Roller coasters in outer space... science fiction or reality?
As with many of the other albums in the Geodesium series, the impetus for the creation of Music from SpacePark360 came from the production of a show soundtrack for the planetarium environment. Mark's task this time around was to create soundscapes for SpacePark360: Geodesium Edition — an amusement park with its rides placed throughout the solar system. This turns out to be an E-Ticket ride of astronomical proportions!
The extreme nature of the visuals required some extreme music, which allowed Mark to deviate from the usual "floating-in-space" ethereal planetarium music he's done for previous Geodesium albums. "Finally, I could create music that didn't have to stay out the way of narration, that could stand on its own," he said. "I could use loud drums and bass, and kick butt! You can crank the amp up to 11 when you play this album!"
The technology available to today's keyboard artist can shape the structure and direction of the music in very fundamental ways. For the pieces on this album, Mark took advantage of the "generated effects" capability inherent in the Korg Karma keyboard, but also made extensive use of its incredible palette of sounds, from drums to organs to guitars. "There's just so much usable sound packed away inside the Karma, it's amazing," said Mark.
All his other keyboards make appearances on the album: the Roland D-50, E-mu Systems Emulator II+ HD, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Oberheim TVS-1, and the venerable Rhodes. Mark also added a MOTU BPM for additional drum tracks and programming, and the entire project was mixed and mastered in Sony Vegas.
To be sure, fans accustomed to previous Geodesium discs should recognize a few sounds and melodic riffs that he has carried from album to album. These help form the hallmark of the Geodesium style. But, this is the first time the focus has been on up-tempo rock-out music.
Paradoxically, the album starts with Transport, which may sound like the expected planetarium music drones and deep-space washes. Mark says that's intentional. "For the Geodesium fans who listen to my albums in sequence, this piece eases their transition. We last left them adrift through space in A Gentle Rain Of Starlight, so we have to transport them to this new sound frontier. I did the same sort of thing with Stellar Collections, starting it with a "transitionary" piece from its predecessor album Anasazi, bridging the primary styles of the two albums. In the SpacePark360 show, it's an actual transport ship that we do a "glamor pass" fly around, and that's what the scene was created for."
Then, it's on to Lobate's Scarp, and a little more "easing in"; but now you can tell the direction the album's music is going. Mark observed, "I've used drums often enough on other Geodesium tracks, but not usually with a kick strong enough to punch the subwoofer!"
V-Spot Tornado goes for the jugular. "For this one, I kinda felt like I was channelling for Santana, though without the congas and timbales. There's a Gregg Rolie-style hot B3 organ sound, and the I-IV chord progression vamp that Carlos liked to do a lot in the early days," Mark pointed out. "There's also the evergreen "I'm A Man" descending chords in the front 8s. But the pumping steam-engine breaks — that kinda deviates from the formula, don't you think?"
Mark brings the various elements together into a unified whole. "Actually, I do work at making a band ensemble sound, and I envision that I'm the bass player while I'm recording the bass line, or see Santana on guitar lead, or Rick Wakeman on keys, " he said, "And on this one, I kept seeing Animal (the Muppet) as I was doing the drum part. He's just going flat-out, flailing away on the skins! The SpacePark360 ride for this piece is called Twin Tornadoes, and has these dueling spinning pinwheel like rides set on Venus, so that's where my title comes from, taking a cue (or a V) from a Frank Zappa title."
In astronomy, Earth Analog is often used in the search for terrestrial exoplanets that are close enough in conditions to harbor Earth-like life. In the case of this track, "the SpacePark360 ride is set on Earth, and I use all analog synthesizer patches. That fat, buzzy lead, the swooping octave bass glisses, the "Jump"-like chords, the shimmering high string sustains — that all comes from the Prophet-5, the only synth I have that makes those rich basic sounds like that. It's an analog lover's dream!"
"Kraftwerk may have done the ultimate electronic music 'train' song in Trans-Europe Express, but I got to take the train to Mars and speed it up to 165 miles an hour (or beats per minute) for Trans-Ares Express," Mark said. It's SpacePark360's signature roller coaster ride, careening through the canyons and valleys of the Red Planet. "What helps give this a 'train keeps on rollin' feel are the drums, which have just a twinge of shuffle feel in the breaks, topped with a straight-16ths power arpeggiator playing against it."
Mark adds, "Every synthesizer comes with lots of clavinet patches; it's an easy sound for them to make — but I never get to use them much in typical planetarium soundtrack work. I did here, though it's just to shadow the Rhodes lead with the clavinet sound."
Europan Ice is an interesting blend of Euro-pop style with melodramatic horror-movie pipe organ, which was Mark's inspiration for the opening of the piece. "I had the tune already figured out before I saw the SpacePark360 ride," he said. "It had these giant lightning bolts and sparks shooting overhead, which looked to me like we were in some classic sci-fi movie, the laboratory where the mad scientist cries "It's aliiiive!" So that's where the theater-organ sound inspiration comes from. But, performing this piece reminds me of the early ELP, especially in the concerts, where Keith Emerson would be on pipe organ one moment, and hammering out a sizzling Hammond B3 lead the next. Here I've put both keyboard guys in the same band."
Titanical Gas is a "groove" piece that just sets the cruise control on hyperdrive and lets it go. The name refers to the fact that the SpacePark360 ride is a roller coaster set on Saturn's moon Titan, floating in its methane gas atmosphere. The piece starts out deceptively with a nice space music, floaty beginning. "The space music feel is actually there throughout the piece. It just goes from zero to sixty in nothing flat!" Mark noted. "Prophet-5 owners will recognize some of the quick-shot sound effects, which are pretty much untouched from the factory programming settings. My inside joke is this silly little patch called 'Rubber Knife'".
The ride that RingSurfer was created for is set on a moon surrounded by ring particles orbiting the planet Uranus. But, as Mark points out, the title refers to the kind of "surfer" music guitar and drum beat that keep the piece moving. "I didn't set out that way initially, it kinda evolved," he said. "In spots it has sort of a Stray Cats/Dire Straits rockabilly flavor. There's also this sort of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" drum thing going on, with tom-toms pounding throughout. That's for all the ring particles we see in the ride."
Depth Perceptions really is an appropriate title. Mark started with the basic tracks from "Perceptions" (on the Stellar Collections album), but he takes it much deeper, with new amp-ed up bass and drums. The piece definitely gives props to the space-music roots Mark has developed over the years, but also borrows liberally from the rhythmic feel of the railroad that is the basis for all good amusement park rides. "It's got a bit of that 'train chugging down the track' feel now," Mark pointed out, "which is good because the ride is a roller coaster suspended from an overhead track. And, we're calling the fulldome show SpacePark360: Geodesium Edition, so I figured I could have at least one familiar, recognizable Geodesium piece in it!"
The title Mo.B.Io's Trip is a really lousy pun that you have to work at to get. Mark says that while the ride is set on Jupiter's moon Io, the title also refers to the basic tracks for this piece, which were originally done in the early 1990s to accompany a digital planetarium demonstration. "For a Digistar demo I did for Evans & Sutherland, we took a quasi-roller-coaster ride along the edge of a Möbius strip," he said. A Möbius strip is a topological construct that is twisted so that it has only one side. "This worked well as the basis for the SpacePark360 ride, but again, I added a ton more energy to the original track."
Deorbit Burn takes the listener "back home" again. "We've had our thrill rides, we're amped up, excited, we've had the time of our lives out at all these different worlds, and we can't wait to get off the ship and tell our friends about the experience we've had. At the same time, we're glad to be putting our feet back on solid ground again," Mark says. "This track gives you that chance to unwind. And, for the SpacePark360 show, it serves a double function as the 'credits' music."
Years ago, in an interview for "Showbiz Today" on CNN, Mark noted how space music seems to have some people inclined to emote, "your music is so relaxing it puts me right to sleep." Somehow, we don't think that will be an issue with Music from SpacePark360. Check it out for yourself — and prepare for exhilaration!