Progressive rock giants Dream Theater released Black Clouds and Silver Linings on June 23rd and the album was nothing short of what you would expect from such an eclectic collection of instrumental virtuosos. Once again they manage to maintain a sense of atmosphere while lyrical melodies soar over a backdrop of music that ranges from brutal to beatific in the blink of an eye. UberProAudio had a chance to talk to Jordan Rudess (Keyboards) about his involvement with the new Dream Theater record as well as his latest solo release, Notes On A Dream and he offered significant insights about his roles as a solo musician and a band member, sampling technology, and the iPhone.
UberProAudio: Jordan, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to UberProAudio.com about your latest musical ventures.
You're latest solo album, Notes on a Dream, is a solo piano CD utilizing Synthogy's Ivory software exclusively. In addition to three newly composed prog-rock oriented pieces you've re-arranged some classic Dream Theater songs for solo piano. Given the sonic contrasts, rhythmic complexities, and overall dynamic of these songs can you talk about some of the challenges contained in re-arranging them into something suitable for solo piano?
Jordan Rudess: I decided on this album to cover Dream Theater ballads. The reason for this was that I felt like they would lend themselves well to my piano interpretations in a way that the more prog type DT pieces would not. Some of the Dream Theater songs have really beautiful melodies and chords and I thought perhaps having them presented with just me at the solo piano would be a way to highlight some of these elements. Of course the melodies are well known by any Dream Theater fan so one of the big challenges and things to think about was just how far to go with a song before it was too much. That is certainly a debatable subject! When I dove into the project I realized that one thing I needed to be careful about was the rhythmic element of things. When playing piano, I could easily get very floaty or rubato with my approach but after some experimentation I kinda felt that often it would be better to keep a fairly steady pulse when presenting the recognizable melodies. To do this sometimes I would take an almost Chopin Nocturne approach and have a nice arpeggiated type left hand part while bringing out the melodies in the right hand. Using Ivory and Logic software helped me a lot with fleshing out the arrangement. I could take my time and really get things to be just the way I wanted them.
UberProAudio: You've stated that the Synthogy Ivory Steinway sound is the Octavarium piano sound, while their Yamaha Studio Grand made the cut for Systematic Chaos because it was a bit more aggressive. Did you vary things a bit more track to track when you recorded Notes on a Dream in favor of creating some kind of sonic contrast or did you pick one versatile sound and run with it in favor of continuity?
Jordan Rudess: I mostly used what they call the German piano sound, which is a sampled Steinway piano. It is the one I resonate the most with and feel comfortable doing most solo piano work on. I also wanted to keep some uniformity to the album so I chose that one! There are subtle variations though between the songs in terms of EQ/reverb and such, but not too much to be in your face.
UberProAudio: Did you utilize a different piano sound on Black Clouds and Silver Linings than the preceding studio records, or did you find that what you had been working with sat nicely within the context of the new Dream Theater album?
Jordan Rudess: On BC&SL I used a lot of different piano sounds! Everything from the Omnisphere Burning Piano at the beginning of A Nightmare to Remember to the Korg Oasys piano for some more aggressive sounds and of course my favorite natural piano sound found in Ivory on things like The Best of Times...
UberProAudio: What about some of the other, more synthesized sounds that made the new album; anything new we should really be on the lookout for?
Jordan Rudess: Well- the Omnisphere software from Spectrasonics is a definite standout. Also your readers should be aware of some instrument software called Evolve by Heavyocity.
UberProAudio: Did working on a solo piano album have a significant influence on your writing contributions to Black Clouds and Silver Linings?
Jordan Rudess: Not really. I was deep into the DT mode as its own unique headspace and really kinda keep some of my other musical influences in their own sphere.
UberProAudio: Given your introduction of the Continuum fingerboard and the lap steel on Octavarium and the Zen riffer we saw you break out on the Chaos in Motion tour [you can see Jordan rock this on the Chaos in Motion DVD] you seem to be consistently on the lookout for new sonic possibilities. Any other new technology/instruments that were involved in recording the new album, or that you've got on the horizon?
Jordan Rudess: The Iphone!! I actually got to blow and Iphone solo with the Bebot application on A Rite of Passage. The creativity that is going on in the Iphone store is phenomenal! I keep my eyes open and always check out the new apps up on the itunes store! I have a custom app called Wizbot that I have been using on the BC&SL tour. Also I have a custom app called Jordantron (from the maker of Ellatron) which I may get to use on the US part of the tour!
UberProAudio: When you're recording a solo CD you're at the helm and have carte blanche in the realm of artistic license. Is there a drastic change from this when you go into the studio with John [Petrucci] and Mike [Portonoy] as the titled producers? Is it refreshing to step out of that role or is it a little odd for you?
Jordan Rudess: I'm very comfortable making my own music and "producing it. I'm also very comfortable in the DT world as a team player. I guess that is a reason we are able to be successful as a group. There is a lot of respect in DT world for the talents that everyone has. Mike and John are really the keepers of the DT sonic window and do it very well indeed! Hey - if I were in charge it might become and electronic music group!
UberProAudio: Have you ever considered adding the task of producing up and coming acts to the plethora of musical undertakings you're involved in?
Jordan Rudess: Yes- and perhaps one day I will do that. I have a lot of other personal music to put out there and that is on the top of my todo list!
UberProAudio: In your opinion how has your musicianship as a composer/solo performer been influenced by playing with the other members of Dream Theater?
Jordan Rudess: I always learn so much from playing with the Dream Theater guys. So much unique ability in this group. I'm so lucky. I feel like I get to play with some of the best players in the rock and roll universe.
UberProAudio: Just for fun, how about letting us know what you've been listening to most recently?
Jordan Rudess: The new Porcupine Tree album called The Incident. My buddy Steven Wilson is always doing great stuff!
Checkout Jordan’s Website http://www.jordanrudess.com to see what he is up to and to get a full gear listing.
Interview by Kevin Williams. Kevin is a film composer and performing musician in the Providence, RI area.