The life and times of an analogue synth wizard:
Craig, some have known your music for many years, but how did you actually end up in electronic music?
At the time, I never heard of the music by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, or even Jean Michel Jarre. But one day during a school field trip to the local planetarium, there was music playing in the background of the presentation that completely grabbed my attention when I first heard it! And after the lecture, the teacher had asked “Does anybody have any questions?”, most of the students were asking questions like “What planet is that?” and “What star is that?” and I asked “What music is this??” (It was Jean Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene”.) Ever since that visit to the planetarium, I had decided that I was going to make music like what I heard. I eventually picked up my first synthesizer, effects box, and four-track recorder right after high school and I haven’t slowed down ever since!
When I got into college I wanted to participate as an actor on the stage. Thankfully, the director of the Theatre Arts Department allowed me to create soundtracks for various plays (and act in them!) which helped me gain some more experience with creating music. The director would allow me to hang out in the theatre sound booth for countless hours creating electronic music on their reel-to-reel tape machines.
And being a student in the theatrical department of the college had its benefits: For a final project in one of my theatre arts classes (it was a “Sound Design” class), I decided to put on my first live electronic music concert in the theatre with strange theatrical performances and a light show! (Who gets lucky enough to get the opportunity to do that for their first concert?) I titled it “Journeys through Space” and it was a benefit for the Summer theatre arts program at Shasta College. It was enough of a success that the theater allowed me to do four more shows over the years!
By now, you have quite a long list of releases under your belt. Can you give an overview of them? Which of them do you experience as special and personal highlights??
“The Heart of the Galaxy” (1990) was my first release (limited to 100 copies). It’s was recorded during the many nights in the sound booth of Shasta College on two-track reel-to-reel and cassette tape formats, so the overall recording quality was not the best in the world, but it was my first attempt at a self-recorded release and the music was nice. My brother, Paul, had created the pencil drawing for the front cover of this cassette release.
“Universe” (1992) was actually my first release with Skip Murphy, which was also released on cassette. But this time we began to record our music live in the studio to HI-FI VHS tape (which is near cd quality in sound).
As a side note I’d like to add that these cassette releases were really a labour of love for us, because we did everything we could in those days to create our own products so we’d have something to sell at our live gigs!
Next were my solo albums “Mystical Fantasies” and “Edge of Eternity”, both released on cassette in 1992. The track “Vast Emotions ” from “Edge of Eternity” eventually ended up being included on our first self-released limited edition cd “The Eye of the Storm”. (“Edge of Eternity ” was released on cd with a few new tracks in 1999 on MP3.com.)
“Beyond (Volume 1)” (1992): This one-hour cassette contained three lengthy songs. (A remake of “Beyond Part Two” can be heard on my currently out-of-print live double cd “Music for the Mind – Live”. “Beyond (Volume 1)” was eventually released on cd in 1999 on MP3.com.)
Apparently, 1992 was quite a prolific year for us, as “Spirits of Christmas” came out the same year. This was a very limited edition cassette release of Christmas music that I had rearranged. Skip helped me recreate a Christmas song (“O Holy Night”), and we both recorded a unique piece of music for this titled “Evening Snow”.
Next came “Impulse – Live from Space” (1993). When guitarist Al Mires and percussionist Dave Barnett were performing with me and Skip, we decided to call ourselves a band name. Skip came up with “Impulse” because it fit the idea of how we were all “impulsively” contributing ideas over the melodic sequences I was creating.
“Beyond (Volume 2)” followed in 1994. This was another collection on cassette of more hypnotic music by me and Skip that featured a side long sequencer improvisation titled “Beyond the Realm of Sleep”. We recreated the ending of this track on our live cd “Planetary Elements”.
In 1995 we put out “North of the Moon”. This was our final cassette release as a duo. The title track was taken from a concert we did as “Impulse” and it’s beautiful. I hope to re-release some of this music again someday.
“The Eye of the Storm” came out in 1996. Skip and I had saved up all of the money we had earned over the years from performing and selling cassette releases to invest in our first self-released cd on our own “See Peace Music” label. We had so many hours of music that we had recorded together, including my own solo music, that it was very challenging for us to put together a “showcase” of our many styles of electronic music. This cd is like a “best of 1992 to 1995” collection.
I also like to add a personal note regarding the cd “The Eye of the Storm”. A few years before I finally got on the internet, I had shopped it around to some labels and some distributors, but since I was unknown outside of northern California, nobody would help me sell it! Fortunately, a year earlier I had met Michael Garrison in Mt. Shasta during a “Music Festival of Peace” that showcased a variety of new age artists. He performed there (he was the only artist that performed pure electronic music that day) having just flown back from performing his double live cd overseas. We became friends, and I gave him a few of my cassette releases.
“Patterns of Thought”(1998). This was my last cassette release (actually a limited edition double cassette!) containing two hours of melodious and upbeat music! Much of this music ended up being released on two cds in 1999, “Patterns of Thought” and “Crystal Garden” on MP3.com.
Another MP3.com cd was “The Soul Within”. It was a collection of previously unreleased solo recordings that I created during the early 90’s. They all had a peaceful theme in common with each other, so I made this release.
I released two more cds on MP3.com in 2000 under the artist name Sound Explorer. These albums contained some of my first recordings (some very experimental) that I had created on an ARP 2600 in the sound booth at Shasta College. I released these mostly for a niche market of listeners who like hearing abstract tones.
Our “feet in the door” in the music industry came in the year 2000 when the French Ultimae-label (originally called Infinium Records) discovered a soothing track titled “Beyond Beta”, created by me and Skip. They had liked it enough to add to their first trance/ambient compilation cd “Fahrenheit Project” (which is an absolutely enjoyable music compilation). The “Beyond Beta” track is actually an excerpt from a 30-minute ambient track recorded in 1992! But we didn’t like the way most of the track was recorded, so we decided to only release the section that we liked the most.
Then there’s “Music for the Mind”– Live Volume 1 & 2″ (2000). This double cd release on MP3.com was a near-flawless live performance which I prepared and practiced for many days. This was (by far) the biggest concert I had performed in terms of the light and stage setup, with two hours of totally rehearsed (with the exception of the improvisational track) music. This was an incredibly fun performance for me, and I feel that you can hear it in the recording! (For the time being, this is out of print. But I’m hoping to release it again in the near future. At the very least, I’ll release some video clips online from the show.)
Another 2000-release was “Perspectives on the Dream World”. I had wanted to create an album using only my older analogue synthesizers without the use of MIDI and this MP3.com cd release was the result of that experiment. It’s one of my favourite recordings, but it’s currently out of print. I’m hoping to remaster this one so I can release it again.
The album “Temporal Suspension” appeared in 2001. The meditative and hypnotic music on this cd was created during the 2000 Winter Solstice by me and Skip Murphy. It was also our first release on Tony Gerber’s independent Space for Music-label. (It’s now currently out of print.)
Next in line was “Reflections in Mercury” 2001): This MP3.com cd contains mostly energetic tracks that Skip and I recorded during the previous mentioned 2000 Winter Solstice. This one is also out of print.
The year 2002 saw two cds. The first one was the Space for Music cd “Folding Space and Melting Galaxies”, which was voted the “Echoes Listeners’ Top 25”of 2001!
“Echo System” was released in 2003 on Groove unlimited. This is a very enjoyable collaboration with fellow electronic musician Paul Ellis, and it’s another favourite.
The album “Planetary Elements” followed later that year. This music was completely improvised during two concerts. It was an experiment for Skip and I. We’d never done that in front of an audience, but we really felt like we succeeded. The cd is currently out of print. I remember after our improvised performance, we’d take a break backstage and felt really good about what we did. But since we were caught up in the moment of creating that it felt like everything we did was a blur in our minds and we didn’t know what we played! So we really looked forward to hearing the recording after both nights!
In 2004, Spotted Peccary released “Genesis”. This cd release was more of my usual style of electronic music with hypnotic sequences and celestial ambient sounds. This album was also released without the title track for Monroe Institute’s Hemi-Sync label under the title “Cycles” in 2008, mixed with tones to lull the brain into calming states of consciousness.)
“Planetary Elements Volume 2” (2005) is another out-of-print cd release, which contains more improvisations during two other concerts. I think this one is a wild ride of fun because it has more variety during the improvisations. (I hope to release the two volumes again someday.)
My second long-form ambient album “The Light in the Shadow” saw the light of day in 2006, and it’s a bit more varied than “Vostok”. I like this one a lot.
In 2006, Kip and I released our first collaborative album on Groove Unlimited, entitled “Phantasma”. It’s quite hypnotic with dreamy sequences of electronica. Most of this music was recorded live in Dancing Astronaut Studios.
At the time, I remember telling Skip that I wanted to somehow sync up all of our analogue synths together to create a sort of massive modular synth. The studio appeared very chaotic with cables spread across the room from one synth to another, but we had it all under control (theoretically).
The cd “Path of Least Resistance” came out in 2007 on the LotusPike label. This was recorded with Zero Ohms (aka Richard Roberts), and it’s another personal favourite. The theme is pure science fiction fantasy. I always wanted to create a synth album with wind instruments to create a sound as if an angelic Native American was sitting in a cathedral on a distant planet playing music, and this recording is the result.
In 2008, Skip and I released our second collaborative album “Analog Destination” on Groove Unlimited, which could be considered a “prog-electronic-rock” album This one is a scorching live album with lots of fun sequencer riffs from our vast array of synthesizers! You can actually see us create the 28-minute track “Stellar Nursery”” on my You Tube site:
The cd “Below the Mountain”, released on Spotted Peccary, was awarded the “New Age Reporter’s Lifestyle Achievement Award for Best electronic album of 2008”. In addition, it was also nominated for “Best Ambient Album of 2008”. I too like this one a lot,. I’m glad it’s getting the recognition that it’s been getting. This release has a little bit of everything I’d want to hear on an electronic music album.
Finally, the Lotus Pike label released “Beyond the Portal” in 2009. This is the follow-up to “Path of Least Resistance”, except this time Skip Murphy also contributes his soulful electronic sounds with me and Zero Ohms. It’s another peaceful release. But, if “Path” was a “yin” release, then this one is the “yang”. Both releases go well to together, and yet they’re both quite different from each other.
A couple of years ago, your long form ambient work ended up at the Spotted Peccary label. How did that happen? What are your thoughts of these works, and can you sketch a bit of a background on them?
“The Light in the Shadow” was created as a drone piece to be more calming than “Vostok”, but in the end I decided that it needed to be a bit more “interesting” and active. I decided to record some additional bits and pieces with Skip Murphy and cut, spliced, and re-edited many overdubs to be more vibrant (yet still calming and peaceful) than “Vostok”. I am very pleased with the end result! This recording also stayed in my cd player for many nights while I slept.
Craig, for several years you also have been frequently collaborating with Skip Murphy. How did you guys meet? What is this sonic chemistry between you two when you both end up making music together, on stage or in the studio?
Can you tell some more about the Dancing Astronaut studio, and what gear you use?
What are your thoughts about nowadays contemporary electronic and ambient music?
Do you think the pressed cd will survive in a market where digital downloads seems to become an increasing market?
So how’s the electronic music scene doing in the U.S.?
I performed my music (sometimes with Skip) almost continuously in northern California from 1990 through 2003. I haven’t been involved in a live performance since 2007.
I also observed you have an ongoing interest in doing video productions of your live and studio activities, which some have made it on You Tube. Is this something you like to expand and/or put out on dvd?
I actually have a dvd video album released in collaboration with my friend and video producer Bart Hawkins, who shot and edited the entire video. It’s titled “Ibiida Lahaa”, which is Wintu Native American for “I am going into trance”. It’s a full hour of my music combined with some of the most hypnotic and stunning video work I have ever seen! It’s available on my website where you may purchase it straight away.
Since the end of 2008 there seems to have been quite a gap of inactivity at your side. What happened?
So now that you’re back on track, what’s in the works?
I currently have four cds completed and I’m working on more! And since I honestly know that I have finally found my true soulmate in 2009, the love and friendship that I’ve been experiencing has been inspiring me on so many new levels of creativity that it’s opened up some new directions of melody and atmosphere in my music, and I see no sign of slowing down!