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The Keyboard Lover

Some bracing days here in The Burg.  It’s cold, we’ve had snow–it’s feeling like back in Indiana, though we haven’t had massive car pileups that have left people dead here . . . yet.  Give it time:  winter has a ways to go.

Where am I–oh, yeah.  It’s story time, and did I have a good one last night.  The scene was something I’ve been thinking on for a while.  Annie and Kerry head off to the school’s music hall–actually Orchestra Hall, but lets not quibble–and they head up to the keyboard room, because throughout the story it’s been hinted that Kerry is something of a keyboard lovers, and it’s mentioned during his discussion with Professor Matthias Ellison that he kinda, sorta spends a lot of time looking at this stuff online.

To say Kerry is standing in a little stretch of person heaven is a bit of an understatement.  As we’ll see, he does know his stuff:

 

Place looks a bit like this, only there's a lot more toys . . .

Place looks a bit like this, only there’s a lot more toys . . .

(Excerpt from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

Annie watched Kerry closely, but she was also watching Professor Ellison closely, too. Kerry was interested in this short history lesson, but his eyes were also darting around the room—and the professor was seeing this as well. Any moment now the professor is going to start showing Kerry the other items in the room—

She didn’t expect what the professor did next. He looked Kerry up and down while he tapped his left index finger against the top of the organ. “Tell me—” He pointed at an instrument about three meters away. “Do you know what that is?”

Kerry answered right away. “Mellotron Mark IV.”

“And the one to the left?”

“That’s a Mellotron Mark II.”

“And you know that because . . ?”

Kerry backed a few steps away from Professor Ellison. “The Mark IV has had that same sort of case for most of the time it’s been produced. The Mark II . . .” He look over his shoulder, then back. “Two manuals, side-by-side.”

“Correct.” Professor Ellison move slowly towards the instruments. “This Mark II is a bit famous—it originally came from King Crimson—” He stood before the machine and powered it up. As soon it was ready, he began playing.

Kerry’s face broke into an enormous smile as the professor held the first chords, then progressed to the second set of chords. “No. You’re kidding.”

Professor Ellison played for another ten seconds before stopping. “Oh, yeah. It’s, uh, gift to the school.”

Though the two males in the room knew this music, Annie certainly didn’t. “What was that you played?”

Kerry turned, all excited. “The opening to Watcher of the Skies: it was the first song on Foxtrot.” He pointed at the machine. “This is the machine it was recorded on.” He turned back to Professor Ellison. “Right?”

“You are.” He patted the machine. “Tony says he has a mellotron in storage, but he’d rather not dig it out because the new tech is better . . .” He chuckled. “Or he doesn’t want to fly across the ocean to get this.” He pointed to another keyboard on the other side of the room. “Do you know that one?”

It was one difficult one to figure out, but he finally figured it out by the brightly colored buttons above the keyboard. “That’s a Rolland Jupiter-8, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.” He grinned. “Do you sit up at night and look at these things on the Internet?”

“Um . . .” Kerry felt a little silly answering. “Yeah. Did anyone own that?”

“Oh, yeah. That was used by ABBA on their last studio recordings, though that one’s been loaned out a few times for other recordings.” He pointed at a black one positioned on a stand behind him. “This one?”

Kerry had this one right away. “It’s got OB-X in the upper left corner, so I know it’s an Oberheim.”

“One of the more well-know systems. It’s the original case and everything, but we’ve givin’ it the Xa upgrade. Still plays the same, though.” He narrowed his eyes as he grinned. “On what album you think it was played?”

Kerry knew what he wanted to say, but shook his head, keeping it to himself. “I don’t know. What?”

The Game.”

Just what I was thinking. “Oh, man.” He put his hands to the side of his head out of frustration.

Annie was loving the interplay between Kerry and Professor Ellison. The professor was obviously enjoying quizzing Kerry and then watching his reaction, and Kerry was euphoric being surrounded by what he saw as musical history. “Does that mean something? About the album?”

“That album was the first time Queen used a synthesizer.” Kerry ran over and touched it. “Wow, this is . . .”

“Nice, isn’t it?” Professor Ellison winked at Annie, then headed towards the far end of the room. “What about this one?”

The blue and green buttons gave it away. “ARP Quadra.” Kerry looked it over closely, because he was familiar with this type from having seen it in videos. “This wasn’t one of Tony’s, was it?”

The professor laughed. “You ever see the Lyceum shows?”

“Yeah, I’ve got DVDs of it.”

“Same one. He also used this on the Mirrors Tour.”

Annie’s memory was jogged by something the professor said. “Didn’t we visit the Lyceum Theater when were in London?”

Before Kerry could respond, Ellison had his own question. “You visited the Lyceum?”

Kerry nodded. “Yes, when we—Annie and I—had a free day before going to Amsterdam.”

Ellison nodded slowly. “Sweet. Lucky you.” He pointed to the one to the left of the Quadra. “And that?”

“Well, since I can see ‘Pro Soloist’ on the cabinet, it’s an APR Pro Soloist.”

“Dead giveaway, I’d say.” He flipped it on and played a short snippet. “Recognize that?”

Kerry nodded. “Keyboard solo from Firth of Fifth.”

“For someone eleven years old, you know a hell of a lot about seventy’s prog rock.”

“You can blame my dad for that.” Kerry looked down at the machine the professor had just played. “He was into this, and sort of got me hooked.”

“You should hear Kerry talk about this.” Annie came over and stood next to him. “I certainly have.”

Poor Annie.  A week with this kid and already she’s a music geek widow.

They wander about looking at more things, pointing out some tech that the professor didn’t think Kerry would recognize but did (the Memotron MIDI rack modules being one), and then they get to the Big Three–

 

(Excerpt from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

They reached the far end of the room where sat three massive systems. Professor Ellison rubbed him hands together. “Now for the big players.” He pointed to the one on the right. “That one?”

Kerry felt Annie’s grip on his arm tighten as if she were willing him to give the correct answer. “Moog modular analog synthesizer.”

“Correct. I know, it’s pretty easy guess that one.” He motioned for them both to come closer. “This was used by Wendy Carlos during the recording of Switched-on Bach. We’ve spent a lot of time getting it back into pristine condition.” He moved to the middle system. “This is . . ?”

Kerry had seen many pictures of this system, but he never thought he’d see one in person. “Yamaha GX-1.” He pulled Annie closer, as if he were sharing a secret. “Only a hundred of so of these were made, and like only a dozen were sold to people outside Japan.” He turned to the professor. “Who did this belong to?”

“No one.” Ellison almost chuckled at the look of disbelief on Kerry’s face. “It was bought in 1977 especially for the school. According to the manufacturing certificate, it’s the last one built.”

“Wow.” He wanted to reach out and touch it, caress it—a real piece of history, this is—but he didn’t want to seem too starstruck. I so much would love to play this . . .

Ellison wondered if he was going to have to pulled Kerry away from the machine. I’ll have to invite him over again and let him at least sit at it. He moved to the lasts machine. “Now this keyboard—” He stepped before the dual keyboards, one positioned over the other, and brought the machine to life. “I’m going to bet you, Kerry, that you’ve not only heard this machine play, but you’ve seen it as well.” He twisted around, his fingers taping on one of the wings. “Well?”

When he didn’t say anything for a few seconds, Annie wondered if Kerry didn’t know what this thing was. I’m certain he does—he only need a little push . . . “You’ve seen this before, haven’t you?”

There wasn’t a response for another few seconds, then Kerry began nodding slowly. “It’s an ARP 2500.” There was no response from the professor, though Kerry was pretty sure about what he was waiting to hear. “If everything’s ready here on the Dark Side of the Moon . . . play the five tones.”

Professor Ellison turned back to the keyboards and pecked out five notes: D, E, C, an octave drop to Middle C, then G—the five notes that were once used to communicate with an alien mothership. He turned to face them. “You mean like that?”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Kerry slipped away from Annie and examined the device up close. “Hum. Custom case, two wings, dual manuals–yep, this looks like it.” He looked up at Ellison. “How long have you had this?”

“We picked it up a couple of years ago.” Ellison shut the machine off. “We knew the person who had it, but never thought to bring it into our collection. Finally we convinced him to part with it—for some great compensation, mind you.”

Annie started tugging at Kerry’s arm; she gave him a look of pure bemusement once she had his attention. “And what was that all about?”

“That, um—” Kerry waved his hand over one of the wings. “This was the synthesizer that was used in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The five tones were used to send a message to the aliens that came to visit us—”

“I hope they were friendly.”

“They . . .” Kerry figured Annie was playing with him; he saw it in her body language, and her tone of voice. “They were nice.” They both laughed as Annie repositioned herself on Kerry’s left arm.

Now that he’d shown Kerry most of the goods in the room—and developed his opinion on his knowledge of keyboard history—it was time to do a little digging. “So, what can you play?”

 

Kerry doesn't play as much as this guy, you can rest assured.

Kerry doesn’t play as much as this guy, you can rest assured.

Yeah, time to dig into the kid and see what he can play.  What can he play?  Well . . . I’m gonna write about that tonight.

Where as a few days ago I felt like I was at a personal low, last night, using all the information I’d gathered and putting it out in the history I was spinning, I wrote almost nineteen hundred words.  I could have went two thousand, but I want to finish up the last part in a single sitting, and I figured where I stopped was the best place to stop.  Some writer once said that you should leave your story hanging at a cliff-hanger moments so you’ll get the creative juices flowing when you come back later, and I find that works will with this story.

The week is winding down, both in real life and at my school.  Only it’s taken about a month to get through the school week:

There are times, however, when real life feels much the same.

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6 thoughts on “The Keyboard Lover

    • I’m a big prog rock fan as well: managed in my time to see ELP, Yes, and Pink Floyd play, but I always kept missing Genesis for some reason. I did my research for that chapter: everything mentioned in there was correct–well, I did make up how they got the GX-1– though I didn’t say the Mellotron the professor played was known as “The Black Bitch” because it kept breaking down. That was one of the reasons King Crimson was keen to sell it to Tony.

        • Oh, I know. Tony Banks hated them, and constantly spoke about how the roadies spent hours fixing them after a show. I heard one recording of Genesis from The Trick of the Tail Tour when the Mellotron started sounding funny almost as soon as Tony started playing. Read later that he said they had to be careful how he was lit on stage, because the heat from the lights would sometimes cause the tapes to stretch, and then the Mellotron would sound like, “a wounded cow”. These days it’s all sampling, so that problem is gone.

          • Mike Pinder from the Moody Blues was a Mellotron wizard. One night on stage, all the tape fell out of the Mellotron! But on the fly, Pinder was able to stuff them all back in place and reset the machine in about twenty minutes. And I’ve heard Crimson actually used two during performances! They were sure worth it if you could deal with the headaches, though. I think a lot of people don’t realize that the Mellotron sound came from prerecorded audio tape inside and, like you say, the tapes were very sensitive to changes in temperature and would go out of key quite easily. I wonder if you’ve heard this great quote from Robert Fripp: “Tuning a Mellotron doesn’t.”

          • I didn’t know that about Pinder; considering how much he used them on stage, he’d have to be good. Oh, saw them in concert, too. Crimson did use two: they’d have one on stage while the other was being repaired. Rick Wakeman did the same thing when he was with Yes because his were breaking down all the time as well. There’s a story that one night the roadies and he were so pissed off about one of the machines breaking down all the time that they took it out behind the hall after a show, doused it with petrol, and set it ablaze. And there’s also a story–which may or may not be true–that one of the reasons Keith Emerson never used a mellotron was because the only time he was about to try one during a concert, it refused to work and he tossed it into the orchestra pit.

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