The Vision of Kevin Atwood
The seeds were planted about 43 years ago when my father dropped me off at my aunt and uncle’s house. I had a lot of fun playing around on their acoustic guitar and piano. My aunt asked what instrument I liked the best, I told her both.
When I was in grade 4, my music teacher was a classical acoustic bass player by the name of Gary Kerr. He was world class musician who for some reason had ended up teaching music that year. I wish I could go back in time and thank him for all those times he dragged his acoustic upright bass to class and played for us.
One day Mr. Kerr invited Chalmers Dome to speak to our class. Mr. Dome brought with him a reel-to-reel tape deck and his clarinet. Mr. Dome spoke to us about the wonders of sound-on-sound and multi-track recording. I found all of this really fascinating and was blown away when he played his clarinet with the four separate music tracks that he had created.
I can remember thinking,
“Wow one guy can do all of this?”
That was the most significant musical event that I can recall until I was about 11 years old. My father bought me a used Kent guitar and Regal amplifier from Buckley’s Music store in Halifax. I guess the previous owner of the amplifier used it a church because it was totally covered with a “stain glass” pattern, plastic Mac-Tac covering.
The guitar had a real chunky neck and little or no tuning or intonation ability to speak of and action like a suspension bridge but I felt very fortunate to have it all the same.
Between the ages of 11 and 13, I sung in the church choir and ended up playing my guitar in front of the whole church. I remember being very nervous and I played the song about 500 times faster than I should have!
In grade eight my music teacher Sister Margaret was instrumental in introducing to classical music.
In grade nine, I started to experiment with a little Radio Shack amplifier circuit board. Thanks to this little amplifier, I discovered the liberating joy of distorted guitar. At the same time I also discovered the wonderful world of oscillation when one of input leads accidentally made contact with one of the output leads.
I was ripping parts out old TVs to test their sonic weirdness possibilities when inserted between input and output of said amplifier. Eventually I had collected a bunch of capacitors, chokes, coils and semiconductors (and other electronic things that I had no idea what they were) which I deemed the “Stars of the Show” when it came to the sonic weirdness coefficient.
I took all these electronic parts and tested their performance value when wired together in various combinations. I used the results from these tests to build a pseudo synthesizer using a bunch of rotary switches and linear taper potentiometers to switch and control and the various parts in the feedback circuit.
I mounted the parts and circuit board on a couple of pieces of plywood and submitted for my final year end music project. I wish I still had it. It made some of the weirdness sounds I have ever heard. I’m sure even Stockhausen would have been proud of me.
During time I joined up with the school choir. I meet these two very creative cool guys (Steve Bagnell and Kurt Hahn) who were also in the school choir and we decided to start a band. OK when I say band I should say music ensemble.
The earliest music we wrote consisted of some really way-out weirdness that provided a back drop for Steve to play the occasional Sax and read out some random passages from the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
Kurt, who played keyboards, gave me a Mike Oldfield L.P. for my birthday (Tubular Bells).
We played the LP as soon as I opened it. After listening to the first side, I remember I said
“I can’t believe one guy can do all of this!”
Over a period of about two or three years the three of us expanded our taste in music. We picked up a few more people in the group and modulated our direction from avant-garde to progressive rock. We became a legitimate progressive rock band (thanks to the intense influences of the music of Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson and Gentle Giant).
After discovering the semi-distorted, cosmic tones of Chris Squires’ Rickenbacker 4001 bass I decided to switch to bass and let someone else play guitar with the band. My first bass was a Gibson Ripper. It wasn’t a Rickenbacker but it was close. Even though my mother thought I should have bought a bass from Sears for $40, I felt really good about playing a Ripper bass when I realized it was a great sounding and playing bass (and it was what Greg Lake was playing on the back of the first ELP live album). Validation!
Paralandra stayed together as a Progressive Rock band for about 7 or 8 years. The music scene in Nova Scotia at that time was mainstream Rock, Country or Disco. In hind sight we would probably have flourished in a New York or Toronto or Montreal.
In the beginning most of our songs were at least 20 minutes long and mostly comprised unrelated although interesting sections complex music. Common time signatures where auspiciously missing. A lot of our early music employed the used multi-layered, modulating time signatures. In fact there was a time I can remember thinking that 4/4 common time felt weird and unnatural.
There many times were no two were playing in the same time signature at the same time. I can remember playing bass lines in 13/8 while other music parts were whirling around me in a sea of metric and temporal modulation. At the same time I was also thinking about what I need to do to get ready for the next up and coming metric tornado while simultaneously playing my Moog bass pedals.
After seven very educational and interesting years and as many public performances I quit Paralandra. The other guys in the band started to head in different direction and I wasn’t interested pursuing a musical direction that I thought lacked emotional content.
It’s the emotional energy of music that has interested me. Always has and always will.
Since the Paralandra days (over 25 years ago) I’ve been working with music, audio recording and production and building up my studio.
Thanks to the development of digital and MIDI based music technologies my music vision has become a reality!
Kevin Atwood – Composer