Ok, sad confession: I used to listen to Jean Michel Jarre. A lot.

It’s not sexy, I know, its like listening to old C64 songs (although, I often hear stuff on the TV/radio that sounds like it was ripped from an old SID track :)

What I liked was the many, many layers he uses, and learning to visualize the music and picking out and following a particular instrument or sound. I play by ear and – needless to say – a lot of the tunes I learned to play were Jarre tunes. Part of the appeal was that, obviously, the music depends on sequencers, and I had an 8-track studio to play with, two Atari STs with bonafide top-end Steinbergs, a day-1 Korg M1, a Clavinova, old-style electric piano (accoustic with pickups), steel guitars, a baby grand my dad bought from Skegness council for £10 repaired and miked up, as well as several guitars and basses.

And all kinds of electronics – studio quality piezoelectric microphones/pickups, all kinds of effects pedals and generators, amps, speakers, etc.

My favorite passtime, when not coding, was laying down tracks on one instrument and then working out accompaniments with another. Hey – I really wasn’t very good for it, and I sometimes wakeup at night and think “OMG, the poor neighbors, thank god Dad had been forced to have violin lessons at school” or “the neighbors must have been so greatful I couldn’t figure out how to play the steel guitar without cutting myself”.

My difficulty as a keyboard player is that I’m slightly ambidexterous. Not fully – I can do the thing where you clasp your hands together and rotate your thumbs in opposite directions – but I have to concentrate on both hands.

There’s a particular part of Tubular bells that has a very fast bass/guitar-riff that repeats for a long while, and then the original version has a voice announcing the additional instruments that come in and play the melody.

I learned to play the riff on a bass (about all I can play on a bass) and then I learned to play it on a keyboard – which particularly impresses me now because the key was presumably chosen for playability on a bass/guitar, if I’d taken the time to transpose it it’s actually quite easy to play in Dm. I was taking my one and only grade of piano lessons (Grade 4) and showed this to Barry Whitfield, my teacher. Without too much difficulty he was able to repeat the feat. But then I played the riff AND the melody and he said “you’re not supposed to play both”. To be fair – I couldn’t play it consistently and when I recorded it to a sequencer neither the riff or the melody were exactly the same as when I played them seperately but it sounded damn close :)

The one thing I could do was play a close approximation of Oxygene Pt 4, melody and baseline.

I’ve been trying to replicate that feat since I bought my Triton; it’s an excellent workout, the timing and direction of each hand is quite different and changes from bar to bar. I couldn’t quite play all the nuances of the actual bass-riff, but my version was more elaborate than any other player I knew that tried it :)

So quite a major milestone for me tonight when I managed to find the old “zen” like state of mind where I split the process of listening, preparing and playing into three separate actions, each taking care of themself, and I manage to play a complex little action like that by not focusing on anything. That’s what I bought the keyboard for.

Woot! And I just remembered I Shot the Sheriff, Lay Down Sally (which doesn’t actually have a keyboard component) and worked out Badge too, lol. (No points for guessing what folder I had open in my MP3 collection)

It’s an amazing sensation, if I weren’t occupied while doing it I imagine I’d actually see the brain at work. Perhaps because the auditory part of the brain has precedence over the visual cortex its a notch above that ‘lucid moment’ sensation a programmer can have where you can suddenly “see” the system/code and all you have to do is transcribe/implement it. Probably precisely for that reason because when you are coding the reward comes from the conclusion, whereas when you are playing the reward is in the moment in maintaining the flow of “good” sounds.



Your not the only one who hears old 8-bit & 16-bit demo music in TV adds and in many modern songs!

Actually, it’s probably been composed on an actual SID chip – a few years ago Elektron in Sweden started producing a hardware synth consisting of a SID chip and their own OS. Someone else also released a PCI card sporting 2 of the buggers.

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