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Musical Influences

Written by Wendy Dunham.

My interest in music began as a child, as I learned to sing from phonograph records. We also had a piano, and my grandparents had an electric organ. Most of the music that influenced my style came later:

The 70's

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The early '70's was the peak of the revolution going on in music. My very first purchased album was Blind Faith (1969) with Eric Clapton. Later, I discovered Layla by Derek and the Dominos (1970) when it was still considered underground music that was only aired after midnight on KQRS radio.

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Another member of the Dominos, Bobby Whitlock, released Bobby Whitlock (1970), featuring beautiful acoustic and electric guitar, along with soothing to raspy vocals. I found Peter Frampton in Humble Pie's Rock On. Later, I absolutely loved Lines on My Face from Frampton's Camel, so much so, I drove to a music store near midnight to get the album. Some of the best music is born from painful experiences.

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In addition to the Beatles, my sister introduced me to the music of Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy on Running Jumping Standing Still (1969), which is a timeless, folksy classic. She also introduced me to Jimi Hendrix with Are You Experienced, but I was not quite into him until a Band of Gypsies (1970) came out. I think a lot of people who never paid attention to Hendrix started with that album. Just as I was getting into him, he died in 1970. I visited his Electric Lady Studios in 1972.

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The Alllman Brothers Live at Filmore East (1970) is still a great album. Guitarist Duane Allman also died soon after I was getting into his guitar playing. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the era of dying rock stars.

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One native Minneapolis band I really liked was called Gypsy and they had several national albums. I loved Hocus Pocus by Focus! I liked Jethro Tull and some of Martin Barr's lead guitar. I used to jam to the guitar solo by Joe Walsh in the song Stop by the James Gang. I later loved the intense phase shifted guitar in their song Alexis, the kind of emotional solo that sends a shiver down your spine!

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Andy Powell, the guitarist in Wishbone Ash was a major influence. I used to jam to their dual guitar leads in Persephone, among other songs. And Deep Purple was of course in the forefront back then, as was Fleetwood Mac with Bare Trees. In fact, it seemed like every week I was buying a new album.The Doobie Brothers with The Captain and Me is an indelible memory.

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Genesis got me going with their album Selling England by the Pound (1973), especially the The Cinema Show track with Tony Banks' synthesizer. The band created a new genre: "storyteller rock". In 1974, I learned to play Steve Hackett's beautiful and fluid guitar solo in Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist. Except for learning all of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, I rarely spent the effort learning other people's music – I wanted to create my own music. Thus, I was never a candidate to be in a band because, back then, you had to play "covers". However, I would frequently jam and entertain at parties.

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trip-to-tomorrow-smGood music was frequently bursting at the seams back then. In comparison, it's hard to describe the music scene today, other than there's a lot more of it. In fact, my music would not be on iTunes if it weren't for the alternative, garage band, and independent music revolution, the so called democratization of music. We're seeing similar changes in video media now on the web. The lines between television and the internet are blurring, and it's only going to get better! Look how iTunes changed the way we manage and listen to our music collections? The same thing is about to happen to video and DVD, as we move those assets onto a storage and management devices, controlled by computers. It's all starting to culminate into a giant multimedia melting pot.

The 80's

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Perhaps my greatest musical influence is Bill Nelson from the United Kingdom. Bill was the lead guitarist and founder of Be Bop Deluxe. In the '80's, he pursued an interesting solo career that utilized synthesizers. In my opinion, his greatest work was The Love That Whirls: Diary of a Thinking Heart (1982). Bill is a fantastic guitar player, and a master at playing guitar with an Ebow.

 
 

That same year, the movie Blade Runner came out, and I loved the soundtrack by Vangelis. At the time, Vangelis would not release the music, so it became the first videotape I ever bought. As a mixing and mastering exercise, I recreated the soundtrack song Memories of Green by importing the MIDI file into Reason and assigning strings, horns, and even the flying police car sirens. Check out my remix of Memories of Green as produced in Reason 4.0. I still think the Blade Runner soundtrack is a masterpiece.

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The 90's

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The mid 80's and early 90's seemed to mark the end of rock music as we use to know it, replaced by new wave, alternative, progressive rock, punk, (forget disco – I hated it), etc. During this period, I saw a lot of bands at First Avenue such as U2, The Furs, and New Order. I hated the Furs at first – too radical – but liked them later. I really liked New Order's Power, Corruption, and Lies album, with my all-time favorite song being Your Silent Face! But gone were the staples of Rock (or so it would seem) who kicked off the music revolution in the 70's. Rock and Roll was not forever... apparently.

 

When CDs debuted in the 90's, I correctly predicted that they would replace albums within 3 years, not the 5 or 10 years experts predicted. I traded in my large vinyl record collection believing that all those clicks and pops would be remastered as clean CD's. I was right, but many of the classics took up to a decade to be re-released. After I traded in my entire album collection for a dollar per album, tops, I saw on TV that some of them had ended up at the Rare Records store. Duh! If I'd known the internet would eventually take off or that eBay would one day emerge as the eternal garage sale, I would have hung on to them! C'est la vie.Neutral

Years later, as I began to fully understand the technical details of digital recording, such as different sample rates (44.1 kHz, 96 kHz, etc.), bit rates (16-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit (float), etc.), anti-aliasing filters, dithering algorithms, sample rate conversion, etc., it became clear that in the race to go digital, may older recordings originally mastered for vinyl records were simply transferred to digital without remastering. This resulted in CD's that were less than optimal sounding. Many years later, some of those CD's begin to reappear as "Digitally Remastered". Discerning ears and audiophiles can tell the difference, but perhaps a lot people might not notice, especially since many consume music in lossy formats like MP3, etc. I think that is one of the great tragedies of the digital music era – the loss of pristine, high quality audio due to lossy, compressed, streaming music formats.

With all that in mind, there is still a debate as to whether or not people can tell the difference between 44.1 kHz recordings and 96 kHz or higher recordings. One of the best methods I've found to aid in answering the question myself is to start with a 96 kHz master recording and use the best possible sample rate convertor (SRC) to down-sample to 44.1 kHz, then compare the audio files using A/B switching as both files play. It's very important to use a professional sample rate convertor with premium noise floor dithering, and anti-aliasing filter to generate the 44.1 kHz file. Otherwise, "aliasing" (inaudible frequencies shifted into an audible range, causing distortion and noise) can occur, which will alter your perception of the sound and skew your comparison result. Using iZotope's RX5 Sample Rate Convertor, I generated 44.1 kHz files from 96 kHz masters and could not tell the difference after repeated A/B listening test, even comparing back and forth as the files played in sync. As I can only hear up to about 14 kHz to 15 kHz, I also checked the results on RX5's spectrum analyzer, comparing everything below 20 kHz using snapshots, then flipping back and forth. The spectra looked identical.

There is one additional factor: bit-rate. 44.1 kHz is often recorded with 16 bits and 96 kHz is recorded at 24 bits. Extra bits means more dynamic range (difference between loud and quiet parts) can be represented. You will often notice this wider dynamic range utilized on movie soundtracks. The human ear always seems to associate louder with better, so that is also a factor in our perception. But regarding only frequency range, I cannot hear a difference between 44.1 kHz and 96 kHz recordings. Still, there is an advantage to using something higher like 96 kHz in studio recordings. Processing audio digitally through various equalizers, compressors and other digital audio effects often results in a better master recording with less numerical artifacts, even as it is eventually down-sampled to 44.1 kHz for general consumption. I record and process all my studio sessions at 96 kHz for this reason, then use the best sample rate convertor, dithering algorithm, and anti alias filter to down sample to 44.1 kHz for distribution.

To be continued...

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