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.


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

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