Cocktail Classics and Big Band Swing
Even my earliest memories have a musical accompaniment, and I’m very thankful that, especially as an introverted lonesome adoptee, music was always there to entertain me when I couldn’t manage to invite friends over. Music would be a common part of my activities, to the point of me recalling hobbies like building Lego structures and playing basketball in the front yard based on the genres and artists I listened to concurrently. Especially as of my early twenties, a fond recollection of my childhood has carried though to reflect itself in my musical interests.
Every Saturday morning for at least the first 12 years of my life, I was greeted by the sweet toasted scent of baking orange rolls, orange cantaloupe, coffee and grapes. Signaling the start of the weekend; a break from school, this tradition was orchestrated by my father, who sat on the living-room couch reading his weekend paper with a smile on his face that conveyed nothing but contentment. Dad is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MSU, his musical tastes resonating with his personality in a curious blend of mellow Samba, energetic Big Band Swing, and quirky Cocktail Music that didn’t do much for mom, but always tickled my curiosity and brought out a more carefree side of dad that few got to see. Weekend Edition would play throughout our Saturday mornings, and later on, I’d either be getting homework done to the dulcet timbre of Robert Segel, or raising hell with local friends in the back yard.
Holidays in my early years were as festive as you could expect from an upper-middle class household with a child. The atmosphere of Christmas, although not taken with heavy religious undertones, was saturated by a heavily decorated tree, lighting strung throughout the house, and occasional activities like Christmas shopping and making cookies. I was never a faithful child, but I will never deny that the augments to our home set up an atmosphere of wonder and wishful thinking powerful enough to influence me now. Spearheading this scene was a mix of New Age, Traditional, Jazzy, and Quirky Christmas music that I grew to love as a child and crave as an adult after a couple years of missing out. These days, I keep a lossless archive of this music to set a similar mood in my own living space, as an homage to simpler times when short term gratification was the norm, and days on end could be spent playing with friends in the snow.
Mom’s Mixing Bowls
It goes without saying that children can be very loud, blunt attention grabbing gestures their link to power as their interpersonal skills develop. The period of youth I spent exploring my senses involved a lot of experimentation; when I found out that whacking certain things with forks made a cool, thunky noise, you can bet your top dollar I was putting dents into a lot of things my parents weren’t expecting. I would have drumming sessions occasionally with various bowls and barrels, a couple of which I’m sure exist on a cringe-educing home VHS recording somewhere in the attic of my parents’ garage. At one point, I became aware that Disc Jockeys existed; through a re-purposing of a rolling wooden toy horse that my grandfather made in his home wood shop, I could imagine a set of turntables and spin the wheels with reckless abandon, like every DJ wannabe that doesn’t understand what platters actually do.
A lot of my early life was spent being ferried to and fro by my mother, between doctor appointments, play-dates with friends and long-haul trips to Wisconsin to visit family. Upon reflection, perhaps the greatest compensation I could offer mom for all these rides was the control of the car CD player while I was a passenger, which she took advantage of at every single opportunity. Most of the songs I know by heart today were my mom’s favorite songs at some point, and with each revolving feature, she would not fail to acknowledge that she would be playing her most loved tracks on repeat ad-nauseum. While her country phase left a bad taste in my mouth, mom’s car music gave me a love for Summertime, Celtic, New Age and Tropical Folk Rock music that perpetuates.
OST to my Dreams
My first video game console was presented to me in 1999; a blue-green GameBoy Color that would extend a lasting influence through many areas of my life. All of the clean polyphonic melodies of games like Super Mario Bros Deluxe and Hamtaro still wave a nostalgia flag for me, but it was the dynamic, adventurous compositions of Junichi Masuda in Pokemon Yellow that nurtured within me a love for exploration and imagination. Video Game Music, especially within the growing Pokemon franchise, would serve as a set of signposts pointing to different areas of my development, and bring upon recollection a distinct mood to swim in for a while and remember the little battles I fought every day.
I keep an archive of ripped music from many of my favorite games, both for re-living adventure I had indulged in so liberally and for an atmosphere to accent lovingly created stories and games that create an authentic display of my mood in its rawest form. Video Game music encouraged me to build grand worlds for a plot to develop in, and was an essential factor in the growing admiration I would have in the corresponding games as a whole; especially certain characters.
Middle and High School
Motivation in Idolization
In the autumn of 2005, I had no idea what to expect on the first day of Middle School Concert band, but I knew I wanted to play the trombone; the versatility of the slide and the commanding blare of the bell making it an edgy instrument of choice. Unfortunately for that determination, by the end of class I was dead set on French Horn, and I played it religiously for the following seven years. The unstoppable force behind this 180 was Chris Newman, a friend since Preschool and a textbook over-achiever that chose his instrument right before me, as fate would have it. Chris was raised around music moreso than I, his mother a prolific Jazz singer, his father Professor of Music Theory at MSU. The liberal nature of his upbringing nurtured Chris into a creatively minded prodigy, and as his longtime friend, I was more than thrilled to resign my instrumental preference to get a chance to bask in his brilliance. Our working relationship grew from there, and my skills on the rotary valved left-handed tube machine are a testament to his great influence on me.
Being on stage in concert bands was a great experience for me, and although I was a faceless french horn to anyone in the audience save for my parents, the tech crew that controlled lighting and microphones behind them received even slimmer recognition. Shrouded in mystery amidst our compartmentalized high-school organizations, all I knew about the techs was that they controlled audio-visual effects at concerts, and they were surrounded by fancy light up rack gear, with an omniscient calm. As electronic music icons like Deadmau5 and Skrillex began to emerge, the fame of performance and the new, gritty world of electronic dance music fed a fascination of DJing and a desire to be on the receiving end of the seemingly universal adoration they seized. Through my introduction to EDM and exposure to the culture surrounding DJing, the desire to expand my performance skills beyond french horn was strong, but for the confidence to put myself out there as an individual artist, I would need further encouragement and understanding of the art.
As soon as I was given an ounce of freedom by my parents, in the form of an MP3 player, things really began to ramp up. With the taste of freedom that came with collecting my own music and eventually apps and videos, I was inspired to look deeper into music with a critical ear and explore topics of my interest through podcasts concerning science, Pokemon, the furry fandom, and music. Caleb “Paradox” Carges hosted two such podcasts, both Furcast and Friday Night Tech providing a window into the world of an expressive, technically minded audiophile who oozed self-actualization and open-mindedness in every installment. Paradox is loved by many, and the admiration I had for him was stifled at large by caution; even when he shouted me out on an installment of FNT I felt woefully inadequate in comparison to him, largly due to my personal insecurity. Even so, simply listening to his work gave a flavor of validity to my dreams of DJing, and the introduction to a wider gamut of Electronic Music FNT provided served to completely shift my interest in music away from Top-40s pop to the trifecta of House, Drum and Bass and Dubstep. I began experimenting with Virtual DJ on my laptop, and got a feel for beat-matching and basic mixing techniques, but I had a long way to go until I was ready to serenade any parties.
I was given a chance to meet Paradox for a grand fifteen minute rendezvous while visiting Niagara falls with my parents, which involved a great deal of destructive bargaining with my dad over internet access. When it came down to brass tacks, my folks hadn’t heard a word before about this guy I was practically drooling over, and I was very lucky to be afforded the opportunity in the first place. Encountering someone who was not only strongly influencing me, but was receptive and interested in meeting me as well solidified my ambitions enough to propel me towards further immersion in the world of audio. Soon enough, I had acquired a Numark NS6, and I would spend hours every day experimenting and learning my hardware and music inside and out.
Motivation in Synchronization
When I think about moments of pure elation as it relates to music, the common factor is the unity felt between individuals on an ensemble. Taken broadly, this can apply to members of a band, the relationship between a performer and their audience, or any other group of people collected for a single purpose. Perhaps the most viscerally exciting moments of my life as a musician have been the dramatic harmonies that blossomed from hearts beating as one. From the moment I realized the amount of improvisation that went into Jazz music, I was mystified by the tacit bond the musicians therein shared; while choosing French Horn as my primary instrument effectively cut off the opportunity I may have otherwise had to join my High School Jazz band, I like to think that during important performances, with our parts well-rehearsed, I could feel a kinship with our director and the other members of our section.
To regard my middle and high-school bands as a family would be more accurate than referring to those I was born of as such; there was an intimate culture amongst different instruments, and the dynamics of each player’s relationship to the ensemble was more or less understood by us all, especially in High School. By placing emphasis on fundamentals such as breathing and posture, Directors Kevin Culling and Mark Stice had formed from inception a well-oiled machine of a band that went on every year to perform at regional competitions and consistently do well. The seemingly impossible task of making teenagers not only care about band, but express genuine awe and excitement over its performances was achieved by these two, and that was something the city held with pride. The tried and true formula of working hard to master an instrument and seeing gratification after hours of grueling practice attached a positive association to diligent practice; showing a lasting effect in my tendency to go the extra mile when attempting any creative project as well as my odd contentment with busywork and monotonous, repetitive tasks.
Marching Band took things to the next level by introducing movement and formation to playing music. I was introduced to the mellophone in 2008 amidst a pre-season summertime course that pulled no punches while teaching us freshman about proper steps, posture, formations, and the bane of my existence, memorizing music. Firm but fair was the order of the day at every early morning practice, and making the decision to allow the blunt, pragmatic wisdom of the director and our section leader override my apprehensions allowed me to adopt a militantly determined attitude and enjoy the five-hour gauntlets as we all pursued excellence as a band. Every High School concert band student was required to be in Marching Band, and the sum of the nearly 200 individuals dressed in maroon and black were an intimidating presence on the field. Make no mistake, half of the people who came to our football games were there to experience the precision and raw energy of the OHS Marching Band. The most powerful moments we shared in our commanding brotherhood came at our yearly trip to the Grand Ledge Invitational, where we would preform our show for perhaps the final time, often with special flourishes added that were technically challenging, even at the college level. The roar of the audience and the bands that preformed before us fueled some of the most potent pride I’d felt in my life; that overwhelming validation I continue to chase today, even while my more self-reliant nature focuses considerably less on large collaborative efforts.
Adulthood and Beyond
It was made clear by my parents early on I would be diving into a college education straight out of high school. While I was in no way protesting to this by the time Senior year hit, my ACT score of 30 left me with many options for schooling that my lack of foresight provided no opinion on. Growing up near to MSU with a professor for a father afforded me many opportunities to familiarize myself with the campus and even some high-up engineering faculty; while I was fairly set already in heading into MSU, hoping to join the engineering program, my parents urged me to check out other options to broaden my perspective. In a series of excursions that helped us bond as adults for the first time, dad and I visited the clean, modern campus of Grand Valley State, the utilitarian brick and mortar buildings of Ferris State and the Art Institute in Novi, searching for a home away from home in a world I’d barely begun to explore on my own. It became clear to me somewhere along the way that even if I fell in love with the student life at any of these places [Grand Valley was damn close], there were a couple obstacles that made enrollment impractical. Aside from having no car to drive and no licence to drive with, the idea of living in dorm rooms with folks I didn’t know was just about the most repulsive situation I could imagine. Especially with the hefty discount I’d get through my dad’s faculty position if I went for MSU, It remained clear that my attention was best spent in the local area I was already so familiar with. The remaining issue of my aversion to dorm and group housing life meant that spending my freshman year holed up within MSU’s mandatory freshman in-campus policy was a no-go; I still had to consider other options.
My persistent passion with regards to Audio led me towards pursuing a degree in Digital Media from Lansing Community College, connected to my parents’ place by bus line and boasting a media program far more in-depth and hands-on than the one available at MSU. I began my LCC career with an Honors Expository Composition class thanks to placement testing; the first advanced class I’d ever attempted, along with math and DMAC classes that made for a challenging and rewarding first semester. It was pure luck that my Composition class met in a classroom adjacent to LCC’s radio station office; I was soon volunteering there as a voiceover talent and receptionist, a position that brought with it deep knowledge of the college’s institutional backbone, local musical groups and a bolstering of my resume significant enough to land me a job at an under-construction Guitar Center in February 2013.
Working under Guitar Center as an operations associate provided me with a close-to-ideal environment for developing interpersonal skills in a professional setting, understanding how inventory is managed in a retail business and familiarizing myself with consumer audio production technology of all types. My unique domestic life of still living with my parents allowed me to consistently save over $300 a month; finally I had my own money to spend, and I made the constructive decision early on to invest in my creative passions. Many an hour was spent in and out of my technical classes drafting spreadsheets and doing research towards funding a high-end audio production computer. Even before I had the software required for serious mixing or mastering, the world of music called to me with such vigor that I was compelled to prepare a workstation for my future self, in anticipation of one day having the competency to fully utilize it.
Fast forward a year, and I was receiving packages from Cooler Master, Acer and ASRock, assembling C.H.A.S.M.A. in my apartment alongside Aleksi, who had since become a prominent figure in my life. Although I would continue on to perform a few final gigs at private functions, my role as an active freelance DJ was eclipsed by my growing attention to Audio Production. After forming Left Arm Down with Brandon Libbey, my role as a performer was further overshadowed by my compulsion to improve as an audio engineer, with band practices providing ample time to learn my own workflow and test out production techniques and new audio gear.
In the torrid summer of 2015, I decided to take things a step further. With the indispensable help of Trybal Wolf and Jordan Ruhala, I opened a small audio production studio to the public, under the moniker of Cantus Fluere Studios. The studio caters to developing artists, focusing less on profit and more on mutual exposure and practicing my growing repertoire of skills.
It became apparent through operating as a small business that I wanted to dedicate a portion of my life to this passion of mine; I was eager to explore in further depth the skillset of a recording engineer and finance a larger studio over time with the earnings from a stable career as an electrical engineer. With a degree in digital media slated for spring semester of 2017, I began interning at Glenn Brown Productions in East Lansing to further familiarize myself with professional recording techniques and how to create a sustainable business model as a freelance artist. With my drive and tendency to plan way ahead, I hope to see consistent growth in both the studio itself, and the reputation of the studio throughout the community while I slowly amass more gear and greater proficiency. The goal is to eventually build a studio space from the ground up in a more permanent installment once my reputation precedes me.
Subtlety and Nuance
The double-edged sword that accompanies every academic discipline surfaces once a passionate novice decides to dedicate time to exploring its depths. They say that in science a solved problem never fails to raise more questions than it answers, and it’s this principle of discovery that drives my lust for knowledge. When we are asked as children what we want to be when we grow up or what kind of music we like, we see only the mask that the occupation or artist broadcasts to the public; for the most part we are more than content with the visceral excitement coupled with thoughts of firefighting or the way the music moves us. Becoming more mindful of the world around me has revealed that even the most mundane content has far more texture and substance behind its inception than is readily apparent, and it is in these distinctions within the gestalt of things like audio and technology that I focus on.
My musical interests focus far less on genre and more on the vibe and level of complexity of individual songs and albums. Far gone are the days where I could point out favorite artists and songs; I find such great value in specific, diverse aspects of individual tracks that to compare the value of music between artists, let alone genres seems a crass and unrewarding endeavor. I find myself pointing out technical quirks and focusing increasingly on critically listening with the purpose of understanding why instrumentation and dynamic changes are made.
While I can find appeal in most non-formulaic music, my interests lie very strongly in instrumental, complex, diligently produced music that shows restraint. The experimental, acidic vibes from artists like Clark and Flying Lotus stimulate me with pungent dynamics and exciting rhythmic variation, but I get just as much from the saturated, smooth atmosphere of Solar Fields or the nostalgic, genuine expression of Stan Getz and Dave Brubeck‘s sax playing.
For the time being, as far as production of my own music is concerned, I’m in the classic college dilemma of wishing there was more time in the day to either get things done, or just relax. As I hurtle through my college career, I’m looking to prioritize the creation of my own musical content that applies what I’ve assimilated over the years into tangible form. We’ll see where that goes soon enough.