Friday, 31 May 2019

Interview with Dmytro Morykit


Dmytro Morykit is aaccomplished composer and classical pianist, who has worked within many genres. He was born in Northampton, England to a Ukrainian father and Italian mother who were both displaced from their respective countries after the second world war. As a result, when he began his formal training as a pianist, aged five, he used music as his first language. A Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music (LRAM), Dmytro is celebrated for his collaborative work with other musicians and artists, including poets, choreographers, and filmmakers. He has studied under Christina Griffin and Graeme Mayo and composes music that is not merely technical but aims to provoke and evoke an emotional response from his audience.

Currently, Dmytro concentrates on performing his own works alongside the classic silent films, Metropolis (1927) and Nosferatu (1922). He performs full piano concerts that are autonomous in nature but dance alongside and create a frisson with the films. His London premiere of Metropolis LIVE: a concert comprising twenty-nine original compositions, written over the last 30 years, received a standing ovation. His two-hour score has been described as an ‘accidental marriage’ since it was not written specifically for the film but was adapted and arranged to complement it.


  1. Tell us about your work.
At the moment, I’m piano-centric although with the new album, Gathered Stones, there are electronic and orchestral elements. I would love my work to be orchestrated more or to find lyricists, but the right connections have not been made yet. Mainly, I am known for my piano concerts, which sit alongside Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. However, I have composed and played all my life alongside many different genres, including flirting with minimalism and working with poets and choreographers. My compositions are visual and have an emotional charge. I’d love to compose for ballet and, in some ways, Metropolis is a ballet.


  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your musical creativity?
Wow! A difficult one as I started playing from such an early age but my first formal compositions were not until much later; my early 20s. By then, it was my response to hearing Beethoven and Chopin, which left such a strong emotional imprint. As a young child, I found language difficult because I spoke three languages: my father’s Ukrainian, my mother’s Italian and my native English. It was easy to be misunderstood across all these cultures. Also, my father couldn’t express his war trauma and I picked up on this and think it transferred into my later work.



  1. Tell us about your musical training, learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
My musical training was very formal, classical training. However, my teacher, Christina Griffin, was inspiring. My learning process was daily practice, exams, and practice.


  1. Tell us about your prizes and commissions. 
At age 22, in 1978, I was awarded the inaugural prize for Best Music Composition at the National Student Drama Festival, which was judged by Graham Sebastian Jones, Artistic Director of the Southbank. I wrote the music originally for a theatrical piece based on The Wasteland by T. S. Elliot created at NENE University drama department. However, due to copyright issues with Elliot’s estate, the poem had to be changed and paraphrased to Valley of the Ashes. It caused quite a stir at the festival because it wasn’t a traditional drama piece. At the end of the festival, during the prize ceremony at Southampton University Theatre, they announced they had created a new prize for best original music and before they announced the winner, I began walking down the steps from the back of the room, so when they said my name, I was already there! The confidence of Youth - from there on in it was downhill as far as prizes are concerned. It was the same year that John Godber was awarded Best Drama for Toys of Age.

In 1996, I was commissioned by poet, Angus Calder and Amnesty International to compose works for poetry based on prisoners of conscience, the 12 works included poems by Pablo Neruda to contemporary poets, such as Jack Mapanje, who wrote:
“The reading and the whole programme of putting the poem to music from the distinguished composer Dmytro Morykit is the most delightful experience that I have had. Please thank Morykit on my behalf for this wonderful rendition of my poem. Now I understand why I was finally released from prison after such huge campaigns by Angus and others. Many thanks.”

A concert and reading, Dungeons to the Sky, was performed at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh for the Commonwealth Heads of State visit that year.

In 2006, the Ukrainian Consulate General of Edinburgh commissioned a commemorative piece for the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor. I worked with the choreographer, Steinvor Palsson, to create Portrait of Evil, which was performed live, filmed, and later shown at the Sene Film Festival.

In 2012, I was shortlisted along with filmmaker, Sam Spreckley, and my partner and manager, Hazel Buchan Cameron, for the 50th Anniversary commission for the Open University. Unfortunately, during the interview of the last three candidates, I was asked ‘Why does your music have to be live?’ I’m not sure my response endeared me to the judges.


  1. Tell us about the 1927 classic science fiction silent film, Metropolis, and how you came to compose and perform a two-hour score to accompany it.
Hazel and I created a performance called Music in Manufacture, which was short films about manufacturing processes, such as glass blowing, bottle making, welding and sail making and included two of Sam Spreckley’s abstract films. I played a live concert alongside. We premiered this at the Edinburgh Fringe and received a four-star review. We then performed it at our local Art Centre in Crieff.  The cinema organiser suggested afterwards that I should create a new score for Metropolis which they would show. Hazel hadn’t seen the film and agreed a date in the diary only 8 weeks hence.  With such a short time to create the score, I had to use existing pieces and discovered that many fitted almost exactly to several of the scenes. Others had to be rearranged and I also composed a few new pieces.


  1. Your live performance for Metropolis lasts two hours, without the benefit of sheet music or any form of music notation. What preparation do you undergo for your performance, and how do you recall and synchronise your work onstage?
My music is autonomous and is not reliant on me seeing the image on-screen but having a cue to the beginning of a scene. There are 29 compositions and Hazel sits beside me to give the cue in case I have a memory lapse. I have always played my own music from memory and do not find this difficult, it’s like reciting a poem. It’s hard for me to understand when people find this surprising as it is totally natural for me to create in this way. I have hundreds of pieces of my own music in my head but in order to perform comfortably, I have to recall and practice these before a performance. I only ever use sheet music when playing other people’s work.

I practice almost daily and especially more intensely the two weeks before a concert. I build it by playing a few pieces each day and adding more in until I am playing the full score right through a couple of days before the event.


  1. Tell us about your composition and performance to accompany the 1922 classic silent film, Nosferatu.
After performing Metropolis several times, I was asked on many occasions when I was going to do another silent film. Eventually, a friend emailed about Nosferatu and I gave in and decided to do it. I’m reluctant to be type-cast as a silent film musician. The music for Nosferatu is very different to Metropolis in its scale. It is moodier and more haunting to fit with the film. Again, much of the music has been recycled from other projects including dance pieces, poetry, and contemporary short films.


  1. Tell us about your tours and concerts.
There have been over 50 performances of Metropolis and Nosferatu, most have been in the UK including several in Northern Ireland. I’ve performed in large theatres and small halls and enjoy them all. In 2018, we went further afield and took Metropolis to Helsinki and Nosferatu to Estonia, where we hope to return this year with the possibility of Riga also. Last year we took Metropolis to Canada, which was a great success, and we hope to return.

In 2016, I was invited to perform Metropolis at the Green Man Festival in Wales. It was in a large Cinedrome and I had to play a keyboard which we had to tape to the stage (even then, it began to walk away from me towards the end). My back was to the audience, so I had no idea how many people had come in and envisaged a small crowd as there were a lot of events happening at the same time. However, when I played the last note, thunderous applause engulfed the drome and I took my bow to a full house with people also standing outside. I was completely taken aback and my surprise was noted by many. The steward told me it was the only time he’d seen a venue full for the entire 2 hours of a performance. I still feel it was one of my highlights. The following year, I was asked to play at Glastonbury but the financial offer was very poor and they wanted me to bring my own piano; we usually travel by train! So, with great regret, I could not agree. That is on the flip side. I do hope to play at more festivals as it brings a new audience not only to Metropolis but to contemporary classical music.

Wilton’s Music Hall has been a Godsend. They supported me from the beginning of this project and I have returned each year since, once with a three-night run. It is always a fantastic audience at Wilton’s as they know their theatre and music.


  1. Given universal freedom, where would you most like to perform your work and why?
In 2018, I performed Metropolis in the Elgar Rooms at the Royal Albert Hall. This building is an icon of my early musical career in London when performing with my brother Roman (also a musician) in bands across the London pub and club scene. Back then, I would not have imagined that I would perform there, solo. After the performance, a doorman sought me out to say how much he enjoyed the event. I realised that this was a huge compliment as he would have seen and heard so much in that building. So, perhaps, it is not unrealistic that I could perform in the main hall. That would certainly be something special and something I feel I could live up to, especially with an orchestra.


  1. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in film soundtrack composition?
A lot of this is luck, meeting the right directors or people of influence at the right time. Perhaps, the answer is to mix as much as you can with the film world, something I never did. Networking was never my forte and it took a long time, many disappointments, and failure before I achieved a modicum of success. I still hope for more, so I’m probably not the best person to ask for advice on creating a successful career. Several times after a performance, someone will ask, ‘Why have we never heard of you before?’ I’m never sure what to answer to that. Ha-ha.


  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
I find it most rewarding when I’ve worked for a length of time, and it finally begins to take shape and I believe I have created something lasting. Perseverance and focus in bucketloads are required to overcome the challenges.


  1. Who, living or dead, has inspired you and why?
Quite a list, so many will be missing. Musically; J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition), Rachmaninov and countless other classical composers. More recently, David Bowie, Rick Wakeman, Morricone, Kate Bush, Ella Fitzgerald, Dione Warwick, Thelonious Monk, Vangelis, Philip Glass, Iannis Xenakis, Michael Nyman, Ligeti and Annie Lennox. The pianist, Maria Yudina, and much opera and ballet music.

Other inspirations: Albert Camus, Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky, Peter Sellers, Audrey Hepburn, Briget Helm and Max Schreck. I am also a great admirer of Hitchcock films. Finally, not to forget, Sister Wendy Beckett.


  1. What other interests do you have?
Gardening and cooking - bon viveur. I have a long-term interest in ancient history, architecture, and art.


  1. Tell us a little about any good music you’ve heard recently or good books you’ve read.
I liked Regina Spektor’s voice when I heard it recently. Though, I think, like most current singers, she lacks good music to work with. I hate the ‘millennial whoop'. I’ve sung with the Ripon Choral Society and we recently performed Paul Carr’s Seven Last Words from the Cross and I enjoyed that.

At the moment, I’m reading The Stars of Robbie Burns by Catherine Smith, which I’ve found interesting because of the historical and philosophical content, which goes beyond a standard biography. I recently read Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. I’ve read a lot of his books and find him very erudite and engrossing as a writer.


  1. Where can we find you and your work?
I’m easily found, having an unusual and totally unique name, even when it is constantly misspelt.

My work is widely available on all music sites, including my covers and arrangements of other works. My preference is to play live and people can sign up for concert news via my website. I’m always happy to consider any request to play live - though, I’d rather not have to bring my own piano.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Interview with Dave Seeley



Dave Seeley claims to be a victim of modern mass media and the one-second-MTV-vid-shot, hence the moniker “Image Junkie”.  He is far more influenced by contemporary sci-fi film noir than by the legacy of science fiction illustration.

Dave came from an education in architecture and fine art.  After 10 years as an award-winning architect, he was seduced by the glamour of illustration and derailed his career for the far more immediate gratification of image making. The inner-architect is flourishing in his work, where a sense of materials fetishism and a love of spatial atmospherics are omnipresent.

Dave’s recent monograph, The Art of Dave Seeley, published by Insight Editions, has received top-ranked reviews from ImagineFX magazine and io9.com.  In addition, Dave is one of 10 artists profiled in Dick Jude’s Fantasy Art Masters by Harper Collins and profiled in Karen Haber’s Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art.  He is a contributor to Jane Frank’s Pixel or Paint by NonStop Press. Dave is interviewed in issue 39 of ImagineFX Magazine and is featured in the August ’06 Art Scene International.  He is also featured in the documentary film by Michael MacDonald at Roadhouse films called  Visions From the Edge: The Art of Science Fiction, and is included in the Bill Neimeyer film Art of the Fantastic.

Clients Include: Hasbro, Disney, Lucasfilm, Vivendi Universal, Microsoft Games Studios, FromSoft Games, Sideshow Collectibles, Sony, Baen Books, Tor Books, Randomhouse / Del Rey / Ballantine Books / Penguin, Harlequin Gold Eagle, Ace, St Martins, Kensington Books, PYR press, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Scholastic, Harcourt School Publishers, Night Shade Books, Solaris Books, Midway Games, Fox Interactive, The Village Voice, Heavy Metal Magazine, Popular Science Magazine, Boy’s Life Magazine, Humanoids Publishing, White Wolf Publishing, FASA, Wizards of the Coast, TSR, Wild Planet Toys, DC Comics, and a host of advertising firms.

You can see, commission, learn about and buy work in multiple media at DaveSeeley.com.


1.     Tell us about your work.

I’m far more influenced by contemporary sci-fi film noir than by the legacy of science fiction illustration. I strive for edgy, sexy, dark, high impact, gritty, witty, substantial.  At any given moment, I’ll have several obsessions bubbling in my psyche, and they all will play a role in current work.

I utilize all available tools in 2D and 3D, using photographic, digital and traditional media, and I try to add to my toolbox as often as I can.

    

2.     Tell us about your artistic training, learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.

While I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember, I went to school as an architecture major and minored in fine art. Then I practised as an architect for a dozen years while collecting comics and fantasy art before I decided to make the lateral move to being a pro illustrator. I certainly approach image making with an eye toward complex problem solving, which is the core of architectural design. I also still have a strong sense of materials fetishism and a love of spatial atmospherics. Not sure if that was in place prior to architecture training, but it persists in my work as an illustrator.


3.     How did your interest in science fiction and fantasy develop?

I’ve always been fascinated by visions of the future or alternate visions of our past.  Early television shows certainly played a part and pulp novels as a teen.  Heavy Metal magazine was a great source of sci-fi, fantasy, and libido tickling rolled into one visual package.  It introduced me to adult-centric euro-comics.

          

4.    What is the glamour of image making?

There is glamour in the conquest of a satisfying final image, and the reaction of my audience as the rabbit is pulled from the hat.  That sets one apart and provides for a low level simmering celebrity, in our tiny circle.

5.     What are your ambitions as an artist?

My ambitions have always been “to feed the art spirit, and still get paid.”  Easy to do one OR the other, or both part-time; but tough to do both simultaneously full time.  Of course, the art spirit is a moving target, so I make an effort to take time to reflect and plot my course.


6.     Tell us about your fine art tools and techniques and how you incorporate them into your art and illustrations.

Oil painting is my primary fine art tool.  Digital tools have replaced almost all else because of superiority in explorations and modifications.  I used to draw incessantly, and now, almost never.  It’s the final look/feel and painterliness of oils that I love, so often when I use it, I have already developed the image digitally to a very high degree of finish, then make an archival print, and cover it in oil paint as a final massaging of beautiful abstract mark making. 


7.     What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?

The most rewarding part is emerging from the inherent struggle of the creative process with something that is surprising and or satisfying.  All of it is challenging, and I find that sustained attention and iteration is how you overcome challenges.  Sometimes mixing several projects into a timeline helps by getting me disengaged and allowing a fresh look when I return.


8.     Tell us about your book, The Art of Dave Seeley.

The book was a very long time in the making… but awesome to have it published and out there.  It started as a conversation with Insight Editions, my publisher, about a dozen years ago, when they were doing a lot of high-end Star Wars related books.  The initial flirtation waned and went dormant because I think there was a lacklustre response from potential buyers.  In 2013, I reached out again, thinking it really was time to make the book, and they ultimately agreed.  An “art of” book is on every artist’s bucket list, so it’s very satisfying to have that one checked off.  The only substantive downside is that every time I finish a new image that I really love, I’m sad that it’s NOT in the book.


9.     Tell us about the role of photography in your work.

Photography has been in my life since my dad gave me a Canonette 28 rangefinder camera as a teen.  It was a necessary base skill in college while studying architecture, and even more so when I swapped into illustration.  I had a subsistence level skill up until about six years ago when I decided I really needed to up my game.  I expanded my equipment and began to learn a lot about studio lighting.  I rigged up a drop screen and began using model/photographer sites to track models.  I’d hire a model for a particular job, and then shoot for everything else I could think of.  It was incredibly helpful in image building for illustration to develop my own series of shoots of high resolution “stock.”  Typically publishers will only pay for a single shoot, so this allows me to do multiple characters from my backlog of pics.


10.  How essential are Photoshop, Corel Painter, and other types of software to you as a professional artist?

When I lecture on my process, I talk about my “toolbox.”  Within the toolbox, Photoshop is the glue.  It allows me to take all the disparate parts and pieces created with all the tools, and put them together seamlessly.  In contrast, Painter is a very specific tool for me.  It’s about digitally giving the image a painterly quality…so more like a very complex and multifaceted “filter” within Photoshop.  The way I use Painter, it’s only about the final finish.  There are times when I don’t have time to mount a canvas and use oil paint, and there are images where the client wants a purely digital workflow.  I use 3d software more and more.  It’s awesome for finding unexpected perspectives or lighting a complex architectural background.


11.  What advice can you give regarding copyright protection?

I can only speak to copyright protection under the US laws.  As soon as you create an image that is not derivative of another work, it is considered copyrighted.  If you chase another person’s infringement of your work, it becomes an issue of proving you created yours first, so documentation is an issue.  Registering your work with the US Copyright Office is the best way, but because of time and modest expense, most artists don’t bother.  That said, I don’t worry much about it.  I’d much rather be creating new work, than fretting over people stealing my images.  With time and expense, you can get a court injunction for infringers to stop, but you can’t get a monetary judgement from them unless you can show that their infringement has lost you revenue.  That’s an unlikely scenario for an illustrator.  If the infringer is looking at financial loss because they have to pull product from the market because of an injunction, then they will typically pay you a settlement in order to license the image. 

Flip that around, and my advice to artists who infringe on other artists’ work, is don’t do it.  It’s not legal, despite what you think you know.  There is no such thing as “changed it enough.”  “Fair use” does not apply to commercial work.  Anything derived from another’s work, in any degree, without a license, is illegal.  The rub is that it costs money and time to chase infringers, so they think they will not get caught, or they even evolve into believing that it must be ok because they aren’t seeing other infringers penalized.  Legality aside, artists who infringe develop a reputation as thieves, and at some point, clients avoid them.


12.  In the digital age, a lifetime of work can be lost in an instant. How do you store, archive, and backup your precious work?

I keep two complete sets of backups on hard drives…. and one is off-site.  I rotate the on and off-site copies as often as I can.  This is so much less expensive now that huge hard drives are comparatively cheap.  I depend on hard drives failing, but not at the same time.  Still risky, but so far so good.  Yet another set of drives in another location would be a worthwhile expense (maybe one for images only).  For backup files on hard drives, I use Carbon Copy Cloner to keep them identical.  That does NOT protect me from overwriting as yet un-cloned files (usually current working files) inadvertently.  For that, I use Apple’s Time Machine functionality with a dedicated 8tb drive inside my desktop computer… hourly.  That way, I can protect anything over one hour’s work.  The only time it has failed me is when I inadvertently overwrite a file without realizing it for a long period of time.  That happens.


13.  Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently or good books you’ve read.

I’m constantly discovering new art I like/love.  Facebook and Instagram are great for that.  Recent discoveries are http://nicolasuribeart.com/ and  https://willeysart.com/ , both via Instagram.  Currently enjoying audiobook Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.  Fun to get a long-term perspective, and to ponder that we were happier as hunter-gatherers.


14.  What are your other interests?

When I was an architect I had hobbies in personal computing, collecting comics and art, painting, drawing, travelling and woodworking.  Most of those have been subsumed in my career as an illustrator, and I am ALWAYS working.  Even when I’m on vacation, I shoot pictures that I might use in my illustrations. 


15.  Where can we find you and your work?

The Art of Dave Seeley is a great collection up through February 2015.  The only piece I had, but could not show because of NDA, was Ronin.
Signed Slipcased edition available through me exclusively on eBay.

Or Trade Edition via Amazon.

Online:


Friday, 15 April 2016

Interview with Armen Chakmakian



Armen Chakmakian is an Armenian-American musician, composer, recording artist, and producer. A native of Glendale, California where he still resides, Armen attended the Berklee College of Music, UCLA, and USC. 

His professional recording career began in 1991 when he joined the GRAMMY® Award-winning band, Shadowfax as their keyboardist. It was his unique style of World Fusion blending indigenous Armenian and Arabic influences with contemporary jazz, and world elements that helped win him the prestigious job. A prolific composer, Armen began incorporating his signature style when he co-wrote the music for Esperanto. This led to him receiving his own GRAMMY® AWARD nomination when the Shadowfax production was nominated for Best New Age Album of 1992. For the next four years, he co-wrote, recorded and toured with the band as they produced an impressive body of work including the albums Magic Theater, Shadowfax Live and a 90-minute concert video of the Live album. 

Armen launched an indie label, TruArt Records in 1998 releasing his first solo album, Ceremonies to rave reviews. The album debuted #1 on the New Age/World radio charts (NAV Top 50) and received airplay on more than 600 stations worldwide. Two tracks from Ceremonies entitled Gypsy Rain and Distant Lands were featured on the European compilation CD series, Buddha-Bar, and Buddha-Bar IV, which were released in 2000 and 2002, respectively. To date, they have sold more than 700,000 units.

In 2004, the label released Armen’s second solo album, Caravans, a 12-track production melding the artist’s unique, contemporary jazz compositions with exotic world percussion and textures. Like its predecessor, this collection received dozens of glowing reviews continuing to build TruArts’ worldwide audience.

In addition to his solo career and time with Shadowfax, Armen has contributed to a variety of other productions including Cirque du Soleil’s flagship show, Saltimbanco. He has continued to experiment with various genres leading him to a new body of work composing source music and library music for television. In this area alone he has amassed more than 200 credits since entering the field.



1. Tell us about your inspiration and development as a musician.

I’m still developing!

I loved music as far back as I could remember.  I always wanted a drum set when I was a kid…in preschool.  So for my birthday one year, my dad bought me a cheap drumkit from Sears.  I was elated! The family gathered around as I sat on the stool and I started singing “Onward Christian Soldier” while bangin’ out the rhythm on the toms.  I got about 10 seconds into the tune before all the paper drumheads were torn and that was the end of my career as a drummer.  I had 2 older brothers; one a big band jazz fan and saxophonist/clarinetist; the other a lover of all things late 60’s/early 70’s rock. My parents always had music on the turntable - Armenian pop, Arabic pop, Armenian choir and some classical.  So I was getting it from all sides.  When I was 7 years old, my parents moved us into a new home, which happened to be next door to a woman who had kids coming and going.  I sat on the wall of our driveway and watched this happening for a couple of days before I finally walked over there, knocked on her door and told her I noticed all the kids coming and going and asked her what’s going on.  She invited me in, sat me down at a piano, next to her on a stool, and started to play.  That was the first time I’d been in the presence of a pianist and a musician of that caliber.  Nell Sansom Brown would be my piano teacher for the next 10 years.

A few years later my brother, the big band fan, started taking me to the USO gatherings where he’d sit in with musicians who had played with most of the famous big band leaders.  It was pretty incredible.  Then he taught me how to read basic jazz chord charts for some of those tunes and at around 10 years old we’d visited a couple of old-folks homes and played, as a duo, songs that were familiar to them.  I remember how they lit up and that felt amazing – to see all the smiles.  Age 12, my Uncle decided it’s time to start a family band playing some 50s tunes, Armenian pop songs, and some continental pop thrown in for good measure.  That’s when I started “gigging” and getting paid.  Picnics, Armenian weddings, birthday parties.  It was a blast to play with my cousins, brother, and uncle!  I was getting turned on to a lot of music from friends at the time too – Styx, Queen, Beatles…  then I heard Van Halen, the hair on my arms was standing on end. I’d never heard anything like that before.  I also loved Randy Rhoads who was the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo albums.  I listened every weekend to the Dr. Dimento show and discovered Frank Zappa, which was the first time music made me laugh.  There was some 80s pop I loved too, but I was never really into lyrics.  I was too busy honing in on the groove and melody and what the instruments were doing to create that groove.  I was more into music than the piano or keyboards as an instrument so when my friend’s father took us to see Return to Forever – it blew my mind!


But I still felt like a drummer trapped in a keyboardist’s body, so I bought a drumset.  I was 15 and joined the high school marching band as a drummer.  Something very important happened to me in that band.  Three of the seniors turned me on to jazz, progressive rock, and music that you couldn’t really categorize.  Over the next month or so, I discovered Chick Corea as a solo artist, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, U.K., Michael Oldfield and Tubular Bells, Walter/Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson, Bill Bruford’s solo stuff, Alan Holdsworth, Mark Isham, anything Terry Bozzio played on and a bunch of other recording artists.  Those were the days where I’d go to a friend’s house and for hours, we’d sit on the floor.  I’d have the vinyl album cover in my hand for one record, and we’d listen and talk about what we were hearing. My friends would explain how the sounds were created, point out different things to pay attention to, and the time would fly by.  Those days were really important – extremely important to me and that’s when I started writing my own music on the piano.

My senior year of high school I took an analog synthesizer programming class at the local college and learned to program synthesizers and sequencers (1984), which was also huge.  Shortly after, I studied improvisation on the piano with Chuck Wild who later became the artist behind the Liquid Mind albums.  Chuck gave me great confidence because I never felt like I completely fit into a neat and tidy category as a musician or artist.  “What do you call that music you’re writing?”  I don’t know.  I was fortunate enough to always have musicians around me and would start my own projects.  Eventually, I met Chuck Greenberg and was part of Shadowfax from 1991-1995 until his passing.  What I admired most about my music heroes and Shadowfax is that they all had something unique about them… a style that was theirs and theirs alone. I wanted that and during my time with Shadowfax, I enrolled in a History of Armenian music class at USC and was introduced to hours and hours of music I’d never heard before.  I’d transcribe as much as I could and let it soak in…much of it was familiar to me already and then I would just improvise and play freely on the piano, recording everything I played.  Those improvisations and recordings eventually turned into my first solo album, “Ceremonies.”

2. Are you a Tolkien fan?

No.  I never gravitated towards that type of fantasy.  A part of me wishes I was because I see a lot of people who are total fanatics. I’m more of a sci-fi fan but I like sci-fi that can back up the technology – even if it’s technobabble that’s impossible.  Most of all I love biographies.  I love information.  I like reading a well-written manual too!


Shadowfax performing at CD101's "Jazz at the World Trade Center."

3. Tell us about Shadowfax.

If you asked me back then to name any band in the world that I’d like to be a part of, I would’ve told you Peter Gabriel or Shadowfax.  But Peter Gabriel isn’t a band so I’d have to throw that idea out.  As their keyboardist, I had free reign as far as sound design, coming up with parts, introducing music to the band, it was wide open.  There were no rules.  It was a great hang, I learned a lot about music, food, the music business and how to read a contract and understand every single word.  It was a band of brothers, a family, a school (I got schooled a couple of times!), and one of the highlights of my life.


4. Tell us about your label and studio albums.  

TruArt Records.  I started the label after going to 36 labels with “Ceremonies” and hearing, “That sounds great! What kind of music do you call it?”  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that almost everyone I talked to at all the labels asked me the same question.   Instead of saying “I don’t know” or “Good music” or “Music that I think doesn’t suck”, I started asking back – “What would you call it?” Then I’d hear, “I don’t know.”  Some of the people told me if I could come up with one word to describe my music, they might be able to “do something with it.”  I thought that’s why labels had marketing departments.

I called my former piano teacher and friend Chuck Wild, who I talked about earlier in the interview and asked him how he ended up releasing his own albums on his own label.  He already had success with his Liquid Mind albums and has a very organized and brilliant business mind.  He introduced me to Suzanne Doucet who I brought on as a consultant and we ended up releasing “Ceremonies” tied at #1 on the radio with an Anne Dudley album in 1998 and had a track, “Gypsy Rain” -two tracks licensed by the Buddha-Bar series.  At that point, it was 90% business and 10% music, which was frustrating.  It was a great experience.  I loved working with the people I had brought on, and most of the buyers at the stores, but I didn’t like that it was cutting into my music time.  So it was 6 years before I had released “Caravans.”  The business model in the music biz had completely changed and Tower Records, which was my bread and butter was going to file bankruptcy in two years unbeknownst to me.  So the label is “inactive” at the moment while I have a career writing music for television.


5. Why did you choose to create these albums, and what do you hope to give to your listeners? 

It’s fun for me to turn my friends on to something that makes them smile or feel good.  Writing this music, arranging it, getting the musicians together to record, mixing, mastering – I love the entire process and felt that I had something to offer that was uniquely my own.  The hope was to turn people on to something that they’d enjoy listening to that was something they hadn’t heard before and have them feel good about it.  It’s the same reason I enjoy cooking for people or making someone laugh.  It comes from the same place.

6. Is there an underlying theme or message in your work?

Beauty.  “Art” has different meanings to different people.  There are the “I’m going to paint a glacier red” artists or the “I’m going to dress up a mannequin in an NYPD uniform, turn it upside down and sell it for $90,000” artists – these are real projects.  Whether they qualify as art or not is not for me to say.  I’m moved by things that I find to be beautiful.  Seeing or hearing something beautiful makes me feel great. It can be soothing, exciting, healing – that’s what I look for in art and that’s what I want to express.  I’m hoping the listener finds something beautiful and healing in my music.  I write about that in my liner notes.  I’m big on liner notes, which is an endangered species now.  There’s an anecdote about every piece I write…another way for me to connect with the listener.



7. How would you describe traditional Armenian music to anyone who has not had the pleasure of  listening to it? 

There’s a long timeline of music that came from the area well beyond what are now the borders of this tiny country.  Once the largest country in that area, those borders have been eroded a great deal.  Verbally, describing the music to a layman is difficult for me to really nail.  The music that I have heard and the notation I’ve read – it’s very simple music.  It comes so much from the heart… a pouring out of emotions at times.  Some of it has a sense of humor or can even sound a bit mischievous. Now that I think about it, I’m describing the overall personality of the Armenian people.  Much of it was written for dance, in odd time signatures or no time signature at all.  Originally there were no harmonies with multiple instruments.  It was all unison until it was influenced by European music and it continued to evolve.  There’s the instrument that Peter Gabriel introduced to the world when he composed his score for the film, “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988 – the duduk.  He talked about this Armenian instrument.  It’s kind of become the “poster boy” instrument for Armenian music to the rest of the world.  It has a gorgeous sound in the right hands.

8. Tell us about your collaborations and the part your Armenian heritage plays in your work.
  
When I was taking the History of Armenian music class at USC, and really diving into it, my teacher, Lucina Agbabian-Hubbard asked me if I’d like to meet Djivan Gasparyan, the duduk player.  He’s also an amazing singer and plays other wind and brass instruments.  Of course, I said yes.  I picked him up from the airport, stopped at a dry cleaners shop to drop off a pair of his pants, then went right to my studio and we laid down the tracks for “Distant Lands.”  I had the rhythm track all laid down, and he played a collage of existing melodies from other Armenian songs.  That’s one of his specialties.  He can hear a rhythm track and start playing from beginning to end playing melodies from maybe 3 to 6 different existing pieces to create this new cohesive melody.  It’s pretty amazing to hear him do it.  Parts of the melodies might be improvisations.  But in my recordings, everything I grew up listening to comes out somehow and that includes the old Armenian choral, pop, Arabic popular music and everything else that’s in that cocktail of a thousand songs that is somewhere buried deep inside of my brain.


9. Tell us about the production of your Ceremonies video.  

Albert Kodagolian, the director and me were part of a group of mutual friends.  He approached me one day and said, “You need a video, and I’m the one to make it for you.”  I said ok.  We talked a little bit about it and I told him, I want to make something with an old man, a pomegranate, a baby and a good looking couple.  So we met at a later time and he had it all storyboarded - all, minus the baby, and he suggested we shoot it in the desert because of the lighting and also we wouldn’t have to pay for lighting.  I loved his ideas, so I recruit the band and a friend who I know will look good in the video and we meet out in the desert – El Mirage lake bed in California.  Albert had a van that he would use for most of the shots involving camera movement.  He would be hanging out of the van while there was one person inside the van holding on to his belt and another person holding open the door so he wouldn’t get decapitated.  It was crazy!  There were people riding motorcycles, ATVs, and other cars, so he took these incredible shots where it looked like we were all out there alone in the desert.  By the time he got to shooting the band, the sun had just set, and we didn’t have great lighting, but he used that to his advantage as you’ll see when you watch the video.  The old man in the video was Albert’s grandfather.  He was the sweetest man, and was thanking everyone and was expressing his joy for having met us all and working with us.  The following day, Albert told me that his grandfather remembered none of it because of his Alzheimers disease.  He’s my favorite part of that entire video.  Albert proved correct telling me weeks earlier that he was the one who should make the video for me.

10. Do you have plans to release more studio albums?  

I think about it but have mixed feelings. I have enough music for another four albums.  Since the music biz was turned on its head in the mid-2000s, I don’t see a way to do it without making it an expensive hobby for myself.  I’d love to release more music.  The music part of it is the easy part; having to handle the business part of it as well, that’s just no fun for me anymore.


11. Tell us about your work with film and television.  

I received two phone calls in 2004 that changed the course of my music career.  They were both for television shows.  One call was to license a track from Ceremonies, “Echoes of a Prayer” for the show “Malcolm in the Middle.”  The second call was from a production company asking if I’d be interested in writing music cues for their television shows.  I’ve been doing it ever since.  I’m writing music I would’ve never have been able to produce on one of my albums, or anyone else’s for that matter.  The variety of genres I’m asked to compose is endless.  I’ve been doing it for about 12 years now and it’s a blast!

12. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process?

The beginning steps are the most fun, but finishing up a work or project is the most rewarding.  I had a ritual when I’d finish any album where I’d take the finished album, get into my car late at night and take a drive down to the beach while listening to it beginning to end.

Doheny Blues Festival, 2008.

13. What do you find most challenging in the creative process, and how do you overcome it?  

Different projects have different speed bumps or different walls I might seem to come up against.  The key is to just not stop.  To keep on it until there’s a breakthrough.  Sometimes, the challenging part is to get everyone in the same room if that’s what’s called for.  Other times, it might be all the editing involved.  Staying up late nights can be another.  It varies quite a bit for me.

14. What have you done to promote and market your music, and what advice would you give to other artists?  

If you asked me this back in the late 90s, I would’ve had brilliant advice.  But now I wouldn’t know how valuable my advice would be in this climate of the music business.  I don’t take the time to actively promote or market my music from my albums anymore.  The advice I’d give to other artists is to simply do your thing.  Create what you want to create and what satisfies you.  Try to find what’s unique about what you do and develop that.


15. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal listener?

Very simply, my ideal listener would be someone who enjoys the music.  Of course, as the artist, I would like a listener who would drop everything and give the music their full attention.  They’d notice every nuance and be curious about things that they hear in the music and aren’t sure what they are.  Then, they’ll call (do people call anymore?) all of their friends raving about it and post flyers in the neighborhood pledging their allegiance to it!  I once met a friend of a friend who spoke with me about the keyboard textures and sound design on the record.  It felt good to have that part of my creation noticed since I rarely use preset sounds.  I like to make my own synth patches.

16. What are your interests outside of music? 

I love sports, cooking, and tea.  I played sports growing up and have two older brothers that were always coaching me.  One of my earliest memories was my father taking me to a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game.  He knew the game well enough to understand what’s going on and I remember him jumping out of his seat when our team scored. He turned to the guy next to him and they shook hands.  I have some really great sports memories.  As far as cooking, I have a handful of some recipes I like to make but mostly like to try out new recipes and cooking for friends.  Tea:  I was really enamored by tea around 2008 when in one week I had an incredible Japanese Sencha tea and a Chinese ginseng oolong.  I didn’t know tea could be that amazing, and I’ve been in love ever since.  Dragonwell Lung Ching is my favorite.  It’s a green tea, I believe the most popular in China.  And, if I could pique your interest with this thought:  If you make green tea and it’s bitter, which was my experience for many years, you’re either (1) brewing it too hot (about 175 °F for green tea), (2) steeping it too long (3 gms for about 30-45 seconds for the first brew), or (3) using the dust that fell on the floor from the higher quality tea.

17. Where can we find you and your work? 

My albums could be found here:
CD Baby
iTunes

Examples of my tv music can be heard at:
Armen TV

Ceremonies Video

Neda’s Calling Video Tribute
Read about it here:
Armen TV
Armen TV

Souls and Saints Video

Social Media:
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Linkedin










Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Interview with Alan Dean Foster


Alan Dean Foster is an American writer known primarily for his work in fantasy and science fiction. Born in New York City in 1946, he was raised in Los Angeles and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from UCLA.

Foster's published oeurve includes more than 100 books featuring excursions into hard science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective, western, historical, and contemporary fiction. He has also written numerous non-fiction articles on film, science, and scuba diving, as well as having produced the novel versions of many films, including such well-known productions as Star Wars (Foster was the ghostwriter of the original novelization of Star Wars, which had been credited solely to George Lucas), the first three Alien films, Alien Nation, The Chronicles of Riddick, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His latest publications include the fantasy novel Oshenerth, and the young adult fantasy novel The Deavys. Other works include scripts for talking records, radio, computer games, and the story for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His novel Shadowkeep was the first ever book adaptation of an original computer game. 

In addition to publications in English his work has been translated into more than fifty languages and has won awards in Spain and Russia. His novel Cyber Way won the Southwest Book Award for Fiction in 1990, the first work of science-fiction ever to do so. He is also the recipient of the ‘Faust’ - the IAMTW Lifetime Achievement Award.

Foster's love of the far-away and exotic has led him to travel extensively. Besides traveling he enjoys listening to both classical music and heavy metal. Other pastimes include basketball, hiking, body surfing, and scuba diving. In his age and weight class he is a current world and Eurasian champion in power-lifting (bench press). He studied karate with brothers Aaron and Chuck Norris. He has taught screenwriting, literature, and film history at UCLA and Los Angeles City College as well as having lectured at universities and conferences around the world. A member of the Science-Fiction Writers of America, the Author's Guild of America, and the Writer's Guild of America, he also spent two years serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission of his home town of Prescott, Arizona. Foster's correspondence and manuscripts are in the Special Collection of the Hayden Library of Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona.


    


  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your prolific writing career? 
When I was four, my parents bought me a set of small paperback books called The Golden Nature Guides.  One each for such subjects as birds, insects, etc.  They began a lifelong fascination with the natural world, and with science.  A year later I received subscriptions to a dozen or so comic books.  These came in the mail.  I learned how to read from them, especially from the great comics done by Carl Barks (Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck).  Otherwise, I had a very normal childhood.

  1. Tell us about any childhood heroes. 
I didn’t really have any, except in books.  My parents had an old copy of one of the books by the famous world traveler Richard Halliburton, now little-read.  I poured over his tales and wanted to be like him. 

  1. How did your career begin? 
August Derleth bought a long Lovecraftian letter I wrote to him, just for fun.  He ended up publishing it, as a short story, in his semi-annual magazine The Arkham Collector.  Subsequent to that, John W. Campbell bought a short, With Friends Like These, that appeared in the June, 1971 issue of Analog magazine.  Those were my first professional sales.

    

  1. Tell us about your Humanx Commonwealth Universe. 
It started off as my first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang.  At that time I had no idea if the book would sell.  When Betty Ballantine asked for a sequel, I ended up writing something a bit different, Bloodhype.  By the time I was asked for a third novel, which became Icerigger but which did not involve the character of Flinx, it was easier to utilize the existing background from the first two books instead of inventing an entirely new one.  At that point, the notion of writing other books in the series on a regular basis became viable.

The Humanx Commonwealth is a political and social amalgamation between two species: ours, and the insectoid Thranx.  As someone who has always rooted for the underdog, I thought it would be appropriate if, when we do go out to the stars, the intelligent species with whom we most readily get along turns out to look like creatures we have battled throughout our entire existence: namely, bugs.  The Thranx are not terrestrial insects, of course.  It’s a matter of convergent evolution.


    

  1. You have either novelised or created several of the most iconic stories in science fiction, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Terminator, Transformers and The Thing. How have you developed and maintained your career for so many decades? 
As far as the novelizations are concerned, it became a matter of doing something well that others involved with similar projects also wished to see done well.  In other words, you acquire a reputation for being good at something. 

As to my original work, I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that I write in many different genres.  Those who enjoy my fantasy may not care for science fiction, and vice versa.  Those who read novelizations may not care for original fiction.  And so on.  When you go to a restaurant you may not like everything on the menu, but if the menu is large and the food is decent, you’ll find yourself returning.

  1. Tell us about your working regime. What does it take to produce such a great volume of exceptional work? 
I get up, take care of the house and the critters, go out to my study, and read the news from all around the world.  I go through my email personally.  Then I write.  Which means I stare at the computer, or my surroundings, or the scenery outside, until something forms in my mind, which I then set down in print.  As to volume, you have to work at it every day.  Doesn’t matter if it’s prose, painting, sculpture, music…do a little every day and you’d be surprised how much you can produce.

It helps that I am a fast typist, but these days you can dictate without having to type.

    

  1. I believe your love of adventure, travel, and exotic locations has been influential in your work. Tell us about some of the places you have visited that inspired your fictional world-building. 
Sometimes you get just a character, or a location, from traveling.  Sometimes, as with Into the Out Of (Tanzania) or Sagramanda (Northern India), you get an entire novel.   Bits and pieces end up welded together, depending on the storyline.  Interlopers utilizes locations I’ve visited in Peru, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.  The second and third books of the Tipping Point trilogy are set in South Africa and Namibia, respectively.

  1. Tell us about any underlying themes or messages in your work. 
As has been noted, ecology and the state of the natural world are of great importance to me.  Books like Midworld and Drowning World are good examples.  But I don’t preach.  It’s better to write a popular novel that reaches a couple of hundred thousand readers and makes one point than to write a critically acclaimed novel that reaches a hundred readers and makes dozens of points.

  1. Is there an existing film or story you would particularly love to novelize? 
The 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad.



  1. Tell us about your Spellsinger series. 
When I attempt something I’ve never done before, I’ll only do it if I can be different.  Having never written a fantasy novel prior to Spellsinger, I made a conscious decision not to do aged wizards with long white beards, princesses in distress, noble heroes waving magic swords: I wanted to do something different.  And there was that influence of Carl Barks and his anthropomophosized animals.  It all came together very pleasantly.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process? 
When the characters and the story take over, and write themselves on autopilot.  When I can sit back and just let them do the heavy lifting for me.  In order for that to work, your characters have to be real and fully-rounded.


    

  1. What do you find most challenging in the creative process, and how do you overcome it?
Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing.  It’s as if the mechanical process itself is holding you back.  When that happens, you just have to push on.  Bad writing is still writing, but it gets you from page 10 to page 15.  You can go back and fix it, revise, later.

  1. Tell us about your experience filming Great White Sharks in Australia. 
That was in 1991, with Rodney Fox.  Rodney is the world’s most famous great white shark attack survivor, and has dedicated his life to their protection.  The water was very cold, so you’re heavily weighted, and in a shark cage you don’t wear fins.  So if you have to get out, you can’t swim.  You just sink.  So you’re always wondering if the cage is going to stay afloat.  But once past that, it’s the closest thing to hanging with dinosaurs you can do today.  They’re such magnificent animals.  You can reach out between the bars and touch them as they swim past.  Given the opportunity to free swim with them now, I’d do it in a moment.  Sharks are really just big dogs.  They’re curious, and they check you out, but you’re not their natural prey, and they’re more wary than aggressive.

    

  1. Tell us about your collection of animals. 
All of our animals are rescued animals.  Current population is two dogs and eight cats.  I did once have a Columbian boa.  Very nice pet.  Doesn’t bark, doesn’t scratch, doesn’t  have to be walked, and easy to clean up after. 

  1. Where can we find more official information about you and your work? 
www.alandeanfoster.com  Also, one of my publishers, Open Road Media, maintains a fannish Facebook page for me.