Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater): Sound Universe
Май 10, 2014
Владимир Импалер (1039 статей)

Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater): Sound Universe

American keyboard player Jordan Rudess is a man of many talents. He plays progmetal in his main band Dream Theater, works on very delicate piano solo albums, composes full-scale symphonic works, creates mobile apps, invents new sounds and even tests completely new instruments!

During the recent Dream Theater tour we got the chance to catch Rudess in Moscow hotel at the day of the gig. It is very hard to believe that Jordan is 57, he has the eys of a young boy, despite the charismatic look comprised of shaven head and long gray beard in Hottabych style (friendly jinn from popular Soviet kids tale, foreign readers wouldn’t get it), he’s welcoming, well-mannered and talkative. But the schedule is tight, the manager is rigid in filtering journalists from just fans, not allowing any photos (besides one selfie on the phone) and finishing conversation exactly when the time slot is out. Fortunately, we had not one but two time slots, so – sorry for this little trick – now you’ve got two nice conversations instead of one. I did combine and mix it for Russian version, but let the original be an original. Enjoy!

Part 1. Whole wild crazy party.
Conversation by Katerina Mezhekova.

Being here, playing here these shows for three hours, what kind of experience is it for you?
It’s been very intense tour, very successful, with the audiences being great, and we feel we got a great show. It’s probably our best show ever! But at the same time it’s very tiring, it’s a lot of travelling and it’s a long show. But from fans perspective, I think, if you’re into Dream Theater, it’s the best that you can get.

Yeah, and even if you’re a huge fan, it’s like a paradise.
Yes, it’s like a big party. Three hours of Dream Theater!

I’ve seen the setlist from the previous gigs and I was really surprised – happily – that there is a half of «Awake» in the setlist. Why?
We try to be conscious about things like anniversaries of release dates of our albums. It’s 20 year anniversary of that one, and «Scenes from a memory» also has anniversary. Our fans are very devoted and they know about all those kinds of things, so we need to put some time into building set-lists, considering all those different situations.

It’s great, because personally I’ve been waiting for a long time to hear these things. This was the album from which Dream Theater started for me.
Oh, that’s cool! Well, I like that album too, of course «Awake» was before my time with Dream Theater, but I kind of very like that one, I find it to be very different and very cool. Kinda heavy and so…

How do you feel playing this material?
I enjoy it. A lot of keyboard parts are very easy, comparing with ones from my time with Dream Theater, we tend to get a little bit more deeply into that type of thing, but keyboard parts are very good. The fact that very often they are very simple is actually fun, because I get to relax, sometimes I just play with one hand, I move around, come a little bit more free. And I also enjoy the music. So for me it’s a chance to relax when I play that music.

Did you have any intention to add some stuff to that?
To add stuff? The only thing I would say about that is that I like to be respectful to the original album because I like the album myself, I go into that with the great deal of respect, I also know that fans want to hear what they know. So I try to achieve in some cases the reproduction of what they heard on the album. But if I can do even that I feel safely to do a little bit better, a little bit cool…

Pushing it…
And I will add something, when I feel, you know, that the sound is really old, and now my synthesizers are much better, and if he [Kevin Moore] would have this, he would have used that. And that’s again with care, because some of the old sounds make people remember…

Feeling nostalgic?
Yeah. I push it a little bit but I do it with care.

Great. And how do you feel, through the years, having all kinds of synthesizers, what is your approach to this? We’ve seen you with a lot of new stuff, changing the future, shaping the future…
Let’s see. I’m very interested and also active in the future of synthesizers, keyboards, music technologies, as you know I have a company called Wisdom Music that makes cutting edge apps for the likes of iOS and other multi-touch devices. In that sense, it’s a big part of my life. I enjoy, when we are in the studio, to be kind of surrounded with a lot of really cool toys. When we are recording, and I’m in the studio, that’s the chance for me to feel the studio like a kind of a playground for myself, with all sonic cool things. I bring some things from my home studio, I borrow some things from companies that are making something cool, I also try to use the latest software. So there is always a wild scene there! (Smiles).
But concerning playing live with Dream Theater, I try to scale it back. And I end up these days using a Korg keyboard which is called Korg Kronos. That’s main piece of equipment – there is other stuff, but that’s the main thing that’s producing most of the sound. So I have to scale somehow all things down to this kind of super powerful keyboard. For me it creates sort of focus. When we you into it and you know: OK, all the music comes out of this instrument. And it’s always a lot of work to prepare everything, kind of pre-production to make that big change.

You are also using iPod touch.
Yes. I actually use my iPad. Over the last couple of albums, I use my apps. I basically made them for myself, but let other people to enjoy them as well. (Smiles). So I have, in addition to my keyboard, I have an arm to comes out of my keyboard and holds my iPad. I run three of my Apps. One is called GEO Synthesizer, which actually I get solo on the last album, on the «Enigma Machine», which is our instrumental track. And on DToE, «Breaking All Illusions», uses a bit of SampleWiz, which is another App, and «On The Backs of Angels» uses MorphWiz. So I have little spots on the show when I can use my Apps.

Coo! That is so fascinating that you are bringing the music creation process to the new level, where with your devices you can create everywhere. Do you think this is a step forward for young musicians to motivate them to create?
Yeah. I think the whole emergence of musical software on portable devices that everybody has is really exciting because it’s kind of enables everyone to take a look of what’s possible. Like if you walking around with your iPhone you can see almost like a future of music technology. When you walk into popular music store you may not see it so easily because you will be surrounded by the commercial keyboards. I would say, in general, there is more creative thinking going into the devices that are in your pocket or on your iPad than anywhere else in the music technology. So it allows the developers to have an outlet to express themselves to make these great apps, and it allows the users to experience the other creative ways of thinking, expressing music.

Do you think that is possible in a couple of years or decades to create music just by thinking?
I think there are already experiments going on like that. So I’d say, for sure. But at what level we are right now, and what level will be at down the road is to be discovered. But yeah, I definitely think so.

In the process of creating an album, your part is when the guitar parts are already done, and you get the material, what do you feel in that moment? When you get the material to create?
Well… rewind.

OK, I said…
No. Because you said that the guitar parts are done when I get the material. It doesn’t quite work that way. Dream Theater we going to the studio and we compose the music together. After the music is written we start to lay it down. First come the drums, then, yes, the guitar, the bass, and then it’s my turn. That’s what you mean.
At that point I already laid down my scratch parts. So I have some clear idea of what I want. But the cool thing about my work is that I can go and I can do a lot of layering. So, since I function like a traditional keyboardist – like piano, or organ, or anything you know as keyboards, I do that. But I’m also like the orchestra, and I’m playing all the different brass and strings and woodwinds and percussion and all kinds of sounds. And also sound you never heard before. At that point I do a lot of orchestrations. I might lay down 6-7-8-9 different tracks, all separate. And it’s like a whole wild crazy party!

Like a stream.
It’s intense, yeah! After that I had to figure out how to do it live. It means several changes in sound, having different sounds all over my keyboard, maybe the low notes triggering the effects, and the thumb of my left hand is playing a French horn, and my pinky is playing like a violin line and that’s one sound and then I switch.

That’s really great! I feel that you have enough creative power not only for Dream Theater but also for a lot of collaborations. Do you feel like doing some more collaborations?
You know, this past cycle for me was very busy. I produced a solo piano album, it’s called «All That Is Now», that’s just was released, and in about a week I’ll release my first orchestral album, which is called «Explorations». It was done with the orchestra in Poland, called «Symphonietta Consonas». I wrote a Concerto kind of piece, that the album is based around. I went to Poland, got to work with this orchestra, and it’s coming out very soon.

Is it a classical piece?
«Exploration» is a combination of classical elements with a little bit of progressive rock. It’s all my styles mixed together. But it’s mostly coming from a classical place. So the album is in some sense a classical album. If you heard the piece, the first movement of «Exploration for Keyboard and Orchestra», it sound very much like a concerto. It’s mostly piano, a bit of Prokofiev, Rakhmaninov influence mixed with the rock stuff. It’s definitely me. It’s been a busy time expressing myself musically, both with Dream Theater and beyond that.

Have you ever thought of making something with Steve Morse?
Well, I used to playing in the band with Steve Morse…

That’s exactly why I’m asking!
So the door is always open. But he is always busy, and there is a lot of things on my list.

Yeah. So, it there is something special that you can call «a sound of Jordan Rudess»? Something that is especially yours?
Is there a special sound? Well, because I don’t have many outside hobbies and music is my life, I got a lot of different kinds of music that I like. But I think if you heard certain things that I do at my keyboards, one will say — oh, what is Jordan like. If you heard me sitting at the piano, when I’m just playing, improvising in my style, it’s very personal, and one could say – oh, that’s the Jordan sound. So, and a good example is my latest album which is very personal – me sitting at my Steinway piano and just expressing myself. On the other side, it’s the way I play my leads, kind of rock, crazy synth leads, it’s another character.

It’s more like universe thing. Your universe.
Yeah, yeah, I think so. It’s a good way to look at it! (Laughs).

Part 2. The body and the mind together.
Conversation by Vladimir Impaler.

So Jordan, you have a lot of different aspects of your creativity. Like playing metal music, doing symphonic stuff, working on computer sounds and applications, there is a lot to ask… I’ll start with what you do with Wisdom Music. How the inspiration works when working with the sounds? Probably, when you hear music in your head, you just play it. When you hear certain sound in your head, how can you achieve it?
How do I do that? First of all, Wisdom Music is like my playground for interesting ideas. And some of the things I do with Wisdom music, like an instrument apps that I use on stage and in the studio, like MorphWiz, SampleWiz, GEO Synthesizer. But I also do other things with Wisdom Music like on my latest piano album “All That Is Now”(2013), I created an interactive app that allows you to experience the album in a whole new way. So one can be listening and with the app you can use gestures on the screen to interact with the music and actually change it. And when you change it to your liking, the you can share it on the Facebook and the Twitter and make people hear what you are doing with it.
So I decided because I’m in App world, beside being touring and recording musician, when I release an album now, it should be a little bit more than just a CD or on iTunes. I want it to be a really interactive experience. So Wisdom Music is a platform to allow that.
My next app with Wisdom Music is gonna be HarmonyWiz, it’s not out yet. What it does it allows you to draw with your finger a shape. It’s like a picture, and then a picture get translated into music. And you can automatically have it harmonized into little arrangements. It’s very cool. So all the user has to do is to draw (shows) with the finger and hit the little button, then to see and hear the piece.

It’s like a modern day Theremin.
Yeah. But it’s drawing the picture and then it translates it into the music. So that’s idea. That’s kind of what’s the Wisdom Music is about.
As far as like sounds and how they coming into my head and out – yes, when I heard a piece of music I can pretty much play it back. If I heard a sound, like a special sound, it’s more of a job of synthesis, which I also like to do: go try the knobs on the synthesizer or turn the knobs on the software, which a lot of synthesizers are these days. It’s very energetically to try to know the software you like to write sound.

You also use a lot of curious new instruments. Like Continuum, Harpejji… I mean, you are a super virtuoso keyboardist, you have all the sounds available in the world, why those instruments interest you?
Well, I´ve always been interested in the new ways to express sound. When I was a Julliard student, playing the piano, as a kid, I discovered the synthesizer and that you could bend the pitch with the wheel or joystick. The whole idea of not having fixed notes like on the piano keyboard intrigued me so much, because when you think about that, a control of pitch like that is so much what makes your personal style. So much a part of so many other instruments people play, like violin or guitar or a trumpet, goes bending, so to offer that for me was like an awakening.
But that’s not where the world really stops, that’s also a future of expressing music. An example is, on the keyboard with traditional synthesizer. When you play three notes on the keyboard and bend a pitch, all the notes will probably bend together. That’s basically the way it works. But I decided it’s not really enough for me. I may want two notes to stay on a pitch when I play and another notes bend the pitch. Maybe changing the timbre, the sound of one note not the others. So I want more control. That’s the reason why I started Wisdom Music – to think of ways to offer more control like on the multi-touch devices. But at the same time as there are always interesting instruments that come out, people have interesting ideas like Continuum, or the C-Board, which is new instrument, which give the user all these new ways to control music, and I’m so interested with that. It’s part of what I dream about – ways to express sound.

Maybe a strange question: as these instruments evolve and computer technologies evolve at the same time, would it be possible someday to create music straight from your head? Wouldn’t it make the whole musician’s experience kind of useless?
Well… I do think that it’s possible. I know that it’s possible to create music just from your thought. However, I didn’t say and I wouldn’t agree that it might be the best way to do it. My feeling about that goes very deep. You know, as a human beings, we have a mental side and we also have a physical side. And the largest connection to what is the spiritual world or the musical world, which is maybe a subset of that, is if we using a whole being to create the music. That’s why I think that the physicality in music is actually something that is really important. It’s not like something that’s absolutely necessary, somebody could not touch anything and make music by blinking their eye. But I think that there is a lot to be said about when you get your physical body involved and your mind and you put them together and that becomes like a really high form of expression. Like for me, playing the keyboard, maybe is something greater than playing the piano or playing the synthesizer first, it is expressing music! But I totally think it’s something to do with the touch, with physicality as well as the mind.

By the way, there is a common misconception among the classical pianists that only the piano can provide the real sound, achieved by touching keys, hammers, strings, while the synth is something artificial.
Yeah, I don’t buy that. First of all, I love the piano, I grew with the piano, I enjoyed playing it and I can express myself on it. However, I think that electronic music has got at the point now that in some ways it has got more connected with the person than anything ever before. So it could be, from my experience, looked at as something that is more organic. Because if you put your fingers down on the Continuum, for instance, it’s gonna recognize every slight movement from the time you touch the key to the time you let go, you press the note, and you press in a little bit, or you move vertically, or horizontally, it’s extremely sensitive to everything the human being does on it. And on the piano, which is also an incredible instrument, there is no denying, but you press the key, the hammer hits the string, and I think it’s pretty safe to say there is not a whole lot that you can do as the sound enters the sonic universe. It’s over. You hit the key, it sounds, that’s it. Of course people may argue with that but I feel like I have very good argument. As well as having my experience.

Your experience certainly proves that! But still, you not only make rock music, you also make classical works. You’ve recently played with the guy from Turkey and I noticed that on the «Dream Theater» album, there is a string section where almost all guys has Russian names…
Oh, that’s funny, yeah. But first with the first question. The young guy’s name is Eren Başbuğ, yes, he’s from Turkey, and I discovered him because he was doing concerts playing Dream Theater music with the full orchestra in Turkey and posted it on the YouTube. And people for a while kept saying me– oh, you have to see this young guy, he’s amazing, and I said – whatever… Finally, I said — ok, I will go watch. So I watched and I was like – ha, this is really good! So I was impressed and reached out to the guy and I met Eren and we became instant friends, very close, very quickly, there is a lot common. He’s also a keyboard player, and he loves Dream Theater obviously, as he got to do it.
The first thing I did with Erin is I invited him to arrange my «Explorations for the keyboard and orchestra». I had been asked to write a classic concerto by the promoter down in Venezuela. And my classic training only goes so far, I never did classical orchestration, but I thought – oh, I can write this piece with Erin’s help. We can create this!
So anyway, Eren and I became involved in orchestrating Explorations, he did a great job, and then I got him a little bit involved with the Dream Theater world to the point he came and actually took what I wrote, some of music, and he orchestrated it, and he brought the string players, Russian named string players, as you said. So Eren is an amazingly talented young person studying in Berkeley now. Actually we’re doing concert in Boston and Eren is gonna conduct the orchestra which is very exciting.

So this string section is from Russia or not?
I guess so. What happen was that we were working in Cove City Sound Studios in New York, and owner of the studio has the connection with the string players, and I think there are some Russian guys, ladies and gents. I’m not sure but I know they played very well.

I want to ask you about recent Rudess/Levin/Minnemann project. I consider it a very good album, following the tradition of those all-star instrumental projects like Liquid Tension Experiment…
Yeah, right.

Can we consider it as a sequel to LTE or not?
It’s something like that, because it is an instrumental experimental rock based album. But it’s not really like Liquid Tension in a sense that Liquid Tension Experiment had guitar. Andthere is a very little guitar on that now, though Marco Minnemann plays some guitar. It’s mostly keyboards, bass and drums. So it’s only connected in the spirit of experimentation, and in the fact that Tony and I are doing it. Musically speaking, I think we are going into a different area, different stylistic thing. It gets jazzy, it has elements of fusion, space, trippy rock, so… And I think this project will actually continue, because we had a great time, it was a really big success in the instrumental rock world, it’s really rewarding and it’s been a big fun to us to play that.

Will you tour?
I don’t know. We decided that we wouldn’t tour for a couple of reasons this time. Mostly that with one album there is not enough material. Also, look at my schedule (laughs) and everybody else is busy too. There is no time for us to get together and tour. But if and when we do another album, that’s very possible. I just have to grow another couple of arms to play some keyboard parts on this amother album!

Or invite some guitar player?
Yeah, or another keyboard player to help, yeah, totally.

So we’re very looking forward to your symphonic work to be out…
Yeah, it’s out on March 1st.

Yeah, right.

Vladimir Impaler
Katerina Mezhekova

Moscow, February 28, 2014

Special thanks to EM Concerts for arranging this interview and to Konstantin Ischenko from «Rovesnik» magazine for which the second interview were done.

Владимир Импалер

Владимир Импалер