The next generation of SpacePark360... the followup album to the 2010 fulldome show and Geodesium album... four years later and greater.
Along with its predecessor, Music from SpacePark360, Music from Infinity comes from collaborations with Dome3D on their popular SpacePark360 fulldome amusement-park-thrill-rides-in-space project. Mark created this music specifically to works-in-progress video previews, so the structures of all the pieces were dictated by the motions and effects of the depicted rides. With Dome3D's advanced CGI and modeling, the choreography takes on an almost videogame-like ambiance.
Most of the SpacePark360 rides follow a formula. "We first approach the ride from afar, to see what's in store for us, then we get on board and take off," Mark said. "Halfway through, there's usually a pause or break, and then we take a second lap around the ride — sometimes facing backward. So most of my pieces have a somewhat slowed intro, then the main first verse, then the embellished version on the turnaround."
The technology available to today's keyboard artist can shape the structure and direction of the music significantly. For much of this album, Mark created tracks using his Korg Karma keyboard, with its incredible palette of sounds — from drums to organs to guitars. "With its 'generated effects' feature, there's just so much usable music and sounds packed away inside the Karma, it's amazing. It really sparks the creativity!" he said.
Of course, Mark's other stalwart keyboards (primarily the now-vintage E-mu Systems Emulator II+ HD and Sequential Circuits Prophet-5) join the Karma, along with a MOTU BPM for additional drum tracks and programming. The entire project was mixed and mastered in Sony Vegas.
The fulldome show SpacePark360: Infinity begins at Earth, and moves out into the Solar System and beyond. So, the album starts on Earth too, with Polar Vortex. The ride is an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster set on the frozen, windswept ice fields of the Arctic, which as Mark points out, made composition a bit tricky. "The first go-round is pretty fun", he said. "But on the second trip around, the sun sets and the glowing aurora borealis appears, painting the night skies and icescapes green. I had originally planned to use only pretty shimmering sounds and leave out the drums for this part of the scene. However, as delicate and gossamery as the northern lights are in the show, we're still lurching and banking on a wild ride underneath them, so those drums simply proved to be essential! I settled for making the melody quartet voicing smoother and gentler for the night lap."
Then, it's out to Earth orbit with New Frontiers. Mark said he originally hoped to do it as just a full orchestral piece, without the need for drums. "After I tried it, it came out too out of context with the rest of the tracks," he said. "I kept all the trumpets, horns and string tracks, and added those galloping drums and the "Chariots of Fire"-like rhythm. That saucer-shaped control tower there looked like it would be right at home on Deep Space Nine, so I put in a flavor of that Star Trek show's theme music in spots, too. Fans of the first SpacePark360 album may note the analog melody's similar character to Earth Analog. Yep, Prophet-5 lead glissandi. Gotta be consistent!"
The spinning Moonshot kicks out the jams. But, we still haven't gone very far out into space — only to an Apollo landing site on the Moon, with Earth still in the sky. So the music stays with the familiar major harmonies and melodic lines to keep us "grounded".
Mark reminisced about the inspirations for the moon music. "Back in the '80s, I created soundtrack music for a planetarium show called ALL SYSTEMS GO!, celebrating the 25th anniversary of NASA, and naturally the high point of the show was the Apollo 11 landing,", he said. "Since the SpacePark360 ride is set on the Moon with Apollo hardware on the surface, I thought it might be useful to reprise a feel of some of those melody lines for this ride. At least some old planetarians might appreciate the reference, anyway."
Probably the most recognizable sound heard by any musician who's ever booted up a Korg Karma synthesizer is its first factory preset A000, the signature "=Voice Of KARMA=". Mark wanted to find a way to use it. "It's an awesome preset that jumps out of the speakers, with its whomping drum kit, descending disco drum fill, and robotic, gated band-pass-filtered male voice sound," he pointed out. "It's so characteristic and quirky, though, it's pretty hard to find a use for it in any context other than a stand-alone Karma demo. I did extract a couple of elements from it and used them as color here. But there may be a Karmaphile or two out there who will say, 'Wait, I recognize those sounds. Ha!'"
Temporal Anomalies is more of a "groove" piece than a structured song, and Mark notes the hit points in the video really dictated how the music would be punctuated. "We swirl down into a gravity well, do jumps and flips. The music's time stream stops at these points, so that's where the name comes from (besides being the standard thing you run into in sci-fi space travel scenarios). So I just set up a jam and took it where the video led."
Another ride gave Mark a chance to push envelopes. "Okay, so if we follow my philosophy that you have more familiar sounds and tonalities in the music if you're near or on Earth, naturally it follows that you're going to want more exotic and less "Earthly" sounds the farther out into the cosmos you go," he said. "I've often said that you won't expect to hear a common 12-bar blues to illustrate galactic wonders. So as a bit of an inside joke only I would get, I decided to see if that was really true. Ramjet incorporates the tried-and-true I-IV-V chord progression, but in a kind of a thrash-grunge setting. We'll have to wait and see what the results of my experiment brings."
Ion Drive is another "groove" piece. The ride is a maglev coaster swerving through the particles of Saturn's rings, and at the end we actually crash into one, coming to a whiplash-inducing stop and 'cracking the windshield'. "But without the visual cue, the music coming to such an abrupt halt doesn't make much sense, so I smoothed out the ending a bit."
For Sitarnia, Mark reached back to a kind of late '60s vibe. "The Dome3D guys came up with this wildly colored cave interior, with lots of pink and yellow and purple glowing crystals," he said. "It looks psychedelic and tie-dyed; like spelunking on acid. So I took a cue from the Beatles, and came up with an Indian-tinged romp, with sitars, wind chimes, and a modal melody. When Carolyn heard a preliminary mix, she opined, 'It needs finger cymbal beats'. She lent me her belly-dancing zills so I could lay in some tracks of finger cymbals. All the way though I had this mental image of a couple of Hare Krishna guys there on the sidelines."
Alien Fallout was created for a spinning ride among the burning buildings of a urban cityscape. It was actually among the first rides they sent me videos to work from. I was really taken by the audacity of putting a ride somewhere that's clearly not in the solar system," Mark mused. "Apparently there's been some hostile alien attack or disaster, and the world is coming to an end. So I came up with a "doomsday" groove — a relentless, tromping military-esqe beat, orchestra hits, tolling chimes, and wailing, shrieking choir voice glissandi.
Solar Fusion is the fastest ride in the SpacePark360: Infinity show, and once it gets going, it's just flat-out full speed ahead. Mark turned again to the Karma for inspiration. "I have to give a lot of credit to Stephen Kay, KARMA's inventor and developer, for this one," he points out. "One of the Korg factory combi presets is a prog-rock GE sequence called 'Fusion in 7/8', and in it Stephen is clearly channelling for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It jams just like Keith and the guys used to, with a de-rigeur non-four-on-the-floor time signature. I used that as the basis of this piece. Of course ELP didn't have the chorus of feedback guitars, and I stomped on the gas pedal to crank the tempo to match the SpacePark360 ride. To complete the ELP homage, I borrowed the notes of the multitracked vocal chord they made for the opening of "Tarkus", and played them myself in this piece's intro and outro.
Prepare for more exhilaration with Music from Infinity!