Skope Magazine Interview:
(October 25, 2013)
Renowned MIDI guitarist Les Fradkin continues to WOW the critics and audience by bringing innovative music-making techniques to the forefront. Les has created the first ever “classical” composition on a hi-tech instrument known as a Ztar and this can be heard on his new album ‘Suite for Ztar and Orchestra in G Minor Op. 1 No. 1′. This modern day musician is always evolving as Today he can be referred to as the “Futuristic Symphonic One Man Orchestra”. Les combines classical & progressive rock music to make up one uniquely original, digitally-advanced sound. From George Harrison (RIP) and “Beatlemania” to J.S. Bach, Les Fradkin is sure to peek your interests through this wildly imaginative & extremely informative dialogue.
J Rae: I see that you’ve been dubbed a “21st Century New Media” artist/composer/producer and so can you please explain to us all what exactly that means? What’s this “21st Century” business all about?
Les Fradkin: I play a new Hi-Tech instrument and release my music as an Independent Artist with my own Digital label across the Internet. That’s as “New Media” as it gets, don’t you think? And this is the 21st Century. I’m really trying to distinguish the future from the past, both for myself and the audience.
J Rae: I noticed that you are a pioneer & innovator when it comes to MIDI guitars and for those who have never heard of these types of instruments would you mind educating the Skope audience?
Les Fradkin: Midi Guitar is defined as: A guitar synthesizer (also guitar synth, alternatively guitar-synthesizer, guitar-synth, guitar/synthesizer, guitar/synth, g-synth or synth guitar) is any one of a number of musical instrument systems that allow a guitar player to play synthesizer sound. Companies who specialize in this technology include Starr Laba, Roland Corporation and Axon. The Ztar is an electronic musical instrument that you connect via a MIDI cable to synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, and computers. The main difference between the Ztar and other MIDI guitar controllers is that there are no strings on the neck. Instead, the fingerboard is actually a specialized keyboard with a touch-sensitive key each note position. You can play the Ztar like a guitar where you fret with one hand and strum with the other hand, or you can tap the fingerboard keys to play them as you would a keyboard, only you’re playing the same scales and fingerings that you use on guitar.
J Rae: You’ve been called a “virtuoso” MIDI guitarist and I’m curious to know what originally attracted you to this different type of guitar?
Les Fradkin: Although I’ve played guitar since 1964, and I’d been playing MIDI Guitar since 1983, I needed something new both for touring in the modern age and for musical advancement. In 2007, I was surfing YouTube and came upon a couple of videos from Christopher Currell (ex- Michael Jackson guitarist) (Gemini Puzzle Pt 2 -Christopher Currell In Concert (Preview) ) and an Italian shred guy, Fabrizio Chiruzzi (fabrizio chiruzzi ztar jam part 3(Preview)) playing the Ztar and saw some amazing possibilities for myself. Among those possibilities was the realization that this new technology could allow me to be a true soloist accompanying myself onstage with a portable package, at speeds unheard of with previous MIDI Guitar technology. You know, after 30 years of playing Pitch to Midi Systems, I got tired of having to play on top of the beat to have the notes appear “on time”.
After purchasing my first Ztar in May, 2007, I began the process of trying to learn it. Harvey Starr (the Inventor of the Ztar) and many other end users played it like a glorified Piano. I felt, intuitively, with previous experience with the SynthAxe, that some other approach, given the multiple note polyphony on each “string”, might hold more promise, for myself, at least. After reading the Manual over 2 dozen times, I soon discovered that, since every note on the instrument could be tuned to any pitch, or group of pitches, in any sequential order, I could invent my own personal playing method and approach the instrument as a One Man Orchestra. I feature a number of Midi Guitar innovations for technique, previously impossible on Pitch to Midi Systems.
J Rae: On the cover of your latest album ‘Suite for Ztar and Orchestra in G Minor Op. 1 No. 1′ you are shown holding a Starr Labs Ztar MIDI guitar and wondering what you have to say about this new toy of yours?
Les Fradkin: Well, to me, it’s not a “toy”.There is a very sophisticated Computer built into the body of the Ztar. It’s used to program MIDI setups, response curves, Program Changes, zones, etc. As I said, the Ztar can do things that can’t be done with a conventional guitar. Multiple nested layered tunings, discarding the Chromatic scale, tuning each individual note to any pitch in any order, regardless of neck position. Of course, constant practice must be a regimen every day, since maintaining Ztar technique and speed requires vigilance and dedication to craft.
J Rae: Speaking in terms of your new CD, what went into the making of the record and what made you want to incorporate elements of Johann Sebastian Bach?
Les Fradkin: I wanted to compose an extended work completely intertwining Classical and Progressive Rock approaches. I had already recorded quite a bit of Vivaldi on my 2009 CD “Baroque Rocks!”, so J.S. Bach seemed like the logical choice, given my Baroque inclinations. Bach invented many chord progressions that are still in use today in Rock culture. It took 4 years to complete the new CD because I had to continue to develop new ways to play the Ztar interactively with a Computer to realize the results you hear and I had to learn to use Ableton Live and Reason which were new technologies for DAW Software that could be used, in tandem with the Ztar to create utterly random wonderfulness. The unexpected is always, the Acorn of inspiration.
J Rae: Being that you’re a classically-trained musician who plays multiple instruments with intricate Progressive Symphonic Rock as your staple, it’s no wonder that you’ve been called a “Futuristic Symphonic One Man Orchestra”! Creativity, originality & diversity are definitely in your vocabulary and so that is why I, along with the Skope Universe, are dyin’ to know who some of your musical influences are?
Les Fradkin: J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Niccolo Paganini, King Crimson, Robert Fripp, Yes, Rick Wakeman, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jeff Beck, The Beatles, Procol Harum, The Left Banke, Renaissance, The Yardbirds, Queen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Silver Apples, The Byrds. Too many others to mention here.
J Rae: Just like the great B.B. King has Lucille, do you have any cool, snazzy or even obscure pet names for your “Pride and Joy”?
Les Fradkin: Nothing special. I have a white one and a Blue one. Big Z and Little Z. They both are Z7s models.
Jimmy Rae: I couldn’t help but notice that you played the late, great George Harrison as one of the original members of the late 70s hit Broadway show “Beatlemania”. What a thrill that must have been! What was that experience like and is George Harrison your favorite Beatle? And do you have a favorite Beatles album/song and why?
Les Fradkin: “Beatlemania” is a great memory. We made history and I’m proud of what we collectively accomplished. We were a great team. George is/was my favorite Beatle. Favorite Beatles album: “Sgt. Pepper”. It convinced me that conceptual art could be brought to rock and Pop culture. Favorite Beatles song? Too many to list.
J Rae: It just so happens that you were also a successful songwriter/composer back in the day along with playing on dozens of Top 40 hit records throughout the early 1970′s and 80s. How has your music evolved since then and are you at liberty to mention any of the hit records you played on?
Les Fradkin: Bach was introduced to me by my Mother who was a Classical Concert Pianist. I loved Bach’s work immediately. It spoke to me, as did Mozart, Paganini, Vivaldi and other Classical and Baroque composers. When The Beatles, The Left Banke, Procol Harum, The Moody Blues and other groups came along, I saw that Classical, Baroque and Rock could be effectively combined. I wanted that synthesis for my own music. I’ve always had those influences since I was young. In the 1970′s, that manifested itself in my folk-rock orchestrated creations for MGM. Nowadays, I am simply doing a much more advanced version, as instrumentals, with a more overt Classical and Baroque influence. Of course, the Hi Tech instrument also impacts the musical choices, doesn’t it?
My unofficial discography is maintained at: http://users.skynet.be/rockofages/Lesfradkindisco/
J Rae: With the release of your new album ‘Suite for Ztar and Orchestra in G Minor Op. 1 No. 1′, what do you hope listeners will get out of it and what did you want to get across to listeners on this one?
Les Fradkin: Well, it’s the first “Classical” work ever composed for the Ztar. Like Paganini before me, I like to compose works, specific to my personal instrumental technique and approach. He, as you may know, did this with the 24 Violin Caprices. Many critics and Classical music enthusiasts, at the time, could not believe that Paganini could actually execute his passages with such grace and ease. They were considered, at the time, impossible. Yet he played them, and played them consistently with a spectacular technique which opened up the now, modern approach, to Violin playing. Perhaps, an examination of his unconventional Violin tunings might have yielded more belief in the ears of his audience because Paganini did NOT tune the Violin in a conventional manner. I am doing the same for the Ztar which uses certain new scales and tunings which were, heretofore, impossible on conventional instruments. That said, the Suite is a One Man Orchestra work. One doesn’t see too many Classical musicians, if any, playing all the instruments on a recording, in this manner and no one classical soloist certainly can not reproduce a complex Orchestral work as a One man show. While One man Bands are not uncommon in rock (Paul McCartney, Stevie Winwood, Todd Rundgren, Roy Wood, and myself, etc),
I have not heard of Classical music being handled in this manner. For what it’s worth, many in the Classical community have embraced this warmly with enthusiasm. I have over 80 Orchestras and conductors and Classical musicians following me on Twitter and Facebook. Actually, most of my fans are Progressive Rock enthusiasts. I hope to see this CD set a trendsetting example in modern Symphonic Rock.
J Rae: Looking ahead, what’s in store for Mr. Ztar, King of the MIDI’s?
Les Fradkin: I have no idea specifically what I’ll do next. I wait for the future to present itself. I do intend to perform live shows with the Ztar and that schedule is increasing as we speak. Next? Just keen to keep improving as a musician, composer and as an Artist. I do feel that the ‘Suite for Ztar and Orchestra’ is the best CD of my career. Hopefully, your readers will agree.
Suite for Ztar Links:
By Jimmy Rae (firstname.lastname@example.org)