Making Roger Powell's Virtual Poetry - Part 1

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It might happen once or twice in a career. You get lucky. The stars align. Your hard work pays off and something extraordinary results from the efforts of the artist, producer and musicians involved in a project. The resulting recording transcends the sum of its parts. It is not something one can easily express but it’s undeniable when it occurs. In reflection it is obvious how inimitable or incomparable the music has become. 

 

The process of recording itself is simple. It is easily quantifiable, repeatable. What is not so simple is getting lucky. Luck is not science. It happens when it wants to, not when you want it to. All the preparation in the world can, at best, prepare you for the opportunity to act quickly if and when magic does occur. In other words, if we (as recordists) could make special recordings happen all the time, then we’d all be magicians not mere mortals.

 The process of recording itself is simple. It is easily quantifiable, repeatable. What is not so simple is getting lucky. Luck is not science. It happens when it wants to, not when you want it to. All the preparation in the world can, at best, prepare you for the opportunity to act quickly if and when magic does occur. In other words, if we (as recordists) could make special recordings happen all the time, then we’d all be magicians not mere mortals.

The project I’m about to describe is one such magical album I had the great fortune to been involved with. In this series I’ll discuss how I met the artist Roger Powell, how we finally came to work on Roger’s project along with the joys, trials and tribulations of the process. I’ll cover the creative aspects along with some of the concrete steps taken to record, mix and master Roger Powell’s third solo release Fossil Poets.

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

October 24th, 2006 - Official release of Roger Powell’s Fossil Poets on Inner Knot Records.

 Quoting from the record label’s press release “Legendary synth wiz Roger Powell returns with an all-new, groove oriented, retro-futuristic solo flight entitled Fossil Poets on Inner Knot Records. Inner Knot’s roster includes artists King Crimson, Robert Fripp, John Paul Jones, Bill Bruford, David Sylvian and famed producer Mitchell Froom.”

 A Pre-Historic Perspective

In the 70’s and 80’s Roger’s groundbreaking electronic synthesizer albums Cosmic Furnace (Atlantic) and Air Pocket (Bearsville) were hailed as masterworks of the genre. Powell went on to create otherworldly synth textures for Todd Rundgren and the band Utopia. “Even among the keyboard titans of the prog-rock Seventies, Roger Powell always stood out.” (Future Music U.S. Ed.- June ’06)

 In the early 70's Powell introduced Joe Zawinul (Weather Report) and other artists to the newly-developed ARP 2600 analog synthesizer. Roger also assisted in the recording of the Weather Report album I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia). During the mid-70's Roger created the Powell Probe: the first remote, hand-held polyphonic synthesizer controller that was used to access a stack of Oberheim Expander modules offstage. He was also the protegé of Dr. Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer, and toured/recorded with David Bowie in 1978 on the Stage tour.

 A self-taught software programmer, Powell also authored one of the first PC MIDI sequencers, Texture. Originally developed for the Apple II, Texture allowed the user to manipulate patterns of notes, control synthesizers and store songs on disk. Much of Powell's music software work pre-dated MIDI. Powell's talents eventually led him to engineering positions with WaveFrame (an "audio mainframe" synthesizer used by Peter Gabriel), Silicon Graphics and Apple Computer as a senior programmer and technical lead for audio within Apple Professional Applications.

Happenstance

I met Roger Powell in the early 70's when he was a clinician for ARP Synthesizer Company. He was doing a road show presenting demos for the brand new ARP 2600 Programmable Synth. (The ARP 2600 later became famous for being used on Edgar Winter's huge pop hit Frankenstein and the Who’s Who Are You)

Roger joined Todd Rundgren's band Utopia soon after we first met. I reconnected with him in the mid 80's when I was a contributing writer for CMC, a magazine for Computer Musicians. Roger had, at that time, released Texture, one of the very first sequencer programs for the IBM-PC. I interviewed him and wrote a software review for the publication.

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