"By inserting the variable 'X' into a classical music equation
we can extend the music's traditional identity,
and establish the very transformations that define its character."
- Brian Slawson, composer and percussionist
Liner notes for Brian Slawson's XClassics
Slawson, a virtuoso percussionist, has a musical style evolved from the contemporary sounds of jazz, rhythm and blues, island, world and pop music. His compositions start with music written by great masters and he transforms them through the organic sounds of percussion and the high technology of the latest digital sounds.
Influence: Felix Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave, also known as the Hibredes Overture.
Arranged with space exploration in mind, Galactica could serve as the perfect musical "wake up call" to NASA astronauts.
"My personal challenge was to create a clear, penetrating yet floating vibraphone tone that was capable of delivering a melody surrounded by sequenced electronics. I feel that Galactica, in and of itself, purely defines
the whole of the XClassics concept."
2) Once Upon A Time In America
Influence: Allegretto from Beethoven's Symphony #7
After the tragedy of September 11 Brian felt the need to depict the events in his own 'words'.
Once Upon A Time In America, based on the stunning Allegretto from Beethoven's Symphony #7, is intended to connote the surreal manifestations generated by my overwhelming feelings of disorientation. The top of the track gives a sense of free-falling in a spinning, echo-laden environment.
"To humanize the special effects I triggered a variety of moaning sounds, most of which are whale samples. Then, to sustain a level of discomfort and forward motion, I introduced a funky, unorthodox hi-hat loop. At this point, the dichotomy which defines this track is in place: the rhythmic comfort zone that we know as common time versus the unpredictable and disturbing tones that support the melody," says Slawson.
As the track builds, the tune is doubled on bagpipes while Scottish drums and Latin percussion instruments (ironically quoting Arabic rhythmic figures) are woven into the fabric -- reminiscent of a police officer's or fire fighter's funeral procession.
In the final verse Beethoven's original string arrangement is preserved, while set in motion by powerful orchestral crash cymbals and an ear-splitting backbeat from the snare drum. After the final plea from the soaring strings reaches a climax, a repetitive outro ensues. "As the track fades, electronic 'frying' sounds and haunting tuned gongs deliver the final death motif engulfed in a disturbing concrete block reverb. A symbolic dogfight persists in the deserted war zone that is forever..." says Slawson.
3) Vibe Island
Influence: Mozart's Symphony #40
One listen to Vibe Island and Mozart's impact on popular music becomes clear.
After Slawson heard one too many cell phone rings, Vibe Island was born. The opening melody to Mozart's Symphony #40 is a phone call waiting to be answered, but who says it can't be a one-way ticket to the islands?
"Mozart's tune is brilliant and simple," says Slawson. "But I also needed to honor the development, which he typically seems to travel through effortlessly. The development crescendos to a stop time, pipe organ climax ... (dramatic pause) ... followed by a playful "pseudo jazz" vibe solo?!! If musical jokes were a crime I would've been locked up a long time ago, not to mention Mozart," says Slawson.
4) Symphony in Blue
Influence: Adagio from Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4
A Miles Davis approach transform a "legit" tune into a Real Book favorite.
"The Adagio from Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 seemed a suitable choice to try out this approach, and a nice tune to blow (improvise) on," says Slawson. "After attempting a multitude of juxtapositions, I settled on subtle rhythmic changes only to the melody. Sometimes the slightest alterations have the greatest overall impact."
5) New Worlds
Influence: The Finale from Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 and excerpts from Dvorak's New World Symphony
Two completely different works and original material, connected by good old fashioned backwards guitar and smash mouth percussion.
The Finale from Tchaikovsky's Symphony #4 and excerpts from Dvorak's New World Symphony provided plenty of options for exploration. "I created a shout chorus and some release material that helped to connect the source excerpts. The rest is good old fashioned backwards guitar and smash mouth percussion," says Slawson.
6) Tales of the New Frontier
Influence: Bach's Polonaise from Orchestral Suite #2
"I wonder if Bach ever considered that his music might one day be suitable for planetariums?"
Tales of the New Frontier is a simple study of depth through mixing and mastering and movement through space. "The more preoccupied I became with sound and effects placement, the further I strayed from Bach's original work," says Slawson, who broke out his bag of percussive tricks. "I placed cymbals bell side down on top of a timpani and softly rolled on the outer edges with felt mallets while operating the tuning pedal, all the while changing the depth of field between the microphone and the instruments."
Influence: Bach's 2-Part Invention in F Major
"Lay down some Bach-style counterpoint on marimba and vibes, add some 50's retro chord changes, a cheesy Casio and a dash of disco drums, and you've got Rockbox," says Slawson.
Slawson's recordings have often been used to introduce young people to classical music. The linear, often rhythmic structure of Baroque counterpoint, performed on playful mallet instruments, is evocative of a massive music box.
Influence: C.P.E. Bach's Solfeggietto
Slawson says, "Just before I began tracking Flydog, I was hired to produce a boy band in Miami. Suffice it to say, I had never been accused of being a consumer of such music! In order to prepare for the sessions, I purchased a couple of recordings that best represented the target demographic. One happened to be an Eminem CD produced by Dr. Dre. What would a tune inspired by C.P.E. Bach's Solfeggietto sound like, arranged and produced by Brian Slawson in the style of Dr.Dre?" C.P.E. Bach is one of the many musical sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.
9) Requiem For An Industrial Age
Influence: Mozart Requiem
As the twentieth century came to a close, a new dawn was on the horizon.
"Years ago I toured through Pittsburgh, which had been hit hard by layoffs in the steel industry. The city stood still, desolate, and crippled by a ravaged economy. The sounds and smells of a truly depressed metropolis had a remarkable feel to it," recalls Slawson.
The Industrial Age had given way to technology. "I wanted to create a somber tone, one that took me back to those days in Pittsburgh," says Slawson. "The opening to the Mozart Requiem offered a perfect bed on which to adorn isolated, disturbing sounds of clanging pipes and anvils." The music soon offers hopeful glimpses interspersed with industrial sounds until, finally, a raucous chorus and a triumphant coda disperse the waste and leads us into the new day."
10) Gypsy Train
Influence: Brahms' Hungarian Dance #5
Dvorak's Slovakian Dance #7
Bach's E Minor Bouree
Bach's Goldberg Variations
A schizophrenic assemblage of four different tunes by three different composers ...
After a Santana-like intro, Brahms's famous Hungarian Dance #5 kicks off its shoes. The tune that appears between the verses is Dvorak's Slovakian Dance #7. After the Hungarian Dance chorus, in steps Bach's E Minor Bouree, which is a French dance?! The cadenza (breakdown) features a melodic quote from Bach's Goldberg Variations until... you guessed it ... back to the Slovakian dance. "This ain't no Macarena!," says Slawson.
Influence: 16th Century Chant
Abyss is based on a sixteenth century French chant that later resurfaced in an arrangement by Gustav Holst.
"Many have said that recording media are primarily about capturing moments in time," says Slawson. "Hearts stood still as we pondered the fate of the Columbia flight crew as the shuttle re-entered earth's atmosphere. To our dear friends on the Columbia, Abyss is that moment in time, as seen through the infinite pool of reflection."
12) Bumble B. Blues
Influence: Rimsky Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee
A fresh take on a fan favorite, featuring guitarist Austin Pettit.
"I cut a version of Bumble B. Blues with Stevie Ray Vaughan in the late 80s (Distant Drums/CBS). It's always been a fan favorite. It was time to cut a fresh one," says Slawson. This time around, guitarist Austin Pettit does the honors. "It was a race to the finish," and says Slawson, "Austin played his ass off."
13) Hocus Pocus
Influence: Tchaikovsky's Chinese Dance from the Nutcracker Ballet
Hocus Pocus is a holiday-flavored whirlwind of colorful ear candy.
"There's a four-on-the-floor kick drum and an infectious group handclap riff. It's sort of a Disney meets Bavarian Beer Fest atmosphere, although I'm not sure I've ever seen Mickey take a drink," says Slawson.
14) Pompous Circumstance
Influence: Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance variation
"The world desperately needed a better popular version of this tune than what I'd been hearing," says Slawson.
Common at graduation ceremonies, Pomp and Circumstance has become synonymous with great achievement. "It's for these reasons that I chose Elgar's music as a canvas to showcase great moments from our nation's history," says Slawson. Those moments are depicted by famous soundbites of astronaut chatter cleverly inserted into the track. "I chose the key for the track based on the pitch of the soundbites. Rhythmic placement was of the utmost importance as well. This approach guaranteed that the music would ultimately serve the text," says Slawson.
"I'm told that my background vocals sound like the Beach Boys, so I loosely patterned the backing vocals to outline the chord changes to Don't Worry Baby. With the exception of a few touching words from Yankees great Lou Gehrig, all of the elements are from the same period in history."
"In homage to the fact that my first stint as a child musician was as a drummer in a corps, all of my recordings have ended with the flavor of a retreating marching band. XClassics is no different. A fading drum cadence in effect says, I'll be back ... ," says Slawson.
Check out the artist's website:
2. Once Upon A Time In America
3. Vibe Island
4. Symphony In Blue
5. New Worlds
6. Tales of the New Frontier
9. Requiem For An Industrial Age
10. Gypsy Train
12. Bumble B. Blues
13. Hocus Pocus
14. Pompous Circumstance