Tag Archives: Dream Theater

Mike Portnoy rumoured to be headlining Mood Indigo 2013

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Rumour has it that Mike Portnoy, co-founder of Dream Theater and one of the premier prog rock drummers will be headlining the ‘Livewire Nite’ at IIT Bombay’s much-touted Mood Indigo this year.

The core members of the Mood Indigo team were tight lipped when approached for comments on the topic.The festival will officially reveal their headlining act on August 30th, at 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, we’re keeping our fingers well crossed in the hopes that the news, if true, will treat the festival-goers to some delightful progressive musical goodness.

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The Ganesh Talkies at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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While heading to The BFlat Bar on the 18th of January to watch The Ganesh Talkies, I tried to think of another band that had named itself after a movie theatre. I could think of only two instances, band or otherwise, and neither augured well for my prejudices – Dream Theater and Nickelodeon. To boot, they were the winners of the Converse Original Band Hunt 2012 that, apart from the bump in exposure, doesn’t mean much other than being able to print it in publicity materials and announce it upon entry like a ring announcer (“introducing the hea-VY WEI-ght chammmm-pions of the WOOOOORRRRLLLLD, the GA-NESH TAAAAW-KEEEEEES!”) with fireworks and a theme song.

To my disappointment/their eternal credit, they didn’t.

‘Theatricality’ and ‘Bollywood’ had been bandied about in the little literature I’d read about the band, but the former has just been abused and/or I have a higher standard of what theatricality promises – no devils descended from the rafters, no pigs were shot into the atmosphere, and none of the band members had fake blood stains or existential awakenings (thought the bassist urgently ran into the green room a couple of times) at the end of the show.

What they did do, however, is wear costumes. An image search of past gigs showed that they’d worn a variety of themes, but on this night they were looking like courtiers and a queen in a high school play. Augmented with plastic sunglasses, it was a cute look, but it also made me wary. I like when bands take a bit of effort with presentation, and kitsch and irony isn’t immediately a bad thing, but there’s also the inherent danger that the concert becomes primarily about the show, overwhelming the music.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. A few songs in, it was clear that costumes may be a part of their shtick, but not as a distraction. The stamp-sized B-Flat stage barely accommodated the five-piece band, much less allow for much, uh, shall we say ‘expressive movement’. But that didn’t bottle their exuberance, most of which was brought by their magnetic lead singer Suyasha Sengupta, who, amongst other things, pounced on a speaker at one point, pounced back down and then whizzed around the audience, all while singing.

It’s a narrow line to keep when evolving an idiosyncratic sound that’s influenced yet not derivative, and the encouraging thing about their music is that they succeed for the most part – they don’t swamp it with flourishes that scream ‘BOLLYWOOD!!’, but there was always a keyboard line here or a hint of a groove there that was unmistakably endemic. There’s alternative and a bit of glam rock in there too – a guitar bit in ‘Item Song’ sounded straight out of Bowie’s Moonage Daydreaming playbook, while ‘Monsters In Your Head’, the first song they’d written as a band, was evidence of having started with a harder edge that branched off into parts more interesting.

This was complemented by some interesting lyrical ideas. At first blush, pretty much every song seemed to be about/or alluded to dancing. Dig a little deeper, and there’s obsession, sexual objectification, stalking, insanity, and, yes, dancing too – all staples of Bollywood, but with some self-aware subversions. Take concert opener ‘Roadside Romeo’ for example, which switched between the fantasy and reality of drawing the attention of a street lecher. And set highlight ‘The Fan’ too, with the protagonist’s deluded lament to be noticed.

I’ll confess that at 8.30 PM I was convinced that the show was going to be a disaster. It seemed like a reasonable time to saunter into any concert in Bangalore, known to have notoriously fluid starts, but there were less than ten people there. Thankfully the turnout improved, but the floor arrangement of the venue was such that most of the audience was seated (though not under duress), which dulled the vibe.

The band wasn’t taking that lying down though, constantly egging the crowd right up till only the most obdurate were still seated. They even stopped midway through their encore (another round for ‘Item Song’) on the grounds of unfairness and proceeded only after the crowd started singing along to the chorus.

It’d take a lot to not like them.

Varun Rajiv

Varun Rajiv has tinnitus. The first band he adored with all his heart was Boyzone.

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In conversation with Jordan Rudess

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Jordan Rudess has had a busy few months. After an extensive 14-month tour with his band, the keyboardist and one-half of the primary songwriting force behind Progressive Metal act Dream Theater was in Chennai for a week-long residency programme with the Diploma students at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM), which ended with a two-day workshop titled ‘Connecting The Dots’ — where he joined Prasanna (guitarist and President of SAM) to talk about music education, entrepreneurship and innovation in sound.

It’s not every day (or every year even) that someone from a band as big and constantly on the road as Dream Theater comes down here, to a two-year-old music academy to talk to and spend time with young, talented and curious musicians. Even to a curious fan for that matter. As a decade-long fan of Dream Theater, our heads were buzzing with questions — curious about the details and excited at the opportunity. Here are excerpts from an hour-long press conference that turned into a mike-hogging session by yours truly. (“Did the other journalists hire you to ask the questions,” he ribs me before he gets talking.)

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: As a classical-trained pianist who flits across Progressive Rock keys, synthesizers and electronically-produced sound, how important do you think formal training is for a musician?

Rudess: Music is a funny thing. A lot of people think that they can take a shortcut in music. They think they can watch him (pointing at Prasanna) play or watch me play and they think “Oh, it’s just happening! It’s just some kind of magic!” And you know what, it is magic. And the thing we don’t maybe like to broadcast (although we do broadcast that in an educational environment) is that it takes work. It takes work no matter what you do in music — even if you’re a self-taught songwriter — you need to refine your craft. And spend your time doing it. For me, it’s about the physical musical instrument; to be able to play the piano, to play the keyboard. It actually takes the skill. It is very much like a sport. You have to spend time at your craft. You have to learn the language of music. In order for me to play the piano, I have to learn the words … for me to communicate it as it happens and to put it all together in a cohesive sentence, the language of music. This takes time and effort and you have to practice. When you take lessons, be it with a guru or you go a music school, you sit all day long and you figure out trying to translate what’s in your mind to what’s in your hand or on your computer. It’s going to take time to put all that together. So, it’s a myth that music just comes to you out of nowhere.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: How did Mike Portnoy’s departure affect the other band members?

Rudess: At first when Portnoy decide to leave, it was shocking. Especially since he was the one who ‘hired’ me into the band. In the end, he has his own reasons. He has his own life. He’s been with Dream Theater much longer. So, his life was obviously going in a totally different direction. And the other people in the group, when he left, couldn’t really relate even though we were in the group before, like him. They didn’t feel like what he was feeling at all. The main thing when Portnoy left was he created this situation where he wanted to go, but everyone else wanted to create music together. So, what started out like a bit of a bummer actually turned into something really amazing, starting with all these really amazing drummers coming from all around the world to audition for us.

WTS: So how did Mike Mangini land the job?

Rudess: It was an amazing experience for us, auditioning for a new drummer for the band. So then we thought, “okay, so there is life after Portnoy, with all these guys wanting to play with us, the best drummers on the planet!” So, Mike Mangini came in, the first one to audition. He came in, and blew our minds into pieces. We improvised together and it was really, really exceptional. We knew that we were okay. Then he came into the room and it’s been really good.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: Did you fear there would be a change in the sound that your fans would know as ‘typically DT’?

Rudess: There’s a common misconception that Mike Portnoy is the one responsible for the sound of Dream Theater. Yes, he is the charming one, fronting it all, handling the media and answering questions. But when it comes to the composition, it’s been Petrucci and myself since the time I joined the band. One of the things we’re trying to do is to move to a bigger level with the sound. The state of Dream Theater right now is that everybody always learns from everybody else. And we now have Mike Mangini, one of the most incredible drummers on the planet earth, in my opinion. You know, one day, he was sitting there all day long, playing 17 on his right hand and 4 on his left on a pattern until we caught on. He’s always trying to better himself, become a better musician. He’s interested in what I’m doing and I’m interested in what he’s doing. So when he’s trying a 17 against a 4. He’ll show me that and I’ll try to play a 17 pattern on my right hand and a 4 pattern on the left while I sing something completely different. So there’s space for all of us to grow together.

WTS: What kind of autonomy does each band member have in deciding the kind of sound that goes into each album?

Rudess: There’s always a producer and until Portnoy left, he was the one in charge of producing the albums. I call the producers the Dream Theater police. Dream Theater is a wide musical open space — but even like that, if you go outside that window of musical possibilities, the possibility is no longer Dream Theater. So, somebody has to stay in charge of what is inside that window. It’s the producer’s role to do that. I haven’t been in the role of being the one having the final say, but the last album we did, John Petrucci was the producer and he did a wonderful job because he allowed everybody to really be their best, which is really the producer’s role. And that is what I want.  To be able to give to Dream Theater what I want to compositionally and creatively with my sounds. And at the same time, making sure that we keep within the window and make it sound presentable as Dream Theater.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: How do you find time for a disciplined practice session while on tour?

Rudess: We are the biggest practice-a-holics. We practice before the gigs usually. We have time allotted. There are schedules where we go crazy and focus and practice for a couple of hours. There are two things that go with Dream Theater as far as practice goes. One is, we have to be very warmed up. Part of it is being able to relax. Warming up physically on your instrument and another is to just spiritually be able to control your mind and your body in front of a lot of people.

WTS: Is it true that you came up with material for your new album from impromptu jams during the sound checks at your concerts?

Rudess: Just a little bit. Generally, we tried some different ideas. I actually had a few kickass jams with Mangini because it was so cool for me to be able to play with someone who could go on odd time signatures. We don’t know if it’s for the new album or just for fun. But we had some good jams and we believe up around, come January or February, we might go into the studio again and really focus on writing. I don’t so much like to write on the road.  I need to be inside a studio and really focus on the composition and the writing process.

In conversation with Jordan Rudess

WTS: When will Dream Theater fans in India get to watch you guys perform live?

Rudess: In the last few years we’ve had some offers, but there’s a lot of logistics to think about while bringing or band to India, especially with all the gear that has to be shifted around. A lot of people think it’s very easy when they say, “oh, you do have a lot of fans so you should come here!” It’s more complicated than that. A lot of pieces have to come together. With a really, really good promoter with a secure offer, security and who can handle all the logistics to let us get into the country with all that gear, that takes some pretty good good funding.

Rohit Panikker

Rohit Panikker is a Chennai-based journalist, pop culture junkie and tea addict. In an alternate universe he is Indiana Jones, lives in a human-sized Hobbit hole (yes, a dreamy oxymoron) and writes like Hunter Thompson! Follow Rohit on Twitter @rohitpanikker

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The KORG M50

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KORG have really outdone themselves with this one! I think the M50 is a semi-professional artists dream! At the price, nothing can beat the power and functionality of the M50. KORG have always been coming up with products with stage artists and performance artists in mind, and it is in this context that one must evaluate their instruments.

Jumping right in, the M50 is a cut down version of the already legendary M3. With features like Open Sampling, KARMA 2.0, the RADIAS expansion option and the aftertouch being removed, the M3 is identical to the M50! And this is saying something, since the M3 itself borrows its waveROM from their then flagship workstation, the KORG OASYS. This means that you get the powerful EDS synth engine at a throw away price! The list of cuts might look large, but it’s really not that bad. KORG took everything essential from the M3, and removed all the fluff. This really gives semi-professionals a huge amount of power with their music, without complicating the machine with too much. Let’s take a quick look at what this beast is capable of.

The first thing that catches your eye with the M50 is the huge blue touch-screen. KORG is the only manufacturer that gives you pleasure of navigating menus with the touch of a finger. This allows the top of the workstation to be very uncluttered. This is by itself a very, very big deal. Just how easy it is to move around makes a big difference to how you work with your music. I personally find this feature very satisfying. The next thing you would probably notice is the orange back-lit joy-stick. The XY joy-stick allows 3 assignable parameters to be controlled, while many manufactures still retain the ancient two wheel combination, allowing only two parameter controls, a pitch bend and an assignable mod-wheel. I personally prefer love this joy-stick! I think it’s a matter of taste, and what you’re used to. Coupled with the joy-stick are two assignable buttons which let you do what you want while fiddling around with the joy-stick.

Other obvious controllers are the four assignable knobs on the main panel. They are assigned to some very useful parameters like Filter cut-off and resonance, and EG intensity and release. These knobs are freely assignable so that you can tweak any parameter within the workstation. The menus can get deep, and yet, they are very logical. Once you understand how they are laid out, you’ll be doing things that you didn’t know could be done, in seconds!

The M50 also has dedicated chord buttons right on top where you can store four commonly used chords and just press a button to trigger an intricate 8-note jazz-voicing, with each note playing at different levels of hardness/softness! This along with the drum track function allows you to jam along for hours and hours! The M50 also has two dedicated arpeggiators, so if you are into electronica or dance music, this is perfect. Or if you just want to mess around with the arpeggiator, it’s just as fun. ‘On The Run’ from Dark Side of the Moon is one very legendary application of an arpeggiator. I’ve programmed my M50 to replicate that, and it does it so well, I have no words to express how awesome it is – you just have to listen to it!

Getting a little more technical, the M50 boasts a jaw-dropping 256MB of sample data! This might seem like a joke, but in the keyboard world, what this translates to is quite amazing. With 1032 multi-samples and a whole bunch of stereo multi-samples, KORG has really changed what one expects at this price range in the semi-pro market. Each ‘tone’ on this workstation, (Programs, as KORG calls them) can consist of two independent oscillator sections. Each oscillator can lay its hands on four multi-samples, and these multi-samples are velocity split! All this translates to each Program giving you up to eight different sounds set-up across the keyboard and being played depending on how hard you press the keys! This allows you set-up a complicated song that might require you to sound mellow during the intro and sound insane when you rock out towards the end of the song! Each oscillator can access up to four filters (two filters each with four modes and four routings), two amps, five LFOs, and five EGs, all available simultaneously. All this gives you so much power, that it makes you want to cry with joy!

But wait! You thought THAT made you powerful? Ha! That’s what you come to expect if you haven’t dealt with KORG products before. There’s more – KORG has a mode called COMBI mode. Basically what Combi mode allows you to do is to combine upto 16 different Programs, and have them interact with each other in ways that will have you shaking with eargasms! Combi lets you multiply the power of the Program by 16. So just to summarise, let’s see what that lets you do: If you have the technical ability to play at different softness/hardness, you can trigger up to 127 different sounds just on how hard you play! And I haven’t even mentioned that in Combi mode you split up sounds across the keyboard, so that the lower part sounds like the intro bell from ‘High Hopes’ and the top part sounds like the piano parts! I even programmed my own Combi to sound like all the keyboards (about 4-5 keyboards) from the intro of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’! You could probably pull off a very, very authentic sounding Pink Floyd/Dream Theater/YES cover with the right degree of know-how to navigate and program this beast. And that is saying something, considering how legendary those sounds can be.

The onboard sequencer is a little outdated, and feels ancient once you work with DAWs. But again, in the context of a gigging workstation, and a light and easy machine, the sequencer is quite adequate for basic sequencing. The sequencer has a lot of interesting features like the RPPR, which allows you to trigger pre-recorded loops with just one single key-press. So for those people who like to play with loops, Abelton Live users and DJ-type stuff, this is pretty cool. Here again, it can get as deep as your creativity takes you.

Moving to the sound processing, the M50 boasts an amazing DSP engine! You can have up to eight-effects chained together to get that perfect sound. 8-effects is a lot more than the competition offers on their flagship workstations. The effects section is filled with all the right kinds of effects that one might need and all the effects parameters can be controlled using the knobs or the foot-controllers. All this technical talk just tells you how deep one can go into editing each sound. With effects sections, LFO’s and DMod etc., your ability to express yourself becomes much easier.

About the sounds, well they are just as amazing as the specs. The pads are lush and beautiful. They move and evolve in spectacular ways. The brass sounds are simply phenomenal! You have everything from brass slides to drops, so you can play those big-band numbers with ease. The presets for acoustic guitars, the pianos and flutes aren’t as nice as say, the presets on the ‘Motif of the Fantom‘, but that is an unfair comparison. The M50 pianos/E.P.s are known to be a little thin. But again, you have to understand that unless you’re an audiophile, you will hardly notice that these sounds aren’t as good as the competition. I’m only talking about the presets though, so if you’re ready do some tweaking, they do sound quite nice. So for semi-pros, it’s just amazing. And even in studio, unless you’re a pro and you have access to better equipment, this does an amazing job. The power of the KORGs lie in their synth, sounds which I think, blow the competitors out of the water, even on their flagship workstations! The synth sounds are simply magnificent! Leads and Pads are the most common uses of synth sounds, and they are unbelievable. All the synth presets are so good, that you hardly have to edit them. I rarely have to edit presets, but when I do, I know that I have everything I could possibly want to get that perfect sound.

Overall, I have only two complaints about this machine. One, that there is no after-touch and two, no MIDI-Thru. These are pretty standard requirements for gigging musicians. I don’t know how KORG over-looked them. If they had put these two features in, even with a slight hike in price, I think the M50 could have been the staple on-stage keyboard for everybody. BUT, they didn’t and it’s not. That’s alright though, I’m just being picky.

Even after all of this, there many, many things about the M50 that I haven’t even touched! But I blame that on KORG. They packed it with such a plethora of features that it’s hard to talk about all of them.  I think I’ve done justice to the bare-bones functionality of the M50 though. This is such an amazing piece of hardware that it takes ages to describe what it does! Overall I feel that KORG have really hit the nail on the head with this one. It caters to the gigging musicians who want pro sounds on stage without having to invest in heavy workstations that have such a lot of fluff that it makes them bulky and hard to carry around. But it works equally well in the studio with its in-depth editing control.

The M50 is part of my current rig on stage with Bourbon Street. I’ve expanded it with all the possible controllers: Sustain Pedal, Foot-Switch and a Pedal. This lets me push my M50 to the limit. It has done wonders for me off-stage as well. I take it to all my recordings. I’ve even used it in a single that I co-produced. It’s that good!

Writing this review has got me missing my M50. I think I’ll go jam for a while!

Bharath Kumar

Bharath Kumar, besides being a full-time geek, is a keyboard player and music producer. He runs his own studio, Minim Sound Labs www.minimsoundlabs.com, and is an active volunteer in various charities.

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