Archive for April 25th, 2012

April 25, 2012

FLYING WITHOUT A NET

While many people know me best as the composer for “MechWarrior 4,” “Rise of Nations,” “Rise of Legends” and “Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution,” creating music for epic video games has been just one of the paths I’ve explored throughout my career. One of my most unusual or daring projects was releasing a “computer rock” EP called “Hard Disk Drive” in the early 1980s.

Having toured extensively with a number of rock bands, I had reached a point where I wanted more stability and less drama in my life — and the ability to write and play music my own way. After many years of exploring and utilizing electronic synthesis, I felt it was time to really push the limits. Using a digital drum machine, three polyphonic synthesizers and various mixing facilities, I came up with a solo act that sounded like a four-piece band. It was the heyday of The Cars, Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby, so the style of the music I composed at that time fit right in with what was in vogue. But it was the method of delivery that baffled people.

In a Chicago Tribune feature story, entertainment writer Tom Popson commented, “Decker has achieved an absolute control over his musical material that would be impossible for anyone playing in a larger band.” Yet Popson added, “Club owners, accustomed to dealing with bands that consist of three or more players, often have viewed him with the same receptivity they would accord a landing party of saucer people.” I can laugh at that quote now, but yes, it was somewhat true.

Though the initial response was lukewarm, I played clubs around Chicago and the Midwest college circuit for more than two years, frequently billed as “Duane Decker, Computer Rocker.” I also got offers to join several established bands which were looking for a new keyboard player, but I had already been there and done that. Frankly, I was happier trying something new and a little wacky.

My equipment consisted of the latest technology at the time. I used two Oberheim OB-Xas, DMX drum machine, DSX sequencer, a Moog Taurus II, various effects, and sound reinforcement. The system was one of the first designed to stay in sync between each piece of gear. I programmed the drums and two or three instruments in the machines and played one or two live, as well as sang.

Computer RAM was very expensive at the time, so the instruments could only hold three to five songs in memory. Loading more songs entailed hooking everything up to a special data cassette machine and spending four or more minutes loading the next set of songs. In order to keep the show rolling, I played prerecorded music during these load times. Although I did explain what was going on to the audience, that process certainly went over the heads of many and contributed to the confusion of what was actually happening.

The musical part of this act was a dream come true. I could create and perform music that was totally my own. And I didn’t have to worry about the state of mind of my band mates, the egos, if they were going to show up for the gig, or a myriad of other things that are common in bands.

But there was certainly a tradeoff. When you perform as a band, you are only one part of the total sound. If you have a bad night or equipment fails, the sound engineer will simply bring you down in the mix. When you’re solo, it’s only you up there and you never know what will happen. It is similar to a trapeze artist, flying without a net. Your pants could split open at the seams one minute before the curtain goes up, your equipment decides to tell you “error in data” and refuse to load the next set, or the crowd is really there to see the headlining act and actually wants you off the stage. (All of which happened… LOL)

But I wouldn’t have changed a thing. This gig led to becoming a Product Specialist for Kurzweil and E-mu and way beyond.

In the big picture, go where your heart tells you. You will never be wrong.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Soundz magazine.

Web: http://www.duanedecker.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Duane-Decker-Music/111562938973298

YouTube:  “Take Me L.A.” from the Duane Decker “Hard Disk Drive” EP  http://youtu.be/mu6yaLgRZSc

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