–, circa 1991, was scouring the city for unusual ethnic and exotic instruments, which I was then directed to supervise restoration and sample for use in our own in-house sample libraries.
In those days samples were stored on 5” floppy disks and Winchester Drives, and triggered on quarter million dollar keyboard interfaces called Synclaviers.
In order to locate unusual instruments, I visited not just music instrument dealers, but also art galleries and pawnshops all over Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Some of the finest exotic instruments were found in chic furniture shops. I once saved an Thai Glong thad type of barrel drum from the basement of ABC furnishings, where it was destined, it seemed, to be sold as a decorative coffee table.
But I was not about to let a drum constructed for a classic Thai ceremony waste away doing nothing so much as supporting the latest issue of Vogue magazine. True, it is not within my means to save every drum, but at least I could save this one.
Eventually, I designated that singular drum as the voice of several percussion tracks on an interactive Sesame Workshop Project I later produced through my own audio company, Blister Media.
Sometimes I think that maybe despite all the other high profile ad campaigns I produced, or the profits made for various multinationals, or the markets moved as a result of one successful marketing strategy or another, –that my own real purpose in life, as a music producer, on planet Earth, was simply to save that drum so that it could teach kids the world over for a time, the joy of rhythm and song.
I don't endow all inanimate objects with souls, but I know every musical instrument I've ever played has had one.
Software Plug-ins, I'm not so sure about. Probably not, but even my vintage electronic Minimoog has a mind of its own.
It was in fact the task of sampling another drum –a red and white, hour glass shaped Asmat drum with a lizard skin top– a small Tibetan Bell and a weathered pawnshop autoharp, with which I made my first small contributions to future commercial recordings.
Once we finished capturing the sound of all the new instruments, Alex Lasarenko had many of them hung on the walls, alongside Jonathan Elias' vintage ARP synthesizer.
The ARP was legendary for having been used to score the famous ALIEN trailer where the moon-like egg cracks open and the audience is creepily reminded that, ‘In Space No One Hears You Scream’.
To my eyes, the collection resembled the trophies assembled by a big game hunter, of which Jonathan certainly was in the world of commercial music production.
A life hanging on a wall may not seem so different than life as a coffee table, I suppose, but at least we took those instruments down every once in a while and played them.
And the Thai drum was mine. I took it home.
Speaking of Animism, I would not be surprised if some of my original samples continue to live a life quite independent from my own, voicing melodies and rhythms on ever new commercial recordings, year after year.
Quite likely, I'll die before they do!
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Click on any link below to read the entire Mystic Audio Series:
1. Glossolalia: Speaking In Tongues
2. The Ur-Song
3. Theta Waves, Mantras & The Lord's Prayer
4. Atomic Rhythms
5. Thai Drum Samples For Sesame Workshop