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The ALEX VAN STARREX Website


MY MUSICAL BACKGROUND


ALEX VAN STARREX: A MUSICAL-HISTORY

1960: Born in Sydney, Australia - of mixed Sri-Lankan/Danish (father's) and Dutch (mother's) descent. Uncle is freelance jazz writer in America and had been "the first jazz disc-jockey in South-East Asia" many years earlier.

1964-5: Some youthful musical experiences - spending the days playing piano at a house where my mother worked; receiving a toy xylophone for Christmas, and a book with music-box that could play the music backwards if wound that way; attending the "Pageant of Asia" concert where music from all over Asia and Australia (Balinese, Japanese, Australian Aboriginal, etc.) performed.

1968: Fell 'in love' with a $ 25.00 white electric guitar (not bought). At the same time, I started listening the 'pop music' on the radio a lot, and watching similar music-shows on TV. From 1965 till 1970/1 the Beatles were my favourite group - I became angry when Led Zeppelin replaced them as the the No.1 group in the English Pop Charts.

1971: Got my first guitar - a $ 12.50 acoustic "Tempo" and took two lessons with it (got bored, and teacher couldn't get used to me being left-handed). I haven't attended another formal music-lesson since - though I picked up a lot of "informal" training over the years.

1972-3: Learnt rudiments of musical composition at high school - until I changed addresses/high schools in 1973 (then I went from hearing about the art of fugue to what girls liked about the latest David Bowie record). But it wasn't a complete loss (especially about the girls). Back at my earlier school I'd had to 'wag' school for the choir auditions - having almost the five-octave vocal range (much like the average modern keyboard) I'd wanted to avoid getting bullied by other (male-only) students.

1973-4: Started picking-out songs/riffs from songs on the radio. A(nother) uncle gave me an old Hawaiian slide-guitar, that I took the pick-up out of and installed in my Tempo. For an amplifier, I used an old record player - and by shorting the wires, I could get a distortion effect when using it. At the time, I was into "heavy" groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath - and learning to play with my eyes closed.

1975: Bought my first electric guitar, for $ 50.00 - a "no-name", no-style thing with two pickups and a tremelo bar. Started "seriously" collecting records to the extent that I now own (or have owned) many rare and sought after items. Also started getting into "bootleg" albums in order to figure out where my favourite bands bands they got all their wonderful riffs from - and how they managed to played "multi-tracked" songs live. At this time, I was playing for about 2-3 hours every day, and improving my technique by playing-along with the radio. Later, I learnt how to record the results of this - with one stereo channel of the radio, and one of my guitar.

1976-7: Bought my first decent electric - a brown "Navarra" Gibson SG copy. Played it in the school 'band' for a musical play at high school. Also had an occasional play of the school's synthesiser, which I thought was great. At home, I start composing an "album" of heavy-metal/jazz-rock fusion-ish songs, but didn't have a way of recording them. Did my first transcription work from records - of almost all of the guitar-riffs and solos from the "Rainbow Rising" album. By this time, I had also seen international bands - Queen, Santana, Jan Hammer and the Jeff Beck Group, and Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow - playing "live". Meanwhile, my taste had switched from heavy rock to progressive rock - like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes. I was hanging around music stores - learning about the different types of guitars - and reading "Guitar Player" magazine. Bought a Fender "Fuzzder" fuzz-box, that I later built into my SG-copy, along with other mods - changing the knobs, installing a pickup (from the new Fender "StarCaster"), and scalloping the neck for higher fret and neck-reach. my guitars#1

1978: Left school. Was accepted into Sydney University to study Economics, but decided to go to work instead - for the money. Bought first keyboards, a Hillwood "RockyBoard" (electronic-piano) and "AceTone" monophonic synth. Bought another electric guitar - "Ibanez" Gibson Les Paul copy (even then it was around 10 years old) and a decent acoustic guitar. Experiments with multi-tracked recordings, by using two cassette-recorders. Fell in love - so I put together a series of acoustic guitar compositions (I still play a few of these). My favourite local bands at this time: The Angels, and Cold Chisel (other bands I was seeing around this time were the Sports, Icehouse and Split Enz). Favourite international band of the year: Elvis Costello & the Attractions - though over the next few years I also saw XTC, Echo and the Bunnymen, Madness, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Simple Minds, The Cure, and others. On the other side of musical-things, I was also an avid disco- freak for a time, going sometimes 2 or 3 nights per week (and was told that I danced like John Travolta, before I'd even seen "Saturday Night Fever").

1979: After almost dying of peritonitis, and later taking a transfer to the country to recover, I composed my first "symphony" (around 15 to 20 minutes long) using the volume-swell on my Hillwood to simulate an orchestra sound. I recorded the results. Tried some more experiments with multi-tracking - but mainly I was after gathering enough songs for an album-length cassette of acoustic guitar. Stared liking local bands such as Midnight Oil and the Reels, and overseas acts like Bill Nelson/Be-Bop Deluxe and the B-52's.

1980-1: Started (more) serious guitar multi-tracking - thanks to buying my first "drum-machine" - a Boss DR-55 "Dr.Rhythm". I was assembling various guitar-lines, then adding (faked) bass-lines - and adding synth parts as the need arose. My first 'proper' album started to contain songs so complicated that, even today, I can't recreate them - then I started 'relaxing' and got into more spontaneous improvisation/composition. Started playing with a few friends in a local "band" that I knew would never really get anywhere, so I simply turned up with my guitar and stereo cassette-recorder every week for a series of improvisational experiments, and the occasional 'serious' song. At work - in the state's court system - my "producer's ears" were tuned by the daily recording of court hearings. Musically, I was getting into fusion guitarists like Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin - and "exploring" both jazz (especially Miles Davis) and classical music (ditto Igor Stravinsky). Also bought bass guitar, more effects pedals and a (semi) decent amplifier.

1982: With my tape-compositions being too 'difficult' for the band to play my musical abilities was growing in two separate and disparate directions. We'd played some great parties, however - and I'd received an (unexpected) accolade as "the best guitarist in the country" (which I've tried to avoid ever since). I added to a growing tally of other musical instruments - more keyboards, effects and a trumpet that I never managed to learn how to play well. Almost all recordings - whether of the "band" work, done solo, or in collaboration with my brother Johan - were 'experimental' in nature, though I was still reserving my "composed" work for solo-recording. Started using programmable keyboards (i.e. with chord-changes and different lead voices - the fore-runners of today's GM-synths), though the unmodified sound-quality of these was poor.

1983: I gave up on the idea of playing in bands - and invested in my first multitrack cassette machine - a Tascam 244 "Portastudio". This finally gave me a chance to get into a (more) "professional" style of music-making - not to mention "backwards" recording. Over the next five or so years, thanks to my ever-expanding arsenal of musical devices - which boasted samplers, more drum-machines (including one connected to the now-famous Roland "TB-303"), sounds taken from records, films, videos, radio and television programs and the most bizarre "turntable-playing" (more like modern sample-manipulation than the then new-and-popular 'scratching'). This arsenal of techniques and tools was assembled as I recorded around 500 albums' worth of music, making an occasional average of an album-length cassette of new music every week - until the mental and physical workload nearly exhausted me.

1984-7: Bought a Commodore 64, with 3-channel monophonic "SID" chip - after having had a tiny, cheap Tandy computer to play with. I used "Music Studio" to put together around 30 or so songs - until I started lusting after the new, but completely unaffordable, Commodore Amiga 1000. Then, in 1987, my Tascam 244 broke-down (through overuse), and I couldn't be bothered getting it fixed (nowadays it doubles as a mixer for my Yamaha MT 120II: parametric equalisation makes all the difference to a good sound). "Live", I saw John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola & Paco DeLucia (with Steve Morse), Stanley Clarke & Miroslav Vitous with Larry Coryell, Chick Corea, and others.

1988: Started law degree studies at University of Technology Sydney (I had earlier attempted to do the course at Maquarie Uni in 1982 but dropped out) - this required that I have a decent computer, to write assignments on. The new Commodore 500 seemed to fit the bill (for what I could afford). One of the first programs I got for it was "DMCS" - or "Deluxe Music Construction Set". Proceeded to churn out around 80 songs with it in the first 6 months. Earlier, in April, I'd almost chucked in everything - as, having seen Miles Davis playing live, I wanted to join his band (as I didn't like the guitarist, Foley). Only common sense stopped me from trying to get backstage after the gig.

1989: Having gotten tired of the 'squeaky clean' sounds of DMCS, I bought a sampler, and started inserting my own bizarre samples, into compositions of "Samplesongs". The samples - snippets of classical, rock and fusion, taken from my CD-collection - sounded wierd (especially since DMCS didn't accept external "instruments" sampled at a rate above 10k), and the songs couldn't be played from Workbench (as DMCS didn't have a separate "player-program"). Still, from assembling songs, with my some of my artwork and writing, I put together some disks which found their way into public domain distribution - thanks to the local "Megadisc" disk-magazine.

1989-90: Finally figured out how to have Workbench-playable songs - thanks to the "smus 3.6a" program - and started generating them, first with normal instruments, then my specially-sampled ones. This culminated in the release of early PD disks such as "Rock SMUS" and "AVS Album". Then I just started to get fed up with the whole business, and turned instead to huge, looping samples that I used both individually and with "Fantavision" animations (I also developed a unique process of manipulating digitised images with this latter program). Then I got fed up with doing that.

1990: I "discovered" a program called MED (in it's earliest released-stage - version 1.12) on a Fish Disk, after unsuccessfully trying to get my hands on a copy of SoundTracker. I liked the program so much, that I put together a special disk-version of the program, with extra text-files and graphical- guide to the program and its keyboard-shortcuts. This disk was released on the local PD-marketplace, and I sent a copy back to MED's programmer, Teijo Kinnunen, in Finland. Teijo liked my disk so much that he sent back one of the very first copies of version 2.10. I used this to create a disk full of songs, which I sent to Britain's "Amiga Computing" magazine - who promptly featured one of the songs on its January, 1991 cover-disk (they also had a "nice" story on my work, with plenty of quotes from the letter I sent them, bagging the other Amiga music that I'd heard around the traps). A song from my second disk was also sent back to Fred Fish - who featured it in amongst his Fish Disks.

1991: By February, 1991, I'd created around 100 songs with MED v.2.10 - now collected under my 6-disk "MED-Magic" series - and decided to give up using the program. I took a trip to Japan, and shortly after my return two things happened to me - I fell in love (again), and received version "3.00" of MED from Teijo. The sudden gaining (and losing) of love found its expression in the songs that formed the basis of both my "Art of MED" disk and its follow up, "MED-Tunes". By adding graphics programs to each disk, and juggling the songs between them, I realised I had stumbled upon a "Workbench-compatible" alternative to the many demos that were then flooding the Amiga PD-market. With the experience gained in the PD-distribution of my work, I managed to secure simultaneous world-wide distribution for the "Art of MED" - through "Megadisc" in Australia and New Zealand, "Crazy Joe's" (and other groups) in England, Europe and the UK, the Amiga Fan Club in Japan, and "Jumpdisk" in America. Jumpdisk also paid me decent money for using some of my songs - something that no-one else has, to date, done for me. Another song from the "Art of MED" had the unenviable reputation of running for over 60 minutes, so I sent it over to Fred Fish, and it made in onto the Fish Disks also.

1992: Articles of mine (comparing MED with SoundTracker and ProTracker, and a review of a very strange program, called "Mugician") appeared in print in local magazines "Australian Commodore and Amiga Review", and "Professional Amiga User" magazine. After obtaining a copy of "OctaMED" version 1.00 from somewhere in 1991, I'd also written a review of that program (even though I didn't like it much), then assembled a couple of disks of song with it. The "best known" of my first OctaMED disks was "OCTAROCK-3D", which featured on my guitars#2 it a "3D" drawing program (for red/blue glasses). By then I'd had enough of computer-music again - so I put away my copies of MED and OctaMED, and took up "live" playing, for the first time in ten years. Investing in a new lead guitar and bass, I played a number of weekly "gigs" at a local hotel (which had advertised for musicians to bring along their instruments, for a series of impromptu "blues nights").

This was a lot of fun while it lasted, though I felt far more comfortable playing bass than being a lead guitar virtuoso. Then, when my "chops" were back in form, I bought another 4-track recorder, this time using it in conjunction with an 8mm stereo hi-fi video-camera, to assemble a series of "Guitar Works" videos (using my Amiga and "Scala 500", for the titling). By the time I'd had enough of doing this, I had received copies of OctaMED versions 3.00 and 4.00 for review. This, in turn, led to the production of my "OctaStuff" disk, featuring four "test" songs, and my (favourable) review of the program. Finally I received, again from Teijo, a copy of MED v.3.22 - the "final" 4-track version. I used this to create the "MED-Dreams" songs - seeking to do as much, if not more, with 4-channels as I had with OctaMED's 8-channels.

1993: I gave away "sample" based composition, and bought a new Roland E-35 synth - GM/GS compatible, with pre-programmed rhythm styles and a six-track sequencer. I started out just using the new synth by itself, and recording the results direct to tape. Then I started using it with "Tiger Cub", as my Amiga 500 didn't have enough memory for me to use "Bars & Pipes" properly. I bought an Amiga 1200 in July, which overcame the last-mentioned barrier - and created several more disks worth of songs. I also managed to overcome a number of problems with converting many of my old 4-track MED songs to MIDI 8-track songs in OctaMED - to produce my "GM-Mods" disks. During this time, I also joined the "MIDI music-club" off-shoot of my local "Southern Sydney Amiga Users Group". Unfortunately, while the group was enthusiastic about my work, they spent the majority of their time working on cornball-versions of classical and pop tunes with Bars & Pipes and DMCS.

1994: This year - when I graduated with my law degree - simply brought with it the compilation of my MIDI music-disks, and an ever-discouraging sight - of the Amiga sinking ever-lower, into the depths of oblivion and obscurity. I thought of starting to send my MIDI-disks to England (to people like Paul Overaa, who had started to develop a decent MIDI-file playing-program, and was also writing for "Future Music" magazine, with their equally-bad music) - but decided against it.

1995: A revival of interest in my work led me to re-compile much of my MED- music (and even some DMCS-scores, thanks to my purchase of Deluxe Music 2). A motor vehicle accident (which left me with a fractured rib, and without a car for several weeks) allowed sufficient time for the composition of a new disk of original MIDI songs in "OctaMED" - "Crash Test" - but sequencers do little to impress me anymore. I tried a number of experiments with direct- recording of MIDI-songs to tape - as well as a most-unsuccessful attempt to MIDI-music with "live" playing on my multitrack cassette recorder.

1996: Moving to my Miranda address has brought a degree of long sought-after contentment to me - which means little new work on the Amiga. I continue gathering material for a book that I'm writing - or should I now say 'neglecting'. Musically, I start serious cassette-recording again - but have started to write out my song-ideas, beforehand.

1997: New relationships have inspired me to play, and record, more "honest" music - especially with acoustic guitar (steel string and nylon). Happily, my piano-chops are also improving (both efforts being aided by a return to "pure" song form - from working through my "Beatles" song-books). I'm now starting to pick out complete songs - chords and melodies - on both piano and guitar, simply by remembering how they sound. On the other hand, my recording efforts are taking longer all the time - due to an increasing perfectionist streak in my work. Later, managed to finally get my computer upgraded, so that Internet access would be evetually possible. I access several local bulletin-boards, first to upload some of my old music songs, then some new real-time solo piano MIDI-files. Finally, I start assembling long lists of popular songs that I've picked out on the guitar.

1998: On the few occasions when I feel like picking up my electric instruments, I record "one-off" albums from start to finish in a single day or evening on 4-track cassette. I spend considerable time preparing a series of acoustic finger-picking versions of popular songs for eventual recording and possible busking/live playing. I finally get on the internet and start exploring available home-pages, fans' sites, .wav and MIDI-files, etc. In October, I get a new PC that takes full advantage of the internet - opening up not only the possibility of releasing compressed recorded music over the WWW, but also recording CD's. This way the best of my colossal backlog of music can finally get the worldwide audience that it deserves.

1999: In January, I start transferring some of my music to CD and a selection of original CDs becomes available. To start with, this is simply a "test" process. With my repertoire of classical arrangements of popular songs growing extensive and ripe for CD recording, I also purchase a new electro-acoustic guitar (see the pic on my original guitar songs page) and amplifier. Thanks to 'Real Producer', I'm also able to offer Real Audio and Real video clips from this site - and start posting files to newsgroups or emailing them.

2000: I record many more original CDs - and have many more to start working on. I also start compiling and transferring music from existing CDs and LPs to CD. Guitar-wise, I work out quite a few more guitar songs. I buy a minidisc recorder, but have yet to go beyond the testing stage with it. A new website of mine comes online in November - A Virtual Serenade - 50 Popular Songs In Real Video - featuring many of my original guitar arrangements, and I also start uploading original MP3s to a new 300 megabyte site - "20 Years of Original Music in 100 MP3s". My first live playing in over six years is done in November - some impromptu playing at the Sandringham Hotel, Newtown - but a planned recital of my guitar arrangements is called off at the last minute.

2001: Over the year, I buy a lot of sound equipment:my guitars#3

- a new (second hand) electric guitar - a Yamaha Pacifica 112L;
- a new digital multitrack recorder - a Boss BR-8, with 8 tracks and up to 64 "virtual" tracks;
- a new bass-guitar - a slick, black Yamaha with a two octave neck;
- a Philips CD-R recorder;
- a new 10-band graphic equaliser;
- a stereo cassette recorder;
- a Sony recording MiniDisc player; and
- a new small-bodied/necked classical guitar.

I also manage to record around 40 CDs, and review many, many tapes (mostly jams with my brother Johan) for future releases.

Of recent times, my live performances have been:

- an impromtu jam at the Sandringham Hotel, Newtown in November, 2000;
- an aborted concert (few minutes) at my office Christmas party on 15 December 2000;
- at home - my (pre-)birthday party on 10 February 2001;
- a solo set & band play-along at the Britannia Hotel, Chippendale on 25 March;
- a reasonably long solo set at the Brass Monkey, Cronulla on 9 April;
- two songs - one with the house band and one solo - at the Avillion Hotel, Sydney on 19 April;
- a great second solo set at the Brass Monkey on 23 April, even though I wasn't feeling well;
- an explosive night at the Brass Monkey on 28 May - jamming with lead guitar and drums, then down to a solo set;
- late (11:00 pm) and tiring (around 24 songs in an improvised medley) solo guitar set at the Brass Monkey on 4 June;
- a reasonably structured solo set (organised set-list, with breaks between songs) at the Brass Monkey on 11 June;
- 18 June: a decent solo-guitar set (recorded), then a wild bass/guitar/drums jam, followed by added keyboard/singer support:
- my solo-guitar set on 25 June (recorded) was great - the band "jam" afterwards was pathetic. I didn't play again for week/s;
- after several weeks off, my solo guitar set on 23 July (recorded) was excellent - though I wasn't happy at the time;
- I left the stage after two (audible) minutes on 30 July following numerous sound problems and being told to do a 15-minute set.

Other bands: On 16 April, I saw Little Feat (Southern blues & boogie band) at the Metro, Sydney. On 18 March I saw the great acoustic guitarist Bob Brozman play - a mixture of international styles (delta blues, Hawaiian, African, Caribbean, etc.) with some special guests. On 10 March I saw Deep Purple at the Sydney Entertainment Centre - they were playing great and were full of energy. On 1 February 2001, I saw Bill Evan's Soul Insiders' tour at the Basement. This was a top band with top musicians, including drummer Vinnie Calaiuta. I was thinking of taping the show - luckily more interesting things came along. On 14 September 2001, I saw the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (with Charles Dutoit conducting) perform Stravinsky's "The Firebird" and "Petrouchka".

2002 (so far): I plan to continue performing and promoting my music to friends, music magazines, local radio stations, CD distributors and (of course) online - here is the (current ) advertising flyer for my solo-guitar concert/s, in Microsoft Word format. Aside from making a few "new" CDs, I will start my "Complete Remasters" series - going back to the start of my recordings. I have a further 3 gigabytes of space reserved online for the best CD-quality MP3s from these - check my Original CDs page to see what's currently available.

For the latest news - in music and all things generally - check the Personal News page.

LINKS

MULTIMEDIA (RealPlayer G2 required to play these)

EMAIL

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URL: http://homepages.tig.com.au/~avanstar
EMAIL:
avanstar@tig.com.au
1998 Alex Van Starrex