New Music

The Band

I’ve been blessed (some might say cursed) with having a number of artistic muses inhabit (haunt) my life. Looking at my life as an artist seems a unique and valuable way to look at it. I would say looking at my life as an artist who has fought being defined as an artist. Therefore, this artist suffered the experience of law school and working for a large international corporation.

My art never left me, though. Having a number of artistic muses means that none of them dominated for more than periods/cycles of time.

My writing muse gives way to my image muse or music muse. No one art ever dominated my life as an artist. There has always been movement in my art. Cycles in this art. I wonder if it is like this for other artists?

* * *

Music has been such a strange artistic muse for me. My love for music goes back so far it is difficult to know where it really started. Perhaps it relates to my father’s love for music and the big bands and jazz of the 40s and 50s. He was in a jazz band in college and still played the saxophone.

We’ve always had a piano in our home and this seems to have played an important part in my love of music. In LA, we had a grand piano in the Livingroom, and I poked out a few notes on this when I was young. In Ohio, we had a spinet piano in our living room, and I would play it immediately after a hard day at elementary school.

Of all the arts, it seems to me that music has been the slowest and the farthest behind in development of the other arts in expressing the experience of living in the world today. After all, isn’t this the purpose of art?

Since I can remember, music has been coming in and out of my life with a cyclic regularity. Perhaps not regularity of the seasons. But certainly, a regularity.

The Kross 2 (Incredible power in five pounds)

* * *

A new music is perhaps not about creating music than using music that has already been created.

I think about this when I think of the incredible phrases and patches in the various electronic instruments of today. I think mainly about the Korg instruments from Japan since I’ve used them for years. But my comments could also apply to the overall state of music today.

Basically, it seems to me, a basic question in music today is whether to create music or sample music that has already been created. Create sounds or use/record sounds already created. It is a big question because digital sound samples are everywhere today.

They are in the phrases of the most popular music today. Phrases that many have heard repeated over and over. Phrases that might be sampled into new music. A combination of old and new.

In adding to the Music Page on our Midnight Oil site, I plan on posting new music from Midnight Oil Music to our site. Perhaps a new label? It’s too early to know.

* * *

What I do know is that I’ve collected a number of today’s leading electronic instruments to a Tascam 24 track recording studio and am playing around with the instruments. Some are new and some are rescued from their shelves in my basement. They are a Korg Minilogue Polyphonic Synthesizer, the Korg Kross 2 Workstation, the Korg Electribe Sampler, the Novation MiniNova and the Korg Kaossilator. All hooked into the Tascam studio.

Perhaps much of collecting/forming the above “band” is brought about by my failure as a pianist. I will never be like McCoy Tyner or Jesus Milano or Chick Corea. I need to accept this and realize that there might be a different type of music being created today from a different type of musical artist. He/She is not a great musician on one instrument but rather they are a musician sounds already created by others. In many cases with me, sounds created by the sound engineers at Korg. This leads to my interest in this group. (But this is another story or series). I listen to stuff by people like Jesus Molina and swear never to attempt to be a great piano player again. I can never approach his expertise as a piano player.

* * *

Yet, with all these instruments in front of me tonight, lights flashing as sequences are running, I record a simple back-and-forth discussion between a program in the my Korg Electribe and my real-time playing in the Korg Kross 2. I am both creating music and using music created by others. Here, one of the programs used was one of the hundreds that come factory-loaded into the Korgs Kross 2s. Will anyone ever discover this particular program and use it in some composition?

Just like many incredible sounds that already exist in my electric instruments above. Not for me to create but rather for me to discover and use in something larger. Discovering sounds already locked within these instruments is a journey by itself. I am astounded by the incredible sounds stored in modern electronic state-of-the-art music synthesizers. Like the ones Korg makes. The ones I have used for years in various home music studios I’ve had over the years.

The music offered is from more of a conductor than creator of music. The modern musical artist should be more of a conductor that creator it seems to me. There is a balance to be drawn though. One can be too much of a conductor or music or too much of a creator of music. Both have their problems and challenges.

* * *

As a conductor, I can use various things in the electronic instruments like samples, patches, programs or combinations. These are sounds already in the instruments. Many new songs are possible. Many incredible songs and sounds stored inside these modern Korg instruments yet little interest in exploring them to create music it seems to me.

As always, our culture seems fixated on those magicians of slight-of-hand tricks.

The musicians who directly play instruments are recognized as the standard bearers of music today. They form the great orchestras of our culture. The great musicians behind our great films. The musicians behind many of the great pop hits of the present. Artists who play an instrument have little room for using the music of others. Of doing that digital process called “sampling.” Here, it is through more of a similarity of style over a period of years.

Yet, I feel there are many great musicians out there today creating some new music not from creating new sounds on a particular instrument. But rather creating sounds by using things already created on a number of instruments. Providing an overlay embellishment in sound to the entire project perhaps.

The Korg Minilogue Polyphonic Synthesizer

* * *

An interesting thought is about the process of the modern artist in producing art. Does one create art oneself or use parts of art created by others?

Does one create his or her world? Or, do they simply sample it?

Do artists create their worlds by themselves or do they use world created by others?

Perhaps nowhere in the art world is this more a question than in the musical world where incredible sounds are contained (factory programmed) into the instruments. These sounds are waiting to be released and mixed with other sounds in the creation of a new songs.

Those who have never heard these sounds (and most never will) can only turn their attention to other arts saying that this art of sampling is little more than a fake art. Creating little original material. Simply using pieces, riffs, phrases created by others. In my situation with all my Korg instruments, the sounds contained within the Korg Company in Japan. Sounds put into the instruments by their programmers. These musical programmers are in fact artists in their own right. They are artists who place their art into programs on a musical synthesizer. These parts can be used and mixed and recorded by others without violation of copyright laws. While it is unlawful to use the sole work of one music artist, it is OK to use a collection of the work of a number of artists. This cacophony creates a new music. It is the person sitting in their music studio using samples from others, this person seems our new musical artist.

John at the Controls 

For me, it is much about exploration and exploring what’s inside these musical instruments. Their use has always been on the surface. Few have ever been interested in tweaking the insides of musical instruments.

There is so much inside the Korg instruments. It is a world that has never really been explored to any extent. Not only the programs, combinations and patterns inside a particular Korg instrument but also the interconnection between a number of Korg instruments.

One of the first tracks for a new song we are created were recorded tonight on the Tascam. It was just two tracks. The Electribe alternating between two programs in memory. Two beautiful song phrases. Over this, I play (live) the Korg Kross on the lead guitar position on the dial. I use the Modulator wheel. I am proud of the song so far at around two minutes. The Electribe patch is wonderful.

More coming from me in the future after welcoming a Korg Kross 2 to the family. Traded in my Kaossilator 88-Key for a Kaossilator 2, 61-Key. The big 88-Key Kross had been sitting on a shelf in the basement and I traded it for the new Kross 2. Now, able to put the Kross 2 in my office with the rest of the band. It is not the battleship that the Kross 88-Key was.



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