Rowanne Mark (later Karapogosian) is an American singer who performed on "All Our Yesterdays" off "Atavachron", and the title track on "Secrets". She also wrote the lyrics for both these pieces. Rowanne also performed on Gordon Beck's solo album "Dreams", which Allan produced.
Cymbiosis: The very last track on the album, "All Our Yesterdays", is very different from the rest of the album. According to the title sheet, it’s the only song in which there’s any improvisation going on. . .
Holdsworth: There’s improvisation on all of the tracks. I mean, all the solos are improvised. The only reason I wrote that down—the improvisation was it was total. We didn’t have anything fixed. It was just absolutely, totally free.
Cymbiosis: And on vocals...
Holdsworth: Rowanne Mark.
Cymbiosis: Right. That’s the first time you ever recorded with a female vocalist on arty of your songs.
Holdsworth: No, she sang on "Home" [from Metal Fatigue] originally, but I chose not to use it. Not because of her, I love the way she sings. She sang it beautifully and with no lyrics. But it started to remind me a little bit of too much of a Star Trek thing; because of the sound and the way that it worked out. But I always had in mind to use her because she’s so talented. So when I wrote the melody for "All Our Yesterdays", I tried it on guitar, then tried it on synth, and I went, "Wait a minute, this is perfect for vocals, perfect for Rowanne," so I called her and she asked me how I wanted to do it. I told her to have a go and write some [lyrics]. I told her what I felt the music was about, and she phoned me back a few days later, sang these lyrics over the phone and knocked me out. They were perfect. It was exactly what I had in mind for the song. I was really pleased with the way that turned out.
In the past you recorded things with vocals, like on Secrets. And it... ...Rowanne, yeah Rowanne is great. She quit singing though. She got married and she doesn’t sing anymore.
Do you ever think about using vocals again? Yeah.
How did that start out on secrets, was that something you heard immediately? Certain things, even though the vocals took up only very short sections of tunes, typically they weren’t very long, they didn’t involve a lot of the music. I mean some of them did. Like against the clock when Naomi sang it, that was kind of a longer piece. But usually with Rowanne, they were very short things, like maybe introductions or endings. It was very easy to communicate with her very easily. And she really is a great singer. Sometimes I feel like.. I think words are good. Not all the time, you don’t need them all the time, but sometimes I think they are.And when I first her do that thing on Atavachron, where she did ‘All Our Yesterdays’, and that was very important. To have the lyrics on there, ‘cause they were very..they meant a lot, you know?
I think of "Secrets" as a song, but primarily as a vehicle to improvise over. The harmonic structure of the piece was inspired by a thought I had about how no one can ever really figure out what anybody else is thinking. And Rowanne Mark is really fantastic at taking an idea and creating lyrics. Apart from that, she sings fantastically. Quite often with me, titles come as I’m writing something, but this time there was only a feeling. I also usually write the melody after the chords, but on this piece I played the melody as the top line of the chord voicings.
On almost the whole album I used an Oberheim Matrix 12 and an Xpander, a Kurzweil Expander, and some Yamaha TX synth modules. Most of it turns out to be the Oberheims and the Kurzweil. The solo sound on "Secrets" is a mixture of the Xpander and a TX7 module; I have the Steinberg Synthworks program to work with that synth. FM synthesis doesn’t kill me, but having a couple of those units is useful. I was looking for something like a cello tone that I could get a bowed quality from. I wanted it to have more of a string feel than a blown feel. I’m not saying that’s what I achieved, but that’s what I was going for.
So you didn’t use the breath controller.
I did. That’s what I use to control the dynamics. I use the breath controller to do things I would have done with a bow, like pulling harder, laying off and being more gentle, and then doing staccato notes where you bounce the bow.
When you play loud, staccato notes, do you blow intermittently or just blow hard and use left-hand articulation to determine the notes’ shape?
Most of the time I use it with normal guitar technique, and I’ll be blowing constantly hard with the envelope open all the way. I use the air to control velocity alone. If I were playing a bunch of sixteenth-notes and wanted them really hard, I’d be blowing really hard, so all of the notes I was playing would come from what I was doing with my right and left hands, not the breath controller. I’m not using it to dictate the way the note is played; it’s only shaping it after it’s been played. It’s not part of the function of getting the note out, like it would be on a true wind instrument.
Like a lot of kids, when I was growing up I was kind of stubborn, and although I obviously loved my parents, I didn’t always show it - kids can be like that. I think they knew I loved them and cared about them, but I was just not very good at telling them. After my dad passed away, I started feeling unusually sad, particularly so because I was always left wondering if he ever did know how much I loved him.
I tried writing some lyrics for this piece, but I couldn’t express them. I called Rowanne, played it for her and explained the feeling, and that I wanted the title to be "Endomorph," something that’s trapped inside something else, just the way I felt. She wrote it, and like she usually does, she just put a big frog in my throat. She did the same thing with "All Our Yesterdays," from Atavachron: I was just in tears, man. It was incredible. She’d written words that said more than I would have imagined I ever could have. The problem was that I’d written it for me, and it was just outside her range. She could sing it up an octave, but I wanted the melody to be inside the register of the chords. We tried transposing it, and it started not sounding dark or somber enough. I remember my dad used to say, "This tune sounds great in this key." Then he’d play it in a lot of different keys and say, "But listen - it doesn’t sound right in this one." Sometimes you can get away with a half-step in either direction, but even then it often doesn’t work. I tried it again myself, and I couldn’t do it, man. I might have been able to 10, 15 years ago, but I was just croaking and sounding terrible. A few people tried, and then Craig Copeland, whom I met through Chad - who introduced me to Rowanne, as well - came in, and he really sang it great.
Under the second verse there’s a weird, ominous undercurrent.
It was actually a resampled voice. It was taken way out of key, completely off, then we took other samples at different notes, mixed them together, and made another sample as the combination of all of them in that one note. Sonically, it wasn’t as nice as I would have liked, but it did the job inasmuch as it had the spooky vibe about it - there’s a lot of air in the sound. I’d also been working with the Steinberg Tx7 programmer, to get something to simulate the unique sound of a PPG synthesizer. I did two PPGish sounds and blended those with the voice sound That was the bulk of the piece.
Did the piece come off with the kind of emotional breadth you’d intended?
I don’t know. By the time I finish an album, I’m numb. I don’t even know whether any of it’s good. You think, "Oh, Jesus, what did I just play? Was that the biggest load or what?" There’s no way to know. You just say, "I think it was alright," and try again the next day. But sometimes you just have to get away from it. You have to remember what it was feeling like to you when you first did it. I usually come up with the idea really quick, so if the feeling is strong enough in the beginning, when I strike on something I think is okay, it will usually return later. Quite often I work to a point where I just can’t tell. I won’t listen to it for a while, and then I’ll hear it later and go, "Yeah. It was alright."