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Jasun Martz - 21st Century Classical Music
In 1978 Jasun Martz released a stunning work of symphonic, progressive music
entitled THE PILLORY. His live performance of that album at the LA
Progressive Mainfestival subsequently established him as one of the most
audacious and adventurous US musicians on the scene at that time. His follow-up
work was the very first Eurock Records release, THE AMERICAN MUSIC
COMPILATION, where he designed the package and contributed a striking
neo-chamber trio work for keyboards, winds and strings that featured Eddie
Jobson. After that he took a sort of sabbatical from the scene � for 25 years.
Recently after 25 years I reconnected with Jasun. We talked about life and his new music. It was like we�d never parted.
YOU GOT INTERESTED VERY YOUNG IN MUSIC, HOW DID YOU MAKE BECOMING A MUSICIAN A REALITY?
I played drums in a couple of high school bands growing up in Los Angeles. I could play a mean drum solo on �In A Gadda Da Vida!� When I was 15 one of those bands was signed to a record deal, so I was exposed to the professional music biz at an early age. I could always play virtually every instrument� not great, but good enough to start doing recordings where I would overdub everything. I became a pretty good musician and audio engineer.
I studied both art and music in university, but ended up loving art and hating the way music was taught. Art was all about what was new, and music was all about what was old � Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. I ended up getting an advanced art degree in sculpture from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
WHO WERE YOUR MUSICAL INFLUENCES?
I�ve always been eclectic in my musical taste and have been attracted to musicians that try something new. Early on, I listened to hippie bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Blue Cheer. Later I loved what the contemporary classical and new music guys were doing: Verese, Penderecki, Cage, Stockhausen, and to a degree the minimalists like Terry Riley. Charles Ives ended up being one of my biggest influences. I also listened to a lot of contemporary jazz artists like Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. And of course the early Progressive bands King Crimson, Magma, Gentle Giant, Van Der Graf Generator and Genesis. For better or worse, I have a propensity to be a contrarian, so once something becomes popular�I quickly move on to something else. As some of the Prog rockers became commercial successes and blander, my tastes changed and believe it or not, I started loving punk rock bands like Gang of Four. I was living in London when it all started, so the DIY punk philosophy definitely had an influence on me.
HOW DID YOU CONCEIVE THE PILLORY, YOUR FIRST BIG SYMPHONIC PIECE, AND GET IT RELEASED?
I always liked how Hugh Hopper was able to join Soft Machine by starting out as their roadie. So after college, around 1977, I started touring as a roadie for lots of bands. Frank Zappa had this huge, and I mean huge Emu synth. It was like 10 feet tall and had literally hundreds of knobs and cables. By then I was a synthesizer wiz-kid and synthesizers were pretty new, so Frank hired me to run it, and Eddie Jobson to play it. I was excited to work with Eddie as he was an incredible musician, and we became really good friends touring with Zappa.
During the tour I started composing and recording THE PILLORY. It was a blend of all my musical tastes: prog, avant-garde, noise, freeform jazz with LOTS of mellotron. I owned 2 mellotrons at the time and have always loved the mellotron sound. Somehow the �Neoteric Orchestra� as I dubbed it, grew to 40 musicians including Jobson and Ruth Underwood from Zappa�s band. Paul Whitehead, who had created all the Genesis covers, was originally going to do my cover, but when my hero, French modern artist Jean Dubuffet heard the music, he offered to do the art. So Paul instead recorded some amazing bowed cymbal and percussion. It took me a few years to record it in LA, New York and London studios. Zappa was very supportive since he liked this type of music too. I have to admit, even though it was recorded 25 years ago, to me THE PILLORY still sounds pretty amazing.
WHAT WAS THE HIGH POINT OF YOUR EARLY PERIOD AS A MUSIC MAKER IN LA?
Working with Zappa! Frank and I got along really well and he showed me more about music than I learned in all my university music classes.
WHY DID YOU LEAVE THE BUSINESS?
Because it was hard to support a family with music and since I had an art degree, I started working at advertising agencies as a creative director. I became successful at it and my music slowly moved to the back burner.
YOU�VE BEEN OUT OF MUSIC FOR MANY YEARS NOW. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE SINCE THEN?
Well, I never totally gave up music. I did some odd music projects here and there. I played synthesizers on a couple of hit Michael Jackson songs, did some gigs with the Far East Family band, produced a few bands. For better or worse, I co-arranged Starship�s �We Built This City on Rock and Roll.� That definitely is my career high point, or low point depending on your point of view (laughs). A few years back I wrote and produced an alternative rock CD entitled THE SIN CIRCLE. That did quite well.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE A NEW ALBUM, AFTER ALL THIS TIME?
THE PILLORY was surprisingly successful and influential FOR a lot of people, so I always wanted to do a follow-up. For decades I would get letters saying �when are you going to compose another PILLORY type record?� I knew it would be a huge endeavor, so for a million reasons, I never got around to it.
About eight years ago I moved to New York to concentrate on my art. I also set up a home ProTools recording studio. It�s an amazing place on 2 acres overlooking a lake, yet its only 35 minutes outside of New York City. Everyday I look out over this beautiful 60-acre nature preserve, and it inspired me to start composing and recording again.
HOW DID YOU CONCEIVE SUCH A UNIQUE CONCEPT AS THE PILLORY/ THE BATTLE?
Well, this is going to sound like a fabricated PR story, but honestly, it�s true. I�m a big fan of Charles Darwin and so I went down to the Galapagos Islands where he came up with the theory of evolution. Later, I was climbing up the world�s tallest active volcano, Cotapaxi in Ecuador. On the way up I was thinking about Darwinism and the way that might relate to how different the various cultures of the world are, and what would happen if they all evolved completely independently � like the birds that Darwin observed on the various Galapagos Islands.
Now, maybe it was the lack of oxygen, or altitude, but on the decent, I literally began running down the volcano. Of course, I tripped and went tumbling down the hill. As I lay there laughing I had an epiphany. Honestly, right then and there the entire THE PILLORY/ THE BATTLE concept came to me and even some of the melodic themes.
200 million years in the future the continents will start colliding into each other due to continental shift. The various civilizations have evolved autonomously, therefore very differently, some have procreated with computers and are super humans�others are really primitive. Well, as they meet they begin to battle. The new symphony is a musical representation of those battles and every movement is in a different style of music.
AND HOW DID YOU RECORD SUCH A RADICAL ALBUM?
Well, since the concept was intercontinental, I ran classified ads in dozens of cities around the world looking for �weird� musicians, or musicians that played unusual instruments. I sifted through hundreds of responses and settled on 115 members from all over the planet and called the consortium �The Intercontinental Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir�. I would email parts of the score and each person either mailed me a CD of their part, emailed me their recording, or uploaded their digital files to an FTP site. From there, I manipulated thousands and thousands of files on the computer to create the final recording. I may be wrong, but I think this is the first full orchestra ever recorded this way.
DO YOU HAVE GRAND EXPECTATIONS, OR PERHAPS SIMPLY HOPE TO OFFER UP A GIFT TO THE MUSICAL GODS, AND THOSE OPEN TO SOMETHING TRULY PROGRESSIVE?
I had a simple goal really� to record an album incorporating all the kinds of music I enjoy. Mellotron, noise, industrial, contemporary classical, prog, soundscapes, tribal, ambient, freeform �it�s all there. From the response so far, it seems indeed there are a lot of adventurous listeners and that is exciting. I think THE PILLORY/ THE BATTLE will really bend some ears and that makes me happy!
Interview by Archie Patterson