PLUGGED IN - Details

PLUGGED IN album - Frequently, musicians will simulate acoustic instruments with electronic sounds as a substitute. In this album, I celebrate synthesizers as unique and creative instruments in their own right. The title “Plugged In,” assures you involvement with electronics.  I continue to be fortunate to have a creative group of skilled and open-minded musicians participating, as identified in each respective song below. Musical genres are blended throughout, incorporating jazz, progressive rock, electronica, techno, industrial, house, and even folk styles in various mixtures. Although an eclectic mix, this is what I believe I do best; i.e., create an unrestrained soundscape to express the song. However, as I’ve been told many times by musicians on Soundcloud, jazz influence in rhythm and chord structure permeates throughout my work. Most of the tracks are instrumental on this album, as sonic atmospheres are explored. I have written, performed, engineered, and produced all of the songs, except where noted. CD graphic assistance by Cassie Blair.

CLIMB THE MOUNTAIN (Anna Rader - vocals, Tim Breon - electric guitar, Len Cagle - tenor saxophone, Dave - synthesizer) Style: Progressive Rock.

Inspiration for this song came from the challenges presented to our daughter’s family as they moved from our area to the Rocky Mountains. This is Anna’s last recording before moving. Her vocals are distant with echo and three delayed layers, as well as echo on Len’s tenor saxophone. Pace is maintained with a very full parallel compression on the drums. Representation of determination by the saxophone part, worries expressed by the fluttering synthesizer solo, are all led on the journey by Tim’s progressive guitar solo. A trailing sound of vocals and saxophone end the song, in what one musician commented to me, “I believe the mountain was climbed.”

ODE TO KRAFTWERK (Dave - synthesizers) Style: Techno.

This song honors early innovators, Kraftwerk, who sound as contemporary today as they did in the 1970’s, even followed now by the hip hop scene. Formerly called computer music, it is arguably now classified as “techno” for it’s computer driven sequences and arpeggios. This song leads with a Japanese stringed instrument sound of the Koto modified to be more like a mallet instrument. Supporting tracks have a lot of automation of sounds moving from left to right speakers, filter changes, volume levels, and a host of other computer techniques, creating an overall effect of a conversation between the treble and bass sounds. Thematically, the verses are very punchy sequences followed by melodic verses shadowed with fast keyboard runs. The main sounds remain true to the Kraftwerk past of analog style saw and square wave sounds.

BLUES ETUDE NO. 3 (Len Cagle - tenor saxophone, Dudly Ulysse - beat, Dave - trombone, piano) Style: Jazz Blues.

This etude (or study) series has been very popular on the Internet, following ones on each of my previous two albums. The musical purpose is to explore the mixing of blues with other genres, such as in this case, hip-hop, jazz, and electronica. The verses begin with a hip-hop beat created by Dudly, with the piano taking the melodic lead, supported by an arranged part for the tenor saxophone. Len takes the theme on the first verse and does an improvisation for the second verse. Each chorus has the trombone lead an ensemble with the sax for a nice full brass theme, backed up by a full string section. It’s hard to believe that such a big sound came out of my small music studio. The magic of modern recording techniques!

MY CITY (Dave - synthesizers, vocals) Style: Electronica.

Originally started as an experiment in layered and progressive sequences (sets of repeated notes) and arpeggios (sets of note runs), like many of my learning experiences, it turned into a song. Inspired by the work of an electronic musician I admire from Finland, I explored building melodic themes with computer driven notes.The sweeping note runs were done by rolling my hands across the keys, causing blending from their programmed long sustain. Also, there is a synthesized vocal track, which is called vocoding. The church bells, choir, and busy activity reminded me of a busy city. Mentioning “busy,” this was my most ambitious purely electronic composition to date, the song contains over 50 tracks of various synthesizers. Check out the accompanying video on my Youtube site!

SHATTER THE IMAGE (Jan Heffner - vocals, acoustic guitar, Tim Breon - electronic guitar) Lyrics and song by Jan Heffner. Arranged and produced by Dave Heffner. Style: Folk.

When I heard this song written by Jan, I instantly knew I wanted to do an arrangement because of it’s powerful lyrics and great melody line. Added strings, drums, bass, and electronic enhancements, were really brought to life by Tim’s electric guitar that had near perfect phrasing. Jan’s voice comes through crystal clear with it’s message. This song also has an accompanying video on Youtube.

ODE TO KEITH EMERSON (Dave - piano, synthesizer) Style: Rock Blues.

Emerson, best known as the amazing keyboard player for the 1970’s and 80’s group ELP (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), passed away this year. I read many articles on his music in my Keyboard Magazine, where he was voted best keyboard player by the readers for nearly a decade. His music combined showmanship, incredible skill, and combined the frequent use of piano along with analog synthesizers, notably the Moog. This song highlights a raw piano blues part that wasn’t too hard to compose, but took me a while to play correctly, followed by a very fast Moog-like square wave solo. Whew, that was a tough play!

BLUES ETUDE NO. 4 “Goodbye” (Len Cagle - tenor saxophone, Dave - piano, trombone) Style: Jazz Blues.

Inspiration happened again for a second Blues Etude on this album. This song was written at the time my daughter’s family moved away. A brief electronic style beginning turns into a plain piano part and minor saxophone duet, expressing the sadness associated with loved ones saying goodbye. The flow of the strings is broken by the shock of the drums. Len’s jazzy improvisation picks up the pace, and a more cheerful mood prevails with the Latin beat in the chorus and refrain, as if to say, “Until we meet again.

THAT HURT (Tim Breon - electric guitar, Dave - synthesizer) Style: Industrial Rock.

I really enjoyed the guitar/synthesizer duet that Tim and I did on the previous album, which motivated me to write a second one in classic heavy metal style. Believe it or not, the song is constructed in traditional verse/chorus structure, which takes some careful listening to detect. The initial heavy guitar is using a power stroke and chugging technique with some heavy processing. This is interspersed with a new additive synthesizer I programmed with stacked square waves that were detuned to create a very powerful and expressive sound, both wailing in the treble and heavy resonance in the bass ranges. There are two separate drum tracks playing many times, simultaneously with a core hip-hop beat that are entertaining to listen to by themselves. Tim skillfully plays in synchronization with his own delayed feedback during his solo, as well as doing some amazing “shredding” at the end of each chorus. Enjoy!

SOUND WAVES (Dave - synthesizers) Style: House.

“House” style, which is very popular in Europe, can sometimes become too repetitive, if one does not introduce a sufficient variety of sounds into a composition. That said, one should relax and enjoy the repeating nature of the music, which is why I named it “Sound Waves.” Do not attempt to identify the sounds, since they are audio engineered programs on about 20 tracks of synthesizers, purposely not meant to represent anything in the real world, but to be enjoyed for what they are: sound waves. As a composer, I enjoyed the occasion of working with an open audio palette without the constraints of lyrics or instruments.

LIFE (Margaret Abbott - violin, Len Cagle - tenor saxophone, Dave - piano) Style: Jazz and Electronica.

In the spirit of impressionist music, I composed this song to be representative of the progressive stages of life. See if you can find them. Starting with the recording of an actual heartbeat, it sets the tempo for the rest of the song. Margaret introduces her violin with a simple tone series and rhythm that becomes more syncopated, followed by a much more aggressive jazz rhythm with Lens’ saxophone. My piano style, I believe, can be described as postmodern jazz with polyrhythms. Probably the most complex I have played to date, but a favorite of mine. This rhythm “struggles” to continue, but gives way to the pervasive basic rhythm of the song, ending in the simpler violin sound.

REMEMBER (To Anna) (Jan Heffner - acoustic guitar, Dave - harmonica, vocals, piano) Style: Folk Rock.

With my daughter Anna having moved away, I found myself frequently thinking back to pleasant memories. Part one of this song recalls meaningful times during her childhood and part two recalls her young adulthood, remembering what was and was not important. The verses are introduced with a simple harmonica at a slower tempo, followed by a faster chorus. Orchestration was kept simpler on purpose, comprised mainly of Jan on the guitar and me on the piano, since they were primary musical influences while raising our daughter, who became a remarkable singer and person.

LO-FI MEMORIES (Dave - synthesizers) Style: Techno.

The title is a play on words between a popular musical style today using older low fidelity sounds and how our memories become less clear over time. What better way to end an album called “Plugged In” than with a song in the computer driven “techno” style? I held nothing back in utilizing many technology tricks: swells, rises, sweeps, multi-effects, parallel processed tracks, sub-bass, side chains, and of course, low fidelity sounds. Turn up the volume and enjoy this auditory stew!