The Entrance of Sound Interview
The following was an interview by DPN.
What do you hope to accomplish with this recording?
Music is a far-reaching, powerful method of communication with sufficiency that strengthens and heals the soul. It is fitting when words are inadequate. If words could say it all, why would music ever be written?
The Entrance of Sound, is focused on musically caring for those who are enduring pain and suffering. It is mostly original compositions, with a few hymns. After working at the Topeka Rescue Mission for several years, I have a greater understanding of life, having witnessed so many heart-wrenching stories, such as the following.
He was the step-father of a child who had been graphically abused by the biological father. Personal challenges lead his family to be homeless. After building a relationship with him, I learned that many of his own problems existed since his mother tried to murder him by cooking him in an oven. The only reason he was alive today was that his dad forgot his wallet after leaving for work, came home, discovered him in the oven, and saved his life.
What could I do? What could I say? Words were inadequate. I went on a journey to discover how I could help him and others in painful circumstances, and this recording is the result. For those who are enduring pain, the messages of love, hope, and purpose need to be understood. This recording is a carrier of these messages.
Where do you get your ideas?
My musical vocabulary is added to by life experiences. As a beginner, my creativity was limited by my lack of understanding of the basics–theory, chord structure, and melodies. But, once the musical foundation was understood, my creativity was released to be expressed.
My ideas come from being aware of my surroundings: the melody of the birds singing, the instrumentation of leaves rustling in the air, and the percussion of the crackling fire.
Example: my wife (who is an authoress) and I recently took one of the most beautiful walks of our life. It was a foggy, mysterious evening set around a frozen lake. The ground was covered with snow, and there was a waterfall which still flowed. Absolute silence was in the air, except for what nature itself permitted.
As we were walking, my wife was on one side thinking about how she could describe the setting with words while I was on the other side thinking of how I could describe the setting with music. There was mystery, peace, the sounds of geese flying, and the rhythmic timing of our feet thumping on the sidewalk. All of these things could easily be captured into music by composing the impression that it left me or by imitating the sounds of nature on the hammer dulcimer.
I also get ideas from the innovation of other musicians. I listen to all types of music, as there is so much to be learned and absorbed.
What do you do to fill in the holes that inevitably present themselves?
The deepest holes for this project were the limits I set on myself—solo, the same hammer dulcimer for all tracks, and no overdubbing. I wanted more unity with mood, tone, and message in this release. Musically, I wanted themes to exist throughout the recording and similar chord changes to commonly appear. Obviously, this is a framework which could easily create a lifeless recording. The deepest hole which needed to be filled could easily be summed up in one word: variety.
My primary method to create variety was chord development. Chords change the feel of a song, dramatically. In fact, I developed chord progressions before composing the melody and deciding the rhythm. The songs needed depth and cerebral stimulation to accomplish my message, and quality chords seemed to be the most fitting remedy.
In my previous recordings, I’ve relied on dramatic mood, tone, and instrumentation changes to give the recording variety. This project is solo and cannot rely on other instrumentation to complete it. There must be tension, release, melody, percussion, and embellishments–all happening on one instrument.
With this in mind, the playing approach to each track must be diversified or the CD would quickly become dull.
How do you diversify your skills?
Once you’ve been playing for a while, you’ll develop a style which is uniquely you. This is one of your greatest strengths. But, it can easily become a hindrance since it’s easy to approach every song the same way using the same licks, chords, and rhythms.
To overcome this, I record videos of myself playing and study exactly what I do. Then, I think of different ways to play things. It is amazing how many different opportunities are out there if you just stop and think of alternative methods.
Additionally, to spice things up, I’ve used alternate tunings, non-typical timing signatures, and unique keys to the hammer dulcimer such as C#minor. When playing in these different fashions, I find much diversity.
I also listen to other hammer dulcimists. There is, however, a big trap which is easy to fall into–copying. Instead of copying, I want to learn what it is they do, and why they do it. I can learn those methods to apply to my skill set and uniquely execute them.
Briefly summarize the process you use for creating a recording.
I tend to capture a recording emotionally before logically. I feel it before I create it. It may take a few months or a few years to come up with the ideas of a project.
Once I start processing my ideas, I compose the tunes, practice them, and analyze them. Then, it’s just a matter of going into the studio prepared and getting a perfect take. I typically record 2-3 tracks a session to be as fresh as possible and get the best take I can. Each tracks needs to sound exactly as it should. I take my time and don’t get in a big rush. Once I am satisfied, it is released.