Keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess is currently on tour in the US with Progressive Metal masters Dream Theater, but he also has a whole swathe of other projects keeping him busy. OVERDRIVE sat down with Rudess for a chat about one of those projects, the new album interSonic.
“It’s my first album collaboration with Steve Horelick,” Rudess elaborates, “who is a really amazing synthesist. We started to get together, and make some music together, and after some years of making music together we kinda looked at each other and went, ‘Well, we’ve got some really nice stuff here. This is pretty cool, we should put it out.’” Rudess is laidback and understated as he reveals the history of the project. “So of course it’s very different from Dream Theater, it’s not Prog Metal at all. It’s more in the realm of electronica meets ambient music. It’s different than what I do on my own as well, because of having another entity that does what he does, Steve. He really gives it another flavour, he’s really amazing with his Buchla synthesiser and his Eurorack stuff. It’s pretty interesting.”
When it comes to making the music, Rudess explains, “This album is really based on improvisation. Both Steve and I are improvisers, and I’m constantly working on my improvisational skills. It’s one of the things I really value as a musician. When we get together, it’s wonderful because he kind of has the same mindset, and there’s a lot of real listening and just kind of going for this ride. The way that it usually works is that we’ll set up our timbre structure, so we’re not just going in there and putting our hands on the instruments cold. It’s more like, if I’m playing a Seaboard, I’ll kind of know what the palette is of sounds that I’ll be using. I’ll know the possibilities for expression, like if I move a slider or do something on the matrix pad, I know where it’s going to go. And Steve will know how all his connections, and how his wiring is put together. And maybe we’ll even have a tonal centre that we can kind of go with as well. So that really sets it up for us to create these improvisations. So some of the music is a lot of piano mixed with electronics, which of course creates this nice flavour because the piano is acoustic, electronics can float around it. Sometimes, we took a piano, we processed it and put it through all kinds of interesting plug-ins and made it just a little bit spacier, trippier. And other times I’ll be playing something like a Seaboard or there’s even a track where I was playing the Eigenharp, which is an old, well not that old,” he reflects, “it’s an instrument that was put out a few years ago, a new kind of expressive controller instrument. And also I’m playing some of my apps on it as well, Wizdom Music, which is really, really fun. I have an app called GeoShred in particular that I played a bunch. It’s my latest iOS app, and that offers a lot of expression. You can put your hand on a multi-touch screen and move your hand subtly around, and it changes the timbre and opens it up. So my music with Steve is very much about kind of looking into the next level of musical expression, whether it’s coming from piano mixed with electronics, or it’s using all synthesisers and new expressive controllers. It’s kind of the nature of the project.”
Rudess offers further reflections on the equipment he’s been using, and what he was most excited about. “Well I’m very passionate, obviously, about my apps. That’s something that I love to do. But beyond my own stuff, one of the instruments that I’ve been very involved with and I think is really very cutting edge is the Roli Seaboard. The Seaboard is an instrument that is kind of like the evolution, if you will, of the keyboard as we know it. It’s somewhere between a keyboard and a violin, because it has the form factor of a keyboard, but can actually express notes you can do vibrato, and move your finger around the key area and get this kind of continuous expression. So it’s pretty cool, it lets my use my keyboard technique, but lets me also apply some of these next generation ideas to controlling digital sound. So the apps were really fun, and the Roli Seaboard was awesome. I used this cool thing called the Eigenharp on some tracks, and I even went back and used my Mini Moog. The Mini Moog for me was the original kind of space music instrument. It was one of my first synthesisers and I used it many years ago, came up with some really cool things. That instrument of course also enters into my progressive world as well, I use it with Dream Theater. It’s a really fun space, I really love it. I think it’s cool.”
With such a complex array of expression and instrumentation, Rudess and Horelick nevertheless have grand plans to present their music live. “I’m kinda researching some ideas for us now,” Rudess explains. “One of the things that Steve is really into and I’m starting to get really into is swirling sound around the room and doing interesting things with surround sound. Steve has done some concerts where he’ll do a surround sound setup and so we have been talking about working with some of the manufacturers who are doing interesting things with surround environments and doing some shows with their support, which I think would be amazing. Also I just took a position over at Stanford University as an artist in residence for their CCRMA Labs, and they have some of the coolest surround systems anywhere. They’ve got different rooms with a different number of speakers and channels and you can just manipulate the sound, move it all around the room, and it’s pretty awesome. I’m thinking I’ll have Steve out there and we can do something.”
As for the incredibly busy life of the keyboard wizard, Rudess gives us a quick rundown. “Right now I’m on tour with Dream Theater, floating around the US in Cincinnati, Ohio at this moment, with a show tonight. Kinda moving around, moving East, and then actually end up back in Texas. We’ve got another three and a half weeks to go. I’m working on my app world as well. We’re very focused on this app called GeoShred, which is a pretty cool application which works across all iOS devices. Basically it’s an application that’s based on physical modelling, but the playing surface on the multi-touch screen is really cool because you can use it as a MIDI controller as well, so anybody who’s looking to do any kind of fretless play, and diatonic, and mixing the two together really easily would love GeoShred. As a matter of fact, the second biggest market for GeoShred is in India where we have a lot of people making really cool music with all these amazing pitch bends and stuff, because they discovered that they can really do that on GeoShred, so that’s really, really fun. With this new technology, every note that you play, every finger is an independent entity, kind of like a guitar would be. So that’s kind of where my head is at in designing the instruments, and my team is also mostly interested in just making things that have this next level of control and expressivity. And also Roli who make the Seaboard just came out with this new pack, it’s called Wizardly Wayz, and it’s all sounds that I made together with the Roli team that really bring out the beauty of what that Seaboard can do, and all the expression therein.”
Before he takes his next call, Rudess has some final words for the OVERDRIVE readers. “I’m excited to connect with you and everybody there, and also bring something a little bit different from my musical world to everyone. I really hope that people will check out the new album, because I think it’s really beautiful and we had a wonderful time making it, and really the reason this album came out was, it had nothing to do with commerciality, it was more about really wanting to share what I feel is a really beautiful musical headspace.”
PREORDER YOUR COPY OF INTERSONIC ON PLEDGE MUSIC HERE!