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Discovering New Worlds

img  Tobias

True improvisation has become scarce in electronic music. To Jordan Rudess and Richard Lainhart, it is the most natural thing in the world. Asked about their first musical encounter, Lainhart remembers: „Jordan came over to my studio that cold afternoon and simply started playing while I was still setting up my instruments and the DAT, so that by the time the DAT started rolling the first piece had already begun. Without discussion I just joined in, and it worked out so well that it’s become the pattern for all our improvisational work together since.“ He still owns that DAT, the debut sign of a long and enduring friendship and collaboration under the “Space Jam” banner which has reached its seventh anniversary this year.

The Benefits of Perfect Pitch

The real reason for my conversation with both him and Rudess is not this askew anniversary, however, but the release of “A Fistful of Patchcords”, their first DVD (out on Airglow Music). In one and a half hours of music, these two sound wizzards take their positions behind a fortress of keyboards, synthesizers, virtual and real analog equipment, modular machines and motion pads in order to explore the space between noise-filled vacuums, harsh contrasts, harmonic ensemble play, arhythmical stasis and energetic sequencer runs. While Lainhart moves gently from one of his machines to the next, carefully turning a few knobs and only ocassionaly caressing the keys of a miniature keyboard to contribute a string of feathery and warm chords, Rudess leaps from the left to the right and from the front to the back, playing at least two of his instruments at the same time, sometimes wildly shaking his hands over his Roland V-Synth (which he will later call a “Magic instrument”) and spontaneously creating patterns some will find hard to compute on their PC. There is no eye contact, and yet the interaction between them is very real and direct. Lainhart knows he can play in about any key and Rudess will follow thanks to his perfect pitch. The first part is marked by wild and drastic duels and many sudden mood swings, yet in the second movement, the tone is more subtle, floating and mellow. From somewhere far away, we are treated to the flowing patterns typical of mid-70s Tangerine Dream albums as the duo moves together in front of a wall of patchcords.and the piece lifts off the ground in a weightless trance.

The Benefits of Being Neghbours

Who would have thought that this organic partnership could have been started by total coincidence? “We met when my wife and I left New York City and bought the house directly next door to Jordan and his family”, Richard says, “I had heard his name before, but I only knew of him as a sound developer and programmer for synth companies like Korg and Kurzweil – I had no idea he could play at the level he does, or even that he was a performer.” From their neighbourship developed a series of regular sessions, in which the two tried on various ideas and sounds in free-floating exchanges. The term “Space Jam” is actually not originally something the two newly invented to brand their work, but dates back to Rudess’ time as a college student: “When I was younger and just leaving Julliard, I was very much into exploring synthesis, and I was more involved at the age of 18 or 19, in just playing with my MiniMoog, not even playing notes, just playing sounds...”  When their duo act left the confinements of their home studio and received recognition on local radio shows, it seemed a perfect term for their music,– and so the name was reintroduced.

The Benefits of Being Different

The first secret behind their artistically stimulating perfornances and the reason why they refuse to bore even once is the total freedom and no-rules policy solemnly agreed upon. The second is the perfect symbiosis of two very different styles. “When I met Richard, it was just this amazing thing,”, Rudess says, “because we shared this kind of music, but Richard has yet another take on it - he has this wonderful style, this kind of ambient style that's just so flowing, and I can appreciate it so much. So, yeah, I would say that his style has definitely influenced a lot of what I do.” Lainhart adds: “I can’t hope to match Jordan’s virtuosity, but my musical interests trend more towards longer, more slowly evolving events anyway, and that’s where I think we complement each other – I add a more contemplative layer to his virtuosic flights, and he provides a dynamism for my more static contributions.” You can really hear – and even see - this meeting on “Fistful of Patchcords”: The dynamic thrust of Jordan Rudess and the Zen-like calm of Richard Lainhart, their areas of agrrement and the friction surfaces, both of which are equally inspiring. No wonder, then, that both only have complimentary things to say about each other, with Rudess calling Lainhart “the grand guru of all things technical” and the latter replying with the statement that Rudess may well be the only musical genius he has encountered in fourty years in the music business.

Next to the DVD, there are also a couple of CDs available from Jordan’s Download store, mainly as documents from their appearances at WDFH hosted by Treavor Hastings. In fact, the concert documented on “Patchcords” is the first ever in front of a regular live audience. With both artists incredibly busy at the moment, it might well be the last for a while and yet the collaboration is sure to continue regardless. Rudess sums up the mission statement accordingly: “It was always very important to me, to work with synthesizers on that level and make music that was more ethereal and spacey and without the regular note concepts or Western scales.” – and to bring back the magic of improvisation to electronic music, of course.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jordan Rudess
Homepage: Richard Lainhart
Homepage: Airglow Music

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