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electronic MUSICIAN

Composer Profile: John Keltonic | They Shoot, He Scores

By Sarah Benzuly | December 1, 2010

Composer John Keltonic (JDK Music Production) became intrigued with music when he heard odd electronic sounds seeping under a doorjam in the music building at college. A psychology major, he knocked on the door and found composition professor Alan Stein unpacking a new synth, trying to figure out how it worked. “I had about a half-hour before class so I decided to see if I could help,” Keltonic recalls. “We both left that room about 12 hours later having figured out a lot about the APR 2600 and becoming fast friends.” And so began Keltonic''s music journey, working out of his own space after selling a larger studio with his business partner.

What''s your studio setup now?
My home studio, which I use primarily as a “MIDI plus a few musicians” room, was designed by John Gardner. I use two [Panasonic] DA7 consoles primarily for monitoring. I only track a few live players here. I''ve tried lots of monitors, but am most pleased with the Genelec 1031s. For larger projects where I use more musicians, I use larger studios.

When I rent outside studios, I like to run digital audio through an analog path, just to add a little bit of that harmonic distortion that I''ve gotten so used to. I''ve been using [MOTU] Digital Performer forever and love it. If you''re interested in scoring for picture, there''s no substitute because it''s so great at being able to do many things quickly. DP is running on a Mac G5, and I use several other PCs to hold sound libraries (Kontakt, Giga 3, MachFive, et cetera). I use Pro Tools primarily when a client requests that I deliver my mixes on Pro Tools stems.

How has the composing business changed since you started?
The ability to digitally create and sample the sounds of real musical instruments—some of them with amazing accuracy. That said, I''ll always use a real instrument if time and budget permits. Although sound libraries certainly aren''t perfect, they can be pretty convincing—if used carefully. It helps that I''ve written for live orchestras. I''ll still use live players for the rhythm tracks and solos whenever possible. There''s nothing like the sound that comes from waving your arms in front of a room full of great studio musicians.

You recently finished up work on the PBS series The Human Spark.
The Human Spark was a great project because it took a new, scientific look at the early birth of civilization, so I was combining very modern sounds with ancient sounds. I have a fairly large collection of flutes, harps, and rhythm instruments I''ve collected from Africa (I go there every year to work with an orphanage and a children''s hospital in Uganda and used lots of those instruments. One of the instruments was wrapped up for me in Uganda by an African friend. In the package was a large, irregularly shaped box made of dried reeds and wood, and two long wooden sticks. I figured the sticks were used to beat on the box, so that''s what I did—it made a good sound. I called my friend in Africa to thank him and to explain how I used the instrument. He laughed at me and explained that the sticks were just packing material.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Being creative every day. Working on documentaries, I get the chance to do more than just entertain. I help tell a story and inform an audience of something that''s worth knowing.

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