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Progressive Rock Interviews

Far Corner

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Dan Maske of Far Corner from 2005


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.


How did you come up with the name Far Corner?
I have a "classical" composition for soprano sax & piano titled "Far Corner." It's been recorded on Arizona University Recordings (http://www.aurec.com/info/sax1.html) by John Bleuel & Lindi Li-Bleuel. The name (for the band) refers to, in part, adventurous music of any kind - it's in a "far corner" of the music market.
MSJ: That's an interesting picture on the cover of the album. Where is this place?
The cover image is a photo taken by Rolf Peterson of Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior.
MSJ: Who made the tracks through the snow of this land?
Wolves made the tracks. There are actually wolves in the photo, but I cropped them out. Tracks alone are a bit more mysterious.
MSJ: What is the incredulous idea whipped up in "Silly Whim?"
I composed "Silly Whim" last of all the tunes. I wrote it quickly, from a couple ideas I came up with while playing drum set. So really, the whole tune was written around three contrasting drum patterns. The tune was an afterthought, something I decided to "sneak" onto the CD at the last minute- a silly whim of sorts.
MSJ: With "One Swipe of the Mighty Paw" the beat moves like that of a large beast. There are parts where it's sluggish and others where it seems more animated and angered. What kind of animal are you envisioning?
Actually, the title comes from a line in an episode of the "Drew Carey Show." I thought it was a good name for a prog-metalish tune.
MSJ: I like all the songs on the album and what I heard in concert. Out of them all, my favorite is probably "Creature Council." Your music is different and not immediately digestible. So, I didn't exactly get it at first. However, when I came upon this song, this was the point of the concert where I began to understand your artistry. For that reason, I'd say it's my favorite as it's responsible for my initial enlightened moment.
Thank you. I'm glad you liked "Creature Council." This is a new one that will be on our second CD.
MSJ: Three tracks on the album make up the song "Something Out There." Why is it that these tracks are considered parts of the same suite while the others remain separate?
These three parts which make up one whole are all improvisations. Parts I & III were completely improvised in the studio. We did two takes & liked both of them, so I decided to put both on the CD, but bridge them w/ a contrasting section of music. Part two was mostly improvised, based on a single concept and form. The inclusion of part II helped to develop an arc and make the tune work more as a whole, in a dramatic narrative sense.
MSJ: What is the meaning of the eerie opening to the song "Something Out There?"
Sometimes, in creating instrumental music, I have a program (narrative storyline) in mind - sometimes it's just pure music. Most of the time, I prefer not to divulge what my storyline was, and let the listener imagine what they want. Giving a tune a title such as "Something Out There" is purposefully a bit vague & generic, one designed to give the listener only a sketchy setting by which they can create their own story as they listen. I also believe, and hope, that people could listen to music and just like it, or dislike it based on only the music itself, and not the imagery the sounds might create in the listener's imagination. That being said, I did have a specific storyline for this tune, and considered making a video of sorts for it. We'll see.
MSJ: Let's talk about your musical influences… Are you influenced by jazz and if so, who are your jazz heroes?
My father played lots of jazz on the stereo when I was growing up. I dabble in playing jazz a bit, on trumpet and percussion, as well as piano. I don't have any real specific artists of influence in jazz. I saw Chick Corea a few times in concert, and at every performance, I kept thinking "I need to practice more."
MSJ: Who are some classical composers and pieces that have influenced you?
I think Bartok & Stravinsky are pretty obvious to people who've heard our music, but others include Penderecki, Henry Cowell, John Corigliano, Joseph Schwantner, and many more.
MSJ: The songs have an element of Danny Elfman's score from Beetlejuice, especially in the song "Fiction." Is he an influence of yours?
Lots of movie scores have been influential. I do enjoy Danny Elfman's music. Some of my other favorites include the soundtracks for the original "Planet of the Apes," by Jerry Goldsmith, "Altered States" by John Corigliano, and John Williams' "Star Wars." Many movie scores are often an eclectic mix of many different styles, much like progressive rock.
MSJ: Most of all, I hear King Crimson in your music. I've also heard Univers Zero being mentioned a lot when people discuss your band. Are either of these an influence?
Yes, Univers Zero is a big influence, not necessarily with respect to the style of music, but more in a "door opening" sort of way. When I discovered their music, I was writing a lot of contemporary classical/concert music. Hearing them for the first time made me realize that I did not have to separate my classical and rock writing (and jazz, or any style), and could meld them - just try to write interesting music, no matter what the style/genre. I think that it just so happens that when I do this, the result fits in with a lot of progressive rock. I was not out to write and record prog music.
MSJ: In general, who are your own personal musical influences that we haven't already discussed?
I love progressive rock of all types, from the so-called RIO styles to prog metal, and everything in between. Everything has some degree of influence.
MSJ: Your band is a quartet. You have bass, keyboards, and drums, which consists of three out of four of the people in your band. That brings us to the last member. You have a standard line-up with one exception. You use a heavy metal cello instead of a guitar. What led to this decision and why do you think this works so well?
I wanted something of a different color - a sound a little less common than bands with guitar. The cello can sound very heavy, even without distortion, yet also play very delicately. The instrument has a very wide range of possibilities in terms of pitch, color, and a colorful variety of special effects. Much of the cello I hear, especially when used in rock bands, have the instrument playing long-note, melodic lines in a very lyrical style. The cello can be very percussive and rhythmic. There are other groups taking advantage of this, but it is less common, at least in the music I've heard. Plus, Angie is a bit of a metal-head and loves to play in the style. She also has a big interest in contemporary classical music, a place where aggressive cello playing is not uncommon.
MSJ: The pieces are pretty complex, yet there is a lot of cohesion between each one of your instrumentalists. Even when you were improvising, this unity seemed apparent as everybody seemed to able to turn on a dime in unison together. Do you think up these rhythms ahead of time or just jam until you find something that works?
Thanks. We don't improvise in rehearsal, and save it all for the live performance. Some improvs turn out better than others. Once in a while, we sketch out a very loose form ahead of time, and for other improvs, it's just "anything goes." No rhythms, melodies, harmonic progressions, or motives are planned ahead of time.
MSJ: How do you make everything flow so well when you're jamming and how do you know when to stop?
We don't know when to stop. Afterwards, when we find out that a particular improv lasted for 20 minutes, we're all a bit surprised, since it only felt like 7 or 8.
MSJ: As for your prepared pieces, can you give me an idea of how your songwriting process works?
In composing, I try to make sure tunes work as a whole, that they have a plot, and characters that develop like in a story. Everything relates to 2 or 3 small ideas in some way. The trick is to make a piece grow, change, and produce surprises, yet have everything relate to each other so that, at least on a subconscious level (perhaps after multiple listenings), the tune makes sense to listeners. I prefer to do a lot of the composing "in my head," away from an instrument, so as not to be limited or influenced by what just works comfortably underneath my fingers. Still, sitting down at an instrument and jamming can produce some interesting ideas. Two of the tunes on the first CD were written around drum parts. I notate the music for all four instruments and then produce sheet music parts which the players practice on their own. Some tunes have sections of improvisation, or improvised solos within the composed works. Some tunes have no improvised parts, with everything notated. For our second CD, we're in the process of trying something very different in terms of how a tune is created. Stay tuned.

MSJ: Well, now I'm curious, what else can we expect from the studio?
We're in the middle of recording right now. We should finish the whole thing sometime in the spring of 2006. I don't know when it will be released.
MSJ: Any plans in the works for live albums or DVDs?
We've collected several of our live improvisations on recording. A CD of live improvs may be something we'll do in the future. Though this would be a live album, it would be full of tunes no one's heard before, unless they happened to be at the show when we performed them.
MSJ: Are you in any other projects these days aside from Far Corner?
I write music for a variety of ensembles, from high school band and orchestra to string quartets, brass groups, etc… Angie conducts orchestra and plays a lot of classical gigs. The two of us also perform as a piano/cello duo doing everything from jazz standards to original tunes. Craig plays in a rock band called Bascom Hill, and Bill has Kopecky, Parallel Mind, and more.
MSJ: Would you consider doing an album with vocals in it?
Yes… just got done watching a Gentle Giant concert DVD, so I've started my daily vocal warm-ups to prepare.
MSJ: Going back to the beginning, how did you get involved in music?
Both parents are musicians and I grew up with constant music in the house - either live playing or stereos on throughout the house. I started on piano, drum set, and trumpet, all about the same time, back when I was nine years old.
MSJ: When did you decide you wanted to be a keyboardist and form your own band?
Actually, I started Far Corner more as a project for composing rather than keyboard playing. When I started writing the music (before I had a bass player or drummer), I knew I wanted to record the music and play it live. I did not know whether I'd be the keyboard player, or the drummer. I eventually chose keys, and think that was for the best.
MSJ: You play grand piano, Hammond organ, and synthesizers on the album. What instrument gets the most attention these days and which one do you enjoy using the most?
Since recording the first CD, I've done a lot more experimenting with the organ - learning a lot more about the instrument, including a variety of sound manipulation techniques in real-time. I equally enjoy playing both a real piano and organ, and choose to try to get as many different sounds out of those instruments as I can without using synthesizers.
MSJ: William Kopecky is a very talented artist and he too is a part of your band. How did you two meet? How did he get involved in the band?
I saw him standing on the side of the road holding a sign that said "Will play bass for food." I like to help people in need. Actually, we met at a great CD store in Milwaukee that specializes in progressive rock called Rushmore Records.
MSJ: When I came to see you perform live, I assumed Kopecky and Far Corner would be similar acts, because you share much of the same template and even one member, but each comes off in a distinctly different manner. Why is this?
It's mainly a compositional thing - different people writing the music.
MSJ: How did you meet the other members of the band, Angela and Craig?
I met both in college. Angie, I met as an undergrad, back at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I found out she was a big Rush fan and the rest is history. We've been married since 1997. I met Craig at UW-Madison. He played drum set on a chamber piece I wrote called "Belzero." When I started to form Far Corner, I wanted a drummer who not only had great playing chops, but had classical training, and could read music well.
MSJ: Can you tell me about a Spinal Tap moment that you may have experienced in your career? This would be some practical joke, mishap, or just something out of the ordinary that occurred in concert, on the road, or in the studio.
Everything always goes perfectly with Far Corner. The power for the keyboards never goes out in the middle of a tune at ProgDay; the drummer never bounces objects off his drums and nearly gets his eye poked out, and his music never blows off the stand on a windy day; the cellist never accidentally throws her bow while playing in an attempt to look like a real rock-star drummer…
MSJ: I'd like to find out about your current musical tastes… What's the last CD that you purchased?
Two Foot Yard by Carla Kihlstedt.
MSJ: What's the last concert that you attended as a fan?
I recently saw one of Bill's other bands, Parallel mind, and before that it was Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.
MSJ: Yeah, I recall you recommending that I see them live… I'd like to find out some of your favorites… What is your favorite album of all-time? Is there any CD or tape for that matter that you've worn out?
It is kind of silly and childish, but I've worn out my Star Wars soundtrack from too much play. Dream Theater's When Dream and Day Unite cassette eventually wore out from too much play. My current favorite is Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's Of Natural History. I usually don't have just one or two current favorites, but to me, SGM stands out so much, it's like being in high school again where I really have a favorite band.
MSJ: Who is your all-time favorite band?
As mentioned earlier, there are several artists' who've served a "door opening" role in my musical life. Hearing them went beyond simply liking their music, and made me aware of possibilities I hadn't seen yet. In chronological order, the ones that really stand out have been: Rush, Dream Theater, Igor Stravinsky, Univers Zero, and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.
MSJ: Let's talk about some favorites that aren't necessarily related to music… What is your favorite movie?
When it comes to movies, TV, and books, I am pretty much a geek. I love Sci-fi/Fantasy, just like a lot of the stereotypical prog fans. There are a lot of great books out there in this genre, but it seems like most of the movies and TV shows don't measure up in quality. I suppose the executives in charge of what gets made think that this genre has to be overwhelmed by action and violence. Some of the best sci-fi is thought provoking and subtle. What is most important is what is not shown, not said, and not revealed, that which has many levels and causes its audience to constantly guess and speculate. I would like to see more sci-fi get made with the same approach and types of storylines as those of the political thrillers and court-room dramas we see much of. I am sure they are out there, and if anyone has any suggestions, please send me an email.
MSJ: I like to ask this question, because it helps me to identify with the artist, but do you have any pets?
We (Angie and I) have two dogs, Solon and Perrin. They are both Siberian Huskies. When Far Corner rehearses in our basement, as soon as we stop playing, you can hear them howling along. They both love loud music and seem to be big prog fans.
MSJ: Before we wrap up, is there anything you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
Yes, thanks. We'd like to encourage everyone out there to check out ALL of the artists on the Cuneiform Records label. I know that some people are under the impression that they put out only a certain type of music, but there is actually a very diverse selection, with music to please anyone, beyond progressive rock fans. If you haven't really checked it out, do so and you'll be pleasantly surprised (www.cuneiformrecords.com). Please also visit the Far Corner site at www.far-corner.com.
 
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