Out of My Cocoon

Alleged Artist musings, 1st of May edition…

In the spring of 2002, I drove from the East Coast to the West Coast over the course of 5 days to start a new chapter on life. It was amazingly my first foray into truly being on my own. Unfortunately, I rebounded into another situation, despite being warned about such by the other half of that situation. The good news is, it ended with no lasting repercussions. The better news is, it started me down a healthier path, albeit still lined with future mistakes. Part of that healthier path was, frankly, getting my life back.

By the spring of 2004, after I had moved back home to Colorado, I was living with my mother again while working to get back on my feet. I had continued employment through all of these moves, so I was extremely fortunate there. I was also on anti-depressants for a short time – and I do believe that helped. Before long, I moved to a studio apartment in downtown Denver, my new friend Juan got me connected with hockey again, and I started to re-establish the home studio. Juan and the group of guys I met through hockey are my closest friends to this day. Just getting out and doing something turned out to be a bigger needle-mover than anything else for my psyche, and it fed back into my motivation to restart Tastiera.

At some point that summer, I wrote a song called “Butterfly”, and I matched it up with a piano progression I had been carrying around in my head for a couple of years. When I first heard the finished product, I literally cried. The only other time that happened was just a few days ago, when I first heard the updated “Voyager“. The latter was just realizing the passage of time between vocal tracks on the same song. The former was a raw emotional release. And so that album was titled: “Release”.

As my official reentry into music, “Release” was very basic. Basic musical components, no backup vocals, and a general “don’t make it complicated” feel. “Butterfly” is the opening track and an perfect example:

From a technology standpoint, “Release” was another game changer. Even during the Tastiera “Dark Ages”, I had occasionally dabbled with the new computer software that was becoming available to revolutionize the way MIDI could be used. Cakewalk was the initial product I worked with, and it later evolved into Sonar. Those ended up being my primary tools from 2003 through 2008, later to be replaced by Apple’s Logic software starting with the “Hear Bead Rag Guns” album in 2011. These tools are simply incredible, and they continue to get better over time. I’m blown away by what is possible today compared with when I first started, or even compared with when Tastiera first went silent for a while. One of the major advancements was that all of the “instruments” were now part of the software, which opened up a whole new world of available sounds. My keyboard became just a “controller” for those sounds. Today I have a full-size, 88-key board from M-Audio for just that purpose.

“Butterfly” is not just the opening track on “Release”, it’s the opening track on “Origin Story Volume 2”.

For the updated version, I used Izotope’s RX tool for vocal isolation and dropped the volume of that part of the mix slightly. No noise reduction was necessary, since I no longer record to tape. The only other thing I did, which is true of all the other songs on “Origin Story”, was to rebalance the EQ in Logic and apply compression at the end using Audacity.

One key line from “Butterfly” is “as I fly away from you and out of my cocoon”. I wasn’t done making mistakes, but I was back in the world again.

LYRICS

When I looked at you, I felt so warm
When I looked at me, I felt so cold
Knowing what I could do makes me feel so young
Knowing what I’ve done ’til now makes me feel so old

I have to shave twice a day, so I don’t see the specks of gray
And think of how many I gave you, wrapped in my cocoon

Can you tell me, is that the Sun – I want to swim in the sky
Spring is in the air – so many summers have passed me by
It’s time for me to live as though one day I might die
God won’t waste wings on this butterfly

I have to cry twice a day, so I can laugh and feel okay
As I fly away from you, and out of my cocoon

Can you tell me, is that the Sun – I want to swim in the sky
Spring is in the air – so many summers have passed me by
It’s time for me to live as though one day I might die
God won’t waste wings on this butterfly

Can you tell me, is that the Sun – I want to swim in the sky
Can you feel the springtime in the air – no more, no more summers have pass me by

God won’t waste those wings on this butterfly

Where Does it Go

It’s Tuesday; that means it must be time for another post from the Alleged Artist…

After “Echoes Through the Mist”, a few things happened that profoundly impacted Tastiera for the next decade or so. First, how to put this… I participated in a relationship that turned out to be a mutual mistake with long-standing repercussions. Second, I dabbled with the idea of having music become my career. And third, at the end of 1995, I moved away from Colorado for the first time.

Tackling Item 2 first – my friend Tony and I actually created a demo tape and took it around to a few places. In parallel, we both recorded some stuff at Mike’s home studio (see the last post for more about that). Tony and I also participated in a couple instances of Music Day in college, where we got to play some songs for whoever was walking by the particular venue to which we were assigned. At the end of all these experiences, it became clear that making a career out of music might be beyond what I was willing or able to do. Tony actually ended up in another band, and the drummer from that band is a very good friend of mine today. Meanwhile, the bassist from that band has actually ended up with a very successful career in music, playing and touring with some of the best in the business.

While exploring the idea of a music career, I was also still in graduate school, for which a job opportunity came along that got me out my funk and forced me to finish. During my free time, I continued to record in my own basement studio, and eventually the Tastiera album “Broken World” came together in late 1993.

Also during that time, Item 1 happened. I don’t need or want to get into all the details of that. But as one consequence, it did lead to an imperceptible shrinking away from the rest of the world – less time with friends, less time and energy with music, giving up a newly found love for the sport of ice hockey, and so on. None of these were the other person’s fault – they were choices I was making, even if I was not fully aware at the time. Item 3 – spurred by the job opportunity mentioned above – amplified all of that. I wrote a few songs during the period from 1993 through 2003, and even tried various new technological toys during that time, but to the rest of the world, Tastiera went silent, much like I did. When I got to the other side of it and began to make music again (a topic for the next post), I was blown away by how much time had gone by.

Time is something that has always intrigued this nerd. What is it? How does it actually work? Is it just another dimension? Can it ever go backward? I spent a fair amount of time reading about that and other cosmological questions during the 1990’s. I also ended up taking a few philosophy classes in college to supplement my engineering degree, and some of that ventured into questions about the nature of time. As I now plow further into my 50’s, I’ve come to accept that if there is anything we can do to alter the passage of time, it won’t happen until long after time has sealed my own fate. But that doesn’t stop me from still trying to understand it better – which was the central focus of the song “Time and Again” from “Broken World”:

I think this has always been my favorite song from that album. For “Origin Story”, I applied some noise reduction – this is the last song for which I will need to do that, since “Broken World” was the last Tastiera album recorded on tape. I also isolated the vocals so I could toss some backup into the chorus. Hopefully that came out sounding fairly seamless – but it’s another instance where I got to jam with my much younger self for a few minutes. Those minutes do fly by, faster and faster with each one.

LYRICS

When you’re in a hurry, it moves too fast
But when you’re alone, it moves too slow
When you stare at the second hand, it barely moves at all
But when you look away, where does it go

They say time flies, but it’s okay to be fashionably late
Live each moment to the fullest, but all our operators are busy, please wait

Heraclitus said it’s like a river
And you can’t step into the same river twice
And then someone said, hey, you can’t even do it once
But that doesn’t add up to much advice

Is it really the fourth dimension, and does it stop on a ray of light
And if it reversed, would we remember the future
And suffer in the morning for what we’d done the following night

Though we may try, time and again, born only to die, beginning only to end
There must be something more

And maybe memory will serve us well – only time will tell

Though we may try, time and again, born only to die, beginning only to end
There must be something more

Starstuff

Another Monday, another old song blurb from the Alleged Artist…

When I was quite small, my parents bought me a Fisher Price record player. It came with a handful of two-sided plastic “records” that included a bunch of classic songs, which it would basically play like a music box. It wasn’t long, of course, before I tried to speed it up and slow it down, and eventually I’m pretty sure I broke it. Before that happened, my favorite song might have been “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, which I *think* was on a purple record. Simple as it is, that song has an interesting past all its own. It’s actually an English poem set to a French melody. See, the English and the French can work together after all. The music dates all the way back to the 18th century. The line that always stuck with me was “like a diamond in the sky”.

Fast forward probably seven or so years, and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times already in this blog, was aired for the first time. I was captivated by all 13 episodes, but especially the one about “The Lives of the Stars”, which was pretty well titled, as it talked about how stars were born, how they live, and how they die. The most massive stars die in unimaginably colossal explosions called supernovae, and those explosions are so violent that they create and disperse all manner of different elements, some of which eventually find their way into forming a new nebula, where gravity causes the formation of a new star system, and on at least one planet, those elements came together to initiate life. As Sagan elegantly put it, we are all made of “starstuff”. Whoa.

Fast forward another 12 years, and I was sitting down with pen and paper, once again looking for ten-ish ideas upon which to base the next album, “Echoes of the Mist”. I was also experimenting in parallel with my new toys from Kawai. I decided to write a song about the stars and our unique relationship with them, and I had the perfectly matching music, and boom, “Diamonds” was born. But the version you are about to hear was not the version from the original album.

Here’s another dovetailing story. In late 1986, for whatever reason, I ended up giving a Velvet Cockroach song called “Class of 87” to my AP English teacher, Mrs. Babb. I was still heavily singing like Bob Dylan back then, which she noted, but she also said it would make a great official class song for our graduation the next spring. So I went along the next several months thinking there wasn’t anything else I needed to do there – pretty naive, as of course the lead music teacher at the school wanted to have some input, and basically set up a competition. I had no idea how to play that game, and lost. The person who won was a freshman named Mike. Keep in mind, my dad had just passed away when this all went down, so I was a little raw, and of course my immature 18-year-old self blamed Mike among others. But of course it wasn’t his fault or anybody else’s, he just wrote a good song and knew how to make it stand out. As I noted in another post here, Mrs. Babb still arranged for me and my friend Tony to be able to play “Class of 87” at the rehearsal. And I actually also got to work with Mike on another song that ended up being played at graduation itself, by the time of which I considered him a friend.

Ok here is where this all comes together: several years later, I found out through Tony that Mike had built his own studio in his basement, with all the latest high-end gear. So I actually recorded a few songs at that studio, and “Diamonds” was one of them. That became the “official” version of “Diamonds”:

As good as my own setup was getting, it was nowhere close to this yet. So it was pretty cool to be able to do that. The only thing I’ve really changed here, other than a little noise reduction and rebalancing of the EQ, is that I isolated the vocals and took them down a notch. But thanks once again, Mike – my first listen after we recorded it left me feeling up above the world so high.

LYRICS

Ever – ever since the dawn of humankind
Our weary eyes have gazed up in wide wonder to see you shine
Sparkling like diamonds, glowing with a distant fire

Your lifetime, it almost cannot be measured in years
We can hear your sweet music, but it’s not in our ears
It’s in our hearts – we were made from you

And we’re a lot like you, you know, little points of light in the dark
Setting the stage for future generations, watching it all begin with a little spark

Shepherds – shepherds, kings and wisemen followed you
And sailors steered their mighty ships across the ocean blue
In a world of chaos, you seem to transcend time

Though your number exceeds that of all the grains of sand on every beach
Eternity is beyond even your reach
Whatever space and time are, you’ve made them a little brighter

You’ve come to life in us, you know, like it’s all part of some master plan
And we’re learning a little more every day – I hope before I die we’ll understand
Human life’s so short, you know – next to you we’re never here at all, or so it seems
But sooner or later we’ll come back to you – it’s one of our crazy little dreams

Quantum Leap

Happy Sunday from the Alleged Artist…

So there is this thing in the music world called MIDI: Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It’s a combination of standards and electrical connectors that allows electronic musical instruments to talk to each other and to a computer. It began in the early 1980’s when the major makers of synthesizers got together and decided the world was too complicated with all their respective proprietary approaches. MIDI digitizes the various pieces of information about a musical note – pitch, velocity (how hard you hit the key, for example), and duration – so that information can be transmitted, stored, and or processed by another machine. To say that it revolutionized the music industry is probably an understatement.

Tastiera first began using MIDI in the latter Velvet Cockroach years – that toy Casio CZ-101 I had been using back then was MIDI-compatible. My early tinkering with MIDI included having my Roland TR-505 drum machine send signals to the CZ-101, so the synth would play different notes depending on what drum sounds were playing. A couple of songs from Velvet Cockroach and Tastiera were centered entirely around that process, delivering a unique but also somewhat repetitive sound. But in the spring of 1991, it hit an entirely new level.

That was post “Infinite Regression”, and it was also when I was finally making enough money to start blowing it on more expensive music gear. So I bought the Kawai K4 synth – fully MIDI-capable, full-size keys, and multi-timbral. What the hell does multi-timbral mean? It means it could play multiple patches (instruments) at the same time, without me having to fumble around switching from one to another. That further reduced the amount of bouncing I had to do even with the multitrack recorder. To complete the picture, I bought a Kawai Q80 sequencer, which was the equivalent of a multitrack recorder for MIDI. This meant I could record each instrument in a song from the K4 onto the Q80, and then the Q80 would tell the K4 to play back what was recorded while I recorded more instruments. This was a big deal in terms of being able to retain the highest sound quality from each instrument, and not having to sacrifice that with each “bounce” off the tape recorder. The Q80 was also able to drive the drum machine, so basically it contained the complete recipe for each Tastiera song, minus the vocals. With the Q80 taking care of the mix for the instruments on just two tracks, that left the other two tracks for stereo vocals. I bought an Alesis reverb machine to help with those. Tastiera was entering a new phase of production once again.

Another really important byproduct of switching to these new tools was that every single note was now editable after the fact. On prior Tastiera (and definitely Velvet Cockroach) albums, there was only so much time I was willing to spend going back and rerecording entire sequences because I messed up one or two notes. On the sequencer, if I messed up a single note, I could just edit the pitch or whatever else for that note. It took a while to get in the full swing of using this new technology, but eventually it led to the 1992 album, “Echoes Through the Mist”.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago about how I spent a fair amount of effort trying to recapture the pounding, saturated sound from “Infinite Regression”. Interestingly (I almost said ironically, but figured I was probably misusing it as usual), a major reason I couldn’t recapture that sound was my new technology. “Infinite Regression” was in part a product of limited resources for getting the entire mix on one tape. With the K4 and the Q80, individual sounds were a lot more clarified from one another, and the avoidance of bouncing between tape recordings meant I didn’t have to amplify earlier tracks as much to preserve them through the final mix. Also, the K4 just brought so many new sounds that I felt compelled to utilize, and so the common sound across songs from “Infinite Regression” also went away. “Echoes Through the Mist” was very different as a result, with no better example than the opening track, “Leap of Faith”.

The Alesis reverb machine did a nice job of being, shall we say forgiving, to my vocals, allowing me to focus on the message therein. This was actually one of several songs I wrote about the shadow of nuclear war, dating all the way back to Velvet Cockroach (and in fact to Velvet Cockroach’s name). When Velvet Cockroach first started, we were still in the height of the Cold War, and it wasn’t long after “The Day After” aired on TV. It was on a lot of minds back then. By the time of “Echoes Through the Mist”, the Soviet Union had fallen, and it appeared as though there was new hope for our leaders across the world. So “Leap of Faith” was focused not on those leaders, but on the warheads themselves, sitting around like ticking time bombs, just waiting for an error in interpretation or some physical malfunction. Of course, today, the specter of nuclear war being started on purpose is back in town, but the danger discussed in “Leap of Faith” is also still there (and amplified by the tensions in the world). As just one example, in 1995, a scientific rocket launch triggered Boris Yeltsin’s “nuclear briefcase”, forcing him to make the instant decision whether to retaliate. Imagine if this had happened during the Cold War or during Putin’s regime…

Some messages remain relevant across generations – one of the more powerful aspects of music.

LYRICS

The Sun came up a little brighter today
A subtle proclamation of the dawn of a new day
But with the Sun you are bound to see some clouds
With newfound peace, the dogs of war reset the stage

If you listen hard, you can hear the ground shaking
It’s the sound of thousands of dragons in their sleep
They won’t know the meaning of an accident
To them it’s just a game to play for keeps

I know that a picture of history will speaker louder than I
And I know that everlasting peace is far far away
But I also know the value of what we might become
And I know I can’t just close my eyes and wish the dragons away

It all begins with the very first step, like a thousand mile journey
But the problem with that very first step is the speed at which the world is turning
The very first step is more like a leap of faith

Every minute, another nation joins the nuclear club
And every second, another one feels the need to apply
It’s supposed to be a guarantee of personal security
But if it ever begins, no matter who or where you are, it won’t end until you die

The time has come for someone to kill their dragons

It all begins with the very first step, like a thousand mile journey
But the problem with that very first step is the speed at which the world is turning
The very first step is more like a leap of faith

But if no one leaps, we all shall fall

A Matter of Substance

Weekend musings from the Alleged Artist…

Two “Origin Story” songs come from the “Infinite Regression” album. “Paper Crushes Scissors” was about money. “Matter Over Mind” was about drugs and alcohol. Both naive and preachy, but both with a decent musical backdrop.

I lost my father to alcoholism when I was still a teenager, which had an impact on pretty much every piece of music ever issued by Velvet Cockroach and Tastiera since. But while I understood what had happened back then, I didn’t understand his side of it. To be honest, I’m not sure he did either, until it was too late. I was quite tame as a teenager and even during undergraduate college. Then let’s just say I made up for lost time in grad school – although I had several friends doing the same. I never got into drugs, but alcohol has been a companion ever since. I’m considerably more conscious and measured about it today, with a much deeper understanding of what it did to my father, my brother, my aunt… let’s face it, the effects are pretty rampant across anybody’s family. So while “Matter Over Mind” was definitely preachy and naive back in 1991, it’s preachy and dead on target in 2024.

As prevalent as the cowbell was on “Paper Crushes Scissors”, it’s even bigger here. If you’ve got a fever, Tastiera has the prescription. I also didn’t notice until I put both of these songs next to each other on “Origin Story” that they both start with help from the same sweep synth sound, although it plays a more central role on “Matter Over Mind”.

I didn’t remix “Paper Crushes Scissors” at all for its 2024 version. All I applied was noise reduction and rebalancing of the EQ, with some compression at the end to fill it back out. I did isolate the vocals on “Matter Over Mind”, but only to fix one line in the song. Let me know if you can tell where that happened, and then I’ll tell you why. Other than that, “Matter Over Mind” is very much the same as it was 33 years ago. Cheers, right?

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

LYRICS

What is so wrong with pure thought – why does it terrify the soul
Two percent of a handful of impulses, yet we still have no control
Has thinking gone out of style

What would Sir Isaac think, if he looked at us today
Caught up in chemical quiescence, victims of intellectual decay

Sniffing your breath away (matter over mind), drinking resolve away (matter over mind)
Shooting your veins away (matter over mind), you’re fading away

Guess I don’t need to tell you, you’ll probably win the drug war
And then you won’t need to fight for that high anymore

And meanwhile your brain will die (matter over mind)
And you might wonder why (matter over mind)
But you’re too stupid to cry (matter over mind) – don’t you realize

There is nothing like the mind, nothing you’ll ever find
No potion of any kind, and there is nothing left of yours

You’ll do just about anything to keep that elixir on your shelf
Put some white powder on the mirror, lest you have to see yourself

Then sell it to all your friends (matter over mind)
They’ll follow you to the end (matter over mind)
And we will all depend (matter over mind) on falling farther and farther every day now

There is nothing like the mind, nothing you’ll ever find
Matter over mind, matter over humankind

Infinite Possibilities

Happy Friday with more from the Alleged Artist…

After “Sax and Violins”, I really started to get comfortable with the Yahama multi-track recorder – which again, really cool technology for the time, to be able to record four tracks onto a single cassette tape. I was also getting more comfortable with the Casio CZ-101 keyboard and the Roland TR505 drum machine and how best to use them together. Meanwhile, Tastiera lyrics continued to run the gamut of possible topics. That all led to a new album in January of 1991 called “Infinite Regression”.

I want to talk about that title, but first I want to talk about “Sax and Violins”. I’ve always been very frustrated that more people didn’t laugh at the name. I mean, come on. It’s double entendre times two.

Ok, so “Infinite Regression” references a concept I first heard from Carl Sagan as part of “Cosmos”. The idea is that every elementary particle in our universe is another universe all its own, and our universe is just an elementary particle in a much larger universe – an infinite regression upward and downward. Yikes. So I thought it would be a cool name for an album. Within that, I have no idea what the graphics above were intended to convey. I was only 21 at the time. “Sax and Violins”! Come on, man!

Taken in the context of the money I had at the time, and the tools that were available within that budget, I honestly think “Infinite Regression” was the best Tastiera production of all time. One key piece that elevated it beyond “Sax and Violins” was the purchase of an Audio-Technica 75-D microphone. By studio standards, it’s not top of the line by any stretch, but it’s far better than anything I had used before. How much better? I’m still using the same microphone today. In fact, I used a “better” and more expensive microphone on the first couple of songs on “Plato Fun Factory” in 2018, and ended up switching back to the 75-D for the rest of it. Of course, that was partly because I literally did a “mic drop” at the end of one of those songs, and I think I broke it.

I digress. “Infinite Regression” had such a saturated sound across the board, I spent the next few albums trying to recreate it (and never really managed to do that). I’m not sure why recreating that was so hard, but the album itself was gritty and fun to make. It boasts two songs on “Origin Story”, the first of which is “Paper Crushes Scissors”, a trite but punchy take on the evil of money, which also just so happens to contain enough cowbell to make Christopher Walken very proud:

When I first played “Paper Crushes Scissors” for my friend Keith, he said something like “whoa…” – not because the song is so great, but because the vocals sounded so much clearer and crisper than in previous albums. Unfortunately that just makes it easier to tell I’m not a trained singer. But if I’d spent money on lessons I wouldn’t have been able to afford the multi-track recorder or the microphone. We do what we can.

LYRICS

Welcome to a green world – I’m not talkin’ ’bout trees
It’s hard to find God here, but you’ll be on your knees
Chill your heart now, remove your soul
Now you’re ready for the big time, headed for the top of the totem pole

There’s no room for friendship – put your love away
There’s only one rule here – you have to win to play
Diamonds are forever, because they’re worth a lot of money
Paper covers rock crushes scissors cuts paper, but you know, it’s really kind of funny
When you start to think about it

Paper crushes scissors when the paper is green
And the rock survives when it’s made of gold
And though you may try to wash yourself clean
It’s the same old story that’s been a million times told

The root of all evil, it makes the world go ’round
And you can scream if you have nothing, but we won’t hear a sound
Have you really ever thought about what we’ve gotten ourselves into

Paper crushes scissors when the paper is green
And the rock survives when it’s made of gold
And though you may try to wash yourself clean
It’s the same old story that’s been a million times told
Paper crushes scissors and your soul

There’s something wrong here

Traveling through Space and Time

Your now daily dose of the Alleged Artist:

If you’ve been tracking the news lately, you may have come across a story about Voyager 1. NASA launched this spacecraft and its “sibling” Voyager 2 back in 1977, with the primary objective of collecting new science data from the planets in our solar system, but also with the knowledge that it wasn’t going to turn around and come back home, meaning it will just keep barreling through interstellar space until it something hits or captures it. Voyager 1 is currently 15 billion miles from Earth, officially completely outside of our solar system, and traveling at over 38000 miles an hour. For reference, a single circle around the Earth is about 25000 miles.

The reason Voyager 1 has been in the news recently is that for several months, it was sending back nonsensical data. Keep in mind – this spacecraft was first sent into the hostile environment of space 47 years ago. I started sending out nonsensical data long before that age. But the always innovative minds at NASA found a way to figure out what was going on with the spacecraft, and they recently started fixing the problem so they can receive science data again sometime in the near future. This was not just your typical programming challenge; it takes nearly a day for signals to travel at the speed of light from Earth to Voyager 1 and vice versa. So every time they try something new, the engineers need to wait nearly two days to find out how it went. Every aspect of it is mind-stretching and awe-inspiring.

Ok, so why am I talking about this in a series of posts about my early music? Because I am keeping my promise from the last post: the next song we’re going to talk about here is not about “matters of the heart”. It’s about Voyager 1 (and Voyager 2, really).

Tastiera’s third album, “Sax and Violins”, was released in the summer of 1990, and featured a major advancement in the production process: a Yamaha tape recorder that could split a normal cassette tape into four mixable tracks. This was nothing short of magic for a guy who had been bouncing recordings between boomboxes and home stereo systems for years. Unfortunately, with the new equipment came new expectations, and at one point I became so frustrated with the end product not sounding like I thought it should, that I almost quit entirely. But apparently my social calendar was still barren enough that I decided to go ahead and keep at it. In the end, the vocals didn’t really advance in quality, but the instrumental mix did.

So how did I end up singing about a space probe? I’ll try to answer as succinctly as possible… first of all, I’ve been a nerd my entire life. I was into math and science from an early age, and in 1980, Carl Sagan blew my mind with the “Cosmos” series, which spent a little time talking about the Voyager missions. Around that same time, the Voyager spacecraft were entering their prime in terms of studying the outer planets, and this continued into the mid to late 1980’s. So I suppose that all conspired to create an urge to write an ode, and that’s what this nerd did:

Most of the people who expressed any kind of opinion indicated “Voyager” was the best song on “Sax and Violins”. But for me, there is also a unique personal voyage with this song. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I didn’t have the resources to create a boatload of copies of every new album. I made a handful of copies of each one to give to friends, and then I always had my “master copy”, along with the tapes that I used in the Yamaha recorder. But at some point in the few years after I recorded “Sax and Violins”, I lost anything that could be considered a master copy. That was okay for all of the songs except “Voyager”: for some reason I had a copy of that song that was cut off before it ended. So the entire third chorus and fadeout were gone. But the third chorus has the “plot twist” – so a major element of the song’s essence was gone as well. Once I had the technology to digitize my music in the early 2000’s, I was able to kluge a new ending that basically repeated the first chorus and then repeated the “jam” in the middle as the new fadeout. But it just wasn’t the same.

Enter modern technology. I decided early on in the production of “Origin Story” that I was going to do my best to recreate the original vision for “Voyager”. So I used UVR to separate the vocals from the instrumentation in the recording, and then I deleted the kluged chorus and recorded new vocals with the original lyrics. I tried to match the original singing style and tone as best I could, and then also tried to match the reverb as best I could, and finally used some of my modern software synthesizer capabilities in Logic to create some transition effects. The result is what you hear when you click the MP3 player above. Would you have been able to tell if I hadn’t said anything?

It’s not perfect, but at least I can rest knowing the original song is out there again now. Plus this was a chance for my 55-year-old self to jam for a few minutes with my 21-year-old self. That was kinda cool.

LYRICS

Cape Canaveral on the platform, this is my destiny
Start the fire underneath my metal feet, billowing smoke for all to see
I’m in the air, piercing the sky, far above the human friends I leave behind
Beyond the clouds, beyond the atmosphere, pitch black rains on me

Miles away from the hands that built me, they wonder if I’m ever coming back home
I’m the Voyager, a planet’s eyes and ears, and I’m way past alone

Deep red warrior with polar eyes, look back, see two sisters guarding the little one
Hurtling boulders on the way to Colossus, a far cry from the warm glowing Sun
Rings around the elegant cotton ball, and two cold dark twins gazing upon it all
And running like a rebel through the outskirts of the family, so little, but more than none

A light year away from the voices calling out to me, knowing I’m never coming back home
I’m the Voyager, a world’s laughter and tears, and I’m far beyond alone

Turns out the moon was only a handshake away – distances have no meaning anymore
Time has dissolved into a merciless beast – it teases me and chills me straight to the core

Forever away from the spirit that guides me, a messenger who’ll never come back home
Just a Voyager searching for another voice, to ask me where I’m from
Then they’ll send out another one, back to my home, another lonely journey into the stars
Another Voyager on a golden quest, to tell you you’re not alone

Winds of Change

From the Alleged Artist, Wednesday Edition:

So I had previously noted that Tastiera touches on a wide range of topics beyond the usual “matters of the heart” stuff, and then I’ve proceeded to present three straight songs about “matters of the heart” stuff. I promise the next entry will indeed be quite different.

In the mean time, after the release of “The Full Spectrum”, I went through a whirlwind relationship that ended in my first major heartbreak. There were more to come of course, leading eventually across space and time to my happiest of happy places today. But the ups and downs of late 1988 basically became the basis for the first half of the next Tastiera album, “Pink Noise”, released in February 1989.

Those few “in the know” about Tastiera back then probably think I’m going to post a song called “Eighty-eight Keys”. But in my opinion, that was neither the best nor the most poignant of the songs here, and it was also frankly rather groveling. Instead, I present to you an ode to the right to be sad for a little while: “Blue Zephyr”.

Composed when I was 19, this is one of the more raw emotional songs I’ve done, and for that reason it means a little extra to me. The distinctive bass drum and synth bass sequence are also departures from what I’ve generally done with Tastiera, so that was kind of a cool approach to explore. And I brought back the Casio CZ-101 for one last spin to round out the instrumental sounds on “Pink Noise” in general, including the “lead guitar” sound on “Blue Zephyr”. For the remix and remaster, I was able to successfully apply Izotope’s RX10 noise reduction plug-in (forgot to mention that actually worked on “Carousel” as well), combined with the UVR vocal isolation tool to give that part of the track some better EQ.

Velvet Cockroach did some evolving on the way to becoming Tastiera, but largely from a technical and lyrical standpoint. From “Pink Noise” onward, Tastiera evolved with me.

LYRICS

Change, it’s inevitable as the wind, as deep as the original sin, nowhere to hide
Pain, I’ve got to find a cure, an elixir so pure, there’s a bullet hole in my pride
Time, how long can I pretend, will the battle never end, I’ve got to look away
Life, life goes on, it’s always darkest before the dawn, but where are those golden rays

Oh, I know I’ll survive, the future has arrived, don’t leave without me
Worry not for me, I shall return, the fire again will burn, there’s so many fish in the sea
My resolve knows no bounds, just look around, what a colossal world
So I’ll rise up, yeah that’s what I’ll do
And by the time that I’m through, I’ll have found my dream girl

But for now, I think I want to curl up by the fire, alone, and cry

Oh, carry me away, so very far away, blue zephyr
Please, I deserve a chance to cry, for an instant in time, blue zephyr
Oh, carry me away, so very far away, blue zephyr
Oh, carry me away, blue zephyr

Blue zephyr, carry me away, like a tattered kite in the wind

Keyboards

More from the Alleged Artist:

I have always felt that the piano was the easiest musical instrument to play, because all of the possible notes are sitting there right in front of you, and you can’t accidentally play something that’s in between two notes like you can on so many other instruments. You still have to keep it tuned of course, but it’s not going to require adjustments anywhere near as often as a guitar. And you still have to practice of course, but again, you can look at the notes on the page and the notes on the piano, and eventually you’ll get pretty good at it.

As discussed previously, I was introduced to keyboards at a pretty young age:

So the piano was a natural next step (thanks again Mom and Dad), as were the series of keyboard synths that came after. One of those was the Casio CZ-101. Mini-sized keys but somewhat programmable – I first used it on the “Beyond Words” instrumental album in 1987, and kept using it all the way through the “Infinite Regression” algorithm in 1991. The simulated instruments weren’t necessarily all that more realistic than what I had from the earlier Casio, but they were fuller and brought a unique new sound. The “power guitar” synth sound on “Echo of the Rockies” came from the CZ-101. That was a go-to sound on most Tastiera songs during that time period. In fact, to avoid having to bounce recordings multiple times, I would often play one instrument on a given keyboard and then switch patches to the “power guitar” in real time – a transition you can hear multiple times on just about every song back then.

In mid 1988, my friend Matt fairly asked for me to give his Yamaha keyboard back after borrowing it for almost a year. That was also the summer where I decided to switch my main focus moving forward from Velvet Cockroach to Tastiera. The second half of “A Velvet Cockroach Christmas” was completed in December 1988, officially ending the Velvet Cockroach era (never to return?….). Meanwhile, Tastiera ramped up, and in September of 1988, “The Full Spectrum” was recorded entirely with the CZ-101 and the Roland TR-505 drum machine.

Tastiera songs have always stretched across a broad range of topics beyond the usual good and bad experiences with love. My favorite band growing up was Rush, and they took a similar approach, so that probably had some influence on me. I also frankly didn’t get a whole lot of experience with love or even dating back then, so anytime I did touch on that subject, it would be more in general terms, and poorly informed. In the summer of 1988, I wrote some lyrics to a song called “Carousel” along those lines, and one of my friends who *did* have more experience with the whole love and dating thing thought it was really good. Hopefully the music did it justice:

I usually tended to put the songs I thought would be the best up front on my albums – no big industry secret there, but it did make more difference back when cassette tapes were a primary medium. “Carousel” was a “deep cut” in that sense, but it probably is my favorite song from that album today. I feel like the synth brass sound captures the imagery I was looking for. For this updated version, I used UVR to isolate the vocals and given them a little better EQ for clarity. I also edited one note where I was originally a little more off-key. It’s ridiculous what one can do with sound editing these days, although the technology that can make me a really good singer is still in the future somewhere. But trust me, most of the song has been left alone otherwise – not bad for what was basically still a toy keyboard recorded 36 years ago.

LYRICS

Come aboard the merry-go-round of life – get on your high horse and ride
I’m right ahead of you, but you’ll never catch me – then again you’re so pretty
I just might climb down and break the rules – maybe they’ll throw me off, but I’ll take the chance

Don’t bother getting down, you might get hurt – but when I get there you better do more than flirt
‘Cause shallow love just ain’t my style, and you just drive me wild
Don’t turn away from me now, I’ve given up my place in life for you, and I want to dance

Baby you don’t know me too well – I’ve been riding on the carousel
Maybe it’s love, I just can’t tell – how ’bout riding on the carousel

There’s something hiding inside of you, eternally trying to break through
My heart skips a beat at the sound of your name – please tell me your heart feels the same
Oh, and I’ll make you queen of the castle that surrounds my soul

Can you hear the ringing of the bells – these are the sounds of the carousel
I think I love you now and I always shall – come on baby, ride the carousel

Transition

From the Alleged Artist:

After “End of the Line” in early 1984, Velvet Cockroach began exploring all kinds of different ways to improve its sound, probably devoting more effort to that than to the actual music itself. I was able to crank out over a hundred songs over the course of just a few years, overwhelmingly with silly and uncomplicated lyrics. In the summer of 1986, I generated four albums in four months. This should give you some idea how saturated my social calendar was. While some of my friends were undoubtedly experimenting with mind-altering substances, I was experimenting with different keyboards, different boom boxes for bouncing tracks, different microphones and contraptions for creating the illusion of reverb, and eventually even a couple of dedicated drum machines. There was a lot more failure than success in finding a sound I liked. Along the way, my life changed irreversibly in early 1987. My father passed away far too young, leaving my mom and me reeling for quite some time. I graduated high school that spring, and got to play a song I wrote for my graduating class at the rehearsal. One of my teachers, Sharon Babb, had a truck with two pianos rolled onto the football field so my friend Tony and I could play it. As one classmate noted, “don’t quit your day job.”

As I restarted life a bit with college, living close enough that I could stay at home with mom for a few more years, I began to lean on music more than ever as an emotional release, and in so doing realized I wanted to get a bit more serious than Velvet Cockroach had been to that point. I even decided for a short while to just do instrumental work, so I put together an album called “Beyond Words”, under the new name of “Tastiera”. What is “Tastiera”? I had a little music dictionary, which I believe my piano teacher had originally given me, and one day I fumbled across a page that told me “tastiera” is Italian for “keyboard”. Coincidentally, in the summer of 1987, I had a job at an IBM warehouse processing returns, and sure enough the boxes with keyboards in them had the word in several languages, “tastiera” included. The little dictionary was right! I really liked the way “Beyond Words” turned out, but somehow I managed to lose the original tape, which I regret to this day. I did remember enough from a few of the songs that they became the basis for future Tastiera songs many years later, and in fact one of those is on “Origin Story Volume 2”.

In the fall of 1987, I switched back to Velvet Cockroach, and generated three more albums plus the first half of “A Velvet Cockroach Christmas”. Earlier that year, I had used my savings to buy a Roland TR-505 drum machine, which would remain through the rest of the songs you’ll hear on “Origin Story Volume 1”. Couple that with a Yamaha keyboard I borrowed from my friend Matt, and a really cool effects box I borrowed from my friend Eric, and I went to town on the new experimentation. The pinnacle all of that is embodied in the last non-holiday-related Velvet Cockroach album, “Is Anyone Listening?”, from the spring of 1988. “Echo of the Rockies” was the lead track:

Echo of the Rockies, originally recorded in early 1988, remastered in 2024.

There is way too much delay on the vocals, but somehow it fits with the delay on some of the instrumentation, the completely out-of-place sitar, and the overly punchy drums. There are two drawn-out vocal notes where I cranked the delay to maximum during the note, e.g., “don’t cry” before the final chorus sequence. This was a stretch of albums where I was woefully limited on the microphones and effects I could afford, so the vocals had a really muffled feel to them overall. I tried using the tools I talked about in the last post to isolate and improve the EQ on the vocals, but it just introduced too many artifacts, probably due in large part to my original overuse of the delay effect. So other than Logic’s Mastering Assistant/EQ and Audacity compression, you’re hearing something pretty close to the original on this one.

A toast, to Velvet Cockroach. <clink!>

LYRICS

A mile high in the angel white snow, there’s place where all the fresh winds blow
And a deep green tree seems out of place, and the faded sunlight brushes your face
And the people go on living like there’s nothing wrong, and they laugh and cry all day long

And here I am in my sanctuary, treating myself like I’m in solitary
And the words and the music won’t come to me – I look out my window, do you know what I see
I see all of the beauty in all of the world, shrouded in white like a beautiful girl

And I see you, but I can’t hear you
‘Cause I’m lost in the clouds around that mountaintop

Oh, listen to the angels singing – listen to the falling snow
And when I close my eyes, I listen even closer ’til I know
It’s the silent singing of all the beauty in the world

And you can love me, you can leave me alone, never call me up on the telephone
And you can forget me and take a piece of my heart, shatter my dreams, tear me apart
And then I’ll crawl away to the top of that peak, and I’ll listen

And do you know what I hear – I hear a voice telling me, don’t cry – don’t cry

Oh, listen to the angels singing – listen to my heart
And when you close your eyes, you’ll know it’s not so far to heaven
No, we’re gonna touch the sky – listen to my heart
And when you close your eyes, we’ll never be apart

But I think I’m gonna go there with or without you
Oh yeah, well, baby make up your mind
‘Cause I wanna hear the echo of the Rockies

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