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Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series
Hailing from Toronto, Canada, guitarist/composer Jamie Bonk has graciously agreed to become a contributing editor to Jamie will be conducting a series of interviews entitled Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series. We look forward to his contributions for they are both insightful and offer a unique artist-to-artist perspective over the typical interview. We hope you enjoy them.
Other Conversations with Jamie: Artist-To-Artist Series:
A Conversation with Alien Chatter, May. 2004
A Conversation with Oystein Ramfjord of Amethystium, Apr. 2004
A Conversation with Rob Eberhard Young, Apr. 2004
<<-later interviews | earlier interviews->>   <<- all interviews ->>
Jamie Bonk
A Conversation With Calvin L Coolidge II
October 2004
O.k. there's prolific and then there's guitarist/keyboardist/composer/producer Calvin L. Coolidge II. How prolific you ask? Well, between the time when we finished the conversation and I wrote this intro, Cal recorded ANOTHER album! Wow! With four records already under his belt, Cal's set to release three, correct that, four brand new albums: Voyage, The Very Best of Christmas, Thy Gates of Beauty and the literally just recorded solo piano record, Peacemaker. Does he sleep?...

I've heard two of Cal's records -- the solo-performed, electronic-based Club Tiaj and Seconds, an album featuring Cal's melodic guitar playing in a more traditional band/ensemble setting. Joining Cal on the Paul Speer produced and engineered Seconds are: Paul Speer on synthesizer, saxophonist/flutist Richard Warner (David Lanz, Tingstead & Rumbel), cellist Traci Hoveskeland, bassist Doug Barnett (Deniece Williams, Hank Crawford, Phillip Bailey), drummer Steve Hill, percussionist Matthew Burgess (Ann Wilson - Heart, Spencer Davis), organist Larry D'Amelio, bassist David "Dano" D'Amelio and engineer Steve Carter.

For those of you who are wondering about Cal's name and the URL for his website ( the answer is yes, he's related.

You can learn more about Cal, by checking out his web site.

Calvin L. Coolidge II
"One experience of music is that it's theatrical. It communicates with illusion. Slip on a pair of headphones and you're in another world." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: I thought this was a terrific question when I was recently talking with John Beaudin of the Breeze in Calgary, and rather than just steal it outright, here's a somewhat modified version: What do you know now that you wish you knew before you recorded your first album?
Cal: In few words: employing efficient methods to organize sound affords more time for creating music.

For example, the guitars on Clear Dream Day were recorded using a 4-track tape recorder. Respecting time required recording as few takes as possible. For musicians, like those who appear on Seconds, this ability to perform on "first take" is often a result of years of playing with countless hours of daily practice.

By assembling data electronically, a computer completes instantly what once were time-consuming tasks. Therefore since there is a reduction in the amount of time spent on administrating sound, like adding reverbs or addressing fades, more time can be allocated to the production of music.

The saved time is invested composing music that contains hundreds of enhanced instrumental sounds, delivered in a variety of styles. This process began with the eclectic Club Tiaj and evolved to the recently released Gregorian chant-like Meditations on God and the Meaning of Life. New soon-to-be-released recordings capture an assembly of several orchestras and choirs performing rich and powerful themes. Experiencing this type of music was nearly impossible just a few years ago.

Other recently completed recordings include Hymns, solo piano pieces, Rumbas, and folk dances ala Pennsylvania Dutch as well as some pop music that includes singing. There are even plans for an all-out guitar-glittered recording.

Cautious, although a computer can accomplish much with its speed, it won't do everything. It won't teach theory or the traditional rules of composition. It won't provide the ranges of the orchestral instruments nor will it teach the reading of music. It won't apply voice-leading techniques or indicate which timbres blend. It won't instruct how to play an instrument, and it won't provide the creativity needed to complete a cohesive composition. It cannot evaluate music. It cannot correlate social events to sound. It cannot give a historical perspective on how music evolved and how scales were established. Most important it cannot determine taste; nor can it heighten style or appoint technique.

It takes time to perfect a craft, gather data, study, gain experience, and apply information toward improving effectiveness. Hopefully the use of today's timesaving advancements can spawn great masterpieces, presenting enthralling music greater than what man has ever known.
"Cautious, although a computer can accomplish much with its speed, it won't do everything" - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: That's a great perspective on technology and such a positive outlook! You seem to be in an incredibly creative period -- an amazing number of projects on the go! Have you always been so prolific?
Cal: Applying the technology that is now at our disposal is creating a lot of product, possibly opening many new creative doors. For producers it is certainly collapsing some previous barriers that time and task held. This may be one of the most exciting periods for the expression of creativity perhaps ever known, yet the deployment of this technology is also a double-edged sword.

The barriers of time and task are not eliminated; they are simply shifted to the consumer. Since production is quickened, they have more products through which to sift. Consequently, competition for their time becomes expensive.

It's understood of course that the ease afforded by implementing these technological advancements can quickly elevate those who may do little more than touch a few keys on a programmed computer. Initially exciting, they may believe that they are creating masterpiece after masterpiece, but under such circumstances producing an unintended abundance of the mediocre can often be the result.

For those seeking such big returns with little effort, paradoxically, relying on this technology can allow the level of their performance skill to deteriorate or be underdeveloped. This will likely mean that those who demonstrate high performance skill first and then use this technology second, which is evident in your work, Jamie, will stand out.

The majority of products that will be produced with the aid of a computer will no doubt be applied commercially, given the presence of money, but there is also an increased likelihood that the true artistic geniuses of our time will have an opportunity to surface. Put another way, far more paint, like the results from a computer, is used commercially than on canvas. Yet Picasso likely would have still created masterpieces had he used a computer only.

Similarly, a word processor will not turn one into the next Shakespeare, but if there are Shakespeares walking around this planet, perhaps we can now find them.

Employing technology, in short, can quickly manifest visions. The quality of a vision's expression is rooted first in its attributes, and next in exercising the skills required to bring forth that vision. Looking at the process from this view means that dreams create reality, analysis follows creation.

It is a real pleasure to know Jamie that there are artists like you who demonstrate heightened performance ability. This shows to others the rewards of years of disciplined practice. Approaches like yours raise standards, which is a welcomed event these days. Music like this defines dedication and discipline and these are the characteristics that could be more abundant! So congratulations to you on the release of My World and for exercising tenacity to complete it.

It is interesting that you use the word "prolific" in your question. This is the very word others use to describe the completed but as of yet unreleased works. They say they use this word because of the many coordinated melodies. They may be looking for the music term polyphony.

The source of this apparent creativity seems to come internally from a never-ending presence of music. Those who have witnessed a composition being created are often surprised to then learn that it was born right on the spot as a finished piece, unrehearsed. Exploring various origin theories don't actually explain this process. Perhaps visual artists "see" countless images. Perhaps statisticians endlessly calculate mathematical formulas. One biological theory suggests that this propensity may develop at an early age when the brain is forming its processing pathways. The addictive theory says that we spend a lifetime trying to relive that first enjoyable moment. The religious explanation says that it's a gift from God. Each approach, and there are many others, has its own appeal to different people. Without being controversial, whatever the case, perhaps it's sufficed to say that there is an acceptance of this internal activity and acting upon it may be beneficial.
"The quality of a vision's expression is rooted first in its attributes, and next in exercising the skills required to bring forth that vision." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: First off... thank you so much for your compliments! This is such a tough business -- positive comments are definitely appreciated! You made a number of excellent points in your last answer. For me, one of the most interesting was: "The barriers of time and task are not eliminated; they are simply shifted to the consumer." I've never thought of the "problem" exactly this way. There certainly is a lot of music out there right now. Some would say too much music. So the question is: How do we, as artists and label owners, make it easier for the consumer to sort through the ever-increasing number of recordings?
Cal: You're quite welcome! Much deserved too by the way. Your playing on My World is outstanding.

To help customers sort through products, we need to improve ways of presenting information that is highly organized and for producers to display identifying markers. Centralization (consolidation) will likely bloom as we progress.

Customers need identifiers to distinguish location. The first identifier is, of course, your performing name and that needs to be displayed repeatedly on letterhead, business cards, web site, pamphlets, CDs, and any other place where it will be seen. Another identifier is a description. Artists need to find the few best descriptive words for their music. Slogans use verbiage. Another powerful identifier is the use of pictures. Logos use pictures. Here your choice of color, theme, and placement become important. Customers want to learn succinctly what it is you have to offer. They want to quickly identify you and your product. It is up to producers to make it easy for customers to find you.

The task of helping consumers sort through music will likely not be completely up to the labels or artists, however. Great strides have been made with search engines, for example, and with some Internet shopping sites that categorize music. To sort through a vast amount of data, it is likely that there too will be more categories, not less. For the sake of a customer reaching you, it may be best to convey which category most closely resembles your music.

With such large product numbers it becomes even more important to be organized so customers can more easily find a selection.
"To help customers sort through products, we need to improve ways of presenting information that is highly organized and for producers to display identifying markers." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: I could see the two albums of yours that I've heard, Seconds and Club Tiaj, being placed at different ends of a record store. Both of them are fantastic but stylistically quite different albums. What, if any, are the common elements running between the many different styles you work in?
Cal: Thank you for the compliment, Jamie!

Hopefully these recordings WILL be in different locations in a music store, or even in different stores entirely. The markets for each are expected to be different and hopefully these recordings will participate in diverse markets that appear to be emerging.

The next few recordings sound neither like Seconds nor Club Tiaj, by the way, so there are even more people to reach and more music to experience.

Understandably, everyone who has heard these recordings side by side seems to do a double take. The expectation seemed to be for Club Tiaj to sound stylistically similar to Seconds, since its release followed Seconds. On the surface, they seem to not have anything in common: Seconds uses an ensemble of traditional acoustic instruments to deliver its soft guitar-centered melodies. By comparison, Club Tiaj is upbeat using synthesizer to produce rhythmic multi-timbre music.

Story telling appears throughout the world and seems to be a common denominator of people. People love a good story, but they may not like the same story. Performing different styles of music is like telling different stories. As we tell different stories, we entertain and capture attention.

So it is with the different weaves of Club Tiaj and Seconds; they tell two different stories. Regardless, however, of what story is told, it's important, a requirement actually, to be proficient in its presentation.

The commonality of Seconds and Club Tiaj may not lie in the style, the instrumentation or the structure. Their commonality is the effective delivery of different styles and the surprise that they came from the same source.
"Hopefully these recordings WILL be in different locations in a music store, or even in different stores entirely." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: Somewhat along the same lines, on your website you write: "Composing music is like acting. The objective of a great actor is to play their roles so convincing that the audience is unaware that it is this same actor who is playing another different role. I think this can be done with music." Do you prepare for a musical role in the same way an actor would (i.e. back story, sense memory, etc.)?
Cal: The preparation for composition comes from practice, the study of history, the arts, Western music theory, physics, and biology.

One experience of music is that it's theatrical. It communicates with illusion. Slip on a pair of headphones and you're in another world. Through vibrating air, mood and imagery ignite. The instruments are the characters, their individual part is their line, the piece is the plot, and the language is the style. The playwright is the composer. The director is the conductor. The performers provide the emotional expressions that bring the characters to life.

The acting analogy is used to describe the aspect of objectivity in performing and composing. Being objective is to compose and perform without regard to one's personal dilemma. The objective approach is a tops-down method. The key phrase: find a need and fill it. The "need-filling" is other-centered; allowing others to tell you what they want and then you provide it to them. This approach uses surveys, questionnaires, and focus groups as part of the information-gathering strategy.

Some folks in the arts compose or prefer to perform pieces that relate primarily their personal circumstances. This is subjective and is a bottoms-up approach. The key phrase: here's the product, find the market. This approach uses advertising and other attention-getting techniques to introduce their product. It's unlikely that the two approaches can fully separate as there are interactions between them.

Being familiar with Western music theory is another way to prepare for composition. One note can change the mood and the direction of a piece. One note could link what would otherwise be a distant key change. One interval can make a passage sound open or transparent, like stacking perfect 4ths or perfect 5ths. An enharmonic could be placed within a harmonic structure, making the tone a flat 7, which could then resolve to the third of a tonic, or the 7th could be part of a French 6th resolving up a 1/2 step, perhaps establishing another key entirely. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless.

Preparation for a composition, if it's called that, is, like a performer, the years of study and experimentation of how tones sound together and how they are used to create different styles and moods. For example, playing in the flat keys (some of them being Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb for example) can sound warm or darker than when playing in the sharp or natural keys (some of them being C, D, E, G, A). Knowing this one bit of information can aid in the construction of a composition, and moving between the two can really create some very expressive music.

Reading studies on the effect of music are also part of the preparation process. These studies include how music is used in business. As many may already know, the predominate key used for gaming machines is C major. C major seems to bring about happy, or happy-go-lucky, feelings when the mostly assessable triadic melodies are arranged at certain tempos. Other recent studies appear to indicate that restaurant patrons tend to spend more when classical music is played. If these studies are accurate, then it might be concluded that frequency and timbre is a stimulus that creates not only an emotional response, but also a behavioral response.

Learning how the ear responds to vibration is also very helpful. Generally, higher frequencies are perceived to sound more prominent even at lower decibels than are lower frequencies at greater decibels. Lower frequencies rumble while high frequencies can sound shrill. This has to do with the structure of the ear, speed of the vibration, and the type of waveform.

Also informative is how the brain processes auditory information. Some studies show what areas of the brain different sounds and events stimulate. These studies include being aware of the emotions that are tied to learning, for when we first hear a piece of music or learn anything new, emotions are also involved.

The creative side of composing can be more kinesthetic. Questions such as what note order will promote a feeling, what creates a sense of flow, the sense of direction? Here's an example: some composers believe that using a melody that often skips intervals creates movement and excitement. By doing so, they believe, the listener remains on their toes, so to speak, because it's not too easy to tell which direction is next. Conversely, playing intervals in linear order, like playing scalar lines, creates predictability, thus a sense of security and ease is perhaps developed. Finally, the repeated use of one constant note, called a pedal tone, creates either tension as we wait for a change of direction, or boredom, depending on the context.

The influence of events and listening to other people's music is also a large factor influencing creativity. Hearing the sounds of a carousel can immediately bring to mind images of a carnival and perhaps be linked with a feeling of innocence. Here the use of flutes, bells, organ, cymbals and snare drum can mimic that occasion. These sounds stress the higher frequencies that seem popular to young ears. Music that "makes you want to dance" can bring memories of groups, celebrations, and parties. Here, a defined constant beat is needed perhaps using lower frequencies to establish a pulse. Soft symphonic music can perhaps bring feelings of protection and comfort, maybe imagining being inside on a rainy day. Mid- to low-range frequencies with smooth attacks and long decays might create this environment.

These are some of the components that help define the makeup of the illusionary wonders of music and these elements converge during the process of composing.
Jamie: You've worked with Paul Speer on both Seconds and Club Tiaj and you're back together with him on your upcoming record, Voyage. Paul's obviously an extremely talented guy, but what specifically does he bring to your projects?
Cal: As an established record producer, Paul Speer provides clarity and experience. Paul's credentials include producing over 200 albums as well as being a recognized artist with gold and platinum credits for music and video. His awards for music video include two Emmys and a Grammy nomination.

Much of the credit for the sound of Seconds goes to Paul. Arranging the sessions with top musicians meant that he had to not only know their work, but also know how their playing style would fit on the compositions for Seconds. With the exception of some synth fills, Seconds used acoustic instruments. Paul's idea was to approach Seconds this way to make the compositions shine.

In all of the later works, Paul has applied his expertise at mixing and mastering. Applying the right amount of equalizing and reverb, for example, comes with experience. It can take years to develop this knowledge and to learn how such adjustments are going to effect a sound when placed in context with other instruments. Preferring to invest time in composition, aspects like these are best placed in the hands of a professional.

Because Paul brings these recordings to industry standards, the final product plays as a polished sound whether it is broadcast or is being played in consumer electronic gear. Professional expertise like this can make all the difference as to whether a recording sounds great or sounds merely homemade.

Pleased with the results of our association, these are just a few of the many things that Paul Speer has contributed to the recordings.
"Much of the credit for the sound of Seconds goes to Paul (Speer)." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: You make a good point about sound quality. I think it really does matter. My advice to artists, just starting out recording, is not to try mastering at home -- especially on your first project. Things can go horribly awry! We've briefly touched on the business side of the record business, but I'd like to get your take on where you think everything is going. Looking five or ten years out, what do you think will be the same about the industry and what will be different?
Cal: Predicting the future is a difficult task. There seem to be a few theories and historical guiding observations only. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results!

Strong economies seem to produce a greater number of independents. Since there is a greater amount of capital available, new ventures can begin. During such times, independents seem to enjoy expressing tomb-filled views of monolithic demise as they begin to build their dream with confidence, believing in their future. Here, desire and belief is the currency for change. As independents multiply, the economy becomes diverse.

Sagging economies tend to support monopolistic structures, as in uncertain times people tend to gravitate to what they believe is the security of the tried-and-true. Capital to fund new ventures is scarce and the economy consolidates. Such consolidation develops as attempts to reduce overhead are addressed.

Capital is usually invested where the returns are believed to be the greatest. Generally, most anything that will be cheaper, better, and faster will lead the way and a prosperous future may belong to those who can deliver what the market desires. For the producer, it means assessing the current cycle and providing a product that has appeal. In weaker economies, this may mean a more serious approach of providing better quality items. In stronger economies it may mean producing novelties that have a lighter feel.

It's too difficult to predict specifically what may be or what may not be over the next decade. However, it may be more important to assess a cycle and to be prepared, having a few types of products ready to be introduced at different intervals in various economic scenarios.
"Strong economies seem to produce a greater number of independents." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: And you certainly have a few albums ready for release. Besides Voyage, you also have The Very Best of Christmas and Thy Gates Of Beauty coming out soon. Sounds like we're going to be hearing a lot from you! Will the upcoming releases be on your own label?
Cal: Yes, the plans are to put these into market under the 30th President Productions label name.

Although much detailed work is involved when running one's own business, it seems easier to get new music to market this way, taking one step at a time. The vision for 30th President Productions is to market memorable music only. "Memorable" means original music that has direction using definitive melodies and rich harmonies that speak with emotion and meaning. The goal is to make available new music that celebrates positive experiences.
"The vision for 30th President Productions is to market memorable music only." - Calvin L. Coolidge II
Jamie: Well best of luck with all of your upcoming releases and thanks for taking the time to do this artist-to-artist conversation!
Cal: Thank you, Jamie. Always a pleasure and good luck too with your endeavors. You certainly are a talented performer who deserves nothing but the best!
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