Monday, August 11, 2008

Borne Back Ceaselessly into the Past, Part One

So, I'm cleaning up the office and organizing a lot of things in boxes, and waxing nostalgic. I am purging cables, equipment I'm not going to use any more, obsolete software, and hundreds of cassettes. Most of them are just getting tossed -- but I am doing a little preservation work on a few of them.

Over half my life ago, around winter 1986 or 1987 (it may have been 1988 too, I don't have a good memory for dates), I was a student at the College of Wooster. My friend Jim Batman and I got permission from Dr. Dykstra to go in to his office after hours and play around with his Yamaha DX-7. Jim had the keyboard chops and I had a fascination with programming synthesizers. I brought my cassette deck and we recorded the results. We would listen to sounds, and pick one to play with. I would then work on messing with the settings until I had made it my own, and Jim would then improvise a piece using that sound. Then we'd discuss what to call the piece. No silly pompous name was out of the running. I don't recall for certain, but there may have been a six-pack of Killian's Red Ale involved.

Listening to these spontaneous compositions now, I'm struck by a few things. Although the synthesizer sounds are a bit dated, I think they still sound pretty good. The pieces themselves are mostly sketches, but Jim was pretty good on keyboard and they are imaginative. The quality of the cassette recording is good enough that I decided not to bother messing around with noise reduction.

If you'd like to hear what I'm talking about, you can find the index of individual tracks in MP3 form here. And here is a zip file of the set of 8 songs as MP3 files.

The license issue is confusing. On the one hand, I don't think Jim would object to letting people hear it, so I'm making it available. But on the other hand, I haven't actually been in touch with Jim for many years, so I don't feel like I can speak for him. For now, let's call it my usual Creative Commons license.

It's worth mentioning that there were roots to this spontaneous evening. I know that Jim and I shared an interest in New Age and Industrial music. I still have a cassette called Computer Music from CCRMA, Volume 1, circa 1983. I must have purchased that by mail order back in high school. The compositions on that tape include a piece by John Chowning called Turenas, completed in 1972, using a then-new sound-generation technique called (wait for it)... FM synthesis! Chowning and Stanford licensed the patent to Yahama, and it eventually became the synthesis technique used in the DX-7. Turenas got me interested in all kinds of electronic music, and I suspect that talking about psychoacoustics and the doppler effect and FM synthesis in my college interview helped get me into the College of Wooster way-back-when!

I'd love to find a source for more music from CCRMA. As far as I can tell this cassette is long out of print, and there don't seem to be any CD recordings in print.

And finally, I'd love to hear from Jim!

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