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The Final Frontier

11/1/2001

Kevin Moore was the original keyboardist in the progressive-rock band Dream Theater before embarking on a solo career as Chroma Key. “I quit the band because I wasn't getting off on that kind of music anymore,” he says. “I'd been doing another kind of writing that was more mood oriented. I started to write in what ended up being Chroma Key style.”

A haunting, cinematic work in the vein of Pink Floyd and Brian Eno, Chroma Key's You Go Now was coproduced by Moore and sound designer Steve Tushar. Moore's vocals and spoken-word samples from obscure vinyl records hover over lush, expansive washes of synthesizers, piano, guitar, bass, and sampled drums and percussion. “I love soundtrack albums,” Moore says. “An approach I take with my music is to leave open a lot of space and have a continuous mood throughout the album, as opposed to a big variety of music.”

A rented space in Los Angeles's Chinatown was Chroma Key's recording studio. “We were right next to the on-ramp of a freeway,” Tushar says. “Getting the greatest sound is not essential. You need some lo-fi and some hi-fi. You can pretty much make anything work and record it anywhere as long as you have a good preamp,” he says, adding that they recorded everything through a pair of Neve mic preamps.

The duo tracked You Go Now on a Pentium II/450 MHz PC built by Tushar running Steinberg's Cubase and beta versions of Nuendo. Their studio included a Soundcraft Digital 328 mixer, Mark of the Unicorn (MOTU) 2408 hard-disk recording system, and MOTU MIDI Express MIDI patch bay. Moore and Tushar miked vocals with an AKG C 414 and used a Shure SM57 on guitarist David Iscove's amp. Their outboard processors consisted of the Alesis MidiVerb II, Alesis QuadraVerb 2, Ensoniq DP/4, and an FMR Audio RNC1773 compressor. They mixed all but one track to a Panasonic SV-3700 DAT machine.

Chroma Key's writing process was collaborative. “I would show Steve some piano ideas, and he would come up with loops — or I'd do that — and then we would work from there just layering stuff, usually in [Sonic Foundry's] Acid,” Moore says. “Then everything would end up in Cubase or Nuendo.” Tushar spiced up audio tracks, often mangling Moore's Yamaha CP-70 electric-piano parts, with his collection of software plug-ins, including Waves' Native Power Pack bundle, Sonic Timeworks' Phazer, and Waldorf's D-Pole.

Four synthesizers appear on You Go Now: the Access Virus, Kurzweil K2000, Moog Memorymoog Plus, and Nord Rack. Moore enjoyed featuring the Virus's vocoder, and Tushar chose the K2000 for shaping drum sounds. “Plug-ins can't emulate lowpass resonant filters or distortion,” Tushar says, “so I'd still go back to my K2000 for that.”

Several vocal samples are from an album of radio transmissions from Apollo space missions. “The NASA stuff was just an LP I picked up in a used record store — highlights of the moon landings,” Moore says. “A lot of it was just, ‘Well, the crew is sleeping right now,’ and it seemed to be mundane information for this really extraordinary experience. ‘Astronaut Down’ was inspired by that.

“My idea for the album was completely different from what it ended up being,” he says. “I was planning on it being more acoustic, like the late Talk Talk stuff. We got into this groove, and I liked the way the songs were coming out, so the whole album ended up being electronic. I can't really plan what albums are going to be like. They just take over and do what they want to do. The songwriting is sort of mixed up with recording for me.”

For more information, contact Fight Evil Records; tel. (603) 962-8442; e-mail fight@chromakey.com; Web www.chromakey.com.

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