Tag Archives: Music

Musician Kurt Szul is father of modern 9-String Guitar

There are two types of people in the world: those that like to listen to music, and those that feel music. There is a distinct difference between the two, and only the latter will truly understand what that is. Kurt Szul is one of those people.

Originally from Calgary, Canada, Szul has become an international musical sensation in more ways than one. He has performed alongside some of the world’s most talented musicians, led bands, recorded on tracks that make their way to the top of the iTunes charts, taught students, composed music, scored films, and travelled the world sharing his talent. He is an iconic guitarist, with a passion for both music and his instrument that transcends into every note he plays.

“I appreciate that I am doing something that makes me happy daily. I love the freedom as I can create my own hours and do other things in life to create a good balance. I have also had the honor of playing with incredible, world-class musicians constantly. I play music on a high level which is fulfilling and I think touches the listener on a greater scale,” said Szul.

What is perhaps the most outstanding achievement of his extensive and esteemed career, however, does not come from actually playing the guitar, but rather, building one. Szul invented the 9-string-guitar, which later led to the creation of both the 7-string and 8-string guitars. All three are used around the world on a daily basis. He was 18-years-old at the time.

“Kurt’s skill on the 9-string-guitar has garnered interest at every show he performs with me. Great musicians have quizzed him on his style and the instrument, wondering how he plays with such ease and deftness. It’s always a treat to watch Kurt,” said Jay Jackson, the celebrated jazz vocalist and pianist.

Szul, recognized for his musicianship and contributions to the industry, was added as an artist to EMG’s huge list of product endorsers. He was given custom 9-string pickups and electronics, which were installed in his 9-string guitars, and giving an unbelievably amazing change in his tone and volume. Other artists include James Hetfield of Metallica, Steve Winwood, Lou Reed and Mike Inez of Alice in Chains.

At only 17, Szul began to become curious about different tunings that are possible on the guitar, which led to him becoming fascinated with symmetrical tunings, meaning that each string to string interval is the same going up. Such a fascination is not the norm for guitar players, and growing up in a small Canadian city, Szul had no knowledge of anyone ever experimenting in such a way.

“I just trusted myself and ran with it. The tuning I chose though had a limited range on a regular 6-string-guitar, so I went on a quest to see if building an extended range guitar was possible. I was met with a lot of resistance with purists along the way. I took the hard road and stuck to my guns. I ended up designing the prototype 9-string-guitar and built it,” said Szul.

Szul says took a leap of faith when he first started on this journey. Not many teenagers have the ambition or drive to create and develop a new instrument. He was aware that early guitars had a few variations. His invention was seen by other guitarists and musicians as an oddity, a revolutionary idea and a curiosity. He is consistently approached by others, wanting to understand his thought process and what he is doing. Originally, he was met with resistance, but now the musician community has accepted Szul’s unique design because of the high level that he brought it to. It is now a valid idea, and EMG recognized his hard work and dedication.

“Anything that is new and bold will encounter resistance at first. But times are definitely changing. I feel that over the years, my 9-strings and playing have received so much exposure that some of the big companies such as Ibanez and Schecter have started producing extended range guitars. These are mostly genre specific though and still use the standard tuning. Information, trading ideas and creation has never been so easy as it is now. People seem to be very open minded now to innovations. I feel that my invention helped pave the way to making the guitar world open up to new possibilities. I have only noticed this ripple effect taking place in the past five to ten years, from my idea decades ago,” he described.

While creating his instrument, the prototype needed constant modifications, ultimately getting rid of the kinks. Even now, years after he first created the 9-string, Szul is constantly tinkering with them to make them sound and play better. While doing this, he became an expert in string types and gauges, experimenting over the years with string gauge versus pitch, finding the optimal tension for each string based on his unique tuning.

“I have always felt that the standard tuning was great at some things but not at others. Experimenting on different tunings when I was a teenager gave me a glimpse of different possibilities. At the time, I wasn’t always sure where I was going with this but now that I have a long career between then and now, my risk paid off. The tuning makes perfect sense to me and has allowed me to play many things that are not possible with the conventional tuning.

Szul has also received an artist deal with Arturia, a major synthesizer and software company. Initially, he thought about patenting the 9-string, and was encouraged to do so throughout the years, but he wanted to share my experience and invention openly. He would encourage people to dream, plan, work and achieve like he did.

“I think that if we listened to the naysayers and our own inner voice (when it’s skeptical), we wouldn’t get what we all need to do to achieve happiness done,” he concluded.

The 9-string guitar far surpassed his expectations. Years ago, Szul read a statistic in Guitar Player Magazine that said only six per cent of musicians that start off in the field make a great career out of it. Now, he is in that top percentile, paving the way for new musicians to make it there as well.

Musician Jose Roman captures the feelings of film ‘30 Days with My Brother’ in song

premier 30 days
Jose Roman at the premiere of 30 Days with My Brother

When Jose Roman thinks of his childhood, growing up in Quito, Ecuador, he recalls being exposed to a great variety of different music genres, artists and styles. As far back as he can remember, his dad would play him classical music, from Bach to Chopin. His mother, a self-taught pianist, inspired him to try playing the electric organ in his house. Later, when his parents purchased an acoustic piano, Roman experienced for the first time, the sensation of falling in love. He knew, no matter where life took him, the piano would be his driving force, and now at 27 years old, this remains his truth.

Roman has become an internationally successful musician, gaining fame as a member of the rock band Daphne’s Roots. He has always been a strong composer, writing hit songs and catchy melodies. His keyboard skills are instantly identifiable on a track, and his classical roots are an evident source of inspiration, no matter what genre he is playing.

“As my musical background grew while I aged, I listened to more keyboard driven bands such as Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Queen and Dream Theater, just to name a few, the transition to play the keyboards was a given. My love for music was then solidified,” he said. “But now, I always try bending different flavours in my playing from my classical roots to blues, rock and even some electronic music.”

Despite his success with Daphne’s Roots, Roman’s versatility lends itself to all mediums, from accompanying individual artists, such as Sahandra Sundstrom’s Thinkin’ Out Loud, and even films. The 2016 drama 30 Days with My Brother, features an original song accompanied by Roman, as the producer Omar Mora, had heard the pianist’s previous work and knew he needed him to be a part of the music department.

“Once I heard how the concept of the song related to the movie, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to make a top quality compelling work as a keyboardist. I realized that the style of the song was right on my ally. I was very inspired the whole time I was working on my keyboards part and I felt very comfortable doing it. I really liked the song so working on it was very pleasing and the keyboard arrangements came to me very naturally,” Roman described.

The song titled “Never Too Late” was written by Andrea Sandoval, the singer. When Roman started working on the track, the melody and basic structure were already taken care of, so his job was to enhance the harmony, write and perform all the keyboard parts. The song was mainly piano and vocals driven with some strings arrangement that Roman also wrote and recorded. It was vital to the film’s story and the film’s success.

“When I first heard about this movie I was immediately fascinated by how original and interesting the plot was. Then when I was asked to be part of the music department and record and arrange the keyboard part for the main song featured in the movie I was very excited. It was a no brainer for me since I love to collaborate with these amazing talents. When I heard the demo of the song and how it relates to the film I knew this was an amazing opportunity to create something memorable,” he said.

With a 92 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5-star rating on Fandango, 30 Days With my Brother has resonated with audiences. It tells the story of Alexis and Jonathan, two brothers from Puerto Rico that were separated after a terrible family tragedy. After 17 years, Alexis has become a doctor while Jonathan has become entangled with a dangerous group of people. One day, suddenly, Alexis packs up his things and moves to Los Angeles on a mission to reconnect with his long-lost brother. The two brothers meet and are forced to face their past, themselves and try to restore the bonds of brotherhood.

“It’s always satisfying to know that good movies are recognized and well received. It is particular rewarding to be part of such an extraordinary project that is highly celebrated. I always knew from the very beginning that 30 Days with My Brother was going to be a great success, since it has heart and top-quality production. I feel honoured to have been part of this project,” said Roman.

After premiering at the famous American Cinematheque’s historic Egyptian Theaterin Hollywood in April of last year, the film was picked up by AMC for national distribution across the United States. The song was essential for the film, and Roman’s contributions greatly affected the feeling, encapsulating the story and the struggles the brothers were going through. The song is piano driven, with intimate vocals. It has a memorable piano hook at the beginning, and a very sensitive keyboard interlude in the middle of the song.

“I believe that the balance between the vocals and piano accompaniment was essential for the song success within in the film. It is a very simple, but at the same time very touching piano ballad,” said Roman.

Producer and writer Omar Mora could not agree more. When he first heard the song, he was ecstatic, giving Roman the confidence to know that they had accomplished something special. Mora was so impressed, in fact, that he asked Roman to work alongside him once again on future projects.

“Jose is very easy to work with, and he is very professional,” said producer Omar Mora.

The next short film Mora is producing, titled White Orchid, is expected to premiere late this year. Audiences once again will be privy to Roman’s original music while watching that film. It is definitely something to look forward to.

Composer Peter Lam creates comedy through music in ‘(le) Rebound’

Training as a violinist since he was a child, music has always been important to Peter Lam. Now, he has worked on over forty film and television projects, and with each one, he leaves his mark. As a film composer, he creates imaginative sound worlds that help transport audiences to another time and place. There is no limit to what he can do and achieve.

Throughout his career, Lam has shown audiences time and time again why he is such a sought-after composer. Working on award-winning films such as The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, & His Apprentice and Lovebites, Lam’s music has acted almost as an additional character, pivotal to telling the story.  When working on the new film (le) Rebound, Lam’s music perfectly captures the quirky comedy, adding to the humor in several situations.

(le) Rebound was definitely a very attractive project. I am a big fan of Woody Allen movies and I always wanted to write music for witty comedies that carry that sort of poetic European sentiment with them. (le) Rebound turned out to be the perfect opportunity. It has a very clever and imaginative concept, and I felt it could be something really fun to work on,” said Lam.

(le) Rebound tells the story of a heartbroken young woman who follows a hipster fling to France, where she falls headlong into a hedonistic romp. It premiered at the Aspen Film Festival in April of this year. It was praised as a piece of ‘cinematic genius’ by an Aspen Times review. It then went on to the Palm Springs International ShortFest 2017, Clemont-Ferrand, the Achtung Berlin (in competition for the New Berlin Film Award 2017), and the International Cinematographer Guild, winning Emerging Cinematographer 2017.

“It’s a great honor to hear that the film is doing so well, both domestically and abroad. It feels wonderful to know that the film I have scored will be screened at so many prestigious festivals around the world,” said Lam.

The film is yet another project that proved what a versatile international talent Lam is. Adding to the success in dramas and animations, this attempt in scoring for comedy shows he is limitless, and the film’s success across the world could never have been achieved without the composer’s skill. Laura Beckner, the writer and director, could not agree more.

“Discovering Peter was a sigh of relief in the post-production process.  It is a director’s dream to find someone this professional, talented, and collaborative. Peter is intuitive, communicative, flexible and full of ideas. Even though he nailed it with the first few pieces of music he created for us, I have no doubt that he would have tweaked and explored as necessary until we found the perfect composition,” said Beckner. “Peter was able to articulate the mood of the piece as well as filmic references and production ideas all very clearly.  I can tell he has an extensive classical music background; those influences are apparent and the skillset he is working with transcends anything trendy or ‘filmic’ even into something quite unique and sophisticated.  I was impressed that he knew how to enhance the score with more”

After Lam discovered the project, he reached out to Beckner and she was impressed by his previous work and credentials, and quickly invited him on board. They had to work remotely, as Beckner was based in Berlin. This did not cause any problems. The director had total trust in Lam, and approved everything he did immediately.

“It was a very enjoyable experience writing music for (le) Rebound. It’s a cleverly crafted comedy and the acting was top notch. It was just a fun process composing quirky gypsy jazz music that subtly played alongside the dialogue. I was very proud of the final project as I felt my music marry perfectly with their respective scenes. It is often said that, scoring-wise, comedy is the most difficult genre to tackle, so I am glad that I nailed it,” said Lam.

And that he did. Music plays an essential role in film, especially comedies, and in (le) Rebound, Lam’s work helped to highlight awkward tensions and comedic moments throughout the film that would have been overlooked otherwise. The music also plays against the picture in several instances, addressing the subtext of the story and injecting new meanings to the scene. Due to the setting of the film, Lam worked to create a ‘French-ness’ in the music, which helped to transport the audience from their seats straight to France. The music is truly the soul of the film, as the story reflects Claudia’s hedonistic trip to France after a heartbreaking break-up.

“As for most cases for comedy scoring, being attentive to dialogue and timing is essential. Instead of starting with sketching themes or overall musical structures, I tend to focus on specific scenes and familiarize myself with the precise pacing and comedic context of the scene. It is like solving a puzzle – trying to fit the music between the dialogue, action, and silence,” Lam described.

Lam definitely solved the puzzle for the score in (le) Rebound, as he does with every project he takes on. His distinct sound adds to every film and television show he works on, totalling over forty throughout his esteemed career. Despite his vast success, however, he remains humble, and is happy to do what he loves.

“I just want to write expressive music that tells stories. I think film is a very beautiful medium as it transcends time and space by bringing the audience from the cinema into an extended reality. Equally, music plays an important role in shaping the soundscape of the film and is a very powerful device in connecting the viewers to the story emotionally. Unlike theatre plays and concerts which may be one-off events, films are easily accessible to a much wider range of audiences through screenings and streaming. It has always been my goal as a film composer to contribute to unique film projects that can inspire and move audiences,” Lam concluded.

Musician Yasutaka Nomura is living his dream while touring the world

 

Being a musician was a natural career choice for Yasutaka Nomura. Not only does he love what he does, but he is exceptionally good at it. He has a formidable career at only 24 years of age, working around the world, showing international listeners what he is capable of. As a professional musician, playing both guitar and bass, he is extraordinary.

Originally from Japan, Nomura has made music in many different genres, in many different countries. He has impressed in the United States audiences in progressive rock/fusion trio Mammoth, Indie Rock/Alternative band Smokey Lenses, and Alternative/Progressive Rock band Squanky Kong. However, it was when playing Guitar with Voodoo Kungfu, an Extreme Chinese Folk Metal band, where Nomura’s international presence truly took off.

“It was great being in Voodoo Kungfu. Everyone in the band is very professional and serious about music but also easy-going and open minded. They are all at least 10 years older than I am but I think we got along very well. I had such a fun time with them on the tour,” said Nomura.

Voodoo Kungfu’s music is a mixture of Extreme Death Metal and Chinese, Mongolian Traditional Music. It was definitely something Nomura had never heard or seen before, making working with the band even more intriguing. He liked the songs and their performance style.

“When we play shows, we play with the backing tracks behind. Those tracks are mostly made of orchestra instruments with some Asian traditional instruments which make the whole atmosphere dark, oriental, and epic. I think it helps us play and perform better because it gets us into the right mood,” said Nomura.

Nomura and the band went on a European tour with Orphaned Land, Imperial Age and Crisalida. They played 18 shows in 11 countries. They performed in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, and Denmark.

“Touring in Europe had been one of my dreams since I started playing music. It was such an amazing experience and definitely an unforgettable event in my music career. I cannot wait for the next one hopefully with more countries and cities,” said Nomura. “These bands were all amazing and the members of the bands and staffs were all such cool people. It was such a fun tour.”

The band also received many awards. This list includes: 2006 World Battle of the Bands – Chinese Championship, 2006 World Battle of the Bands – World Runners-up, 2008 Metal Battle of China – Chinese Championship, 2009 MIDI Awards – Best Metal Performance Nomination, 2010 MIDI Awards – Best Metal Performance Nomination, 2011 MIDI Awards – Best Metal Performance Nomination, 2011 MIDI Awards – Best Live Performance Nomination, 2011 MIDI Awards – Best Male Rock Vocal Nomination, 2011 Mao Livehouse first annual awards – Best Metal Band, 2014 MIDI Awards – Best Live Performance. The unique Asian sound makes the band stand out.

“I tried to imitate the sound of Asian traditional instruments on guitar such as guzheng and shamisen. Also in guitar solos, I used some Japanese traditional scales, such as In scale, Yo scale, and more, which fit very well in this kind of oriental sounding music,” said Nomura. “We also use the Asian traditional percussion “Dagu” in live shows. I love the sound of it. It sounds huge and epic. It also makes me recall my childhood, because in Japan, we always have people to play it in festivals. (Japanese call it “taiko”.) Because of it, playing with “Dagu” feels very special to me. I feel very related to the sound.”

Nomura was asked to join the band by the singer Nan Li, who had just moved to LA and was looking for band members to start playing live shows. Nomura was friends with the drummer that was joining the band and he introduced Nomura to Nan, knowing his talent. After a few meetings, Nan asked Nomura to join the band.

“Yasutaka is very quick at learning tunes and has an ability to arrange them effectively and creatively. Working with him is very smooth and also inspirational. He has an outstanding technique and stage presence. He is also a great improviser, using the traditional Japanese musical scales. That makes Yasutaka very unique as a guitarist,” said Li.

Besides Li, Nomura is the only person in the band that is from an Asian country. This understanding of Asian traditional music, the musical influence he has from the culture and his childhood, and even his appearance are very important for the sound and the image of the band. Nomura also believes Li’s vocals truly capture the sound the band aims for, and compliments his guitar work.

“I really like the way Nan sings and performs. He uses a lot of screams, growls and throat singing techniques from Mongolian traditional music. His voice and singing is just very intense. I can confidently say that there is no one else that can sing like him. Also, he writes all the music for this project, he has an outstanding song-writing skill as well,” Nomura described.

This is evident on Nomura’s favorite Voodoo Kungfu song, Born on June 4th. It starts with insane vocal scream, and then has a lot of fast chugs and riffs with odd meters that are fun for Nomura to play. Also, the chorus part is very melodic and epic with orchestral sounds.

“I love songs with this kind of dramatic changes. It’s not just a fun song to play but also a great tune to listen to.

Voodoo Kungfu will be releasing their newest album later this summer. You can find out more information by following them on Facebook.

Be sure to also check out Nomura’s YouTube, Instagram, and Soundcloud