LES FRADKIN
Suite For Ztar And Orchestra
(RRO Entertainment)

 

Guitarist / composer / vocalist Les Fradkin has a rich history in the music world going back to the 1970s when he was a member of the original cast of Beatlemania (with his uncanny guitar skills Les played the “George” role). Following years away from the music world, Les returned big time in the early 2000’s with a number of amazing instrumental guitar based albums followed by a rock opera called Reality. In the last few years Les has released a number of self-produced albums of both vocals and instrumentals on his RRO label and in 2013 he steps back in the limelight with his latest all instrumental CD entitled Suite For Ztar And Orchestra In G minor Op.1 No.1. Suffice to say, the album is a major sonic breakthrough for both electronic music and classical music. For his Suite For Ztar And Orchestra, Les combines 21st century technology enabled by the amazing Ztar (a futuristic guitar looking creation) and puts a new spin on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. What Wendy Carlos did for Bach’s music on moog synth back in 1969 with Switched On Bach, Les does for Bach’s music in 2013 on Suite For Ztar And Orchestra. With its futuristic guitar shaped body, the Ztar is able to recreate the sounds of a number of musical instruments including 6 and 12 string guitars, strings and a vast number of other sounds and is combined by Les adding in more traditional instrumentation including Roland synths, Rickenbacker guitars, bass and much more. If you thought you’d heard the last of Bach in a “switched-on” mode and concept, think again. Somewhere in the heavens above, Johann Sebastian Bach must be looking down and smiling on Les Fradkin. www.LesFradkin.com

mwe3.com presents an interview with
LES FRADKIN



mwe3: You’ve been living in Colorado for a long time. How did you end up living there and what do you like about it? How is Colorado different and do you miss not being in New York or L.A. anymore? I guess New York City is no longer the place me and you grew up in. Do you ever visit back there?

LES FRADKIN: I've been living in Colorado since 2000. I moved here because I met Loretta, now my wife, and she's a native of Colorado. I love the peacefulness of the scenery and the slower pace. I do not miss New York City at all. As you say, it's not the same place we grew up in. I've only visited NYC a couple of times since I left back in 1995.

mwe3: Were you living in the New York area before you moved to Colorado? When did you meet Loretta, your partner and how would you describe the chemistry between you and her? What role does she play in the RRO organization?

LES FRADKIN: I was living in Redondo Beach and Torrance, California for several years before I moved to Colorado. I was playing in a band called Get Wet in the South Bay area and I also was touring with Beatlemania. I met Loretta in late 1999 in Colorado while playing a Beatlemania gig for a Realtor convention. The chemistry between Loretta and I was instantaneous and remains incredible. I've never met anyone before her that has such deep love and concern for what I do, and who I am, and I, for her and such great marketing intuition. She's a very successful business woman and that comes into play with RRO. She's a gorgeous wife, Co-producer, marketer and handles management decisions. Actually, with respect to decisions, to quote Spinal Tap, "I tart things up, and she gives me the brutal version!"

mwe3: Can you give a little background on your involvement with the Starr Labs Ztar.

LES FRADKIN: As you know, I did a number of guitar instrumental albums throughout the early 2000's. I really enjoyed making those albums but as the decade moved along, the problem cropped up of how to tour that music without any other band members. The cost of moving a group around began to become way too steep for this guitarist. Additionally, I began to feel that I was repeating myself with a formula and that opportunity demanded some sort of musical change. As such, I waited for the future to present itself. 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 ) and an Italian shred guy, Fabrizio Chiruzzi (“Fabrizio Chiruzzi Ztar jam part 3”) 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 started to interact with Harvey Starr to improve the instrument for musical performance and we became close friends as a result. In 2008, I released my first full length Ztar album One Link Between Them which features "Lift Off", an original composition, loosely based on Bach's "Prelude No. 2 in C Minor". "Lift Off" is, however, in the key of A minor and features a number of Midi Guitar innovations for technique, previously impossible on pitch to midi systems. As I moved forward with my technique, I began to manifest more specific Baroque stylings in my lead synth approach. I always had those and moved on to my 2009 release Baroque Rocks! which featured a number of Vivaldi and Bach and Handel works arranged for symphonic rock style orchestrations. My personal favorite on that album is my new composition for "Canon In D" which features a new Top line melody over the traditional Pachelbel score, arranged for rock instrumentation. It sort of has a "Classical Gas" type approach.

mwe3: How did that, in turn, lead you to the making of your 2013 Suite For Ztar And Orchestra CD?

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 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”.

mwe3: You’re still playing regular guitar on the new CD too right?

LES FRADKIN: Yes, there is some guitar on the album as well: Rickenbacker 12 string, Fender Stratocaster and Rickenbacker bass all play various cameo roles, here and there. Mostly rhythm section parts. However, as with Bach, the emphasis is with various counterpoint lines, intertwining together to create a polyphonic whole.

mwe3: So how would you compare the range of Ztar type instruments that the company has created and which model do you play?

LES FRADKIN: There are several models available - some shaped like a Strat or PRS, others, more unconventional, such as The Clipper which features a lighted fretboard or my Z7s model which is a cross between a SynthAxe and a Steinberger. I play a Ztar model Z7s-XPA. It features a number of performance enhanced sensors - Ribbon controller, volume and mixer controls, 6 rubber touch cap pads, neck strip sensor, 6 string triggers, 4 way joystick, USB wireless, multiple step sequencers onboard, as well as custom colored fret buttons (frets 13 thru 24) which can be used, among other things, for controlling clips in Ableton Live computer software. Since the fret board has buttons and no strings, string bending and vibrato is done with the neck sensor and the joystick. The response is instantaneous and there is no tracking delay.

mwe3: What is the process of recording such a wildly innovative instrument?

LES FRADKIN: I generally tap the Ztar like one would a Chapman Stick. But I also use the string triggers, when I need to emulate a classical or electric lead guitar. I record each line, one overdub at a time. Generally, a chordal sketch or top line melody, followed by accompaniment. For example, when I'm recreating a Bach score, I record that first to a click track, and then I layer on the rock accompaniment. This is the reverse of how rock bands generally handle classical influence or orchestral arrangements. I like to work in small sections, and then assemble the sections linearly for final mix down. This approach gives me the opportunity to assemble intros and outros which only become apparent after the work is done. Each composition has to be programmed for tuning, synth setup, sonic choices, response curves and where on there fretboard it can/might be played. This requires in depth knowledge of the MIDI spec and takes great patience. It is not for the MIDI faint of heart.

mwe3: And what role does the computer play or is the computer built in? I dare not think about the vast microwaves coming off that wireless antenna! (lol) I guess, nowadays this is the laptop studio generation.

LES FRADKIN: 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. I always record to Ableton Live and / or Digital Performer on a Mac Mini Quad Core. For the suite, I also recorded with Reason 7. It has a number of special effects, unique to that program which became intrinsic to the compositional approach of the Suite. For live, I use a MacBook laptop with Ableton Live which operates the Clip cues and busses the various synth and mellotron sounds across 15 MIDI channels. Channel 16 is reserved for Clip cueing, and other MIDI functions in Ableton Live. I do not use wireless in the studio since it's unnecessary, only on stage. The real programming challenge comes when preparing the Ztar for a live performance of my stuff. It generally takes 8 hours per tune to prepare the programs which routinely contain as many as 16 to 32 zones. I have to program zones to organize where things could be played, with comfort. Often, I'll alter the scale tuning if I don't have enough frets in a particular zone or use 3 or 4 nested tuning maps to play chordal accompaniment on a single series of buttons across a single fret. You can't do that with a conventional guitar. Of course, constant practice must be a regimen every day, since maintaining Ztar technique and speed requires vigilance and dedication to craft.

mwe3: Where does it end Les? (lol)

LES FRADKIN: Who can say? Probably merging man with technology. My interaction with the Ztar is the latest stage of that process for myself.

mwe3: You have said that Johann Sebastian Bach was a big influence on you when you were young. When did you first listen to Bach and how were you exposed to him and how would you compare Bach’s influence on 20th century rock musicians as well as other musicians of his own era?

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 do think that JS Bach was, arguably, the greatest composer of all time and he influenced, and was influenced by the musicians of his day. That said, I think his influence still reverberates, even today.

mwe3: How would you describe the meaning of Bach to a layman?

LES FRADKIN: Bach invented modern counterpoint AND had great emotional feeling in everything he wrote. But there's an order an a logic to what he did. All modern pop and rock chord progressions originate with him, by way of example. And all keyboard technique used in modern music harks back to him as well.

mwe3: And so why did you choose to cover Bach’s two and three part inventions on the Suite For Ztar And Orchestra CD?

LES FRADKIN: Actually, I didn't. Bach's invention No.8 in F Major is included as a sort of "Eleanor Rigby" type interlude in the Suite. No other inventions are used. For the most part, I chose solo violin sonatas, double concertos, Brandenburg concertos and toccatas for my selections. The (lead off track) "Presto", for example, never had any accompaniment in the original composition. And the "Presto", among other things, provides a great example of my personal style and approach.

mwe3: Walter Carlos was another musical pioneer who first coined the term “Switched On Bach” back in 1969. Were you influenced by Walter Carlos who in 1972 became Wendy Carlos and what did you extrapolate from those Carlos Switched On Bach albums?

LES FRADKIN: Actually, if memory serves, Columbia Records may have coined the term and Walter was already in "transition" to Wendy at the time of the album's release. It was, I imagine, a time fraught with enormous difficulties for her in those days. But that's a private matter for her, I think. Yes, Switched On Bach was a big influence as evidenced by my current use of an Arturia Moog Modular V, for example. But unlike Wendy, who could not perform her masterpiece live, I can perform some of this Ztar music on stage, and do. Mainly, "Switched On Bach" proved to me that electronic classical music had warmth and viability in pop culture. My Suite offers, I hope, an extension of that trendsetting example.

mwe3: Seems like 45 years later... have you shown the CD yet to Wendy Carlos?

LES FRADKIN: No, not yet. But I intend to gift it to her for Christmas. Hopefully, she'll like it. I consider her one of the greats of synthesis.

mwe3: Did you add any new orchestrations to these Bach tracks? You mentioned in the first track “Presto” you added fresh orchestrations. How is it possible to improve on Bach’s original concepts while bringing his music further into the symphonic / instrumental rock world?

LES FRADKIN: Yes, I added orchestration on all tracks, and in some cases, composed variations, and / or completely new melodies. Some of the intros ("Presto", "Brandenburg's 3&5") are new and the "Presto Varaitioni" (Presto Variations in Italian) takes that work to new territory. In my personal opinion, no composer's work is an ultimate "Holy Grail". Bach, himself, often wrote variations on the works of other composers. Today, particularly, in electronic dance music, you see and hear mash-ups, sampling and intertwining of found music, excerpts from other recordings and a general blend of various influences. That attitude serves as a perfect example of some of my thought process with respect to Bach and as his work is in the public domain... I'm respecting copyright.

mwe3: You mentioned that your Suite For Ztar And Orchestra is a first for the classical music genre. How so and how has the “classical music community” reacted and embraced your new Bach concepts?

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, i.e. 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.

mwe3: Is there any way you compare the guitar sounds of the Ztar to your more traditional guitars and guitar sounds?

LES FRADKIN: I don't know if "comparison" is a fair characterization since the Ztar is just a controller and makes no internal sounds of its own. I have sampled classical guitar, Rickenbacker 12 string, Fender Stratocaster, etc. And I have played these sounds from the Ztar. They tend to take on a slightly different character, when played this way. I adapt these sounds, accordingly to realize the end result. Sometimes, they take on an entirely electronic character, as with the first sounds in the arpeggiated intro of "Presto". Sometimes, they sound similar to normal guitars, as when the guitar solo comes in, prior to the introduction of the main theme. On my Hyper Midi Guitar album, released in 2010, I explored using the Ztar to recreate conventional classic rock sounds. Of particular note on that release would be "Sabre Dance", Jeff Beck's "Situation" and King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man". I think I nailed those especially well.

mwe3: Looks like you’ve given up guitars now that you’ve embraced the Ztar so fully?

LES FRADKIN: No, I haven't "given up" guitar. I have just tried to take the art of MIDI guitar to a whole new level. That said, I play Ztar, almost all the time. It's so complex that it requires a devotion to one's craft, if you will. It opens up so many new gates, that it's addictive. And when I perform, it's the Ztar that I take to the gigs. It's what's needed to realize a modern exciting electronic performance of my current music and it's what fans expect, now that the videos on YouTube are out there.

mwe3: What’s new in the “regular” guitar world for you these days?

LES FRADKIN: Nothing. When I visit Guitar Center, I pay no attention to the guitar department. It has no relevance to my current thinking and I have all the guitars I will ever need. As for current active guitarists, I love Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Robert Fripp and Jeff Beck. When I play guitar, it's strictly for recordings and I usually choose one of my Strats on hand played thru a Roland VG-8EX V-Guitar System. I guess, with respect to “guitar”, I'm tech minded! (lol)

mwe3: Do you think that conventional guitars will one day be a thing of the past? Say in one hundred or two hundred years... 2100 or 2200?...

LES FRADKIN: Hard question to answer. Who knew, even 50 years ago, that we'd be where we are now? I'm more concerned about seeing young people learning to "play" instruments instead of pushing buttons than I am about what specific instruments or devices they might be playing.

mwe3: Looking back in time, you were famous for being in the 1977 Broadway Beatlemania show with Mitch Weissman, Joe Pecorino and Justin McNeill. It must have been so great looking back on it. I did meet Mitch on Facebook...

LES FRADKIN: "Beatlemania" is a great memory. We made history and I'm proud of what we collectively accomplished. We were a great team.

mwe3: Has that original cast soundtrack ever come out on CD and was there anything filmed of those shows?

LES FRADKIN: I do not recall the Cast LP coming out on CD. Filmed? Yes. (“Making of Beatlemania”).

mwe3: Do you know what John Lennon thought of the Beatlemania show? It’s great that at least I believe he was aware of it all before he was gunned down. I remember you telling me you back then met John Lennon on the East Side back in the late 1970s. Do you recall that?

LES FRADKIN: He told me he liked the show. He said we saved him the trouble of dealing with a Beatles reunion! LOL! Whether or not he saw it, I can't say. But, after I opined to him that I might be typecast after the show closed, he did say to me: "Yes, once you've been a Beatle, it's hard to get out!" I'll take that as a compliment.

mwe3: What do you remember most about John Lennon these days? It just destroyed the city as I recall it. It’s like been 33 1/3 years since he’s gone. 33 1/3 revolutions later.

LES FRADKIN: Remember most? Genius songwriter, great singer, pop culture icon, inspiration for me... His passing was a sad day and a needless tragedy.

mwe3: How is your label RRO Entertainment? Are you planning to expand the label at some point and feature other artists? When I think of you in Colorado, for some reason picture you recording out in a big ranch miles from nowhere! (lol)

LES FRADKIN: The label is just fine. We have a large catalog, which includes Firefall, Edison Lighthouse, Amber Gomez, Napoleon's Ghost, The Dirt Surfers, Venus In Bluejeans, Get Wet and a four volume Byrds tribute series which features a number of name artists. I always record at my personal studio. I prefer the privacy.

mwe3: Do you have an exact number on the amount of albums you’ve released as a solo artist?

LES FRADKIN: Currently, I believe I've released 20 solo albums and 9 solo singles / EP's.

mwe3: Do you still get royalties from that song you wrote "La Chanson des Souvenirs (“Song Of A Thousand Voices”) that was covered by Mireille Mathieu? You wrote that during the time you worked with MGM Records.

LES FRADKIN: Well yes, I still get royalties. And I should know, because I got the publishing back from EMI Music, who held it for decades. So now, I get paid directly.

Actually, I wrote that song far earlier, before MGM. But it saw its first commercial release there. It was also a hit for Roberto Jordan on RCA in 1972 and it appears on his three disc greatest hits collection.

mwe3: What ever happened to MGM?

LES FRADKIN: Whatever happened to MGM? Mike Curb. His policies for that label took it in a direction away from contemporary rock culture. A policy that I felt was short sighted. But, although I raised this with him, I was a young artist at the time and I suppose he felt he knew better. History proved otherwise but hindsight is always 20/20.

mwe3: Another historic flashback, what was it like working with Laurie Records back in the early and mid 1970s? Was it the same Laurie Records that had Dion, The Chiffons and The Royal Guardsmen during the 1960s?

LES FRADKIN: It was that same Laurie Records which had those hits in the 1950's and 1960's. I produced, wrote, arranged for various artists for them from 1973 thru 1987 and was also in a group called California which recorded frequently over those years for Laurie. It was, to say the least, an interesting experience. Worked with Barry Winslow and The Royal Guardsmen as well, primarily, with Gene Schwartz as a co-producer. My most vivid memory was the California recording of “Summer Fun Medley” (Beach Boys medley), the 100 hours it took to record and mix it and the exposure on American Bandstand that resulted from that record. Fun times!

mwe3: Also it’s ten years since your rock opera Reality. One highlight, “Everything Is Wrong" still sounds great.

LES FRADKIN: Thank you!

mwe3: When did you re-record it with the Ztar?

LES FRADKIN: I did the video in 2008. It was my first video with the Ztar.

mwe3: What would a sequel to Reality look like today?

LES FRADKIN: There is no sequel planned. I made my statement then, and, I believe, it's even more relevant today. I feel no need to repeat myself. It says everything that need be said.

mwe3: Are you planning a possible Les Fradkin album retrospective drawing a historical line of your album releases? If so, how far back would that go? It might have to be more than two CDs, wouldn’t you think?

LES FRADKIN: If this came to pass, it would go back all the way to 1970, Sunflower era. I really have no idea yet how many tracks would be on it. Still evaluating this.

I do have a number of unreleased tracks, some of which might be intriguing for fans. We'll have to see.

mwe3: What do you do to relax and stay healthy in today’s crazy paced world?

LES FRADKIN: Well, music is always relaxing for me. So that never feels like a job. Additionally, I love to travel and Loretta and I do that every chance we get.

Certain TV shows maintain my attention. And I love to read. I stay healthy by watching what I eat and getting exercise and trying to live a simple life. Of course, being on the internet is never really simple, is it?

mwe3: Do you think we’re in for even worse times or will we ever find a breakthrough for evolution of the human race?

LES FRADKIN: Could go either way. I always hold out the hope that God's hand will intervene.

mwe3: You mentioned some live performances or other plans you have coming up in Nashville? What’s your connection to Music City these days?

LES FRADKIN: My connections are 1) Mid Tennessee Music has been very supportive with interviews, press, etc. I'm also one of the Top 10 finalists in the Cigna Health Spring Silver Stars 2013 competition. It's a sort of American Idol for those over 60. The finals take place at the Ryman Auditorium on Sunday, October 20, 2013. I'll be playing "Lift Off" solo on the Ztar on that live show. There's a lot of great talent on that show. I certainly hope to win.

You can view my audition on You Tube here: (Les Fradkin - Cigna/Health Spring Silver Stars 2013 Finalists).

mwe3: So what have you planned, as far as musical activities go for the rest of 2013 and into ‘14?

LES FRADKIN: I have no idea what I'll do next. 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.


Thanks to Les Fradkin @ www.LesFradkin.com

 

 
   
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