Talks with Chad Kettering
Into the Infinite
Into the Infinite:
AV: Where did your love of music come from and what were some of your earliest expressions of this love?
CK: The love of music came early on in my youth. I was exposed to some of my dad’s favorite music, the progressive rock movement. Music from Yes to Emerson Lake & Palmer and Chicago. One day I discovered my dad’s old trumpet in the garage and started making what could be called noises with it. This led to a very long journey of playing the trumpet in bands and orchestras.
AV: Did you ever have any formal training in music? If so how did that prepare you for being a professional player and if not did that create any limitations to how quickly you could move ahead?
CK: Yes, I studied classical music at Baylor University and received a bachelor’s degree in music performance. Baylor was a small enough school that it gave me the opportunity to perform in all of the major ensembles my freshman year. Many larger more well known schools fill their top ensembles with graduate students leaving you with just the practice room for several years.
AV: Tell me about your time as a professional trumpet player in Texas and Colorado. What kind of lessons did this teach you about music in general and your take on music in specific?
CK: I played for many years with orchestras and other ensembles in Texas and Colorado throughout high school and college. These experiences really taught me the power of making music with other people. Playing in music ensembles is a very rare place where people can come together and communicate or share ideas through the medium of sound. It truly is a great place where egos are suspended and communication is exchanged through a unifying language called music.
AV: What was some of the first ambient music that you remember hearing before you decided to go that direction yourself and what were your thoughts of this musical art form and how it might relate to your future?
CK: I remember being attracted to certain aspects of new age music in the beginning. Music from Vangelis, to Andreas Vollenweider, Manheim Steamroller or even Yanni. It wasn’t so much the music as a whole that I really liked, but the new sound of this music. Not until I discovered the sound of techno and drum & bass that I really began to pull away from classical music. Enigma, Future Sound of London, William Orbit and The Orb were amazing! This really started the pull towards electronic music for me.
AV: When was it that you had your own musical “epiphany” and discovered the power of using electronics and software to generate the music that you were currently making via the trumpet?
CK: The real “epiphany” came my last year in college. I attended an electronic music course as an elective that explored musique concrete, sampling, and analog synthesis. Working with these tools to create any sonic world blew my mind away. Music and sound had limitless potential. You could be the whole universe of sound rather than just one voice in a symphony orchestra.
AV: Describe the transition that you went through once you decided that this new path was the one you wanted to pursue and how you went about setting yourself up with equipment and software to actually begin.
CK: The transition took a very long time. These tools were very expensive back in the late 1990s. By the year 2003 I had a studio I could do some real work with. Through this time came an enormous evolution in the tools with the maturity of computers and software. Suddenly recording became affordable. It went from $3000 8 track DAT machines to $1500 computers with nearly limitless tracks and the ability to mix as well.
AV: I’m sure many folks who aren’t involved with the creation of music have a misperception of electronic music and would simply say that anyone can buy the computers and the software and create great music. How would you answer them in regards to the musical talent that is necessary to sit down in front of your console (or whatever equipment that you use) and end up with a piece of music that folks can relate to and enjoy?
CK: In many ways these folks are right! Anyone can buy a computer and software to make music. Not necessarily GREAT music.
AV: To go further with the previous question how is it that you sit down with a blank screen and a vague idea of what you want to do and end up with a piece of music that you listen to and think “Yeah that’s what I wanted.”?
CK: It is a long process. I like to begin with a thought, an idea, or an expression to some picture. Once this image is strongly placed in the mind I begin shaping sounds to express this impression. Sometimes the process evolves in reverse. The sounds I create form an idea or picture. Either way, this is the impetus to the next phase which is a long process of going from a rough and unfinished idea to the polished result.
AV: Tell me about the equipment and software you use to create your music and what each piece allows you to do in terms of realizing your music in its final form?
CK: I have a collection of hardware synthesizers, software synthesizers and samplers. I also have a modest collection of acoustic instruments. I pick electronic instruments that allow me to realize the sonic landscapes I want to create in the most intuitive and efficient way. It is a balance between a tool’s sonic character and its intuitive programming interface.
AV: Do you work on individual pieces of music until they are completed or are you working on several tracks at once during the creation process?
CK: I begin each piece as a sketch. It is very rough but contains some unique idea I can expand on later. When I decide on a selection of pieces that will work to contribute to the overall concept of an album I finish each individual piece off one at a time.
AV: Your debut CD is called Into the Infinite. Tell me about the title and where that comes from and what it means to you in regards to your music.
CK: The title “Into the Infinite” is an expression of the overall concept of this album. The album is a sonic expression of taking the leap into exploring the infinite nature of our spiritual side. There is both the elation of spiritual growth and the incredible frustration one may face with such a spiritual exploration. Each piece on the album relates to this story in some way.
AV: When did you first start working on Into the Infinite and what were some of the goals that you had in mind for the final CD when it was completed as far as musical territory you wanted to cover?
CK: I began work on the album in 2006. I would have to say that this was both an inner exploration as well as a massive technical exercise. The musical territory covered originated from all of my stronger musical influences since first ever listening to music. I consider this album my “influences” album. I had to go through the process of exhausting the expression of these influences and also learning how to create them technically.
AV: How are the 8 tracks on this CD unified in vision and content in relation to the musical journey as a whole? Do you look at the interrelation of the songs to the whole of the CD as they are being created?
CK: The 8 tracks follow a pathway to exploring the infinite nature of our spiritual beings. Each track carries some experience or message through the highs and lows of such a process. It was very important for each composition to flow musically with each other and to contribute to the overall concept of the album. The influence of the grand idea comes from the shape of the symphonic form or a progressive rock concept album from the 70s.
AV: What do you do when you reach an impasse and music isn’t flowing the way you hoped? How do composers clear the cobwebs and get a new perspective on the work they are immersed in?
CK: You will reach many impasses when creating music. The best suggestion is to do something else for a while. Come back with a fresh mind or perspective and see what happens. You can’t force any of this stuff to happen. Being creative is a vulnerable experience because the ego can feel like it is being measured. Once you let go, stop judging and let things flow will you tap into this creative universe. It no longer becomes about “you” It is no longer “you” doing the creating, but a piece of the infinite expressing itself through you. You just become the conduit.
AV: How did you hook up with Steve Roach and what part did he play in the bringing of Into the Infinite to its final form?
CK: I participated in a workshop with Steve Roach a year ago. We discussed mastering Into the Infinite once the workshop was over. Steve played a very important role in the final polish of the album. All of the music was completed before beginning the mastering work with Steve. He provided his years of listening experience to shape the final sound of the album. Minor EQ and reverb enhancements were made by him to bring it to its completed form.
AV: When it comes to the mastering of a CD what is it that this does for the final product and why is it important to the overall sound that you end up with?
CK: Mastering is a very important part of completing an album. The mastering process involves a final balance check of the frequency range and levels of each song, assemble the tracks in a cohesive manner, and finalize the content for CD duplication. One can create a very good sounding mix per song, but mastering the final two-track mix allows an engineer to add that extra polish and cohesiveness to the sound.
AV: Were there any of the 8 tracks on this CD that challenged you more than the others when it came to molding it into what you were looking for?
CK: The song Intangible was the most difficult to mix. This piece had a huge number of tracks that all needed to merge and live with each other. It felt like mixing a large budget film soundtrack!
AV: Was there a feeling of accomplishment when you held the first CD copy of Into the Infinite in your hands? Tell me what that is like for a musician when they reach the point where their vision became a physical reality.
CK: Absolutely! I couldn’t believe that I had actually completed a CD. Here was the product of years of exploration, technical development, and soul searching. It is an incredible feeling to see your original vision reach the end of the road in CD form.
AV: So when you reach this point and you are done with one project what do you do? Take a break or dive back into the next project?
CK: I quickly discovered that there was almost as much work involved in releasing the album as a commercial product than there was in creating it! Many months of work went into the marketing and promotion of the album. Once that was in place I went back into “experimental mode” and began work developing new sounds for the next album.
AV: Do you see digital delivery of music and the Internet as a boon for the small genre of ambient music and where it might go in the future and the audience it might reach?
CK: In many ways I believe it is a good thing for both artists and listeners. Music is easily accessible to listeners and the cost to distribute music in this format is far less than CDs. The only problem I see with the digital system is that it can be overwhelming for listeners to find the really great music. For better or for worse the record companies served as a filter to all released music. Now it takes a lot of time to search, hopefully listen to before buying, and find really excellent music.
AV: What does your music mean to you personally and where do you want it to take you in the future?
CK: My music is a personal voyage that takes me to places I can’t experience any other way. These sonic landscapes fill my soul much like a hike in the wilderness can provide.
AV: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the readers of AV about your music or the world in general?
CK: The world is constantly changing. It is something we cannot resist and it is an inherent part of nature. One thing that is a constant is the universe within. Music has this incredible ability to reach inside each of us and make contact. I encourage all of us to never sever this beautiful link that music can provide.
AV: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me Chad and share some of your ideas about your music with the readers of AV. I wish you the best of luck with your music and much success in the future.