I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. Dusty, hot, and dirty, the city didn't exactly serve as the ideal backdrop for an electronic musician. In my house you would usually hear opera and the occasional Elvis tune. Fortunately for me my parents enjoyed frequenting the public library which had a modest collection of vinyl. I found myself inexplicably drawn to the 'experimental' music section. Even though I wasn't sure how the chirps and drones wafting from the speakers were created, there was something vital and exciting about what I was hearing.
I first heard Gary Numan's Cars at my cousin's house. He had purchase the 45 single the week before and was proudly playing it to anyone who would listen. I still recall hearing the opening synth tone with it's rapidly oscillating filter and I was hooked. Then when the string pads kicked in, soaked in reverb something transcendental occurred at that moment and I would never be the same.
The equivalent of the nuclear bomb dropped in 1980 when PBS started broadcasting Carl Segan's Cosmos. With the opening wispy notes of Vangelis' Heaven and Hell pt 2, I knew that I had discovered something incredibly special. For 13 weeks I watched and listened totally entranced as I was introduced to music by the likes of Tomita, Synergy, and of course Vangelis. Within a couple of years two more soundtracks would come out that would make indelible impressions: Tron and Bladerunner. If I were marooned on a desert island and could only have one CD with me it is quite possible that I would pick the Bladerunner soundtrack. I think it is one of the greatest pieces of electronica of all time.
The mid-late 80's of course provided a lot of synth music, but there was something that was decidedly different about the digital keys and gated drums that lacked the majesty and depth of the analog-driven tunes of the previous years. There were a few good finds along the way but I found myself become largely disinterested and my love affair with the synthesizer would take a hiatus of several years.
In middle and early high school I focused my efforts on playing guitar and was focusing most of my attention and energy on heavy metal and punk. I enjoyed the intensity and energy, and there were a lot of metal tracks that fed my hunger for epic and dramatic tunes. I played in a few bands and recorded a few demos and generally had a blast.
The next seismic shift occurred in 1988. A friend of mine brought a tape to school of a band his brother had turned him on to. This band was Nitzer Ebb and the album was Belief. When I heard this my brain was proverbially blown to pieces. Not only was the entire music score of the album synthesized, the music was deep, pulsating, and downright aggressive. This would be the start of a long obsession with the great industrial acts of the late 80s and early 90s. I was obsessed with likes of Ministry, KMFDM, Front 242, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Skinny Puppy, and Die Warzau. My particular favorite was Front Line Assembly. Their sequencing prowess and dark soundscapes hit a striking note with me and they are still among my favorite bands of all time.
In 1990 I bought my first keyboard. It was a Casio-type with the presets. It had some decent capabilities and it allowed me to start playing with some ideas. That same year I heard 'Helter Skelter/Radio Babylon' by Meat Beat Manifesto and I knew immediately that I was hearing something amazingly fresh; the true future of music. During this time I was still frequently playing with my punk/funk band in high school, scraping around for gigs where we could find them, but as soon as I was home, there was always some Front Line or Meat Beat on the stereo. In short time a new style of music started emerging- beat heavy, repetitive, and lyric free. I recall purchasing a CD called 'This is New Beat'. Most tracks were somewhat forgettable but there was one that really stood out- I Sit on Acid by the Lords of Acid.
1991 brought about my graduation from high school, accompanied by the gift of my first professional keyboard- an Ensoniq EPS 16+. With 16 tracks, 16-bit sampling, a built-in sequencer and multi-effects, this was the first opportunity I had to actually attempt to transcribe what I had been imagining into reality. I pretty much became a recluse for months as I learned the ins and outs of basic sequencing, sampling and looping. Bear in mind there was no real UI to speak of, no pitch shifting capabilities, and no sample stretching of any sort- and a 4mb memory limit (!). In any event, this keyboard became the foundation of many music projects for the next several years.
In late 1991 another seismic shift occurred. I had started buying a number of techno compilations. Once again, most of the tracks were easily discarded but there was one that I found utterly entrancing: Papua New Guinea by The Future Sound of London. Other new significant discoveries were made with the Orb, 808 State, and Bjork.
In January of 1993 I moved to Austin. The difference in scene could not have been more stark. 1993 was a great time- the rave scene in Austin was extremely vibrant and active. On any given weekend there was usually at least two parties to choose from, most of which were held in a number of abandoned warehouses around the (none of which still exist as far as I am aware). There were also an assortment of dedicated clubs were one could hear the latest and greatest and generally party into the next morning (Proteus, Ohms, Hollywood, Club 404/Area 51, Acropolis to name a few). I was part of a dedicated scene of space cadets. With colorful stocking caps on our heads and rave whistles around our necks, we proceeded to push ourselves to the limits with all-night dancing marathons.
In 1993 I also discovered trance music. Instead of the hands-up hooks that I had heard in almost all dance music prior, the previous majesty within the music I had been missing had now returned. There were 3 major camps in trance at this point in time whose music were readily available- the West Coast scene (Rabbit and the Moon, Young American Primitive, God Within, etc), the German Scene (Cosmic Baby, Jam and Spoon, Sven Vath, etc) and the UK scene (Orbital (who at that point was considered trance), Union Jack, Art of Trance, etc).
1993-1996 were incredible years where dance music was accelerating at a dizzying pace that made it almost impossible to keep up with. Fortunately for me, I had many friends that were DJs so I was at least able to keep abreast of the movement and it also gave me the opportunity to spin records as well. I recorded many tracks and made a few attempts at pushing some tracks to a few labels. I did a few collaborations with another local artist called Bill Bless (aka Son of the Electric Ghost - http://www.blessrecords.com). Several albums worth of material were recorded with a huge assortment of gear that was constantly being sold, traded, pawned, borrowed. A few of the pieces of gear that I can recall are (in no particular order or significance) : Roland- Juno 60, Juno 106, TB-303, TR-707, D-50, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, Yamaha DX-7, ARP-2600, Kurzweill K2000 to name a few.
In 1996 I picked up my first x86 PC (486SX 33Mhz w/4 mb ram) and started using a new sequencing program called Cakewalk which at the time was on version 1. The ability to use piano roll and notation as opposed to single-line LCD readouts was a significant improvement that aided with the genesis of ever-increasing complex compositions.
Over the next several years, as work became more and more extensive (the dot come era in Austin was a time of long hours in the hope of the ever elusive IPO cash-in) my creativity suffered. There was a long dry spell for many years in which almost all my few remaining pieces of gear got sold off. The dance music scene in Austin was also for all intents and purposes dead. The rave scene had devolved into a series of infrequent sponsored parties that were overly-expensive and generally sub par. Only a few minor dance spots still existed and those were only shadows of what had once been available.
The late 90s and early 2000's gave birth to the great trance revival which has resulted in a sound that is still pretty much consistent with today's definition of the trance music. There was a flood of great stuff coming out from the likes of Tiesto, Solarstone, System F, Armin Van Buuren, and Art of Trance (to name just a very few). I still recall hearing the Gouyrella single for the first time on the Gatecrasher Red compilation (still one of my favorites till this day) and getting a tingle up my spine as the main melody started forming and building after the first breakdown.
So after what was effectively a ten year hiatus I am now back to producing serious music again thanks to the advent of powerful and relatively cheap computers. I knew the first time I saw Rebirth that something new and interesting was beginning. That was confirmed with the coming of Reason. VSTs have come a very long way in a few short years. The sonic ability of today is vast and it comes at a fraction of the cost of 10 years ago. The tools are powerful and flexible. The foundation of upon which I build currently is Ableton Live Suite 8. Compared to Cakewalk 1... well really you can't compare. It's a whole new species really. So those of you out there who have only used tools such as Fruity Loops and Reason, be grateful for the technology and the ease of use and power you are afforded for such a low cost... and while you're at it get off my lawn!
It's a great time to be doing electronica again. I feel like I have returned home. As Todd Rundgren put it so well in 1975, I was born to synthesize.