The Post-it note that started it all

My recently completed rock opera, 8-Bit Time Machine, did not begin as most of my albums do, with a list of song titles to serve as inspiration, an overarching concept, and a handful of drum beats or keyboard grooves.

No, it began with this Post-it note.

8-Bit Time Machine chords Post-it

You see, I keep my cheap Fender Strat hanging next to my desk in the studio, so whenever I feel inspired or just need a mental break, I can take it down and noodle for a few minutes. In September I started tinkering with a chord progression, which I had to write down so I wouldn’t forget it, and then I continued to expand on it and rework it, until it became the structure for track 10, “You’re Not That Old Anymore.”

In fact this chord progression ended up serving as the basis for almost the entire album, as it first appears (in its entirety) on a keyboard in the opening track, and crops up again in bits and pieces in other tracks (especially #2, “Daydream of the 8-Bit Time Machine”, and #7, “(No) Meaning in the Machine”), before getting its full realization in the album’s penultimate track.

I kept this Post-it note stuck right on the front of that Strat for over a month before I actually began recording the album. At that point the chords were in my blood and I no longer needed a cheat sheet to remember them. But I kept it anyway as a rare physical memento of the unusual origins of this most unusual album.

Obviously not everything from the Post-it was entirely relevant. There’s nothing on the album in 5/8, for instance, although perhaps that interest in 5 is what inspired the crazy quintuplet drum fills in the loud section of track #8, “Horizontal Hold”.

Introducing my new album… a ROCK OPERA no less… 8-Bit Time Machine!

Anyone who’s following me on the social medias knows I’ve been working for the past couple of months on what is probably my most absurdly ambitious solo music project to date: a rock opera with a retro-geeky theme.

The album is finished. I’m still working on perfecting the masters before I release it for download and get CDs pressed, but you can now immerse yourself in the full 8-Bit Time Machine experience over on the new website I’ve set up for the album:

The website features a page for each of the album’s 11 tracks, where you can listen to the track while reading the lyrics and notes about the story. (Note: As the audio is in MP3 format, it will work in Firefox. Any other modern browser that supports HTML5 audio will play the tracks automatically.)

Stay tuned for more information about a final release date!

8-Bit Time Machine

P.S. Yes, there is a track (a rather musical one at that) consisting of nothing but sounds from Atari 2600 games.

P.P.S. Yes, there is also one track with full-on autotuned vocals. How do I rationalize this use of one of my most despised audio technologies? You’ll just have to listen to figure it out.

Rock opera update/teaser: a first listen!

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook probably knows by now that I’m working on a semi-top-secret (wha??) rock opera. Yes, it’s true!

I am not yet ready to reveal the full details of the project, but suffice to say it is in the late stages. It’s mostly down to recording vocals, which is sure to be the most time-consuming part of the process. I am shooting for a January-February 2013 release date at this point.

But it’s time for a first listen now! Of the 11 tracks on the album, 7 will have vocals. But I’ve made one of the instrumental tracks available in a rough mix form now on Alonetone. You can check it out here! (Or, if your browser is adequately HTML5-itized, you can play it below.)

All of the sounds on this track come from Atari 2600 video games. Specifically, they come from actual Atari and Activision games that were available in the early 1980s. I sampled these sounds out of the commercial emulators for these games that are available for the iPhone, created a software instrument from the samples (using this technique), and played them on my keyboard to produce the music you hear. The sounds are minimally processed… other than some EQ and reverb, they sound exactly like they did in the original games (especially Super Breakout, which provides most of the “melodies” you hear).

Sleep is now available

We all need more Sleep, right? Now you can download my latest album for free from Bandcamp.

Sleep began as a concept for my 6-year-old daughter. Last November, she asked me to record an album for her to listen to as she fell asleep. The first track I recorded at the time was what became “Rapid Eye Movement,” and she immediately declared it a failure… it was too creepy for her to fall asleep to, she said.

I quickly realized that any album I made about the concept of sleep was going to veer off into dark and mysterious territory not suitable for peacefully lulling a 6-year-old off into dreamland. And maybe that’s the point. Sleep is not just peaceful rest. It’s a dark and strange landscape where our minds confront their deepest fears and desires, where our subconscious comes out to play… or to wreak havoc. Sure, there are also moments of peace and bliss, but sleep is many different things, sometimes all at once. This album seeks to capture the essence of sleep in all its complexity.

After my daughter wrote off the album, I largely did too. Or so I thought. But over a period of months I accumulated a grab bag of musical sketches and partially-complete tracks, composed primarily late at night on my iPad as I lie awake in bed. Then in mid-June, my 9-year-old son drew a surreal picture he called “The Super Weird Face.” It had a strange, dream- (or nightmare-) like quality. Immediately I knew it was the cover art for the album, and it inspired me to collect all of these stray musical ideas I had been working on and turn them into the final collection of 17 tracks that comprise the finished album.

My one sentence summary is this: The album is a sonic journey into, through, and out of the landscape of sleep and dreams.

Please have a listen and let me know what you think! (If you really like it, you can also buy the CD for $8.99 from Kunaki.)

Front cover art

Insert art

Jewel case back tray art

CD print art

A first look at the Sleep cover art

As usual, I am putting the cart before the horse with my new album, Sleep (which may end up with the title Sleepy Sleep, if I can get over the fact that unless you get the Beach Boys reference and understand the history of this project, it sounds kind of stupid).

This past weekend, my 9-year-old son Fletcher drew a phantasmagorical picture that I knew on sight was the perfect cover illustration for an album whose music probes sleep, dreams and the subconscious. I scanned the image, colorized and further manipulated it in Photoshop (while, I believe, staying true to the spirit and design of the original), and added some type set in the Dickens McQueen font designed by Kyle Fletcher and distributed (for free!) by Chank Fonts. (Full disclosure: I built the current version of the Chank website, with design by Robert Pflaum.)

I think this cover art is looking great, and it is going to inspire me to keep working and finish the album!