as symphonic hard rock meets progressive rock, the Ohio-based band
known as Syzygy released a triple live 1 CD / 2 DVD set in
2013 entitled A Glorious Disturbance and its a
must for their fans. Decked out in plush multi-disc packaging, the
first DVD features 2 hours of two different Syzygy concerts from 2009
and 2010, recorded in 5.1 surround sound. The CD features 72 minutes
of live Syzygy music, including new versions of classic Syzygy music,
while the second DVD features an in depth interview with Syzygy guitarist
and group lyricist Carl Baldassarre, in addition to a detailed
look at the making of their album Realms Of Reality. Another
intriguing aspect of the DVD is an interview with Syzygy vocalist
Mark Boals, topped off by a band roundtable with Syzygy members
Sam Giunta (keyboards), Al Rolik (bass) and Paul
Mihacevich (drums), featuring lots of additional footage. Commenting
on A Glorious Disturbance, guitarist Carl Baldassarre adds,
We feel this is the definitive perspective of Syzygy from past
to present. It frames our careers to this point and clears the palette
for the new music which is to come. For fans of Rush, Deep Purple,
Kansas, Genesis and other prog-rock legends, A Glorious Disturbance
by Syzygy is essential listening and viewing. www.SyzygyMusic.com
mwe3.com presents an
Carl Baldassarre of SYZYGY
Where are you from originally and where do you live now and what do
you like best about it?
Carl Baldassarre: I was born and raised in Euclid, Ohioan
eastern suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra,
the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,
etc.. Its a great region of the country (the Midwest). I currently
live in Kirtland, Ohio about 30 minutes east of Cleveland. I stayed
in the area because I love the people, the culture, the landscape
that borders on Lake Erieone of the 5 Great Lakes, and its
where Ive raised my family as well. I also went to school in
the region at a private music conservatory and John Carroll University
mwe3: The 2013 Syzygy triple disc set A Glorious Disturbance
is an excellent look at Syzygy in action. Can you give a little background
as to how you and the band decided to release such an extensive project,
perhaps giving us a little background as to how A Glorious Disturbance
Carl Baldassarre: The short answer is weve always
been prone to project creep! The germ of an idea begins
to spread until its out of control. When we started touring
as a quintet with Mark Boals on vocals in 2009, the band felt complete
for the first time since its inception nearly 35 years ago.
2009, we started capturing audio and video from various performances
just to have it. When we sat down and watched the performances we
decided to get serious about putting a DVD together. We started to
add a few more cameras and became more deliberate about content. By
the time 2010 came around, our live set list contained 2 plus hours
of the best repertoire from our entire career.
With the retrospective feel of the repertoire and the resulting concert
DVD, it was only natural to add a bonus DVD of special features to
complete the package. Once we got going, we wanted to provide a finished
and complete product of incredible depth and value. Not only do I
think we accomplished that goal, but the release also closes a long
chapter in our lives and cleans the slate for the momentous step forward
we are taking artistically from here as composers.
mwe3: How would you describe the sound of early Syzygy compared
to the current band sound? Didnt the band start off as an instrumental
rock-fusion band and how did the addition of Mark Boals as lead vocalist
add to and or change the Syzygy sound?
Carl Baldassarre: Great question! The sound and writing
have definitely matured. But the ensemble approach (vs. soloists)
and the Romantic Period inflections found in the writing have always
been there. There is no question, that today we are more capable with
our abilities as it relates to compositions, arrangements and orchestration.
in our career we were more instrumental simply because we didnt
have the proper vocalist in the band. Some of those earlier pieces
were indeed conceived as vocal music but were initially recorded as
instrumentals as is the case with Strange Loop II and
Mount Ethereal from Cosmos & Chaos (1993).
On A Glorious Disturbance, however, you can finally hear those
pieces as they were originally intended with vocals. Interestingly,
they work well both ways.
With Mark Boals on vocals we have the luxury of being deliberate about
what is vocal music versus instrumental music. As a composer, its
nice to have the flexibility to write for either voice or instrument
and follow the leading of the music and muse. We dont get hung
up on how long or how much the voices appearour only concern
is Is it right for the music? We dont feel compelled
to have modern rock form (verse/chorus) imposed upon uswe love
the artistic freedom to make the best music possible and some moments
are vocal and some are not.
mwe3: Where do you get the inspiration for the lyrics you feature
on A Glorious Disturbance? For instance on Mount Ethereal
the lyrics are very dreamlike. Whats the lyrical train of thought
that pervades that track? Wasnt that track an instrumental at
Carl Baldassarre: The concept for the lyric and libretto
on Mount Ethereal goes back to the 1980sbut
again, without the proper voice we opted to deliver it as an instrumental
track back on Cosmos & Chaos (1993).
lyric is a bit unusual for us in the sense that its a pure fantasy
lyric. It tells the story of conquering a challenge, in this case
the fictional Mount Ethereal located on The Eastside
of Mirkwood. The libretto chronicles the assent, the perseverance
over hardships and claiming final victory by Planting a flag
on your summits site
Apart from Mount Ethereal, my lyrics have generally been
a mix of science and theologythe two great pillars of thought
and the human condition. Going forward, I am interested in putting
to music some of the words from of the greatest pensmuch like
the composers of the Romantic Era who used Schiller, Goethe, Ponte,
mwe3: How about the lead off track on A Glorious Disturbance
Vanitas, which is a very proggy sounding instrumental
with lightning fast time signatures. Where does instrumental music
find you and the bands song writing these days? And please tell
me youre going to do more instrumentals in the future! The vocals
do sound great but the instrumentals set you guys up as one of the
great jazz-rock bands of the decade too.
Carl Baldassarre: Vanitas is a really great
piece because it effectively illustrates the form and content amalgam
that we are about. Were blending periods which we love to do.
In the case of "Vanitas", were blending centuries:
we take the compositional intellect of the late 19th century and express
it in a 20th century dialect (rock) for a 21st century audience. The
dynamics, arrangements, orchestration and blending of periods and
styles defines our soundits a very wide amalgam.
Indeed, Vanitas is an instrumental piece, but thats
because its what the piece needed. We love writing both instrumental
and vocal music and well continue to follow the needs of the
music. Rest assured, there will be plenty of instrumental adventures
What inspired the Syzygy track Circadian Rhythm? It seems
a very unusual subject matter for a rock track but the song works
and also features some excellent pop vocal harmonies. You share the
lead vocals with Mark on the track too.
Carl Baldassarre: That was a rare and inspired little
piece which just popped out one spring morning in the
early 1990s. For the most part, our writing is laborious and
marked by ceaseless revisions and permutations.
In contrast, Circadian Rhythm, top-to-bottom, was a one
hour affair! I remember feeling under the weather, brewing a pot of
coffee (the coffee is brewing a trickling song
sitting on the floor of my front room with the sun shining through
the window. A waltz pulse started on the guitar and the words spilled
out. The lyric for that blends scientific and spiritual themes. It
seems to have purpose so it worked.
The most enduring music usually excels along three parameters: Pitch,
Pulse and Purpose. On the point about purpose, Walt Disney
used to ask his graphic artists as they were storyboarding a cartoon,
Whats the want of the character? I think good composers
do the same thing by asking, Whats the want of the piece?
On that spring day, the pulse of the waltz yearned for a discussion
about the rhythm of life and Circadian Rhythm was born!
While watching the two DVD discs, included with the CD on the triple
disc, one is really struck by the sonic bond of Syzygy. You were remarking
in the DVD how the band almost came together in a fortuitous turn
of events, including how you met Sam Giunta back in high school which
was really funny in a way. Whats the ESP in the band and could
you describe the synergy of Syzygy?
Carl Baldassarre: Im not sure its ESP, but
it sure seems like it sometimes. Weve been together for so long,
we pretty much know what the other guy is thinking! I try to keep
challenging convention and the urban myths which often creep into
long-term collaborations; that keeps everyone on their toes!
There is a definitely a chemistry and dynamic force (a Syzygy) which
occurs on several levels. For one, Sam and I are incredibly compatible
as composersalthough we have different aesthetics, we have opposite
temperaments which allows us to coexist and is the key when you work
so intimately with someone. With Paul Mihacevich and Al Rolik you
get two additional dynamics coming from their own unique vectors.
As a whole, the architecture of the group is very solid and enduring.
Were very fortunate that our tastes, talents and personalities
are different, but our purpose is so united. Were really uncommonly
blessed with each other.
mwe3: You mentioned that some of the tracks on A Glorious
Disturbance were originally instrumentals. How were the songs
on the live album changed or modified to work as vocal tracks on the
new CD/DVD set?
Carl Baldassarre: For Strange Loop II and
Mount Ethereal the melodies and lyrics bolted pretty much
right on top of the preexisting structures because they were fully-conceived
as vocal pieces as I said a moment ago.
The Coronation, on the other hand, is a very interesting
story. It first appeared as an instrumental track on the Allegory
of Light (2003) as the first movement of a track entitled The
Journey of Myrrdin. The piece was actually written over 25 years
agoso it was already a golden oldie by the time
it appeared on the Allegory of Light. We conceived it as a
vocal track, but I was stuck on how to develop it. I had just one
line: Sincere was he, sincere indeed
forward to 2010 and we wanted to bring the piece back and add vocals
for Mark Boals. Having gotten familiar with Marks voice and
range, I felt we could have another go at the lyrics and melody. I
remember sitting on the lakefront one day and the melody lines started
to flow. At nearly the same time, the concept of overlaying the biblical
story of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke occurred
to me. What unfolded was a near miraculous melding of melody, lyric
and arrangement which took 25 years to find, but concluded in an instant.
The story rides perfectly with the music, as if the music and lyrics
were written simultaneously, and the pacing and mouth feel of the
words are very good. Its my favorite vocal performance from
Mark Boals as well. Ironically, not only did the original instrumental
structure work, the original lyric Sincere was he, sincere indeed
worked into the story perfectly. Talk about purpose again!
mwe3: How long have you been playing guitars and who were some
of your major guitar influences that helped shape your own sound?
Whats your practice schedule like these days both as a musician
and also as a band?
Carl Baldassarre: Ive been playing guitar and
composing for 35 years. I dont really think of myself as a guitar
player. I view myself as a composer who plays guitar. When I was young,
I did emulate all the guitarists you could imagine from rock, jazz,
classical, country, etc.. The list is endless and includes, Jimmy
Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt,
Andres Segovia, Narciso Yepes, Chet Atkins, Roy Clark...
the moment, my practice is concentrated more in conservatory
study methods rather than guitar methods: I am developing my site
singing, site reading, composing, score studies, orchestration, etc.
Its a daily regimen and ties into the other 2-3 days a week
we set aside for writing. The guitar is always in my hands which keeps
my facility with the instrument adequate.
When were performing live, the schedule flips to 100% instrument
focus. I will practice 4-6 hours a day to get these pieces under my
fingers. We are currently on a performance sabbatical to focus on
writing. The goal is to create imperishable masterpieces going forward
or die trying!
mwe3: Being that progressive rock is a pretty established genre,
how challenging is it to establish Syzygy as a band with an all original
sound and style? It seems theres a whole new generation of prog
bands from all over the world now who werent even born when
YES and King Crimson released their first album. Are you finding the
wide age differential between your fans? It seems prog-rock is a very
cross generational genre!
Carl Baldassarre: Our sound identity is a work in progress.
The one constant is that its always been characterized by the
amalgams I mentioned before: Blending centuries, styles, forms, timbres
and moods is who we are. Our sound is the sum of all sounds.
It is becoming more distinctive as we write more and thats why
we are on our writing sabbatical. Ones true musical voice only
comes from emptying yourself of music. Thats finally happening
behind closed doors and will be revealed as we begin to record the
next couple of albums.
think some younger fans are catching on through their generations
variants of prog (Umphreys McGee, Everything Everything,
etc.). We still have some way to go to bend the curve back toward
long-form, formidable composing, but we can always hope!
mwe3: For the gear heads and fellow musicians out there, what
is your guitar set up like these days? And what guitars are you primarily
featuring on A Glorious Disturbance including amps strings
and other sonic effect you use to flavor the Syzygy sound? Has there
been any changes in the guitar world for you and how big a role do
computers play in your writing and recording and even on stage these
Carl Baldassarre: I offer a complete list of my live
rig to anybody who wants it. Just email me at our website www.syzygymusic.com.
In essence, its a three head rig loading a modified stereo speaker
cabinet with two outboard processors. The sound palette is broad and
the key is in the switching equipment between the tube and solid state
heads. As far as technology goes, I have picked up a couple of Line
6 Variax JT-89 modeling guitars and hope to incorporate those into
my live rig to simplify things and increase flexibility especially
when it comes to using acoustic guitarsnot having to switch
guitars to go from electric to acoustic sounds would great for us.
other big technology addition has been a simple one which has been
around quite some time: Finale scoring software. Its been huge
for us. It allows us to score complete sections of music and experiment
with changes in keys and tempi with the click of a mouse. This way
you never commit to recording something and wondering if you should
have modulated a key or tempo. Its perfect for the way we write.
mwe3: Do you find it challenging to reach across continents
these days to help establish the Syzygy sound? How has the internet
changed your approach to building the Syzygy name throughout the world?
Can you imagine having all this technology 30 years ago? Wow...what
will it be like 30 years from now?? What new technology would you
most like to see happen?
Carl Baldassarre: Obviously the internet has made the
world smaller, but access has increased and so too has the clutter.
Everybody is publishing something these days. Cutting through the
noise to be discovered and heard is the challenge. Fortunately for
progressive artists, there is a defined niche with certain go-to social
networks and periodicals which help to make the progressive genre
a smaller pond by comparison.
I certainly couldnt have imagined all of this 30 years ago.
Nor can I imagine what it will be 30 years from now! For me, the technology
is one thing, but the composer is something else. Technology can aid,
but not replace the composer. The media floods us with mediocrity
and its largely an echo chamber of mediocrity. The apprenticeship
method of teaching composing is challenged by the relative scarcity
of great content in relation to the volume of clutter.
are the modern day Bachs, Beethovens, Brahms [insert
any master composers] creating imperishable masterpieces? Thats
a very big question and one Ill leave open for now, but I am
personally working on that issue both directly and indirectly.
mwe3: What have you planned for 2014? I know you were talking
about the next Syzygy studio album and you and Sam Giunta said you
almost have enough music for two new CDs. Where do you see yourself
and Syzygy in the future?
Carl Baldassarre: Actually we now have more than two
albums of new material. Were trying to finish the second one
as we speak. Its a summa opus tentatively entitled, The Picciotti
Variations. Its quite the journey for us and one that has
been bearing fruit. We hope to start recording it in 2014.
I am also very excited to announce a new project. In February 2014,
we will be releasing a 20th Anniversary Cosmos & Chaos
Compendium CD. It has the original tracks re-mastered, a couple of
them re-performed and four bonus tracks. Two of the bonus tracks are
from our Witsend Quartet days and are two of our first rehearsals.
Very cool stuff. It sounds absolutely fantastic. Im really excited
Well also be launching a new website after the New Year as well.
There will be a lot more content on it so you can follow us better.
For example we just wrote a fugue and shot a fun video of it in our
writing hut where we camp out. Ill also be posting
some thoughts on the question Where are the master composers?
as well as other thoughts and snippets from our journey to create
the next repertoire.
Thanks so much for your time, interest and support. Its been
fun and I appreciate your thoughtful questions!
Thanks to Carl Baldassarre and Syzygy @ www.SyzygyMusic.com