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June Garber

 

Bedroom Bliss

By Anne Sulikowski

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This month Bedroom Bliss examines DreamSTATE from Toronto. Scott M2 and Jamie Todd have been involved with music in one form or another since the late 70s. They have covered many styles of music since then gradually evolving into something more ambient, experiemental and organic sounding. They also are responsible for the five year running Ambient Ping Music Series which hosts weekly experimental, ambient and electronic music in Toronto.

1. When did you first get involved with music? What did you start out playing and how did it evolve to the music style(s) you are playing now?

Jamie - My first musical memory was in grade 3 when I was plunked down in front of a cardboard fake keyboard to learn keyboard technique and fingering. This surreal approach to learning how to play the piano was the beginning of about 5 or 6 years of memorize and regurgitate torture with no room for personal expression. I hated practicing, lacked the dexterity required by the technique and frustrated by the confines of the fixed nature of the piano voice. Most of what I hear in my mind's ear is the music between the notes and I couldn't express that on the piano within this structure. Although I hated the experience, I am grateful that it familiarized me with the language of musical notation and the theories behind its traditional structures.

What I heard as a youth while waking on Sunday mornings was much closer to the music I wanted to make. Church bells in the distance combined with the voices of people and nature, AM radio drifting about and blending with the tape recordings of old train locomotives (steam engines were the best if memory serves) that my train loving neighbour recorded and played. To tie it all together, the anguished drone of the bagpipes squeezed and blown by another neighbour would rise up from the ravine. Basically it was found sound mixed with samples and recordings laid on top of a droning and modulating voice which are still some of the main techniques I implement today when making ambient soundscapes. I started finding sound as a kid after my parents gave me a first generation Philips cassette recorder in 1965.

DreamSTATEI found my musical voice though when I started playing with synths, samplers and recording devices in the 80's. The logical systems and structures of these early machines played a big part in shaping the way I make music as it allowed me to modulate and shape over time a source sound whether it be from a field recording, a looped sample or the simple waveforms generated by a synth oscillator. Using pattern based sequencers and arpegiators to morph and ripple sound while it is being filtered and shaped in real time via hands on controls along with automated modulation devices run through matrixes to further shape the sound has allowed me to express that music I hear between the notes by playing the machine to manipulate the sound as it passes in time. Today I make music as a sound shaper who uses the tools of the modern recording studio like synths, samplers, effects, and recording devices. Today, this technology has evolved to the point where these tools can be created virtually and carried anywhere inside a laptop. Just add in a few hands on MIDI controllers like knob and fader boxes along with that familiar keyboard of my youth and I'm ready to go and play anywhere.

Scott - I'm a late starter as a music creator. In my early twenties, living in Ottawa, I quit full-time university, got a job, took a loan to buy my first synthesizer (a MiniMoog) and began experimenting. After some friends invited me to join their rock band as a synthesist, I picked up some guitar playing too and eventually ended up as the main vocalist. In 1980 I began regular all-synth improv sessions with three other players (including Eric Hopper - now of Sylken) which soon turned into electronic group Radio Silence. Our first release (on casstte - the indie CDr of the 80's) was "On The Edge Of Perception" which had composed, sequenced tracks with TR-808 beats and spaced interludes on one side and a 15 minute pastoral drone exploration on the other. That's my beginnings.

2. Tell me about your first attempts at recording and about any projects that you have been in.

Scott - I took another loan and bought a Tascam 8 track recorder and mixer and was on the road to gear heaven/hell. My small studio enabled me to pursue strange sonic visions as well as pop and rock music. I made a trip to Toronto and bought my second synthesizer (an EMS Synthi-AKS) from radio DJ (the infamous all-night show on CHUM-FM in the late 60s), producer, artist and musician David Pritchard who had just finished up his first album "Nocturnal Eathworm Stew" (which was later released on Island Records). We kept in touch and after I moved to Toronto in the early eighties I began to work closely with him on his second album "Unexplored Ether". We each had the same 8 track decks and could work easily at each other's studios, trading the tapes back and forth. We always mixed at his studio (Sonic Workshop) though, which had lots of pro half-track decks and a wicked Trident mixing board. This was like a master class in creative studio production for me as David was a very enthusiastic and spontanious artist who was also grounded with years of radio production skills. I learned a lot and had lots of fun.

Jamie - First serious attempt was in the early to mid 80's with a synth pop project called Modern Times (MX). I wrote the lyrics and developed the basic idea for the songs with Paul Thompson and then fleshed out the music with Kim Krause. We developed the demos first with a Korg MonoPoly synth along with a Roland 303 Bassline and 606 drum box recorded onto a 4 track cassette porta studio. As the demos evolved so did our gear and we were soon working with a Roland MC202 microcomposer/monosynth and SH101 monosynth along with a Korg drum box and eventually the porta studio gave way to paid time in a real studio with 24 tracks and 2 inch tape. The MC202 was the heart of this system as it allowed us to program a sequence in it to play its internal synth as well as a second sequence to play the SH101 via midi. The drum machine stored it's own patterns and songs and could be started and stopped with the MC202. On top of that, the MC202 allowed us to record a sync track on tape so that we could lock the MC202 to tape and seeing that the MC202 patterns could be stored and loaded via data tape we were able multitrack the synths and drum parts. Basically the process was record sync to the 24 track tape, load the musical data into the machines, dial up some sounds, lock machines to tape and record, repeat over and over until all the parts are recorded and the tracks were filled. Modern Times released an indie cassette 'Gasping for Culture' which featured four songs recorded in this manner.

Next batch of MX demos were recorded for ATV Music Publishing. ATV lent me a 4 track porta studio and I recorded all of the music with a Casio VLTone toy synth/drum machine and a Deltalab Effectron delay unit. I would trap and layer loops from the VLTone and found sound sources into the effectron and then multitrack and submix it to the portastudio with our vocals.

MX also recorded a couple of songs for the Cordelia Project in 1984 which is where I met Scott - who provided us with the drum programming and Kurt Swinghammer who played guitar and bass. We were both brought to the project by our mutual friends Liz Janik and Peter Goodwin who were tight with the two project organizers Fezz Nazarec and Ron Gaskin. Ron was house-sitting a mansion in Rosedale which was empty for a month as it had just been sold, so Ron and Fezz invited a bunch of Toronto's indie musicians to get together to work on a community recording project.

Scott - It was an exciting project. At the first meeting everyone played a song on cassette to show what they did, put their names and phone numbers on the master list with the instruments they played and threw $20 in the kitty. From that pot, a recording engineer with a 16 track tape deck was hired for the month. Anyone who wanted to record a song could just book a session on the calendar and call up any others on the list to book them to play. I played some guitar on First Man Over's track and recorded one of my own songs with Tem Vesely and Dave Clark (from the Rheostatics) on bass and drums plus Kurt Swinghammer on guitar. Jamie booked me to program the drums on his project's tracks and that was the beginning of a long friendship and artistic collaboration for us.

Jamie - Scott, Eric Hopper (who had also moved to Toronto) and I jammed in Eric's studio in 1986 (I got to play Eric's Memory Moog) and recorded a couple of pieces to cassette if I remember correctly. Scott and Eric transferred it to 1/2 track reel to reel tape and edited one of the pieces, "Charm", which we released under the name Radio Silence on the "In Demand" compilation LP in 1987. To our surprise "Charm" started receiving airplay, so we started recording regularly as Radio Silence. We released a number of tracks exclusively to radio and released an indie cassette called "infinity" as Radio Silence. It was around this time that we started using the computer as a recording tool and samplers augmented the synths as sound sources. We started gathering in the studio on a regular basis to jam out ideas, record and compose via MIDI.

Making "infinity" was a fun recording process as Eric, Scott and I had created a number of masters which were recorded onto different mediums, some on 4 track portastudio cassette, some on 1/2 track reel to reel, some on 8 track reel to reel and some in the computer as midi compositions. "infinity" was a 37 minute continuous mix of 7 of those masters and various field recordings which Scott and I mixed and recorded in real time. We basically had to plan out and rehearse our moves and cues because if we made a mistake, we had to start from the beginning and do it all over again. Nowadays we would just load it all into the computer and do the mix there in a leisurely and controlled manner, but it was a fun back then wrestling with the machines to create a finished master.

DreamSTATEScott started dreamSTATE to explore ambience in the mid 90's and invited me on board soon after it's inception. Our first major project was to develop "waveforms" which was a 3D, ever-changing sound installation for the H5 Project holographic gallery/store from which an hour long slice was released as our first CD "Between Realities". Recording "waveforms" was a bit of a challenge though as we had a looming deadline to meet the H5 Gallery's opening date, but Sunspot (Scott's studio) had just moved and was only partially set-up which thereby limited our recording process. We decided to dig into our favorite synths for a couple of weeks to do some heavy duty sound design to create a bunch of new ambient patches. We then got together for a couple of sessions to jam and record with these patches which we then combined with field recordings to create the finished content for the installation.

My first release as URM was the result of experimenting with the soft synth Absynth. I had just gotten it and had spent the day creating sounds and playing with it, when a friend (Steven Sauvé of karmafarm) stopped by for visit. By the time Steven got there, I had Absynth running on three machines droning away in the background as an evolving soundscape. Both Steven and I kept getting drawn into the soundscape, so when Steven left I decided to record some of it before I powered down. It was basically a gift which just happened whereas my second URM CD was the result of some personal experiments with music making systems to create ambient soundscapes with the Reason soft rack of studio gear.

3. Tell me about the name dreamSTATE. Who came up with it and what does it represent to you?

Scott - "Dreamstate" was set aside as the title of an album I was planning but when I began a new ambient soundscape project in 1995, it seemed like the perfect name. After experimenting with the word - "dreamSTATE" seemed to be the format that best communicated the intention - a lowercase "dream" (in italic) representing the unpredictable, the surreal, the tranquil and the unsettling aspects of dreams meeting the uppercase "STATE" representing overriding structure and vision. (I see governments as useful, positive things despite all evidence to the contrary.) I sketched out a logo and Jamie (who is also a graphics designer) nailed it first shot.

4. How many releases does dreamSTATE have?

Scott � dreamSTATE has two CDs released: �Between Realities� and �Passage� plus various tracks available on over a dozen ambient and experimental compilations. Our next two planned releases are �OM� recorded live at the OM Festival and �Floating and Dreaming� recorded with Chicago ambient artist James Johnson. Jamie's URM soundscape project also has two releases: "Darkness on the Edge of Light" and "Hush on the Peace Terrain".

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