Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral


It was in a remote flat in a working class barrio known as “Vilapicina,” at the outskirts of Barcelona, that from 1994-5 I
composed and recorded most of the music found on this CD. This period, shortly after the ’92 Olympics, was known as “La crisis.”
The economic crash that followed a decade of boomtimes in Spain left me marooned with my first multimedia computer, which had just been shipped overseas, and it was in this void that I taught myself digital and MIDI composing, recording and engineering. With a single multitimberal digital synthesizer (a synthesizer capable of
playback of several recorded tracks of music simultaneously) and sampled sounds, I spent many late nights exploring unusual
combinations of musical tonalities ranging from classical instruments to rock drums, electronic sounds and samples which had been recorded in the various undergrounds I had traveled.

These were not exactly ecstatic times nor many of the subjects who or which I chose to focus my attention on, such as Paquito, the half blind beggar in the Barcelona Metro underground beside a destroyed opera house. Nearly all of my time then devoted to this singular task, I spent three months working laboriously over every note of the first composition to be recorded, “The Tunnel’s End.” Then, the first time that I played the finished work to someone I accidentally hit the “delete” button and back then I had no means of recovering the lost file. Fortunately, I had made a cassette recording of the song which helped me to rechart complex harmonies well enough to revive the piece after two more months of rerecording everything from memory. I took this as necessary boot camp training but never again worked on any composition with such diligence, nor without making a zillion copies. My goal at one point was to compose at the opposite end of my creative sensibilities. Each composition became a different sort of challenge, one which for me was an experiment in process and one as much artistic as musical.

At the core of this experiment were both the musical and artistic influences which remained so deeply ingrained: artists who had juggled styles and disciplines. Marcel Duchamp did this when he painted, “Nude Descending a Staircase,” incorporating Cubist and Futurist techniques at once. My favorite all time rock group, one coming out of the L.A. club scene in the late ’60s, named, Love,
blended the most unconventional musical influences and combinations, including harpishord, flute, Spanish guitar, harmonica,
horns, violins, screeching dual psychedelic guitars, electric bass and jazz/rock drums. From one composition which took at least half of a year to compose and record to another which was created within a single day, I let the many influences stemming from growing up in the heart of the L.A. and San Francisco rock scenes to the more traditional influences of life in Europe filter through my spirit and into my fingers as I composed on a keyboard and edited the recorded notes on a computer screen.

And, I broke every rule: with zero musical training, unable either to read a musical score or even define which notes or chords I was playing, I was adamant about the fact that it was I who was creating music, NOT high technology…and that the ear, heart and soul were one’s best teachers. Throughout the composing process I would
try substituting various digitized sounds for the same part I was playing and/or composing. In one instance, “About to Depart,” there are two versions, the first a rather ’80s techno sounding work, whereas later on I sought to achieve the driving raw beat of a hard rock song by substituting stringed instruments for electric guitars and
bass. Likewise, one can hear two versions of “The Tunnel’s End,” the one composition which relies strictly on classical instruments, the
second version from an actual live performance. This becomes contrasted with the MIDI synthesizer recording which relies strictly on digitized samples of actual instruments.

There is also one other live recording of a flautist who played two ancient wooden flutes simultaneously.

Throughout all of them are sounds of trains, bells, doors and electronic as well as live announcements, in several cases serving as complimentary instruments to those performed on a keyboard. In many instances they were placed within a composition arbitrarily, later to be edited into a precise rhythm or melody. In others they were placed into a timeline prior to and/or determining the mapping of a musical journey.

It was not until I discovered digital nonlinear video editing in 1995 that I began editing video scenes to these compositions, the one
exception being “Paquito,” which was composed while I watched a completed silent video. As the liner notes of the CD booklet (found in
the DOWNLOAD Ssection) enumerate, several of the compositions were made or embellished later on in Poland.

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