Chroma Key is a solo project by Kevin Moore, founding member of progressive metal legends Dream Theater.
All three Chroma Key releases to date have been self-produced recorded in Moore's home studios, the location of which changes album to album. After leaving Dream Theater in 1996, Moore relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where much of the first album, 1998's Dead Air for Radios was written. 2000's You Go Now was written and recorded in Los Angeles, right before another move to Costa Rica, where Moore lived for 3 years. In Costa Rica he began writing and recording ideas for a new Chroma Key album, during the day producing a bi-weekly, activist, musical radio program for Radio for Peace International, a short wave station based in San Jose. Last year Moore released a compilation of the program - a mix of original music and politically volatile spoken word recordings - as a downloadable album on chromakey.com as The Memory Hole 1.
Long distance Memory Hole collaborator (and fellow CalArts graduate) Theron Patterson was teaching film and doing his own radio show in Istanbul when he invited Moore to visit and collaborate on a show last year. Soon after, Moore relocated to Istanbul and the pair began collaborating on new material for the weekly radio show Music Lab. Moore was also commissioned to score Turkey's first horror film, and the resulting soundtrack Ghost Book was released by InsideOut earlier this year (2004).
The experience of scoring a film inspired Moore to take a new approach to composing the next Chroma Key album. "Instead of just developing song ideas out of nowhere and trying to make them all relate somehow," he explains, "I thought I could find an old film that already had a particular mood and texture to it, and then let that film dictate the song's themes and structures, and even the song lengths. I eventually found this gem called 'Age 13' in an online archive of public domain films."
One of the many "social guidance" films produced in the 50's and early 60's for schools and police departments, Age 13 proves the perfect subject for Moore's musical ministrations. It is a strangely surreal moral tale of a boy who loses his mother and is convinced that if he can repair the radio she always listened to, he will somehow be able to bring her back. The film is beautifully distressed, on fuzzy film stock, with all sorts of chemical degradation and staticky imperfections caused by aging and exposure. Like a grade school filmstrip or an unearthed home movie, Age 13 is a mysterious glimpse into another life and another time.
"The subject matter and the look of the film was really suited to the kind of music I usually find myself writing," recalls Moore, "and I knew as soon as I watched the opening scene - which is a burial scene - that I wanted to get under the surface of those images and play against them."
Moore slowed the film down to half speed, stripped away the sound and crafted an alternative audio track, which is Graveyard Mountain Home. The film's original dialogue and score occasionally bubble up through the songs, playing off and against them, and hinting at the unseen film's space and conflicts.
The Chroma Key accompanied version of the film is included as a DVD in the Special Edition of the CD release, and as a Quicktime file on the standard edition CD. Watching the hybrid version of the film, the songs alternately support, upset, and recast the accompanying scenes. Occasionally, character's dialogues are replaced with unlikely sources - for example deep south AM radio samples (in Give Up) and a darkly comical Krishnamurti parody (in Human Love).
By design though, Graveyard Mountain Home is just as sonically compelling when removed from its visual element, a slowly seeping, darkly dramatic, series of epic musical vignettes: Sweet, sun-dappled vibraphone melodies over fuzzy, glitchy throbs; a dreamy, Tortoise-y post rock filtered through the Eastern rhythms of Muslimgauze and layered over a rumbling drone; ambient street sounds and muted minor key melodies obscure distant vocals, ethereal and indistinct; Sparklehorse-like melancholia, with tinny shortwave vocals and arid desert twang; displaced, lost and lonely voices, snatched from the ether, a warm jazzy shuffle, revisiting earlier sonic themes - all a framework for Moore's world weary vocals.
In addition to writing with the film in mind, the album was also written to be played in front of an audience, and Chroma Key expect to stage an European and American tour for the first time this winter.