NOTE: I have created an iTunes / Apple Music Playlist with the copyrighted film cues by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Jonny Greenwood, Alexandre Desplat, Hans Zimmer, Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman, and Ennio Morricone. Here it is:
Hello, it’s Carl King again. Welcome to the Carl King Whatever it is.
Dale Turner is one of those musical minds that scares the crap out of me. Take a lesson from him and find out why. He regularly teaches guitar and music theory at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and is now also working in film scoring and orchestration. He has a collection of exotic stringed and percussion instruments that I can’t pronounce, and you can find videos of him playing those on YouTube.
I’m glad I met this guy, because he’s been a good friend and also an incredible teacher. Once in a while I get a couple of hours of his time to bullshit about music theory and listen to some music, so I decided to do it podcast style.
We talked about Trump (of course), some movie scores he’s into lately, and some of those weird instruments he’s playing.
Check out his website at IntimateAudio.com.
So here he is. Dale Turner.
C: I’m here with Dale Turner in his home studio. There’s an oud over there. Hello Dale.
D: Is it oud or oud?
D: Oh no, it’s oud. You’re right. It’s Turkish oud. Hey Carl, how’re you doing, man?
D: Thanks for coming over. Yeah, that’s a Turkish oud. An 11 string son of a gun.
C: So we’re in a political climate right now. As my own form of protest, as I’ve said, I try to bring this up a little bit. I am a Trump apocalypticist, I’ve said before. I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen, and I know a lot of other creative people are. A lot of musicians that I know. I hardly know anyone that’s a Trump supporter that is part of my circle of people. What’s going on with that, Dale? What the hell do you have to say?
D: I talk to friends and stuff about this. I’m not that active on this crap with Facebook for reasons that I guess we could talk about later, but when I do see other people get into a dialogue about it in social media land, I certainly participate, but I haven’t really shared on my own little social media universes my own thoughts. I guess I could just throw down with some crap if that’s legal.
D: Everything’s already been said and everything will continue to be said because the same downward spiral is going to continue until he’s ousted or whatever happens, which I still believe is going to happen within two and a half months at this point, but, you know, we’ll see.
C: Wow. I hope.
D: Yeah, I certainly will go on record saying that he’s a science denying, bullying, misogynist, clueless when it comes to race relations, egomaniac, spoiled, know-nothing twit. I thought about this a little bit in a weird way since I do music instruction crap and maybe I’ll try to tie that in just with a certain kind of person that I’ve encountered a lot just to make it maybe a little bit of a fun angle. Obviously this freakin’ guy, for 40 years, or whatever, has incubated himself in a bubble of wealth, surrounded himself with people that will only agree with him, because of course they’re getting paid by him. The entire time he’s incubating in his wealth bubble he clearly is not stepped outside of his own ego to learn anything at all. Anybody that things they know more than anybody else in the world and says it outwardly and continues to push things that are devoid of facts and that are also tied in with that whole conspiracy theory horse shit, combined with being an egomaniac and unable to apologize for anything, those kinds of people never … They’re incapable of learning because they can’t step outside of themselves. They’re incapable of progress and they’re also impossible to work with, so there’s just no freakin’ way that this is going to work, and it’s obviously poisoning our country, poisoning our relationship with the universe. A way to kind of think about that musically, if you don’t mind me just going down this stupid path …
C: Go for it.
D: Because as a music teaching person, there are people that are experts in the world, you know what I mean? That devote a massive amount of their lives to a certain subject or subjects. Let’s just say I’m a theory teacher, which I am. Inevitably you’ll get somebody that will come in and deny the existence of something like E sharp, for example, and insist that, well, my guitar teacher or somebody that I learned from for three months of my life and this one book I have, this note on the first note of the high E string is an F, for instance, if I could walk a student through something like this. Okay, F sharp minor. do you agree that that has three sharps? Yes. Do you agree that every note in the musical alphabet should exist if we’re dealing with just diatonic seven note crap? Yes. Do you agree that F sharp minor has an F sharp, G sharp, A, B, C sharp, D, E and F sharp in it? Yes. Do you agree that E is a flat seven in F sharp minor? Yes. Do you agree that there’s a thing called harmonic minor? Yes. Well if E is a flat seven, then what’s a seven? The leading tone in it, it’s E sharp. Crap like that, that is real, is proven. There’s a million things like that.
D: Mode related subjects, so same freakin’ thing with him with the CIA and literally any other thing in the world, because for 40 fuckin’ years he’s been incubating himself in the wealth bubble with a bunch of people that are agreeing, obviously, with every freaking thing he says, and obviously he hasn’t read a book. Whatever, anyways, same crap.
C: The thing that freaks me out, and you explained it in a perfect analogy, but I see it as authoritarianism. He thinks that he is the one, the chosen one, that understands everything, and that he can just execute his will on everybody now. He thinks he’s the boss of the country and the world.
D: Yeah, it’s hilarious.
C: Which, no, he’s a servant. He works for the federal government. I mean, he’s the chief executive of the federal government, but that doesn’t mean that he’s now the boss. He’s actually in a lower position than you and I. He’s here to work for us, but he doesn’t seem to understand that. He thinks that he’s the winner now, like he’s the top.
D: That’s why I think it’s good that the judiciary just kicked in and busted his ass with the … Yeah, so good thing we’ve got the checks and balances with the three branches of government to presumably slap him into reality, even though the reality part’s never going to happen, with all the ethics violations that are going to be mounting, I mean that already are, but yea.
C: And you’re right that he’s an anti-expert, and I’ve made that point before. It’s like when I’m doing freelance work for someone, I’ve worked for these anti-experts before and it’s impossible to get anything done. They enforce their own will on everything that you do even though you know more than them, and the project collapses. It’s like almost always, you know? It’s not gonna work when you have a fuckin’ anti-expert at the top.
D: The recurring analogy was, “Who do you want to have hovering over you on the operating table?” Obvious freakin’ thing.
D: Somebody learned on YouTube how to sew together a banana skin or somebody who’s been hacking at human bodies for 25 years?
C: Alright, so we’ve got this political climate out of the way, this sort of disclaimer, and now we can talk about music, but unfortunately I have a pretty critical and negative point to start on, and then maybe we can …
D: Bring it on.
C: We can get a little bit happy after that. I wanted to talk about the decline of popular music, or quote-unquote popular music, and this is a point of view I have that I don’t know if you entirely agree with or not. I’ve heard some arguments against this and I haven’t heard a good argument against it, so we’ll see what you think. There’s this obvious decline in the quality of popular music since maybe the 1950s or so. There’s always been music that stands out as exceptional, like, you know, in any generation there’s always going to be some weird dude making some cool stuff somewhere, but it’s pretty clear that what the public is consuming is at an all-time low. Like, I’ve gone back and I’ve checked through the top 40 listings for the past 50 years and you see this steady progression downward of melody, harmony, rhythm and even the ability to play an instrument or sing isn’t even required. It’s almost like these entertainers selling so-called music are placing bets with each other about how far they can go removing the elements of music before anyone notices, and so it’s reduced down to this horrible sound effect or single syllable that gets stuck in your head and that’s all they care about.
D: White noise with a back beat.
C: Do you have any thoughts on that? You work in an educational environment. You’re around some extremely talented people and them I’m sure you’re around a mass audience. I mean, you work on Hollywood Boulevard around pop culture central, in a way. Any thoughts there?
D: There’s concentrated pockets of creative activity in every decade that people can point to, and some of it is a mixture of what was happening with technology. Others blended in with what people were gradually becoming aware of that was new, that inspired another mess of people.
The ’60s to me, still, was one of the great creative high points. A mix of when multi-track recording was coming into its own, slowly. Unlike today, this is a thing I actually talk about quite a bit, just about evolution of personal style that might tie in a little bit, and how there are not really any unique stylists in general, whether we’re talking composers, songwriters, players, instrumentalists, whatever. I mean, there’s plenty, but it seems like there’s less. Maybe that ties in a little bit.
C: What I’m saying is that doesn’t become a part of popular culture in the way that classical music was part of popular culture before that, so that stuff is still there. Like, there are underground people doing things, but it’s not … You don’t see it on mainstream … You know what I mean?
D: It seems like there’s less interesting music being made for reasons I was kind of trying to get into, and because of that, people that are younger and coming up, they’re just hearing homogenized crap to begin with, so they don’t even know that there’s a whole other world out there, and a cool thing about going to music school or having friends that are digging around for more artistic interesting, whatever adjective you want, stuff is that they can awaken some of these people to things that they never knew was out there, and so then they can kind of broaden their listening tastes or whatever, but up to a certain point with how tied in and connected and how much access people have had to literally everything, there’s no secret that … There’s nobody that can develop in the back woods in some region nowadays without having being constantly bombarded with the same crap everybody else is hearing, so the influence, it seems harder and harder for somebody to develop in their own little universe, is what I’m kind of saying, free of being blasted by crap like what you’re talking about, the generic, homogenized junk, whereas way back in the day, somebody could grow up in the back woods, develop a style without hearing what everybody else in the world is doing because they’re just on their own and getting little pieces of stuff and just kind of formulating a thing. That expanded all across the globe would make it so out of all those people, some of them would probably be pretty magical, unique musical characters. That seems to be gone.
Anyway, that tied in with access to whatever you want. Music has been less and less special to people for the last, who knows how many years. I read a weird thing. Not weird. I think a freakin’ brilliant thing, if you don’t mind me tacking this in there. I’m going to butcher it because I don’t remember how to quote from it because it’s back a ways, but one of my favorite guitar playing composers in the world and guitar players, and he’s not just a guitar composer, but he’s Andrew York, and he did an album. I think it was called Denouement. I’m butchering the pronunciation, but in his liner notes, he wrote this whole thing about how over time music has become less special. Way back before anything could be recorded, obviously people had to leave their homes and it was an event to go witness music, or people had to cull together a bunch of instruments and play it themselves, or pull out sheet music, put it on the piano and bash it out, and over more and more time as technology kicking in, it became people could just put on an LP. Well that even took a little bit of effort, you know what I mean? The cumbersome, noisy … You know what I’m saying. Anyway, it’s just become too easy and I think because of that it’s less special. I don’t know, all the interesting music is still there. Part of the reason that I’m glad and totally not really noticing it or feeling weird about it is I’ve completely shifted a couple years ago into just film score, film composing oriented stuff, which to me is like a haven of interesting, forward-looking, adventurous, every mood imaginable type of sonic landscape, clownscape type thing, so I just kind of dumped that, unfortunately, from my head, feeling bad about it. I’m aware of it, so I feel like I can’t really even contribute to what the topic rather than the diarrhea that just oozed out of my pores which hopefully …
C: That’s excellent.
D: Goes somewhere.
C: It smells great.
C: I’ve had a similar experience where when I first open iTunes, the iTunes store or Apple Music, it brings me to that home page of popular music and I see these names and photos and I’m just like, what is any of this? I don’t know what any of it is. I can look at the entire page and not recognize a single name or person, with the occasional Lady Gaga pops up on there. I’m like, oh, that’s Lady Gaga, but that’s as far as it goes for me and I just immediately click over to my playlists of crazy classical music or film scores.
D: Yeah, I think you’ll just have to keep doing that because I have the exact same scenario. If I log into YouTube or whatever and there’s suggested crap and it’s music related, I don’t know who most of them are, and it’s not … I mean I guess it’s because I’m a geezer, but the only way I know about anything that’s new would be …
C: But when you say the word “new,” I mean, it means it’s happening now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s new in another context.
D: Yeah, what I mean is a person that now all of the sudden is being thrust in front of us and is now …
C: Somebody is paying a bunch of money to put them there.
D: Yeah, they’re certainly not new in terms of what you’re hearing. It just sounds like, oh that’s still happening? Okay, cool, with a different person, and oh look at that outfit. Oh yeah, they’re pretty good at dancing. Should they learn more about music than how to dance? That’s up to them, but this is sort of a Trumpian thing. I think the only way I find out about new quote-unquote artists, it seems like, is when I watch Saturday Night Live, which I think has been doing an awesome job, of course, of doing some Trump-related damage to his ego, which is a crack up, but yeah, when it gets to the music segment, now that I finally have a DVR, you know, a few years ago, finally. I know I’m lame, but I’ll watch two seconds of it and then it’s just obvious it’s either just rehash or horrible and that’s … Maybe I’d heard the person’s name and I just … 95 percent of the time I’m just rocketing right through it and getting to the fun.
C: Yeah, and the last thing I saw on Saturday Night Live maybe months ago of some episode, the only thing I can think of was some band that was like three people on stage with a prerecorded track. There was a girl that was supposedly playing guitar and dancing but I think the guitar wasn’t making any sound, and the drummer was questionably playing along to the song, and I even doubted that that was real, and so it was like, what are we even watching? They’re not even making music. They’re just dancing.
D: It’s a parade.
C: Yeah, it’s a parade. That’s funny.
D: They’ve been really upping their game in the anti-Trumpness.
C: Yeah, I mean I’ve seen those clips on YouTube and everything. I watch those, but I’ve never seen an episode except for some recent thing where there’s some musician, and here we are with this band and then you see people dancing. I don’t understand what’s going on.
D: Maybe for my own self-preservation I just fuckin’ deleted all that thought from my skull, because what difference does it make anyway, you know what I mean? I’m just going to still try to get less worse as a musician. I’m going to still personally seek out stuff that doesn’t suck.
D: Just because I’m not going to be able to do anything about it and I have enough problems as it is.
C: Let’s talk about your sex change.
D: Yeah, there’s one problem. Was that stuff oozing all over the floor?
C: I don’t know why you call it a sex change. Never mind, it’s me that calls it that. I’m just going to call it quitting rock.
D: Oh. Me?
C: Yeah, you sort of …
D: I wouldn’t say that.
C: Well, you were making your own independent albums of rock music in general.
D: In genital.
C: Acoustic driven sort of rock stuff.
D: Neo-acoustic prog.
C: Something like that, and at some point in the past few years you were actually in the process of recording a new record, and then suddenly you just stopped and said, “Nope, no more. Going fully film scoring.”
D: What a dumb ass.
C: What was up with that? Can you describe … Was there a moment?
D: My prescription ran out. No, it was actually, I mean maybe you could think of it as the whole perfect storm thing. Can I elaborate?
D: Would that be too much? I don’t want to put people asleep but you have a role in this. I’ll explain if you don’t mind me going there.
C: I didn’t know that, but okay.
D: Yeah, I had a whole other … My previous record or whatever, one man band goof around thing, I did a whole other one. Also had 12 songs, maybe a little more adventurous in the electrified guitar realm. Maybe a little darker.
C: I mean you started on a new one.
D: Yeah, it’s pretty far along.
C: Wow, I didn’t know that.
D: Yeah, all the guitars are done, electric, acoustic, all the bass is recorded for everything. Musically it’s all completely composed. Lyrics are maybe halfway done for everything. Some of the drum programming I did, some of the stuff would’ve been real drums that I didn’t do. Yeah, it’s kind of close, but you know how that goes. 90 percent of the work is dealing with the last 10 percent of a project, so who freakin’ knows really how close it is. Anyway, this newer one, at some point I wanted to incorporate some other influences I have had for a million years that didn’t in any way surface on that previous recording, and one of them was a bunch of more industrial, believe it or not, Trent Reznor-esque, Nine Inch Nails stuff that I’d always loved since way back. Like I have literally every one of their albums. The only one that I didn’t get the moment it came out would’ve been whatever it is with Head Like A Hole, the first one. That one I got later, but all the other ones I got when they actually came out. Broken, Downward Spiral, everything after that. Always loved that stuff, so at some point I started researching how he recorded Downward Spiral, getting into just checking out some of the gear and techniques he used and stuff for sounds and how he hacked up some of the guitars, like maybe I think Adrian Belew did on some of that, and in doing that, I crazily came across an interview that was a film composer interview, joint interview with him. I think Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, Danny Elfman, one of those roundtable things that every year I forget the publication, they would do, so I watched that, like okay, that’s really cool. I’ve obviously loved film music my whole life. I’ve always loved film.
C: Right, we’ve always talked about John Williams and Danny Elfman, you and I.
D: Totally, it’s always been part of the common thread of fandom, and way back I was way … I kind of considered trying to give it a go, I guess, in some form, a hundred billion years ago, and I already knew, of course, that Reznor had gotten the academy award for Social Network and I was aware of his other scores and stuff like that. At about the same time, when I had our first child, you know, our first child. Just kidding, my wife and I’s, our first child, I used to, at night, just kind of chill out by watching something on the TV, believe it or not, to kind of pass out, but I started reading again all the time, so I was initially reading a bunch of biographies mostly, which was kind of all I ever read anyways for the last thousand years to try to get inside the heads of people that are smarter than me. Anyway, which is not a bad thing, and I started reading a bunch of Stravinsky stuff again that I hadn’t read in a million years. I started reading things about cartoon … Oh wait, oh yeah, so at some point I started to watch vintage Warner Brothers cartoons with my daughter and I bought a bunch of them on legit DVDs that would have these bonus features. Well Chuck Jones would be interviewed a lot, and a lot of his classic Warner Brothers pictures revolved around music. At some point I sought out a book on cartoon music. I’m probably skipping around in weird order, reading interviews with some of these guys and gals that were composers, including Carl Stalling, who of course is the man, combined with reading stuff on Stravinsky that I’d studied in school. At some point I bought a book for you for Christmas and it was a John Williams book. In doing so, through Amazon, that, of course, popped up some suggested books for me to buy, and I noticed there was a Jerry Goldsmith biography that popped up so I’m like, “Alright,” so I bought that, I started reading that. A bunch of that stuff, I’m just kind of soaking up without thinking anything of it other than to influence my new rock record that I also was trying to make be more cinematic, more sound design like, more atmospheric, so I’m also adding in new technological ends to the process that I hadn’t had previously, so I guess if I combined all that, me, getting back into the Reznor thing and the interviews that I started checking out with him on the subject of his film scoring universe and then some of his contemporaries that I was tripping on, getting way back into spookier orchestral sounds, reading about this cartoon music composers, the Jerry Goldsmith book, trying to be generally more cinematic, atmospheric, sound design-y in my own tuneage, right around then I got an email from a very close friend of mine who’s got heavy duty orchestration credits and conductor credits on a big array of major, real films, and out of the blue he’s saying, “Hey man, you ought to … I listened to your record again,” or something like that, “and you really ought to give film composing a serious look.” This all kind of happened end over end over end, and I don’t need people to say that to me, but it did make me go, “Hmm.” It did make me take time out when I had a little bit of a break at some point, and think, evaluate my situation, and see if I felt I would be a candidate that’d even be possible to go in that direction. Also, all this crap, believe it or not, combined with me being very frustrated with my fingers not working anymore, which I know you remember but nobody else would probably know. When I had spine surgery, I guess now it’s four years ago, to try to improve the fine motor movement in my pinky and ring fingers, or at least stop the problem from worsening, that’s gotten to the point where it’s become so frustrating even though one finger did get better, that playing music live also became a thing that is interesting but it became so freakin’ frustrating trying to play my own songs. All that kind of crap just kind of bubbled together, plus other professional things that were going on that made me kind of have to adapt and modify my palate of gigs that I just eventually just crossed over, and then started going down this path and yay.
C: I think it was a very strange coincidence and I don’t think I picked up on this subconsciously or anything from you, but right around that exact same time, I had decided I was going to do a new record and I plan to use Steve Cox to orchestrate all my stuff. Like I was really, like that was the plan, like I’m going to make a rock record and I’m going to have Steve Cox come in and go crazy on top of it with orchestral stuff. Really simple plan.
D: Yeah, really simple.
C: Because I didn’t know anything about orchestration or orchestra. I mean I listened to tons of John Williams and Danny Elfman over the years, but I had no clue, no clue how to make any of those sounds or do anything.
C: But at some point, I recall during that process of recording, I started thinking, well, let me just try to make some of those sounds or see what even happens. Like how would I even do that if I wanted to … Maybe I could figure out how to do it. I don’t know, how do you make a tuba sound? I don’t know. Where do I get good sounds, blah blah blah, so I kind of got into that and started realizing, like, “Oh, I could maybe make some of these sounds myself and I don’t necessarily need to bug Steve Cox with this huge project all the time and maybe I can do a little bit of it,” and then it just kind of snowballed when I started getting into it and buying books and ended up signing up at random for a class.
C: On orchestration.
D: Yeah, you have to educate yourself for this.
D: So you’re stepping outside yourself to broaden your … Do what you got to do to take a bite out of this stuff.
C: Yeah, so signing up for a class, in the first two weeks I was totally lost and like I don’t even know what anything is. I don’t know what that means, and just dug into it, and by the end of the class I really felt like I had a basic understanding of the orchestra and what all those parts are and everything, and then just got into it really big time, like really loved it, and started … It opened my ears a lot to listening to tons of film scores, classical music, and I picked up listening to some Stravinsky and Prokofiev and some more Franz Liszt and Bartok totally freaked me out at some point because that opened the door to that, and then now I’m back on a Prokofiev kick, big time. Just losing my mind listening to that stuff, like this is the best music I’ve ever heard in the world at the moment, so it was a weird coincidence that I started getting into that stuff, although I don’t really want to get into film scoring so much as a profession. I mean, I’m studying it, but I’m mostly interested in it for the music.
C: For the music, man.
D: Adding that flavor to your own tuneage.
C: Yeah, and if that ends up happening some day for whatever reason or I somehow go into that, that’s fine, but it’s not my goal, and so it was kind of a funny coincidence, but my major hangup with actually going into that line of work is I am not the type of person that enjoys massive amounts of collaboration, and that feeling of too many cooks and sitting there with someone telling you, “Oh, I don’t like this, can you redo the whole thing and change it to this or that,” so I was wondering, I had asked you that pretty early on when you were … I was like, “You’re getting into film scoring. Are you going to do orchestration? Are you looking to do the scoring?” And you were like, “Everything.” Like okay.
D: Did I say that?
D: What a prick.
C: Well I don’t mean you’re going to just achieve everything. I mean, you meant, like, “I’m going to go full in, be the composer.”
D: Or at least study everything, yeah, to …
C: But, I mean you wanted to be the person who sits down with the director and does all the spotting. You want to be the film composer, you know? And I thought, like, wow, that’s really … I don’t know that I would ever really want to do that, so do you have any thoughts on such a collaborative process? Because that’s the same reason that I didn’t want to go any farther or further with getting into cinematography. Like I could’ve started driving down to Hollywood at 4 in the morning and working on a crew and working my way up to being a cinematographer or something, but I just don’t like the lifestyle and I don’t like that huge group effort and collaboration where one person is doing the lighting, the other person’s cleaning the camera, the other person’s doing the focus, the other person’s …
D: And then there’s a couple people at the top with a checklist.
C: What’s your style there? Do you think about that?
D: Oh yeah, and I have no problem with that. I mean, as long as it’s … If you’re a part of a team, of course, but here’s a way that I kind of think about this. I don’t know if this relates directly but maybe it’s similar. I have tons of friends that are very successful with creating music on their own and either pitching it to a music library or they have their own music library that they’ve cultivated over years and they’re doing freakin’ awesome with that, which is an avenue somebody could go down, totally bitchin’. I know for sure I really want to collaborate to create a world with a director and a team to make something where I’m integral to the event that somebody would call a film, you know, in the musical end. I do specifically want it to all be tied with a film.
D: To where it’s all hand in hand, directly associated in a collaborative thing. There’s a lot of things we all could do that would be independent, and I’m definitely an independent person.
C: Oh yeah.
D: Because all the goofy stuff I’ve been doing for the last million years have just been myself, and I’ve been to a large extent self-employed for a million years, always working at home for different publications and transcribing goofiness and interviewing rock mutants, and never had a problem with the self starter thing, staying on task and kicking ass, but I also realize that film music is a collaborative art. The film is the form.
D: Which in a way to me is sort of a relief, because I do in my own little goofy songs, stress out about the form.
C: Yes, big time.
D: Even just that, trying to be inventive in that area, and in a way it’s been a big, well, I guess relief, being able to have a form already established and it being the picture and then doing something that is … either enhances or in some part creates the world for that, the environment that the film’s creating. Anyway, that kind of thing. Totally, totally cool, and that requires collaboration, unless I wrote the film myself, which isn’t going to happen.
C: And edit it yourself and lit it yourself.
D: Which there’s tons of people that have done that, that are really successful people.
C: Yeah, there’s a very successful … The guy who did X-Men Apocalypse.
D: Yeah, John Ottman.
D: Is a film editor and composer. And director.
C: It freaked me out when I was watching the credits and there’s the composer’s name and then “edited by” and I’m like what?
D: Yep, unbelievable. Yep, totally amazing.
C: But from the point of view of an editor, being an editor myself, spending years doing video editing, I can say that it is very similar to the timing of scoring and the rhythm of everything and drama that I feel like working in video editing for all these years really contributed to my understanding of film scoring, big time.
D: Yeah, I would bet. Just relationships of sound to an image.
D: Or whatever, and flow.
C: And dramatic arcs and a buildup and a release and all of these things are … I just took it from … It was a lateral move from video editing to composing music. It was like a direct, like “Oh shit, I learned all this stuff about composing music without even doing it.”
D: Yep, a little lane change, coming to that realization. That’s totally bitchin’.
C: You had sent me a list of cues that you really like and a list of composers that we could talk about here, and I wanted to clumsily work our way into this. Did you want to start by talking about a handful of these composers? Because there’s also these five cues that we have pulled aside to check out.
D: I don’t know, since I figured we would be talking a little bit about orchestral type things, which is one aspect of things that … That’s what most people associate with film music would have some orchestra element to it, but obviously not all. I don’t know, made a little list of some of the killer cats that are deemed legendary, some of which are still with us. What do we got here? I guess I’ll just list off a few people.
C: Yeah, go ahead.
D: Is that goofy?
C: However you want to do this.
D: I don’t really know.
C: I would like to embed some of these musical cues in the podcast.
D: Oh, sweet. I’ll just spaz out, I guess.
C: Yeah, do whatever you’re going to do and then we’ll figure out.
D: When I bought that Jerry Goldsmith book, which was, again, the result of having gotten you that John Williams book, I kept noticing the name Bernard Herman in the book, and I honestly had never heard of him at that time. I’d obviously seen a lot of the Hitchcock movies that he did the music for, but that would’ve been back quite a ways, and I knew all the … Psycho, I was aware of the string oriented sounds that were permanently associated with that film. Eventually I went out and bought a book. What is it called? Totally bitchin’. A Heart At Fire Center, it’s a Bernard Herman biography that’s freakin’ awesome. Do you have that?
C: Yeah, and that was funny because you brought that book up or I said I was reading it or you said …
D: Oh, we were reading it at the same–
C: We were both reading it at the same time–
D: And we didn’t know, yeah.
C: And we didn’t even know that we were even talking about this, so it was very funny.
D: What a bunch of cosmic kooks. Yeah, so that, I mean, in a way, there’s a bunch of people that you can go back in history and point to as the ones that started a movement and then from then on people had kind of aped, like in anything, you know what I mean? There’s Max Styner stuff with King Kong, like one of the early horror flicks that had some of the great examples of Mickey Mousing, anyway, obviously became hugely influential. Eric Corngold with Robin Hood and all those kind of films. All sorts of other people, but at some point you had a bunch of the European composers coming over here and living in the US to survive what was about to happen in World War II, and they all had, you know, training in … Many of them had training in opera so a lot of that stylization of course is what lent itself perfectly to film, but Bernard Herman was kind of an out of left field guy, so his whole thing back then was odd instrumentation, a strange number of harps and ensemble size stuff. Jerry Goldsmith also kind of came up, I think shortly after that also in the same time of training where you had to learn how to write really fast, so something like Psycho coming out, which all you have to do is watch the film and imagine the film without the music to know what the music’s contributing, but I think there’s a famous quote of Hitchcock that was like, “My films are only 70 percent done until I give them to Bernard Herman, and then he finishes them,” or maybe it was 60 percent. It’s something like that.
C: Yeah, yeah.
D: Anyway, so, why don’t we just check out the prelude, like you know, from the car scene, I guess.
D: With Bernard Herman.
C: And remember, for those who are listening to this on iTunes or Soundcloud, you’re not going to hear the music. We’re just going to say, “Hey, that was pretty cool,” so if you want to hear it, go to YouTube and I’ll embed the actual music inside this. Okay, so here we go.
So what do you have to say about this piece? Because this was one of the mock-ups that you did pretty early on.
D: Oh yeah, good memory. I don’t know if I … What I would really have to say about this one particular piece, but more so just the work as a whole, but in listening to … There’s obviously sonic signatures. There’s a minor major 7 chord, sounds like that, minor 6 chord, minor 7 flat 5, sounds that people associate with Herman, and that particular cue, I guess there’s the franticness, but how repetitive he is, and I guess some people tag him as being not necessarily thematic but more motivic as working on a cellular level, where he gets kind of nuggets of vibes going, and then manipulates them. I don’t know, there’s a bunch of things written about breakdowns of his scores and other things like Vertigo and what he did with Cape Fear and all sorts of other killer things, but we should probably just keep trucking.
C: That’s fine.
D: Yeah, I guess you’re right, I did do mock-ups of 10 of the cues from Psycho, initially to kill a bunch of birds. Like the Birds movie. Just kidding, to learn some new software that dealt with trying to get mock-ups going for orchestral pieces. You know, quickly and hopefully not sounding like crap, so to learn some new technology and interface madness, I played in all the parts for many of the cues from Psycho and then learned about how to make them, take them to the next level sonically with the software and all that, but also I wanted to learn about just try to get a little more inside of the … as much as I could, compositionally, what’s going on, how he was actually using just strings, the size of his string section at the time and all that stuff, which is what I would encourage anybody to do if you’re trying to learn about anything that’s … I mean this would be any kind of ensemble, but especially if you’re trying to get some kind of orchestra related stuff under your skin. Get a score, try to program it. It’s going to force you to get a better command of your gear to try to replicate stuff, because obviously there’s something to compare it to. These things have been recorded, so it should sound at least a reasonable facsimile, otherwise you … It’s just a thing you can do to get faster and learn your stuff and also learn about orchestration and composing. It seems like a logical mix, you know what I mean?
So I actually did that with a bunch of these composers on the list, just for that reason, to learn about their … As much as I could again, nuggets of compositional fun, their choice of instruments and also to improve just with speed and sonic quality with my own setup, but a bunch of guys that I didn’t do anything with but just love that are on this list, like Jerry Goldsmith, of course, that came up right around that same time, The Omen, just check out the film and obviously a groundbreaking, dark, moody, orchestral work. There’s a bunch of other guys. A thing that was interesting about Bernard Hermann, I should mention, since you also mentioned orchestration, he’s one of the few guys that was self-contained, where he would compose everything and orchestrate it himself and was kind of widely known as somebody that would … I don’t want to say diss, but he’d be kind of annoyed by composers that didn’t also orchestrate their own stuff, which you’d remember from reading that book, you know what I mean? Another guy that’s active and brilliant is Howard Shore, who is an amazing film composer and just composer in general, that also orchestrates almost all of his material. Most people probably know of him from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he did orchestrate himself. I believe the Hobbit ones, though, he did bring in a team to do those, but whatever, but since we’re talking about adventures, orchestral music that’s unique and not just a droney sound of arpeggios and chord changes and stuff, I would highly recommend somebody check out anything from his score to Seven, which I think is now it’s 20th anniversary. If you’re to get the soundtrack CD for that, it only consisted of a suite, which is 14 minutes of his music at the end of the CD, but just a couple months ago they finally legally put out the entire score that you can get from, I’m forgetting the record label, but that’d be a treat if you’re into this kind of stuff. Other guys that are orchestra related that have a deep classical background or some people deem minimalist composers, Philip Glass is a, you know … He just turned 80. I think his birthday is any day. Oh yeah, why did I start geeking out on Philip Glass? Tell me if this is boring as hell, but anybody that’s going down a path to try to better themselves hopefully is also aware of a bunch of areas they suck in, and one of the many areas I know I suck in is trying to generate … I don’t know if minimalist is the right word, but stuff that’s textural, interesting but not overtly thematic in hammering you with the focal point, and I just, of course knew that Philip Glass was one of the quote-unquote minimalist composers, so I started delving into his stuff and came across something like The Illusionist, which is a fantastic score if you get a chance to check that out. Check out Frankel Appears. For whatever reason there’s a bunch of people that I still don’t understand why, dismiss some film composers, like they … I mean I know a lot of film composers because the deadline oriented thing, they have a massive team to help push everything to the finish line because that’s the way it goes if it’s that type of big budget, crazy picture, unlike what we talked about just a second ago with Bernard Herman orchestrating everything himself, Howard Shore, pretty much everything. There’s a lot of guys like that, but for some reason if you were to go on the internets, there’s always people that are not praising Hans Zimmer as much as obviously they totally should, because if you check out what he’s doing, again, movie music, stuff that relates to the film, creating a world for that film that’s music, I think he’s freakin’ badass, so I got several favorites of his that just kill me, but Thin Red Line is great. That’s obviously an easy purchase, good. Check that out, either as an iTunes-age or actual CD like a geezer like me still possesses. Thin Red Line, Inception. If you just kind of focus on the sound and the universe that it’s creating, which is the point of that kind of music.
D: It’s a totally unique landscape he’s carved out with his sounds and his palate is, you know, kind of light years beyond tons of people. Obviously he does have people that work with him and so maybe that’s why some people are being tools when they talk about him, but whatever. What we got here, though, is one random example that’s a little more pure orchestra, but with interesting flavors like there’s some banjo action, there’s, I think cimbalom. Is that how you pronouns that thing? Which is sort of like this giant hammer dulcimer I have over here but even cooler. I still love when the first Sherlock Holmes flick came out. Got some gypsy fiddle in there or whatever you would call it. Really great hodgepodge of elements that he uniquely cobbled together and that score’s got all sorts of great stuff, so I don’t know, maybe something like Discombobulate. I think that’s what people regard as the main theme, once that gets rolling.
C: Yes, so let’s listen to that. My thoughts on that immediately are that this piece is … I liked it better than most of the stuff that I’ve heard. For whatever reason I haven’t latched on to Hans Zimmer. I don’t know why but I did like this one a lot. It still had a little bit of a stiffness to it. It gave me a programmed feeling and I don’t know why, but I really liked it anyway.
D: Yeah, I would just see it with the film.
D: Almost any of these, the moment they’re seen with the film, which again is the purpose of these, then it’s all going to completely …
C: Absolutely. Sure.
D: It’s going to gel. There are some interesting things, though, that I did notice in that score overall that might be a crackup to anybody … I’m sure everybody knows this, but what is that Big Ben theme called? Does it have an official name? That (whistling) …
D: Whatever that’s called.
C: Yeah, I don’t know.
D: One massive cue somewhere in the film, there’s a minor key version of that that he does all sorts of trickery with in terms of developing it. Somewhere in there he’s doing octave displacement between the melody notes in a minor key distributed throughout the orchestra, some augmentation of it, elongating the note values. Other times he’s keeping that line in there while he’s generated a whole other melody on the top while the melody, the minor key version of Big Ben is in the bass. Anyway, cool crap like that, so just since you mention mock-ups, and I know you do all sorts of stuff with your killing library trying to get more and more orchestral sounds added to your new record and other projects you’re doing, but another one that I tried to reimagine in a software universe was a couple of the Alexandre Desplat scores from the Harry Potter films. There’s part 1 and part 2 of the, what is that called? The Deathly Hollows. Part 1 had, I mean, to me, that’s actually one of the greatest, just the sound of the score audio, just the sound quality. I don’t know, something about it kills me, so that’s up to anybody else to decide whether or not they agree, but a couple pieces in particular, there’s one called The Detonators and one called The Locket. I did do mock-ups of each of those just to try to … Oh yeah, also to try to build a template. Obvious way to build a template if you’re trying to build a giant orchestral template, what better way than to start with something that already exists and force yourself to cop those sounds, then go “I’m going to write an orchestra piece” and just start from scratch.
C: I’ve done that so many times that I realize I end up spending like four hours just adding all of my articulations and everything. I’m like, this is killing me to do this over and over. This is taking forever.
D: Yeah, and you want to get to where there’s a smooth workflow so you don’t just get … One so it can be fast enough to where you’re staying on task but also so you don’t drive yourself crazier, so I don’t know if you want to check out either of those but those are a … I think really, he’s a guy … I don’t know, obviously people that follow the film score thing are aware of him and probably also know that he was the first person slated to do Rogue One, the Star Wars film that ended up not being done by him, but his body of work blows my mind as well, and anybody’s. He’s one of my all-time favorites, just for diversity and orchestration color, and I guess what I would say, since we’ve been talking about this crap, not to make it about me, like a tool, but like we were saying earlier, since you and I had both come from rock band brain, a huge part of this studying of film composers thing, I know that has helped me, it’s not necessarily the music they’re doing that’s being influential as much as it is awareness of the colors that they use in their ensembles, you know, their orchestration.
C: I don’t think I’m to that point yet. I’m still, like, you know … I’m very much rooted in … Let me talk about myself a little bit.
D: Do it.
C: You know, I am just still developing my plain old orchestration skills and understanding, getting … There’s so many instruments. The oboe, you know? What can I do with an oboe? How am I going to use an oboe? What’s the difference between a clarinet and an oboe, really?
D: And an english horn and oboe.
C: Yeah, and just working in that little world there. It’s not even … So you’re on another level …
D: I disagree.
C: … Of paying attention to these types of things.
D: I’m still in the gutter, man, but what I’m saying, though, is we’re used to hearing guitars and background vocals and bass and maybe some keyboards and some gnarly drum sounds, just palate enhancement Desplat I think is a great example of a modern person with a massive array of influences that can do anything that also is always reaching for something and tailor-making stuff for a particular film, and they all sound totally different, so among all the things you could check out, maybe consider checking out the Deathly Hollows, Part 1.
C: So let’s listen to Detonators. And there it is.
D: A thing that’s, I’m sure you and I both agree on is a cool thing is the, just how many film composing cats there are that came from the rock band universe, initially rose to a certain level of whatever, success, as a rock and roller. Obviously you’ve got Danny Elfman, obviously you’ve got Trent Reznor. You’ve also got people, though, like Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead, Mike Einziger from Incubus has recently over the last several years stepped into this territory …
C: Because those guys need, you know, to find a way to make a little bit of income since they didn’t have any income before.
D: Yeah, exactly.
C: Leave some jobs for the rest of us, you assholes.
D: I know, those bastards. John Brion, of course, a multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer-songwriter, member of various rock bands forever, among these other things. Film composer. In addition to orchestra-related .. Mike Patton, obviously. Duh. I can’t believe I freakin’ glossed over that. So anyway, one score that I’d always loved and I love the movie anyway, of course, is There Will Be Blood. What is that, 2007? Which is Johnny Greenwood, which is a super adventurous use of strings and I think, what is it, Ondes Martenot, whatever the hell that is. A thing that’s like a keyboard-y theremin but not a theremin. Kind of a nice howling, human voice sounding finger.
D: Anyway, you know that thing?
C: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
D: Anyway, that score is a mind blower, and there’s several things that are not on the score CD itself, and part of … Some of those, actually, I think from what I remember are why it was not eligible for an Academy Award nomination that year, because there are a couple pieces in the film that appeared on other things prior to the film, and one of them-
D: Yeah. One of them is called Superhet Receiver or something that’s not on the score CD but if you can check that out, that’s a super crazy, kooky, interesting thing, but I think maybe something like Proven Lands might be an interesting …
C: Yeah, let’s listen to Proven Lands. I have to say that that col legno, is that how you pronounce … I don’t know how to pronounce that.
D: Yeah, where you’re smacking the strings with the butt …
C: Yeah, actually banging with the wood of the bow. His use of that was great on this. Who did you say this guy was again? Johnny Greenwood?
D: Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead.
C: Oh, from Radio … Oh, forget it, I don’t like it then.
D: Jesus Christ.
C: Yeah, it was really good. That was one of my favorite tracks that you sent me.
D: Oh, right on. That whole score CD is killer.
D: I of course don’t know if this is true, but, and I haven’t read this in any interviews so it could be an alternative fact.
C: As long as you believe it’s true or you feel that it’s true, then it’s true.
D: Oh yeah.
C: Subjective reality.
D: Tremendous. So, of course he’s a great programmer. He’s a great guitar player. He’s a great synthesist and a songwriter, and I don’t know if this is right but I’ve taken this at least idea, whether or not it’s true, and it’s definitely helped me kind of spin my own junk off into a realm sort of like that, for better or worse. Some of it sounds like he … Some of his ideas were the result of programming with not even the end result as being four strings, interweaving lines in a rhythmic pastiche, just a thing, and then after it’s programmed is an interesting interweaving blob of goods, then of course orchestrating those lines to specific real instruments that happen to be in this case a big … a certain size string section, so anybody that’s, you know, able to sequence and program, even if it’s, you know, your drum machine or whatever it is that’s rhythmic, but if you can get some sort of pitch content in there too so it’s actual notes, it can be cool to experiment. Whatever the lines are that you got, they don’t got to be played by that same theoretical instrument. That’s a good basic way to kind of learn about what orchestration could be, you know? A skeletal idea and then take whatever those, the skeleton is, and spin off its bones to a bunch of freakin’ double basses. I guess since we’re talking about … We kind of shifted into talking about orchestral things that are not what people would consider the norm, maybe, with this latest thing, but you ever see the movie Sicario?
C: I don’t think I saw it.
D: That’s the Johann Johannsson composing badass. Is he from Iceland? Yeah, what is that? The Beast, I think, is the second actual piece on the score CD, but that’s a guy that I think is another one of these forward looking, like create your own environment not based on traditional anything yet it still has hints of what people would consider traditional instruments. He’s going to do Bladerunner, by the way. I don’t know if you …
C: Wow. I’m looking forward to that.
D: I was pissed that there was going to be a new Bladerunner.
D: Until that. I don’t know, maybe if there’s a composition … Composition students at school, I know, regularly get told about all the legendary composers and other influential film composers and they kind of go down the kind of common path, which is totally bitchin’, but it might also be cool to be aware of somebody like Johann Johannsson that’s using the orchestra in a really innovative way, blend it in with certain kind of processing effects he does in post. He kind of came out of that realm anyway, as an electronic experimental musician guy. He’s got a lot of solo records going back to like 2006 or even before that. I don’t know, so yeah, Prisoners is another one that I recommend, the actual film that was the first one he did prior to Sicario.
C: So let’s listen to The Beast. That was some seriously dark stuff there on The Beast.
D: Yeah and again by itself it’s obviously mood generatin’, but seeing that in connection with what’s happening on the screen, freakin’ fantastic. I do know, though, maybe this is not stupid. Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, like that film, I guess what we were saying a moment ago about the idea of how some of these composers are using different instruments and sounds and how that alone can be an inspiration besides just the notes and what they’re doing, I know right after I first heard that, I did write a small piece really fast, so maybe if you don’t mind I’ll share that little nugget of goo.
C: Yeah, so we’re going to listen to Thomas Newman …
D: No we’re not.
C: Lemony Snickett’s The Bad Beginning.
D: So obviously this will pale in comparison, but if anybody cares, here’s a little quick thing I did in midi mayhem called Angular Aesthetics that’s a short little minute or so thing that probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t already have the flavor for whatever that’s worth, of this particular Newman thing.
[00:59:43] (Music playing)
D: Maybe to wrap this up, since we’re kind of on the subject right now of orchestration and influence, Ennio Morricone, of course, needs no introduction. One work in particular I’d always loved is what’s going on with The Untouchables. There’s so many things that he’s done though, like the cool thing is you could go on for years and still have more shit to listen to from him.
D: It’s totally great, like there’s a billion things I have no idea, so I’m looking forward to the day I can have an idea to soak up even more of his awesomeness, but just to tie in more of the awareness of orchestration thing, I had a goofy little a cappella vocal thing where one way that I … You find yourself in the shower yodeling along, you’re like a one-man Bobby McFerrin wannabe and you come up, have a thing, and you record it and it just is there, so I have a billion things like that, just because that’s what happens, so a couple of those, I would orchestrate, even though it was literally just one voice so there’s not any counterpoint but there’s interplay between registers and rhythms and shit, so one of these that I had up to a certain level, I was kind of stuck with making it sound a little more interesting and I had actually just seen The Untouchables that opens with kind of that snare drum, interesting thing with the syncopated bass line and all sorts of killer stuff in The Strength of the Righteous, so maybe share that sucker if you can.
C: So here is Ennio Morricone from The Untouchables, The Strength of the Righteous.
D: Yeah, so that thing, for whatever reason, kind of filtered into my brain as I was mucking around with this other little short thing that was something I had in the archive that was originally just an a cappella yodeling thing called Snooper Duper.
C: Now, moving on to the next topic, you have a large collection of unusual, exotic stringed instruments. Do you want to name some of these unusual instruments? I actually saw a while back that you had like a Word document full of these unusual instruments and every time that I come over here you’ve got another strange looking thing and you’ve got violin bows all over the floor and some cello looking thing over there, so what are some of these things? Do you just want to name a few of them?
D: I guess if I was just to hone in on the guitar oriented category, there’s a bandolin that I know we talked about that’s a 15 string thing. It’s pretty cool. It’s really five strings. Each string is a triple course. I’ve got a video of that on YouTube if anyone wants to trip out.
C: Yeah, you’ve actually been posting a lot of videos of you playing these unusual instruments on YouTube, so anybody wants to go look those up, you can see them there, but really weird stuff.
D: Yeah, a hammer dulcimer, of course, is a thing that requires two hands because you’re literally taking wood hammers and bashing on strings. I’ve got this 81 string beast right over here. There’s a video up of that on YouTube. More traditional kind of exotic things like a bouzouki, ronroco, charango, laud. Those are somewhat normal. This Turkish oud you’re seeing right here. I’ve got a bunch of things that are in the zither family that are really weird, some of which you would use a thumb pick to pluck string groups that form chords on one side while you either bow another set of strings that are wired up. I have a thing called a pianolin that I’m going to put up a video I guess for fun eventually. Another thing called a tremoloa that’s like a Hawaiian slide guitar meets an autoharp kind of, or chord zither thing called a taishogoto, which is a typewriter meets guitar meets a dulcimer, Appalachian dulcimer type of thing. Some specific weird synthesizers that are not keyboard oriented but are more like happy accident things that are pretty cool that maybe I’ll make videos of too for the heck of it. Why on Earth would I even be making videos? What the heck’s that about?
C: Well I mean you’re building this huge online library on YouTube of examples of you playing all these strange instruments, and I think that that would basically make it clear that you’re available to play these on film scores and I’m sure that someone is eventually going to look up one of these instruments and then see you playing them, and, “Hey, I’ve got 500 other videos of me playing these strange things. I’ve got them all.”
D: That certainly wouldn’t suck if that happened, but some of the stuff I put up as common anyway. I haven’t put up too much weird stuff, but some of it is not easy to play but hopefully the videos at least get across that I’m semi-capable with some of them, so if somebody needed that, believe me, I would freakin’ love that, but crazily, one of them has already resulted in work and a current project that I’m involved in right now that probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for one of those videos that I put up. Somebody else was working on this particular project who happens to be a really good friend of mine, and I think when he kind of came across one of these videos of me playing a certain acoustic instrument, he thought I might be a better fit for this particular project that a relative of his happened to be working on, and this relative of his does work for Disney, and so I kind of ended up working on this animated short that a bunch of Disney guys are doing, but it’s not a Disney thing. It’s a labour of love type of project that they’re doing in the off hours but it’s all these heavy duty Disney animator guys so they’re crazily, I’m getting to use some of these kooky instruments on that actual short little animated short.
C: I’d like to finish up this podcast with the final topic, which is musical literacy, and this is something that strikes me about you regardless of what your specifically doing. I think a lot of people should know that you’re not just a guitarist or a composer or an exotic string player. You know, you have a …
D: G-string wearin’…
C: You have a massive comprehension of music and you have sort of what I think Vai referred to as big ears. Like there’s a lot of times … I mean, you did a million years of transcription work, which I think helped with that, and teaching and all of this stuff, but you are able to hear deep into a recording, harmonically, which I’m unable to do, so it’s very intimidating, but I wanted to talk about musical literacy, this topic, because we have this music education system that’s been in place for hundreds of years and there’s an established language and we have people who’ve gone really fuckin’ far with it, and can you talk about how it’s somehow considered cool and mystical and inspired and punk rock and creative to be musically illiterate? Because I actually heard Billy Sheehan one time at a clinic say, “If you’re thinkin’, you’re stinkin’,” and he said that that’s what he and his bandmates, that was sort of their saying, that when they’re overthinking something or thinking about it, they just had to go and play, and it’s like knowledge and understanding are bad and you can’t actually be good at music if you’re educated, so I know you are very creative with music, yet you do have a massive educational background. I know you don’t like being praised and everything like that, blah blah blah, it’s always uncomfortable.
D: Cut it out.
C: But I mean, I know that in some of your scoring work on these projects that you’re helping with, you’ve been able to, if something goes wrong, there’s some notes that are wrong, you can run into the other room and transcribe something and hand it to the conductor or whatever. Can you talk about the importance of that, the amount of education that you have and all of that ear training and how that helps you?
D: First of all, thank you, man. That’s very nice. I mean, just you saying that I’m not a dumb ass.
C: Yeah, you agree, you’re not a dumb ass, is that it?
D: I’m a dumb ass in a lot of areas, but people do spend time hopefully honing a certain skill set, and I know there’s certain areas that I definitely honed, which has nothing to do immediately with art. You know, it’s what you do with whatever you’ve got, and some of the technical things that I’ve been grappling with over who knows how long have definitely helped technically with some of these other people in problem solving areas. Getting back to tie in to what you’re saying, and to kind of maybe go full circle with the Trumpian tirade we had at the beginning, you’ve got to be able to step outside yourself to ever grow, really. I mean I can’t imagine … Not everything that somebody’s hearing from somebody that they admire all came from just within only from that person living in a little bubble, you know what I mean? They loved things outside of themselves and they wanted to try to get a piece of that. They enjoyed listening to other things. They actually liked it so much that they wanted to play along with those recordings and just that process alone by diffusion gets into your system versus just the little blips of data that people pick up and think that that’s going to mean anything because they’re such a genius they can put it together and make it. It’s got to have a context to it, so the literacy thing, the reason it’s important, I think, is it allows you to teach yourself and how to, in a way, decode things that you totally love, and the process alone will reveal a bunch of categories of things that hopefully then go on a path to learn about. I don’t know if this is kind of what you wanted to get into?
D: This kind of thing? Like, one of the coolest … Because I used to interview rock star people forever with certain guitar magazines, and one of the coolest interviews I ever had the fortune of doing was I interviewed John Frusciante several times, like big cover story things, and one of them, because I knew how much … A lot of people don’t know this, but he totally has his theory shit together. It was very obvious the way he talks, very obvious the way he describes things while he’s playing, and obviously that guy is considered to be a creative, high-level badass. Anybody that’s listened to his solo records or the transformation that he’s done to the Chili Peppers each time he’s reentered the band, and so people that have that buy into the myth of, “theory or literacy, musically, kills creativity and all that crap,” well listen to a guy like that and he would be the first to tell you that it actually allows him to control his creativity to where it’s not just the result of blind, dumb luck, which you stumble across, where then you just be at the mercy of a happy accident your entire life, you actually have a mixture of inspiration, which hopefully never goes away, combined with a massive bag of stuff in your filing system that you know you could incorporate that can be so seamless that it’d be no different than words that would squirt out of your mouth in a conversation, so it’s not like you’re having to go, “Oh, wait a minute,” you know what I mean?
C: I just run into a lot of people that, I see them struggling through throwing a handful of notes down and figuring out what note comes next, and it’s just excruciating, this long process of trying to create a piece of music without knowing what you’re doing, in a way.
D: Oh, you’re talking specifically about the composing process?
C: Well, in anything, I mean … Yeah, but it applies to everything, but it seems to be especially prevalent in music, that … I mean, I was listening to this guitar teacher the other day online …
D: Oh, that it’s not cool, that’s right.
C: Yeah, and he basically was saying, “Oh, one of the good things about guitar is you don’t have to read music,” and I felt like making a statement like that to a beginner is total …
D: Yeah, that could be damaging.
C: I know this because I feel that my experience with music has been extremely damaged due to my lack of integrating my playing with my reading, and it slowed me down massively and that’s why I’m going back and learning all this stuff and finally saying, “Holy shit, these people have been doing this for hundreds of years and this is why it works,” and trusting the system and learning.
D: There’s a lot of ways to go, also, with that. I see the flip side quite a bit where I get people that are so hung up on … Where they put science before the sound, which is equally derailing, where they’re paralyzed by … They can’t write a song unless they know theory, which that’s also complete crap, you know what I mean? Because most people’s favorite songwriters don’t know anything, so how are they writing songs? Well, they learned most of what they learned about songwriting was by learning songs they really liked, and that alone is getting into their system organically what form options are out there, ways to get back to another developmental arc in the songwriting, chord change stuff, instinctive things with hopeful key changes and just whatever and still maybe don’t need to really know much, when you’re stuck, which happens to everybody, if the only … If you’re stuck and the only way you can find the next chord or find the next note in your melody or line or riff you’re trying to build is just by waiting and hoping, that could be a problem. I know with what you and I have to do is that you still write when you’re inspired, but if you’re not inspired and you still have to write, you’d better have ways, things you can do that will help you get on a path to either get unstuck or just keep a thing moving. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
C: Yeah, well over the years it’s gotten more and more where I can focus on the broad strokes. I can say, “I need 30 seconds of something to go from here to here,” and I need to fill that in with something. Okay, well I can easily dump that out of my brain from the music theory training or whatever. I can get from here to here. Sometimes when … But building it from the bottom up when you’re like, “What’s the next note? I don’t know what the next note is? Does this one sound good? Does that one sound good?” And it’s like a huge waste of time when you’re writing a large piece of music, and I know … I’ve seen examples of where John Williams will, or someone like that will write a sketch and say, “We’re going to go from here to here and this is the theme and then during this section it’s going to be” this stuff.
D: Oh, some short hand?
C: Yeah, and just fill it in because after you have experience with this type of stuff, you can easily …
D: Orchestrator-wise, you mean?
C: Yeah, it ends up where not every note is precious and deeply meaningful and you can a lot of times trust your training, once you have that.
D: Hmm, that makes sense.
D: I guess before we cap this sucker, a couple other stray thoughts on the literacy thing, I don’t know, I notice this all the time from teaching. I actually teach reading, and I would say that … I actually say that reading is not necessary for a lot of stuff, but it’s a requirement for a shitload of other stuff, so it totally just depends, you know what I mean? But for example I’ll just maybe hone in on this one thing that may or may not be obvious. So, if you’re working on reading, obviously you’ve got to know where the notes are by name on the guitar, so it’s a great way to test how well you have just general stuff together. Can you recognize notes on the staff? Do you know the notes well enough on the guitar to make that connection in real time? Can you decipher the rhythms in that example and actually have it all happen in time, for real? That’s a specific thing and there’s people that develop that skill and use it as a real thing, but besides that, another fun thing that I’ve noticed people have gotten off on, especially if they’re into kind of the chops interesting linear guitar style, inevitably in that type of reading, whatever, endeavor, you end up reading a lot of either things that have tricky rhythms but notes that are not too crazy, or notes that are all over the place but the rhythm is just 16th notes and nothing weird, and then other things that are a mixture, and then things that are chord related that have counterpoint, two note groups of things simultaneously, but inevitably people end of reading a bunch of the Bach– excuse me. Bach. The Bach stuff, and so guess what? Nobody has been more creative probably with the art of sequencing than Bach. Excuse me. I guess. I mean, who knows? But if you read a billion Bach things, he’s not using the same sequence every time, so if you’re into interesting linear chops guitar and you’re stuck in a rut, well guess what? None of that shit’s going to be in tab for you, so if you’re already going through that process anyway to better that one area of yourself that may or may not seem like it has any meaning to you and you start to notice interesting sequences, there are ways to play those sequences on guitar if you do them legato and do them with position shifts, switching, playing them linearly along the strings that actually can relate to interesting shreddy vocabulary that have nothing to do with the “n position,” “yay, I’ve played the right notes,” but you’re forcing yourself to play those notes in ways that actually will relate to something that’s usable to you, and there’s no way you would have ever probably stumbled across that arrangement of notes and grabbed them that way on the guitar if first you weren’t reading his thing and then you took the next step to make it interesting on the guitar in a more linear way. I don’t know, that’s another thing I’ve noticed that specifically relates to stuff on paper that might have a certain facet of guitar player.
C: For me, what I’m dealing with is I have hit a … If I want to understand Prokofiev and Stravinsky and I have to figure that shit out by ear, then give up. Like, I’m not going to get anywhere, so I’ve found myself, you know, now buying scores and reading the scores and analyzing them and doing harmonic analysis and all this stuff, looking at all the instruments, and now I realize I could’ve been learning reading all this time because at some point you hit … By doing stuff by ear unless you’re Dylan Beato, this kid that can hear all this crazy shit, anyway, I’m never going to be able to decode that stuff unless I look at manuscript or download a midi file and then … It’s just … It becomes to difficult to progress past a certain point, and so for a lot of people they don’t hit that point because they’re writing a … Devon Townshend doesn’t need to read music for what he’s doing and if he’s happy doing what he does, he doesn’t need to, but for me I’m finding I’m stuck if I don’t read music.
D: Sure, yeah, in a way that sort of relates to, but in a more expansive, more compositional way, an understanding of the great works of the past and how they still resonate today and how they can be influential. There’s no way anybody’s going to obviously know what’s making those things tick if they couldn’t at least read, so that’s, yeah, clearly, but it’s a certain kind of person that’s even interested in going down that path, and if you and I both go back into our semi-distant past when all we wanted to do was a certain thing on guitar or whatever instrument, obviously we didn’t care about a huge mix of stuff but we did care really deeply about some things and so we went down that path to try to get better and better at that, which is what hopefully people that are driven do anyway, and then what happens to everybody that’s serious and wants to keep improving is boom, they smack right up into a wall and inevitably there’s a mix of things that are going to help you get over that wall, and one of them would definitely be this kind of thing, being able to analyze stuff you like and learn how to assimilate it, and not just only so you can look at it and go, “Wow, that’s a nice mix of Roman numerals” and put it on your refrigerator but that so you can actually use that and have it be part of you. The thing that I yammer about a lot, though, that’s like that and sort of relates to both of our experiences when we first started playing and went for quite a while is nobody knows where they’re going to be in the future as far as what they’re going to be doing musically. What somebody says when they’re 14, 15, 16, there’s no freakin’ way they really know what’s going to happen when they’re 25, so if you have no way to adapt and no way to broaden, if you do enter the arena where you have the option or if the opportunity presents itself to you to learn a little bit about theory, a little bit about notation, I would encourage you to at least put your foot in the water a little bit because unless you want to be dependent upon somebody else or a YouTube video the rest of your freakin’ life to have them show you the way to get from here to there, you’re going to be at the mercy of something that’s something else, when you can actually learn how to teach yourself by of course learning from hopefully established authorities that are going to give you legit instruction. I’m not trying to say, again, “Sit in your little wealth bubble” and pretend you’re learning, you’re teaching yourself, stuff like theory and reading, I’m sure there’s an established professional in your neighborhood or whatever than can kind of help you out, but yeah, in my experience and the experience you share, the only way to really kind of get beyond a certain phase is to soak up things that are outside of you, and the easiest way to do that is to be able to analyze them, and there’s really only one way you can do that, and it’s not by 7, 9, 11, 13 fret numbers and tab.
C: One of the things that blew me away with working with Travis Orbin, actually, and some of the other drummers on my new record who read, they were able … Thomas Lang and Dave Elitch, we stick the chart up there with … I actually gave them the bass guitar notation. “Alright, here’s the four clicks,” and they know how to play over it now. They know where the music is going without even hearing it, and with Travis Orbin, he went to an extreme with notating the drums for the entire record, and then sight-reading it to record it, so being able to … I handed the guy 45 minutes of music and he delivers back the drum tracks, flawless.
D: That’s killer.
C: Executed perfectly with dynamics. There’s insane tempo changes. Not insane. I mean, they could’ve been really difficult, but the entire record is changing tempo continuously. There’s almost no two measures in a row that are the same tempo. It’s constantly fluctuating, gradually speeding up and slowing down, and he was able to execute 45 minutes of drums that were perfect. I dropped them in. The only thing I edited on his drums was removing the couple of stick clicks in the beginning of the album, and there’s the album. It’s just perfect.
D: That’s bad ass. What a beast.
C: Yeah, and the dynamics are there, the tempo changes are there, everything is perfect, and that’s an amazing tool to be able to do that sort of thing.
D: Of course, big time.
C: But it’s part of literacy in general of musical literacy, I guess is what I’m saying, right? Anyway, my point is, I guess, thank you, Dale Turner, for calling me on this bullshit a few years ago by accident when you said, “If you’re going to play an instrument and be serious about it, at least, number one, learn the names of the notes on the fretboard,” and I was just sinking in my seat in embarrassment of like, “Oh, I don’t know how to do that even.”
D: Yeah but you knew the bottom two strings.
D: If you’re delving into theory land and you don’t know where the notes are on your instrument of choice by name, you’re never going to be able to relate theory to your chosen instrument, so yeah, it’s gotta happen, and it just gets better.
C: Well I think that, again, what we’re talking about is when you’re trying to break through a certain limit, like it would be very demanding for me to give that album to a different drummer on average and say, “Here, play drums on this,” and it would be such a complicated process of them experimenting and trying to remember how the songs go. So many changes and stops and starts, and having that literacy and ability to understand music on that level and notate it all and read it and prepare it and all of that discipline, being able to knock it out within a few days. I mean, I think he did it in like two or three days, recorded the entire album, sight-reading, and that’s another example of trying to break through that limit. Sure, you could say, “Hey, I wrote this song, send it to your friend. Can you play drums on it?” And after a little while you’ll get the drum tracks back, but it would’ve taken a long time, you know? In a lot of cases you can get that done but if it’s a large scale piece of music that has all of this detail, you’re limited.
D: Well a thing I can toss in on that subject maybe that makes it, I think it’s really cool that you mentioned just how refined and specific and dialed in somebody like Travis is with being able to hear into a piece like the insanity that you’re doing, also notate it, read it, all that stuff, a lot of people that would be of a certain age group or level of experience don’t even realize that a thing like that is possible. They don’t even know that anybody knows stuff like that, so even that kind of thing helps the literacy battle just by pushing awareness, like you just kind of detailed, which I think is bitchin’, that there are people that actually know stuff like that, and that alone hooks into a certain mix of younger people that is enough to put them on a path to go, “Oh wow, I didn’t even realize …” I’ve seen that happen a lot, so that’s pretty cool. I still even remember going way back just in a similar thing, like I never knew about improvising, which seems really dumb. You know what I’m saying? I thought everything was composed. When I found out that somebody … “Wait a minute, they don’t play the same solo every time? They’re playing something different and these chords are weird so how do they do that?” Like I honestly didn’t know, because of a limitation of experience, you know what I mean? And so that opened up a whole path of, like, “Holy crap.” I remember looking in guitar magazines way back in the day. How the heck did somebody know to write this kind of stuff down? So just being kind of coming across stuff like that and like what you said, can awaken in somebody that otherwise would’ve maybe not had a clue that it even is possible to develop in that area. Anyway, I just wanted to fling that out.
C: Yeah, and I think I would guess that you and I had a similar experience of reading guitar magazines. You were probably even doing the interview. I was the one reading the magazine, with Vai, when he would … It almost always mentions in Steve Vai interviews early on that he started out as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa and that always … That, for some reason, makes it known that, “Oh, that’s a thing that people do,” and I think that definitely, I didn’t go that route of doing that, but you did, and so, yeah, that might be another example of hearing that something is possible and then maybe we follow that path or not.
D: Which is the great thing about just being in the presence of people that are ahead of you, again getting back to our same political environment thing, that know more than you do, that are sharing you and hipping you on to all the stuff that’s out there that you have no idea about. That’s just kind of a natural way to get sprouting with all this stuff.
C: I think what-
D: I totally remember … Sorry, I totally remember having the same feeling reading those Vai interviews with him and I didn’t know that kind of thing was possible either. The Black Page, wasn’t that his audition? You had to transcribe The Black Page or something and give it to Zappa? That was the first thing you did?
C: I think it necessarily wasn’t really an audition. I think he called Frank and got him on the phone somehow and said, “Hey, I want to play The Black Page.”
D: Oh, it was playing it. Okay, I thought he had charted it out or something.
C: Yeah, something like that, and I think they corresponded or random phone calls once in a while and Vai sent the recording of him playing it at a very high tempo or something, and Frank was like, “What? How old are you, kid? What’re you doing? Who is this?”
D: That’s killer.
C: Yeah. And of course, everything always leads back to Steve Vai somehow. I don’t know how we end up in over and over.
D: Yeah, let’s carve some …
C: He’s quite a musical hero in his … I mean, talking to him in that recent podcast, I think most people still, it’s just unfortunate, the guy is a musical virtuoso and people don’t know that. He’s really, deeply into classical music. Massive transcription skills and notation skills. He’ll just sit there and write a symphony on paper.
D: Yeah, he was a huge literacy inspiration to both you and myself, no doubt.
C: Yeah, and I had asked him … Obviously you can listen to this podcast, blah blah blah, this episode that I just did with him, but when I asked him, “Was it ever a … Why did you decide to go down both paths of extreme creativity and extreme education?” And he just said, “I wanted it all.” And I mean, that’s quite a thing to say and think. I mean, I definitely didn’t want it all, I guess. I didn’t go that path.
D: Yeah, I mean he’s an unusual case, you know? Deadly serious but hilarious.
D: And super talented and creative and driven, all kind of in one lump.
D: And brilliant, obviously. Yeah, total rarity, and a bad ass.