I started writing music when I was 8. My parents got me MarioPaint for Christmas, which enabled me to score my animations for up to three notes in a single chord, and to orchestrate them with instruments such as the fire flower, power mushroom, and Mario head. My influences at this time were video game music and Time Life Presents: Classical Thunder.
Later in elementary school I went on to fool around in Cakewalk Home Studio, freeing me to write songs longer than 2 minutes, in more than 2 time signatures, using tempo changes, and orchestrated with normal tinny MIDI synths. My uncle was a DJ at a college classical radio station at this time, and he helped me see how badly John Williams had ripped off Orff and Stravinsky. My primary interest in music at this time was nevertheless film scoring, specifically composing for the stories I wrote and illustrated about King Woodchuck II, Abstracto Kwatruputre, Robo-Raptor et al. which you can take a look at here.
It wasn’t until middle school that my friends strapped me down and forced me to listen to alternative rock radio, which I had up to then disparaged as “music for kids who think they’re so cool.” Samplings of industrial metal, British big beat, post-grunge, and Smashing Pumpkins knocked my socks off in a single tightly seat belted car ride to tennis practice, though. During this age of carpooling, my friends and I would often find ourselves under the same roof after school, where we’d play Magic: The Gathering or StarCraft or Warhammer or with Legos or write postapocalyptic backstories for our Warhammer or Lego battles or write silly songs in FruityLoops together. I would say that this was my peak of prolificness, largely driven by the frequent collaborations with my friends who brought different musical skills and humors to the desk.
In high school I began to use Reason, and started descending into weirder territory on my lonesome. I would often begin with a single melodic, harmonic or rhythmic idea and start taking it in multiple different directions, but I rarely finished any one of them. My work was simple and my vantage naïve enough at this point that I started to see the overlapability of the branches of my various trees as profound, and “working on music” became less about the music per se and more about a puzzle of interlocking references between albums and tracks. During this time I listened to Tool and that’s about it.
My dad chaperoned me to my first music concert in 2002, where I was first exposed to Meshuggah, who in college would go on to be my biggest influence. I wish I could go back and relive this concert more than nearly anything, since at the time they were mere white noise to me, but the two most recent albums they had recorded at that point are today my favorites, so while I can’t seem to find a setlist for that tour online anywhere, it almost certainly would have been super awesome. At college I got a bass guitar, took a couple lessons, learned some of my favorite songs, and used it to record some stuff into my Mbox 2 Mini with ProTools LE. It was a return to attempts at self-contained rock format songs.
Since college I have had almost no actual musical output, having gone into a receptive phase, wrapping my head around the work of Iannis Xenakis, Per Nørgård, Harry Partch, Giacinto Scelsi, and many more. A good friend turned me on to spectral music, and a performance of Georg Friedrich Haas’ “in vain” I attended in New York last year was life-changing. I then attended Xenharmonic Praxis Summer Camp this year, where my interest in xenharmonics was both deepened and broadened. I’ve also been studying dynamic tonality, dynamic tempo curves a la Conlon Nancarrow, and other bizarro esoteric musical techniques.
Click here to read drafts of chapters for my upcoming book “Fun Musical Ideas”. This book describes novel musical techniques that I’d like to build tools for playing around with someday soon.
Until then, I’m happy to share with all y’all samplings of the very silly musics I made growing up. Hope you enjoy!