Do you have something to say about Prog...
...and would you like to submit it as material for this blog, apply for membership at the ProgRockin blog planning Google group.
Recent Comments

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best of 2008

Yes, I know most other music related sites are doing the same, but still...I couldn't resist.

Lets keep the list to the top 3 and have a small description for each.

If any of you (co-authors or readers) would like to join, please add you own top 3 as a comment and I will move it to the main article.

Below are the current contributors (click on [+/-] to show/hide):

BG [+/-]

1. Ayreon - 01011001
This is an amazing album. At first I was disappointed since I expected more guitars and a heavier sound, but the songs grew on me and this quickly became my most listened to album of the year. The most compelling side of this production is the range of vocalist that mr. Lucassen got involved and especially the way he managed to "use" never feels like a case of too many cooks spoiling the meal. This album also has references (through the lyrics) to other Ayreon releases, which made me revisit all of them...just to connect the dots
2. Jupiter Society - First Contact / Last Warning
Sometimes not liking something at all is a good start. I suppose the music and vocals found on this album is so atypical that it may put you off at first. For me this is also it's strength....the emotion and atmosphere is crunching and demands your attention from beginning to end. It is dark, brooding and gives you a constant feeling of impending doom...I like it :)
3. Opeth - Watershed
What is it with Sweden and prog rock/metal? It seems they spawn buckets full of great bands and albums on a yearly basis. Opeth is, by no means, new...but they keep renewing themselves with every album. This is not as good as the previous one, but far better than anything else that aspires to become something in the same category. As a kid I sometimes listened to death metal but never really liked the growling and grunts. Opeth has found the perfect balance between harsness of "death" and the beauty and intricateness of prog.
Foster [+/-]

1. Ayreon - 01011001
I'm a big Ayreon fan, and this album didn't disappoint. There are some incredible moments on here, and there's just something about that signature Ayreon sound that is so appealing.
2. Paul Gilbert - Silence Followed By A Deafening Roar

An incredible album from one of my favourite guitarists. So many different sounding songs on this album, all with amazing fretwork. I would have bought this for Progulus by now if it wasn't for the fact that I have no money. Same goes for his Get Out Of My Yard album.
3. Opeth - Watershed
I wasn't really a big Opeth fan (the growling put me off) until earlier this year, when I got hold of Ghost Reveries.. And then my opinion changed. I really like this album, but it's only really making this list because this year was a little bit disappointing in terms of releases compared to last year.

1. Amaseffer - Exodus - Slaves For Life
The blend of jewish music, prog metal and "soundtrack" is extremely well done. I love it's tragical style (despite the bible theme). The album is full of great suspense curves, from rather cheesy elements through several emotional states, up to almost death metal and back. On top of that some awesome solo guitar playing at a highest level tone and not to mention Mats Leven's outstanding vocals, combined with oriental vocal performances by Kobi Farhi.
Also best newcomer 2008!
2. Mindflow - Destructive Device
After 2 albums I didn't spend much attention for, here it comes: a mainly metal oriented piece with fine crafted vocal melodies, a couple of prog elements in it, containing time signatures that make most people stumble, but kicking me into heavy grooving.
The cocept works quite well; the production output is a perfect metal sound that makes aggresion physical through bashing airwaves at my body.
I skip the "binaural tracks", but that's really a minor minus.
3. Andromeda - The Immunity Zone
It took me years to recognize the band at all and now I'm totally in love with their music. Their delight in writing and playing is addictive to me, I love how they simply have fun in juggling notes just for the joy of doing it, and stil they manage to create fine tunes that way that don't seem to 'noodle' along at any time.
For me they're the band that comes closest to the good old Kansas, who I tend to call my prog roots.

This was a hard decision for me this year, because there were two albums that I think both deserve the #1 spot, and in the end my choice came down to a right brain vs. left brain decision.

1. Karmakanic - Who's The Boss in the Factory
Highly complex, technically difficult, seamlessly interwoven, these are the things that I crave. Karmakanic finally delivers more than 2 years after their announced release date. This music could be described as Flower Kings for people who hate the Flower Kings, because it's an idealized version that seems superior in almost every way and still has the brilliant Jonas Rheingold touch.
2. Everon - North
This must have been a very difficult album for Oliver Phillips to write and record, because he touches on some of his very personal emotional experiences. But I guess he always does that. This album (and band) is so brilliant because they are so adept at sharing the human experience in a way that touches us without being too mushy (well except for 'Islanders' anyway). There's great songwriting here and great production as well.
3. Fromuz - Overlook
I had the hardest time picking the #3 slot because there's a lot of good releases this year that I could have put here but nothing that really stood out as more exceptional than the others. I went with the album that has received the most spin time in my car. I've already reviewed the album here in detail so there's no reason to repeat myself. Brilliant.

Arcarneiro [+/-]

From the few '08 albums that I have (most of them I got from my friends!!! thx!!!), here are my top 3 fave ones....

1. Zero Hour - Dark Deceiver
On every album, they get better and better. After the very good Specs of Picture Burnt Beyond, these heroes of tech-metal come with another fine release. Hopefully, now they got settled with a singer, and a quite good one, they can get more tight and improve their sound. At 1st, didn't enjoy Chris voice, but now thinks that he's perfect of ZH!!! Awesome technical display by all band members, specially Troy on the bass and his Tendoniti
2. Presto Ballet - The Lost Art Of Time Travel
Delightful prog-rock album! Very enjoyable from start to finish!!! Great keyboard work, with all the Hammonds, Mellotrons and all that...
3. 7for4 - Diffusion
Another mix of different kinds of music styles and another awesome fusion album. Didn't top my fave album Time, but it's just great. Very cohesive album with no weakness. Even tho the work is based mainly on Wolfgang Zenk's guitar, every one have space to breathe and contribute for this great instrumental album.
Runner-up for the 3rd: Mindflow - Destructive Device.
Was quite surprised by it. Even tho liked their 2 1st albums, always thought that they lack a bit of identity. Plenty of hooks on the album, something that was somewhat missing on the previous. It continues the Alternate Reality Game started on the previous album, adding a very interesting touch with the 2 binaural tracks, which may also be a annoying thing, if the person don't know what it is about or doesn't care for the game. A very good Metal album with a bit of Prog-Metal flavor here and there... My only complain about it is that it almost looks like that that Ben Grosse wrote, recorded, played, and sung the whole album... you almost see his name everywhere... didn't like this move by the band. It seems they are trying to catch some "outside" attention to the album by all means... it feels really strange to me see his name directly in the cover of the album.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rock is the new Pop

It seems that most non-mainstream artist at some point get so fed up about the music industry’s attempts to stifle creativity in exchange for profit, that they get inspired to write songs pointing the wrong doings of the corporations. I am not only talking about “poor” guys like George Michael (can’t believe I dare mention him here on this site) who could not change record label and wrote a song whining about “Freedoom….Freedoom ….You gotta give be4 u takeee” but also artists who are “persuaded” into performing a specific kind of music.

Thankfully there exist some labels that specialize in prog and other minority genres, so everything is not hopeless although only the most recognized (counted in album sales) band have a chance to move on to a bigger label and distribution channels.

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to find out what prog artists have "done a Georg Michael” and let out some steam through their lyrics. On the top of my head I can think of the following:

Spocks beard – V - The Great Nothing
Explorers Club – Age of Impact - (whole album)
Rush - Permanent Waves – The Spirit Of Radio

…but I am sure there are many more.

I think what the most prog fans abhor in pop is the repetitiveness. MAVIII said it nicely in his last post :

…base their rhythms from another song that was sampled, and then add some annoying FX sample and have it in the song over and over to create a beat or somekind of "cool" factor. And great! The chorus is pretty much the entire song, repeated over and over and over and over and over…”

Unfortunately this kind of stuff sell by the millions, so that is what the big labels strive to achieve in as many bands and genres as possible. To be fair, the labels are not all to blame since consumers happily buy what they offer. On the other hand, if the same labels had a bigger hand in exposing the non-mainstream, I am sure that many would break away from their current listening habits.

[hippie & futureman (chorus)]

A secret yearning lurks inside
like a dream trying to hide
another time, another space
an empty feeling haunts my brain
a strange void I can't explain
another time, another space

“Another Time, Another Space” by Ayreon on the album “Into The Electric Castle”

I have always believed that many people don’t know what they like. They just don’t know what treasures are out there until someone helps them to make the discovery. That is how I developed my own taste in music. I was listening to pop until someone showed me the hidden chest, turned the key and opened a completely new world.

To get back to the subject about repetitiveness...what really annoys me these days are the “successful” attempts to turn rock into pop. It’s not a new trend, but it is bigger business than ever. To describe what I mean...take this band, I don’t even remember their name, but they have a nice chorus line going something like this: “I will find something more of what I had before. Shame on you baby…forever your’s”. The band (or label) must have really liked that one since they repeat it a gazillion times. The style they play is rock, but their performance is pure pop. Their music is like candy, it tastes good for awhile, but when you don’t stop eating it’s going to make you puke.

Another example of rock turning pop is “Nickelback”. I my book they are the archetype of this phenomenon. There was an interesting article some time ago about how they, in their attempt to be creatively lazy, plagiarized themselves: Follow this link to read about it.

Even the harder rock is going the same direction. Just take a band like “Linkin park”. Have you ever felt that they lacked creativity? Well maybe they do, just look the following images:

What I've Done


Somwhere I Belong



Lying From You

Please read the article related to these images here.

Alright…enough rants from me this time. Now I will go and listen to some real music and soon I will have forgotten all about pop....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Windy tunes and cookware

So it's a frigid 6ºF below zero with a wind chill of -27 at the moment. My roommate is also a musician and one of the first things she said to me this morning is "how do you like our door playing overtones?" The back door isn't sealed perfectly and when the wind gusts it plays tones. Somewhere between the sound of a Native American flute and a French Horn. Of course, being the music geek that I am I had to grab a guitar and figure out the notes. It's playing Bb-C-Eb and F, pretty well in tune. Guitar in hand I joked that I was going to go jam with the door. She suggested my next song title, Door Jamb Blues. I think she's on to something.

I also had to mention this morning how I found the skillet to have a nice bell tone to it. Just give it a whack with a hand, knee, head, whatever is handy and you get a cool ringing. I've always been one to make instruments out of whatever is at hand. I like finding that pan or box or table that has a cool tone. I guess I am fascinated by sound. The other day I noticed the shower was dripping in a clave pattern. To me, music is everywhere, in every sound. I wonder how much of my fascination with making music out of every sound in hard wired in my brain and how much is the result of all my musical training.

Whether hard wired or experiential, I think this aspect of me is a key to my love of prog, and all forms of music that push boundaries and go outside the formula. I'm always looking for something new. I want to hear that thing that I've never heard before. I think that is a central quest of my songwriting. Can I take my experience and training and all the thoughts in my head and condense them in to a song that sounds new and fresh, that says something new. Or says something I've heard before, but in a new way. I think keeping open ears is essential. I might hear a new song of Progulus that does it for me, or it might be a water clave. In either case I think I am always staying open. That musical part of my brain is always on because I don't know where the next new sound will come from.

(No Seans were harmed in the writing of this blog)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Road to Life and Progressive Rock Part IV



"All my life I knew you were waiting, revelation, anticipating, All is well, the
searching is over, let the truth be known, Let it be shown (give me a glimpse
of home)"

Glimpse of Home/Kansas

As spiritually to Kerry Livgren (Kansas founder/guitarist) and to myself, it would be
prophetic those words. Where Home seemed to be and what spiritual guide would
reveal themselves . . . we both would come to understand much later.
But home for now was a nice roof over our heads . . .

It's 1978-79.
The move to our new "House" was a welcome one.
From the sweltering heat of the Valley, to the suburbs of West Covina.

Since my education was ruined by my experiences in Louisiana, the only
solace was Art class. It's Late in my Junior year at Nogales High School in
La Puente/West Covina, and we were allowed to listen to the radio and took
turns listening to different stations, unfortunately only 2 to 3 of us were into
Rock, so it was a treat to hear on KLOS, KWEST and KMET , the latter 2 are
now long gone, which was too bad, especially KWEST, from my rare listens,
they played more progressive Rock music (And I remember hearing ELP's
Karn Evil part II,
possibly the 1st time I actually heard it all the way through).
But KMET would stay on the air till about 83-84, a station that would
introduce a taste of "NWOBH" years later . . . but that's another story.
Yes; Journey; REO Speedwagon; Kansas; Genesis; Boston; Ted Nugent;
Lynyrd Skynyrd; Outlaws; Aerosmith; FogHat; Robin Trower; Deep Purple;
Uriah Heep; Fleetwood Mac; Santana; Led Zeppelin; Supertramp; ELO; the
Who; Moody Blues; Queen; Cheap Trick; UFO; Bad Company; Bob Seger;
Heart; Steely Dan; James Gang/Joe Walsh; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers;
Pink Floyd between the AWFUL : Greatful Dead; Van Morrison; the Doors;
Jefferson Airplane; AC~DC; Bruce Springsteen; Bob Dylan; Jackson Browne;
Bowie; The Rolling Stones, yes (hehe), I was not a fan of those particular
artists at that time, some have grown on me.

. . . But when I heard a cut from YES "Drama"(1980), I think it maybe one of
those times I started noticing a difference in this music without anyones
insight or influence, what this music was and how complex, and I would
defend it against the "Rock Haters" of the school!

. . . then the other kids would bitch and moan and the radio would turn to an
R&B station.

Its hard being a rocker.

Another foray into Fusion/Prog would come in 3 people:
From a one time visit, a friend "from the hall ways", Rick Lacero (who played
drums for the school band) at his home. And he had this beautiful Stereo
System, the kind you'd see in the Electronic section of a Trade Mag. It was all
separate "Decks", cool lighted windows and LED's, even an Equalizer! And a
top of the line Turntable!
Rick took a Record out of its sleeve, and carefully ran a brush over and blew
at it. On the cover was a painting of a guy standing with a Les Paul and it was
entitled, "Jeff Beck- Blow by Blow" . . .

The needle gently, with a warm thump hit the groove, you could hear just a
little static. . .

And these glorious sounds came out, textured and crying notes, complicated
groove lines and biting solos . . . all heard on these wonderful speakers soo
warm and full of sound that you felt it in your chest and stomach, I had NEVER
heard music soo clear! Rick is talking, but all I hear is music filling my body!

He then puts on another album, slowly . . .
the sound of animals? Sheep! . . . they sounded distant, then the distinct sound
of a Rhodes Keyboard . . . I look at the cover and there is a PIG flying over a
Manufacturing Plant between 2 smoke stacks! All in rich browns . . .

That was my 1st real introduction to Pink Floyd.

Again, why those 2 bands didn't take . . . must be because it was too much
for my brain to handle, I was overwhelmed! Plus our friendship wasn't close,
Rick was the same age but was smarter, on an another level, as was
else. I was more of a geek than he was, things were a bit "beyond
me" (Well he was in the school Band, so really we were geeks, I just wonder
about my personality back then, I was quiet and timid, too nice of a guy I think).
But I would always remember that experience with Jeff Beck, and my 1st LP
by him would be "There and Back", and Floyd would make its way to my turn-
table with their release of the epic, "The Wall" in a few years.
Beck and "Star Cycle":
Pink Floyd:

I say . . . YES!!!
Then there was my then, best friend Glen Mayfield. Weird match when I think
about it, me Latino and weird haircut, him tall handsome, blond blue eyed and
doing well in school and driving an old Ford Pick-up with a "Camper". He also
was a bit more mature but we got along because of our sense of humour (he
was a Monty Python fan too) and he also loved Kansas, Yes (which I just
started getting into) and Genesis, but Genesis was just "too out there for me",
it would take a while for me to understand the complexity, subtlety, quiet and
EPIC in one song.
If Genesis was too much to take in, then Yes for some reason had it for me,
and I guess it was Steve Howe, he was more in your face than Steve Hackett
(At the time), and he just shredded on that big Gibson! And the grandiose
playing and "sounds" of Rick Wakeman! all tempered with Jon Anderson's
angelic voice (I would not come to appreciate Chris Squire's Bass, Bill Bruford
and Alan White's Drum playing until way later, as well as other Bassists and
Drummers. The "Education" was just starting).
The opening of "Close to the Edge" and throughout would transport me from
its slow fade-in opening of a Tropical Rain Forest to a Cavern of Stalactites
and Stalagmites floating in its water and the Jules Verne feel to Wakeman's
keys at the bridge of the song, with each musician enhancing its "vision" with
music I had never heard before or could ever conceive.
"Fragile"; "Close to the Edge" and "Relayer" would be the albums I would
worship and wear out the grooves.
Drama would soon be purchased and the opening track "Machine Messiah"
alone would be worth the trip, but the whole album was brilliant. I was just getting
into the YES line-ups and was surprised that it was a different vocalist and
Keyboardist, soon to find out they were 2 members of the Buggles (Later, singer
Trevor Horn
would produce Yes's no.1 Album "90215" and Geof Downes would be
one of the founding members of Asia).
And the other Keyboardist, would become the famous Soundtrack Composer,
Hans Zimmer!
"Tempus Fugit" though was the single and it was just different than anything on the
radio in 1980. To Rock and the "New Wave" of music that was coming out of the
U.K. Most of the music coming out of that Alternative scene was not to my liking,
and Punk was also driving out any band playing this "pretentious music" that I was
just getting into. As far as this New Wave/Punk went, there were few exceptions
like, Missing Persons; Flock of Seagulls; Ultravox; Bauhaus; U2; Stiff Little Fingers;
Dead Kennedy's; Big Country; The Alarm; Altered Images and others that I really
liked but never dived into, but U2 and the Police and Missing Persons, I noticed they
stood among the crowd, and later I would learn of Missing Persons "Drummer"
years later.
Other than the bands I mentioned, I really despised the New Wave scene. And "Pop
Music" at the time was getting worse. Though Punk would influence another genre
of music soon to engulf my world.

My friend Glen was also a "Born Again", so I was then treated to Myron Lafevre,
Phil Keagy, Petra and later, A.D. (Kerry Livgren's solo band), and he introduced
me to early Electronic/New Age: Tomita; Wendy/Walter Carlos; and Tangerine

We also liked Styx, and I started seeing that they also were more than their
Hit Singles, their guitars had a distinct tone that I loved, it was Hard Rock, but
had enough Prog elements to keep it different than what was out there, And
"Grand Illusion" would play alot on my turntable in the years to come (A year
later, same for "Pieces of Eight" which is still my favorite).

Spiritual Influence influx:
I had a sort of an awakening happening to me at this time, the "spirit" that was
always in me, but could not name.
I was coming to an understanding what God and Christ meant to me, and the
deep analytical break-down of what they were about. Glen opened the door,
but it was me who always had the spirit of Christ in my heart and I knew what
was right and wrong. My values from my Parents and my own mind kept me
from trouble, I have always had a logical mind and could see where "things"
could take me if I wasn't careful. But I wasn't going to shove it down anyone's
throat, I never could take the title "Born Again", but understanding the roots of
it is still an ongoing process to this day, and sort-of private and "individualistic".
It would grow, but my way of understanding would separate me from ones
who more zealous about it.
I always saw this "Higher Power" as a friend, not something to live in fear of,
yet many would preach fire and brimstone when the verse, "He who cast the
1st stone..." seems to be forgotten all too often.
And it was in music that I started noticing the different spirituality in my fave
bands, or at least values that I grew up with, respect for others, for myself
and a deeper and higher purpose for all that we do. Though I would fumble
and fall throughout my life, I still would hold onto the logical, and moral values
that I learned on the road through my hardships in school (and life in general).

The "Craft" of Spirituality.
It was Glen (I believe) who also introduced me to Kerry Livgrens Book about
his spiritual journey and life on the road with Kansas-"Seeds of Change"(in an
Expanded Edition
), where he writes:
"As modern music becomes more formularized, derivative, and shallow,
listeners are crossing cultural and generational boundaries to find music of
spiritual and creative substance. Witness the recent interest in various types
of "ethnic" music. I find myself listening to it a lot because it seems so
untainted and fresh -free from the corporate mold. Christian music suffers from
the same malady.
Though we as Christians have a mandate to be skillful and creative, and Scripture
affirms that we should sing unto the Lord a new song, we rarely hear anything new.
The atmosphere of Christian radio is so limited as to be stifling.
Not only is it as highly formatted as its secular counterpart, but in most cases, the
artist must conform to some sort of spiritual criteria -someone's definition of what
makes his or her music acceptable Christian music. It's a strange irony indeed that
finds lyrics with the most profound truth coupled with the most unchallenging sort of

That was written in 1991. This says everything about the music of TODAY in many
genres, that fall short of imagination and creativity.
But its in Prog I find creativity that can spiritually move me, as well-as spiritually
minded bands from Cynic to Neal Morse to Kings X to Iona to Extol to Kansas and
Yes. And even bands such as Black Sabbath ("Masters of Reality") and Iron Maiden
and their morality tales. But this will be part of my journey to come, and this book of
Mr. Livgren will be given to me by a dear friend decades later.

A 3rd friend, brief but left an impression. . .
It was the time I was thinking of taking Art classes from meeting a senior
(I was a sophomore) named Rick Saenz. A Latino with long hair and a quiet
friendly demeanor (Artist written all over him!). He was a budding Artist, and
had such an amazing style, his Art geared to Fantasy and Band Logos.
His main influence was Roger Dean and he would show me Yes covers and
Art books, his Art and again, just overwhelmed by it all, I wish I could have
looked at his Album collection, but I'm sure my mind would explode. I do
remember he liked Uriah Heep, but it would be years till I appreciated them.
"The Magicians Birthday" and that Dean Cover! The 1st time I ever seen it.
He also had a poster on the wall over his bed, that he mailed-in for with a
"coupon", that was of a woman with steel-like/tubing for hair that looked
very familiar. It was from the inside sleeve of ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery",
that he took out, in which the original pressing, the front cover opened from
the middle into 2 halves revealing the woman hanging on his wall, my mind
raced back to 1973 and that display in Louisiana.
Hehe . . . ELP and this album yet again!
I kept looking at his sketch book and he said, "You can borrow it if you want"
. . . so for almost 2 years I held on to it. I definitely count Saenz and Dean as
my 1st inspirations for my Logo work. And Rick I guess was my link to Dean.
A mis-fortune that I did not keep in contact with Rick.
Roger Deans site:


" I know it's most unusual, To come before you so, But I've found an ancient
miracle, I thought that you should know, Listen to my music, And hear what it
can do, There's something here as strong as life . . . I know that it will reach you"

IV Presentation/2112/Rush

As the years pass within High School, my ears started to really understand
what they were hearing. Another Christmas would bring a favorite memory.
1979 and SoCal Winters were still cold, the cold winds upon the rusted trees
brushing the house, a fire crackling in the fireplace, warm lights in the den
and listening to my new albums from my parents, "Don't Look Back" from
and the album that would really begin the awareness of Prog,
("People of the Southwind", which is the Lakota meaning of Kansas)
At this time, Me and my Dad were watching Don Kirschner alot late night on
Saturday, and so since Kansas was on Don's label, they released "Promo-
Films" for the new album Monolith. I recall they were for the singles, "The
Otherside", "Away from You" and "Reason to Be". Cool visuals and being
able to see them perform was really awesome. So because of that exposure
I asked my parents for that album.
It would be over 3 decades till I'd see those videos again! For awhile I thought
I was hallucinating because NO-ONE remembers seeing them.
But finally released on the accompanying DVD on the "Sail On-the 30th
Anniversary" box set for Kansas.

Both Kansas and Boston albums I would play and play. But something new
was on the horizon . . .
Van Halen.
This would just shake up the world of rock, the music industry and the way
guitarists played. Just the cover of the debut of Van Halen looked wild and
the sounds Eddie would pull from his guitar were never heard of! (Even though
later to find Steve Hackett and Alan Holdsworth did many of the "tricks" Eddie
used, but Eddie was just more flashy with the techniques). Taking advantage
of feedback, Tremelo pulls and "Dive bombs", Harmonic vibratos, Hammer-ons
and Pull-offs would enter the vocabulary of every kid guitarist to come. It also
added a difference to Hard Rock of the time that would give birth to the new
Heavy Metal "sound".
The coming years would see kids coming out of the woodwork with different
styles, attitude, aggression and musicianship that would engulf my world
. . . but that wont happen till after High School, but the seed was planted.

Also during this time, next to the neighborhood Stater Brothers Market, was a
little Mom&Pop Record store, mostly catering to the R&B crowd, I was flipping
through the LP's on a turnstyle and I came across an album with a cringe and
wonder in my face:
A blueish cover with the backside of a naked man atop a BRAIN and an
English chap with a derby! . . . "How GAY!" I thought. I put it back and went to
join my Mom at the Market.

A new world would open to me, and there was one band that would make me
listen even closer, with lyrics that made me pay attention . . .

"So turn around, Turn around, It's on the other side
Feel the sound, Feel the sound, It's comin' from deep inside,
It will fill you with emotion if you let it be your guide, So
Turn around, Turn around It's on the other side . . . "
- On the Otherside/Kansas

To be continued . . .

Opus Insert
(Or Angry Rant number 1).
"All this machinery making modern music, Can still be open hearted,
Not so coldly charted It's really just a question of your honesty, yeah,
Your honesty.
One likes to believe in the freedom of music, But glittering prizes and
endless compromises, Shatter the illusion of integrity. . ."
-The Spirit of Radio/Rush

Well I've been thinking alot about this because of a recent work related experience
and re-reading the above excerpt of Mr. Livgren and the lack of "Art" in music.
I have, back in the day, had gotten on my soap box on's chat board
(and particular Forums), when people were complaining about a Genre of Prog, if
it was Prog, why is it on here, why is the sky blue, ls there a Santa Clause? etc.
It just seemed like the definition of what Prog was so clear to me, but it seems the
genre needed genres.
I would then try to stop the feuding and bloodshed by bringing up:
"Well, at-least its not Top 40 muzak" or "You know in the whole vast configuration
of things, our music doesn't matter to the rest of the world or the music Industry,
so its better to listen to a BAD Prog song amongst the fine Prog that is coming on
the queue anyways!"

. . . crickets.

Well all this was hit to home again. I had recently gotten a job at a Warehouse
for Avon "where ambitions go to die", this job wasn't fit for Robots, we were
basically Cannon Fodder, lifting heavy objects and racing to station to station
filling shelves break to break non-stop from 8 to 13 hours a day.

What could make it worse for a Music worshiper like me . . .
Believe me, I would rather not advertise this waste of Air, but if you just "look"
at the page, you'll get the idea. This garbage was force fed to us every fucking
day. Even people who were into Pop and R&B hated the station because they
would play the same 7 stupid songs OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER
AND OVER AND OVER . . . I actually still have songs like "I kissed a girl";
"american boy" "shake it" Shake shake shake me Shake shake shake me
Shake shake shake me! and other songs that I don't want to know the title
INVADE my head at any given moment!
Now hearing this music throughout a possible 13 hour shift, in pain and wishing
I was somewhere else and enjoying the mellow sounds of Meshuggah whilst
firing off a few rounds of a Mini-Gun, you get to listen carefully, break-down the
"music" to indeed acknowledge if it has any skill or merit of being called music.
And what a surprise . . . NOOOOOO!!!!!!
I had made a sign and posted it up at an event that I was a part of and was
being covered on a particular day by a KIIS Fm crew, the sign was mocking
their musical jingle:
"Support UNCHALLENGING music . . . KIIS FM!"

Pop music of today is like Commercials for Cellphones for people who have them
fused to their ears already (you know, with or without the "blue tooth" and having
loud conversations about nothing, LOOK AT ME I AM IMPORTANT I HAVE A CELL
PHONE), buy the cars they are told to buy, go clubbing and drink crappy beers to
laugh and vomit and dance the night away, BUY BUY CONSUME CONSUME.
(. . . Pink Floyd and "Sheep" come to mind).
There was a time that even "One hit wonders" had musicality about it, there was
some skill, they played instruments and didn't base their rhythms from another
song that was sampled, and then add some annoying FX sample and have it in the
song over and over to create a beat or somekind of "cool" factor.
And great! The chorus is pretty much the entire song, repeated over and over and
over and over and over . . . and they are not limited to R&B; Rock and Country have
suffered, "simple is more" and are plagued by the "repeat the title of the song over
and over so you can remember the song and make me some more money".

"Observe and reapeat, observe and repeat, maintain the standard"
-Control and Resistance/Watchtower

I mean come on, its all about some kind of beat that they can "react" to, what other
relevance could the lyrics or the musicianship possibly mean to anyone?
So you want to party, great, but isn't there more to life? A REAL life?
There are very few exceptions, but its all bottled up like a commercial, to be in the
"backround of your everyday" . . . instead of leaves in the wind, birds chirping, all
that will obsolete the way mass consumerism has been growing, as people wear
Headphones most of their lives to shut out the outside world.

I swear, if you took a 5 minute song by Spocks Beard or even Porcupine Tree, I bet
people would wake up and ask, "what is this?" Yes, maybe even look into them.
Maybe gain "5" more fans . . . I can dream.

You really become appreciative of the Progressive and the more adventurous Metal
Bands that work on an entire Album with all the craft, imagination and skill it takes to
make this type of music.
Metal and Progressive Music, will have longevity, as much as a Classical piece, a
Jazz performer that created something never attempted. You can move onto a new
band or album, but you can always open up a CD case or LP sleeve, put it on and
be transported to where you were or just enjoy the ride all over again.
A meat-grinder of the mediocre, Pop Radio is just another flavour of the month,
easily replaced by the same ol' flavour you tasted before . . . simply replaceable.

. . . Like an employee at Avon!
(I never tasted crap, but it probably tastes like modern pop).

"I'm sick of eating shit, can I try another flavour!"
-Art Nazi/Skyclad

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prog for the Existentialist

I've been listening to a lot of Pain of Salvation and Ayreon lately, and thinking a lot about what those band's albums, particularly BE, Into The Electric Castle, and 010101110101101001010111, all mean. The common thread in all of those, of course, is the nature of a god or gods, and the purpose of humanity. Now, I'm not intending to turn this into some kind of theological debate, but lyrically, this is a very proggy topic, and it's related to many of the themes I touch on in my own work. I am fascinated by it, and have written what might turn out to be a concept double album regarding the subject, to tell the truth. And nothing gets more proggy than a concept double album, now does it?

My little brother and I were debating about the fabric of reality earlier tonight. He presented a worthy argument: numbers do not exist because they are not real. They are only symbols on paper, you cannot "show" someone what a 3 is, other than using an outside example. I refuted him with the obvious:

3 exists. The symbol itself is just a representation of a concept. That's what variables in algebra and calculus are. Especially in calculus. It doesn't matter what number it is, it can be x. It can be k. It can be n. It can be Ä, or µ, or a picture of a Mudkip or a guitar solo. It doesn't matter, if I assign the symbol to the concept it is valid. That's why a lot of equations start out as "Let x = 2" or something, because it doesn't matter what the symbol is.

... that's a representation of 3 dots.
qqq that's a representation of 3 q's.

If you take one away from them and separate it, it'll become .. .
Or it'll become q qq

o even if you have something that represents 3, and take something that represents 1 away (3-1), you end up with something that represents 2.

I mean, if you want to get really technical about it, language does not exist. All of the words we have are simply representations of concepts within our universe. Can you show me what a book is? A book is a collection of dirty pieces of paper with words on them. A word is a combination of abstract symbols we assign meaning to. What if the letters B-O-O-K meant what we call a guitar? What if the letters G-U-I-T-A-R meant what we call football? What if the letters F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L meant what we call progressive rock music?

All of our numbers and language exist only in our heads, a construction of what our culture has come up with and created so that it can fully express the things important to them. That's why it's said that the Eskimos have so many words for snow, because it obviously surrounds them and is a big part in their lives. There are over 100 words for Jesus in English because of the importance we as a culture place on him.

3 is the symbol we made to represent the concept of there being one and another and another. It is not a thing, but it exists. This same argument could be used to illustrate progressive rock. There has been a long-standing debate over the years as to what constitutes "prog", whether it is used in a literal sense: progressing and pushing the boundaries of music, or by following the genre, being the same as the original "prog bands". Both camps have a valid argument and are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but to be looked at objectively, does "prog" exist at all? Some genres are bordering on extreme nitpicking: for example something like Extreme Death Prog Folk Jazz Metal for Opeth's latest album, while it would be accurate, provides no insight into the actual sound itself. It is perhaps a curse of the word "progressive" in that the genre is so diverse, because it's really hard to explain to people that I like some of the most brutal, technical metal and at the same time, ethereal post-modern wisps of songs, and they are both part of the same genre.

Let me go off on a tangent here: there is objective reality, and then perception. Only something encompassing ALL PERCEPTIONS in the universe can be considered objective. Thus, the only thing that can be truly objective would have to be God or some other similar, omniscient being. The existence of multiple, autonomous beings proves this. There are multiple perceptions of reality, and thus there IS reality. If we were all part of one single meta-organism, the only reality that would ever exist would be the one we all perceived. But because people are different and have different experiences, different opinions, different beliefs, objective reality exists because events actually happen. For all we know, everything that "happens" to us could be an illusion fed to us by our brains, but because people with such diverse origins all experience them, it can be deduced that reality exists.

If my brother did not exist, my life would be changed significantly, but I'd be normal. If I never existed, my parent's lives would be WAYYY different, but they'd be fine. If my house or school or church or city didn't exist, things would be different. The universe would be able to function just fine if humans never existed, or if Earth never existed. But what if there was no universe? That means that there would be NOTHING. Ever. There would be no reality, nothing would exist or ever exist. There would be no universe, there would be quite literally NOTHING at all. Can you even wrap your mind around that? There would be no plane for any reality to exist on. THAT is objective reality.

In objective reality, 3 exists. It is there in groupings of things. A number is simply a representation of a grouping, so yes, 3 does exist. The symbol does not physically exist, but then again, letters do not physically exist.

One of the questions I tend to ponder in my own mind is what music would sound like on a planet that creates planets. When I ask this to people, most take it at face value, but like the Forevers in the Ayreon saga, or the title character in BE, it can pose some interesting questions about our perception of what, exactly, is.

What if there was a culture where literally everyone was a God? Not necessarily a religious figure, but a world where everybody could create and control things on a whim, everybody had immense power? What would their culture be like, a people who do not worship anything because they are the ones that are worshiped? I ask about the music because I'm a musician, but that's the bigger question. How do you think the culture of Gods would be? Are we in their image, are they in our image? Is God, like I said earlier, our universe itself, the objective reality? Would this race of Gods be simply massively powerful, but normal to each other, or would they be all-powerful and able to control even each other? Would we be able to tell? Is there only one God? Are there actually different Gods, or are polytheistic religions perceiving the various qualities as various identities? Why is God here, why are we here? They're tough questions, and I'm not expecting anyone to answer me. Let me reinstate that I do NOT want this to turn into a religious debate. I am not talking about the Christian god or any specific god, but just the concept of deities in the first place, and this concept's effect on human belief and behavior.

We can never know, because we can never know objective reality. For all we know, humans are simply experiments by these "gods" to find themselves. As well, for all we know we could be the smartest, most advanced race in the universe. The only things we can compare to are each other. And because of this, the efforts of our creativity, the things we devote ourselves to as musicians and artists and people, can only be real and can only be "true", so to speak, by creating the music we truly want to create; being what we want to be; doing what we want to do. As Sean said in his previous post, you can only go so far with 3 chords and a desire to "rock out". In my opinion, there should never be any self-imposed limits on any band: one shouldn't have to stick into a preconceived notion of "rock" or "metal" or "prog", but on the other hand, we can't expect our favorite artists to change and experiment just because we want them to keep progressing. That, in my opinion, is true prog: not necessarily progressing music, but progressing ourselves. I have grown a lot since I first stumbled upon Progulus at the tender age of 14, and it is my every intent to continue to grow in my appreciation for all music as I grow as a person.

And that is why I love prog. It has given me hundreds of bands that play amazing, unique, and beautiful music. They can, essentially, be considered gods in their field. There is every sound possible, there are no limits: the artists are only limited by themselves. There is no objective, unbiased truth as to what prog is or isn't. It is merely a representation of whatever we want it to be. It exists, but it is not real, and thus, better off as a genre for it.

"The meaning of life is to give life meaning
Go too fast, move too slow
Restore the balance between thinking and feeling
Open up and let it flow"

"I feel every mountain
I hear every tree

I know every ocean

I taste every sea

I see every spring arrive
I see every summer thrive
I see every autumn keep
I see every winter sleep

For I am every forest
I am every tree
I am everything
I am you and me

I am every ocean
I am every sea
I am all the breathing BE."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The process

There are many different avenues I use to complete a song and I thought it might be fun to discuss them. I'd like to hear from Ray and others about their creative process as well. Since I write different styles of music and I don't have a particular workspace I write in but I have a number of different modes. Adding lyric writing to the mix brings up even more variety to the process. Variety may be one of the best attributes to my process. I may not always write what I intend but I can almost always write something. I think it is a good exercise to just keep music flowing even if it isn't what you wanted or even if you toss out what you just wrote. One note on discarding ideas, don't be to quick to toss something out. I have a pile of short clips of music that I haven't used yet. I have complete or nearly complete songs I haven't found a home for. I rarely discard something outright. If an idea makes it to paper or a recorded form I'll use it somewhere eventually.

I have spent a long time honing my skills that I can use to write music. I do sit down as often as I can for regular writing sessions. I have a BA in music and I've played guitar for 20 years. I'd never claim to be the best but I do have a lot of knowledge and skill to call on. I can just jam to a tape recorder and let the music flow but I can also go back later, transcribe what I played, and think "I bet an Augmented 6th chord would sound cool in this part." There is a saying, "If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer you'll treat everything as a nail." I think that is very true of music. There is nothing wrong with a 3-power chord punk song. I might write one myself if I feel like it. But if all I know are power chords I would be very limited. I enjoy learning and growing and applying new skills to my writing. One of my current self education projects is to teach myself more about orchestration. I want to know how to score out songs for concert bands and symphony orchestras. Never stop learning. Lyrics are a bit trickier. I'm not verbally inclined to start with. But when I have written some lyrics I like I do go back and edit, think about the meter and flow of the words, and turn to my thesaurus to be sure that I am saying what I mean in the way I want to say it. In a more mundane sense I write music on paper, into my notation program on my computer, or I record audio. All seem to draw different things out of me and I like to switch up so I don't get into a rut.

That's more the technical side of it. Where to the ideas come from the begin with? Anywhere and everywhere. I'm like a sponge, I am always soaking up information. I read or watch or listen to something and my brain can eventually filter that to my hands on my guitar. I have over 4,000 songs in my iTunes. I think I own over 600 cds. I read a lot of books from Stephen King to Bertrand Russel to Marvel comics. Most of my lyrics are based on something that happened to me or something I heard about. Music is not directly related to what I soak up but I can call on different experiences and different moods to guide to song.

About half the time I start with a stanza or two of lyrics or a riff or two of music. Once I get some music set to the lyrics I can often finish the lyrics and most of the time the music and lyrics will leapfrog each other as I go. I usually have a similar process for instrumental music. I may start with a guitar part, then switch to bass to come up with an accompanying part. As I finish the bass for that section new idea will pop into my head and I'll flow into the next section of bass and go back to guitar after that. It's rare that I stick with one instrument through the end of writing a song. The same leapfrogging happens in Strange Land, only it occurs between people. One of us will bring in a riff or a section or even a skeleton of a whole song and then the others will take that and run with it. The collaboration goes back and forth until we're happy with it. Luckily we don't have huge egos and we're not hurt if something we wrote gets altered or dropped from a song.

My other main process is to have pieces I want to put together but they don't just flow one from the next. I have to write connective tissue to bring all the sections together or play them enough to see if they can just "go" without any intervening music. It can work both ways. Strange Land works this way often. Quite a bit of my solo acoustic music is done this way as well.

No matter how a song is constructed there is a long period of editing and rehearsing. Even though I approach music with an intellectual bent everything still has to feel right. Sometimes parts just don't fit and you have to be willing to let them go. Sometimes songs aren't ready to be finished and you have to wait. As we say in Strange Land, no matter how proggy and 'out there' you get, you still have to "serve the song." Say that either in the voice of a monk or a kung fu master, it works better that way :-)

I have a feeling I'm not the only one that works this way. I'd like to hear from you out there how you work when you write.