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David English’s Music: Tech and Creativity

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David English has always been fascinated by the cross-section of technology and creativity. For 30 years he worked as a technology writer, contributing to dozens of publications across the country, and as a photographer, working primarily in monochrome.

Since joining Senior Planet Community in March of this year, David has been using the new social platform to post both his photography and his ambient, computer-based music.

We spoke with David about his method of creating improvised music (no instruments necessary!) and how he uses online forums like SPC to bond with other creatives online.

When did you start experimenting with improvised music?

It goes back a while. I was in a band in the late 60s where I played the Hammond organ, and I really liked the riffing part – where you just kind of break loose and go wherever it goes.

After high school, I didn’t pursue any of that. But sometimes, when I felt depressed or something, I would find a piano and I would just play. That playing, just having it go where it would go, was the core that stuck with me.

And most of the music you create today is improvised using your PC computer?

It’s all improvised. It’s been so interesting to see what you can do and it’s exciting that these professional tools are available to anyone. It’s beyond what we would have imagined twenty or thirty years ago. I mean the idea of my recent piece “Portal” – that I can sit at a piano-like keyboard and be able play what sounds like a woman’s singing voice. And it really sounds like it’s real! Not just real – expressive. You are able to do what a violin or a cello player can do – or even a full orchestra.

What’s your process for creating your music and accompanying visuals?

It’s all computer based – both the visuals and all the sounds – and I have two piano-like keyboards and I’ll make a sort of “stack of sounds” and then just play.

I often do change the effects of the individual instruments, but I try to keep the integrity of the improvisation. Because when improvisation works, a feeling comes through that I don’t think you get if you’re sitting there and composing traditionally.

Then, I bring the audio I’ve edited into a video editing program. I’ll bring in a visual file and then start applying video effects, just like I did with the audio. I might try to mirror it or have it swirl. For the last 20 or 30 of these that I’ve done, I’ve found a groove where I’m tending to have it evolve out of the middle like a mandala or a medieval cathedral. There’s something relaxing and pleasing about that structure.

What do you get out of posting your work on online forums like Senior Planet Community?

At least for me, there’s a lot of benefit in getting enough feedback that you know these are the better ones. I’m not trying to create anything that will have a big audience, but it’s nice to have a small audience that lets you know, “I really like this one for that reason.”

On one of the forums I post in pretty regularly, a guy said to me, “don’t take this as an insult but I’ve been using your music to fall asleep, because my mind is really active.” I wrote back that I didn’t think it was an insult at all – when I’m mixing it sometimes, I feel like I’m nodding off! If I can make music that makes you relaxed enough that you fall asleep, what’s wrong with that?

Any tips for someone who wants to start experimenting with creating music online?

There are apps where you can just use your hand and swirl music (like TC-Data), you don’t necessarily have to have a background in piano or other instruments. If you have a background in piano, a lot of apps have a built-in keyboard you can use.

What does aging with attitude mean to you?

Being older, you draw on a lifetime of acquired wisdom and experience. The trick is to combine that with a youthful openness to change.

Have a look – and a listen to some of David’s work.


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