Klondike (A Tale of the Gold Rush)


The beginnings of Klondike (A Tale of the Gold Rush) occurred back in the mid 1990’s. My wife Beth is a travel agent who had been to Alaska before we met. Our first trip there was in 1992 and we have taken four additional trips there together over the years. I was inspired to write the story after the very first trip. Our 1997 trip consisted of flying to Seattle, relocating an RV from there to Anchorage, AK, renting a jeep, driving to Seward, AK (on the tip of the Kenai peninsula), and cruise back on this three-week extravaganza. We actually saw where the first gold was found in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada!

Klondike (A Tale of the Gold Rush) is a story of two headstrong brothers (Edwin and Samuel) who struck out from Seattle to find gold in 1898’s famous Klondike Gold Rush.

I had just learned Finale notation software that (back in the 90’s, mind you) was a new way for me to express music. I decided to score the newly-minted story with my Cyrix-based (instead of Intel chip-based) computer. The experience was a real teacher of patience, for sure. I was just getting started using midi to trigger the Alesis HR-16 Drum Machine I used. The Cyrix was a nightmare that continually crashed no matter what I did, so I spent hours rebooting and waiting. Not only did it teach me patience, but I learned a lot about problem-solving. Whoever said “Necessity is the mother of invention” (Zappa? 🙂 was certainly correct!

File:Alesis HR-16 circuit bent 07.jpg
Alesis HR-16 Drum Machine (modified)

Also, I employed the Alesis MMT-8 Midi Recorder to sequence the drum/percussion parts and sync them with the score. It was detailed and maddening, but such is life, right?

Next Phase (And Beyond)

The next phase was the writing of the songs that would tell the story. I wrote a total of thirteen songs for the album. I really don’t have a particular style, so I just start thrashing things out and see what happens. In those days, my songwriting usually started with the lyrics and the music was worked out on acoustic guitar.

After writing the songs, I then started scoring with Finale, a program I’ve used for twenty-five years. It has really evolved over the years, and I love it! I start the process by choosing instruments (limited in the 90’s), adding the staves, and start plugging in notes.

Next, came programming the the drums and percussion with the a fore-mentioned Alesis HR-16. Every note had to be step-edited, then sequenced.

Kawai K4R sou

to Sounds then were triggered by Finale through midi into the Kawai K4R rack-mounted sound module. My main sounds came from this module at the time, in addition my computer (with an old Turtle Beach Pinnacle sound card).

Turtle Beach Pinnacle Sound Card

(Yes, I also remember recording on 4-track reel-to-reel -I’m old as dirt!)

Anyway, I’m not quite sure exactly how all this was meshed together with patch cords and midi cables, but I continued stubbornly along with this project and working my day job.

Digital World

Now, I entered the digital world with the acquiring a Roland VS-1680 16-track stand-alone digital workstation.

Roland VS-1680 digital audio workstation. (I used this handy 16-track recorder to record seven Spiral Rhythm albums, three Skyypilot albums, and one for Heather Jinmaku.)

There were few choices (compared to today) of multi-effects processors to use on the recorded digital wave files, but it was still a step ahead, so… I ran my audio into the recorder synced with midi. Then, I added the bass, guitar, and vocals.

Since each song was prefaced by relevant story line, I needed a great narrator. Fortunately, I’m married to the best-Beth! She has almost 10 years experience (part-time) on commercial radio (back in the day), so she was a natural and did a fantastic job.

Rolling On…

Rolling on, I produced the first seven albums for Spiral Rhythm, the first three Skyypilot albums, and Heather Jimaku’s album on the Roland VS-1680 while continuing the day job and looking to make my next move.

Then I got a new computer, and I got free software for Tracktion with my (then) new ESI Juli@ sound card. This was around 2007. I instantly bonded with this Tracktion (now called Waveform) and have used it ever since. You can get a totally free copy of T7 on their website (linked earlier). I recommend this highly.

Next, I synced the digital recorder with the computer and dumped everything on the computer where I added drums, percussion, and chose updated instruments using a VST pluginIKMultimedia ‘s Sample Tank (Free version of that and more here). Free versions of AmpliTube and T-RackS is on that web page, as well. AmpliTube allows you to modify your recorded wave files of guitar (or anything, really) into completely different sounds; even go from acoustic to electric and back! T-RackS are plugins for signal processing such as compressors, limiters, equalizers, etc.-essential steps for polishing the mix.

Beth added her narrative magic touch, and the recording was completed.

I finally released “Klondike” on January 1, 2009.

Years Later…

Years later, in 2017, I discovered Waves plugins, game-changing tools in signal processing. It gave me instant access to legendary analogue-modeled studio gear I could never before afford. Now, I can virtually “change studios” after the fact. I released an updated remaster in Oct., 2017.

Enter 2018 and I finally retired from the day job and giving music, video, blogging, and Skyypilot website, my full attention. By August, I was convinced to go through all the files one-by-one, completely remixing, then remastering for the final time.

Skyypilot’s- “Klondike (A Tale of the Gold Rush)” was proudly released 1-18-19. Download or stream anywhere you get your music.

© 2019 J. Mark Witters Skyypilot.com

Music Adventures Now-Technology

Just Do It!

Starting Out

Technology can prepare anyone  to complete a journey.  You must take the first steps and the momentum will keep you going.  

While growing up, I discovered the joy of music and that it has only grown over the years.  I knew what I wanted to hear, but how do I create it? Technology is the answer.

Well, I knew yours truly was not the most gifted of musicians, so my task was to exploit my God-given talents.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I wrote poetry of all sorts  (mostly  drivel, but you have to start somewhere!).   I spent my early years learning trumpet, then music theory. Then, I started to learn guitar and put together a lot of stuff (Listened to James Taylor, Miles Davis, the Beatles,  Frank Zappa, and everything in between, so you can only imagine what I came up with!)  

In 1971, I went  to college when synthesizers were first coming out. There was a synthesizer room you actually had to schedule to use! I was able to figure out how to use patch cords (!) to get my acoustic pick-up-mounted guitar to play through an  ARP 2600 synthesizer, unheard-of in my limited sphere.  It was then I decided I wouldn’t become a music teacher, and left to pursue my adventure.  

This was 1973, and did not want to play in a cover band, nor could I find like-minded people, so worked night blue-collar jobs obtained a basic 4-track studio, instruments, and started writing and recording my original music.  It wasn’t pretty, but a start, nonetheless. A lot of isolation, but it was a learning experience for me.

Listen with Open Ears

Along the way, my ears were kept open to all music.  My natural limited-attention span would not let my chosen form of communication be boxed-in.  Rock, jazz, classical, Motown, blues, avant-garde, folk, and everything in between were all part of that gumbo.  Maybe  I didn’t know what I was doing, but kept at it anyway.

I studied “Music Business” in the mid-eighties and knew I wouldn’t fit into any of that mess, so kept my head down and learned Windows,  Finale music notation, VST, and midi-sequencing.  All this kept me busy through the nineties.  Technology is starting to work its magic!

Keeping my ears (and mind) open, I was asked by our daughter (Kerri Hirsch Upton)  to produce her drum/vocal band Spiral Rhythm’s first CD, so I did.  It was recorded right in our living room.  Ric Neyer and Kerri wanted to form an offshoot band from Spiral Rhythm, so  Skyypilot was born.  I joined Spiral Rhythm, and met Steve Collins (he literally built the stage we played on), who had a band named Moonstruck.  He needed a second guitarist, so I joined them for a time. Some nights, I would play three consecutive sets with three different groups!   Steve was a great guy who encouraged me to keep recording, so  I did!

What Technology Brings

Using an early Roland 16-track digital recorder, I recorded the first seven Spiral Rhythm albums, the first three Skyypilot albums, and “The Balance”, a fine album by Heather Jinmaku.  Since 2006, I have been recording all material “in the box” (on computer).  

Technology has been huge.  Now, I can use plugins for a tiny fraction of the cost (and space) of the original hardware.  I have software that replicates pretty much everything the Beatles used on their Abbey Road recordings.  I have software (Amplitude 4) that lets me record a guitar part with dry signal, then manipulate it in any way, then back to original if I don’t like the amp or effects. My music can be released online and streaming almost instantly.  

I decided to make my own Skyypilot music videos, so I subscribed to Videoblocks and began editing downloaded content using Windows Movie Maker.  I set up a website and just started blogging, so it is always a work-in-progress.  No longer doing the blue-collar thing, I am now diving into even more challenges.  One can try to prepare, but there’s nothing like going in there and thrashing it out.  You learn from your mistakes, believe me… Just do it!

Authors note: I received no compensation for any products mentioned above.

© 2018   J. Mark Witters        Skyypilot.com