Airspeed – Music – Part 3

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It’s high time to do another music episode of Airspeed and we have a great lineup for you today. As you know, I like to plug my iPod into the AUX input of the airplane’s panel whenever I can and have a soundtrack to my flight.

Note that, as inspiring as music can be, it can also be a distraction and might keep you from hearing important radio calls. Be absolutely sure that the music doesn’t distract you or interfere with any radio or intercom communication. You are the pilot in command and you’re ultimately responsible for the safety of your flight, so act accordingly.

Solas – Coconut Dog/Morning Dew

First up is Solas with Coconut Dog and Morning Dew. I’ve always loved most music that requires motor skills to play and Solas delivers that in spades with its particular brand of Celtic music. My uncle turned me on to Solas when I was in Boston in 2007 for Civil Air Patrol National Legal Officer College. I was also finishing up my instrument rating and preparing for the checkride at the time and this tune from “Reunion: A Decade of Solas” became my theme music for the instrument checkride. I particularly like Seamus Egan’s guitar run about two thirds of the way through the tune because it’s intricate, it’s played well, and it’s back by knuckle-dragging triplets by the persussion. I’m the only guy I know who plays air bodhrán (pron. bow-rawn) and this piece should give you an indication of why.


Liquid Tension Experiment – Acid Rain

Many of you know that Liquid Tension Experiment’s second album is my perennial “blare-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-airshow” music. I really enjoy the mix of syncopation and change-ups among the really solid and driving stuff that you can really get your teeth into. This is the music I most closely associate with flying aerobatics. All adrenaline but under precise control. This is Acid Rain. Check it out.

[Acid Rain 1]

And, by the way, this tune gets the Airspeed award for best use of a cowbell in progressive rock. You gotta hear this. Huge, monumental buildup, a whack on the cowbell, and then off into more crunchy groove.

[Acid Rain 2]

Steve Reich – Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble – Music for 18 Musicians

I tweet every once in awhile about the Grand Valley State University’s recording of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. It is what the title says. It’s a minimalist meditation on a cycle of 11 chords, mostly in a stream of 16th notes. It requires cello, violin, two clarinets, two bass clarinets, four pianos, three marimbas, two xylophones, a metallophone, and four women’s voices. You can’t actually play it with only 18 people unless several of the musicians double up on instruments. The piece is something like 45 minutes long and beautifully augments the parmonies as the pulses ebb and flow.

This piece is what it sounds like inside my head all the time. This music is almost transparent to me. It’s just there and fits right in with whatever I’m doing – tweaking little neurons from time to time when it hits something sympathetic. I don’t even have to pay attention to it. It just envelopes me and tells me that it’s there.

Ever read Louis Sarchar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School? There’s a story in which Mrs. Jewels brings in Maurecia-flavored ice cream. Everyone thinks it tastes great, except that Maurecia can’t taste I because it’s – well – Maurecia-flavored. If I can take a liberty and say that Maurecia liked the ice cream a great deal because it was her best essence at some level and that it made her feel centered, balanced, creative, and ready for anything, then Music for 18 Musicians is Steve-flavored music. Here’s a snippet from Section VII.

[Music for 18 – Section VII.]

This is way too short to give you more than the smallest taste. It’s out on SACD and it costs twice what a regular CD does, but it’s worth every penny. Go get this music.

Rush – Out of the Cradle

I’ve been a Rush fan since 1985 when my friend lent me a tape of “Exit Stage Left.” I think I prefer the “Signals” era most, but I have every album since then, including all of the live ones and I like them all.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson is a pilot and is, no doubt, the driving force behind the classic instrumental YYZ. Listen to the opening rhythm of YYZ. It’s the Morse code identifier for a VOR near Toronto. How cool is that?

But my musical adrenaline comes from drummer Neil Peart. I’ve been reading Neil’s book, Roadshow: Landscape with Drums and it’s fascinating to find about what goes into a rock tour of that size. I’ll definitely pick up Ghost Rider and Traveling Music, his other two books, soon.

There are no flies on Geddy or Alex, but I go to Rush shows to see Neil. I understand from reading Neil’s book so far that he’s uncomfortable with being called the greatest rock drummer ever. Okay, he’s a journeyman who takes his work seriously and I get that he might be uncomfortable with such characterizations. But Neil, I’d be lying if I said that you weren’t my favorite drummer. I hope that’s okay. And thank you very much for all you’ve done for me and others over the years. I know that Neil is a private guy and I respect that. But if you happen to know Neil and it’s convenient, please mention these small and grateful words to him.

The Rush piece that I’m featuring here comes as a little bit of a surprise. I hit me just right as I was waiting in line to pay for my sandwich at the Bloomfield Deli this year. It’s “Out of the Cradle,” the last tune on Vapor Trails. It starts out with a percussive bit on the bass that oozes anticipation and energy and quickly builds into the song proper. And Neil gives it two thumps on the tom on the one and two counts just before the vocals come in. Bomp, bomp.

[Out of the Cradle 1]

And my favorite moment of the song comes after the first chorus. The band just lets the basic groove happen for a few bars. Too few bands do that. Just let you recover from the chorus and gather up the energy to head into the next phase.

I still get nervous before I fly. All smart pilots do. To shake that off and take command of the ramp, I stomp on the pavement. Sumo style if you will. Bomp, bomp. To that same one-two that Neil plays. Flight is about humankind’s departure from the cradle. This song is very nearly perfect for flying in that respect. After your next preflight, walk away from the airplane a few steps, clear your mind, look around the ramp, and then stomp on it. Bomp, bomp. Surge of energy. Spark of inspiration.

[Out of the Cradle 2]

California Guitar Trio – Punta Patri

I first heard California Guitar Trio on public radio while working late one night in 1999. I bought the album “An Opening Act” shortly thereafter and listened to it a lot. It’s all live and recorded during one or more dates upon which the trio opened for King Crimson. One particular tune, Punta Patri, has a really powerful part to it. Take a listen . . .

[Punta 1]

I really like the driving guitars and the layered sound. Kind of hard to believe that it’s just three acoustic guitars.

I first identified this at the Wayne State University Law School’s library while I was researching some state regulatory schemes on service contracts. The Tom Hanks –produced miniseries From the Earth to the Moon was fresh in my mind at the time and all I could think of as I listened to that part was an Apollo Saturn V launch. The last major built-in hold for the Apollo-era launches was at T-minus 2:00. Interestingly enough, the really dramatic part of Punta Patri takes place two minutes into the piece. I choose to think that it’s not a coincidence. To hear it the way I hear it, let me superimpose audio from the Apollo 14 launch and you tell me what you think.

[Punta with Apollo 14 launch]

Yeah, I thought so. Really powerful stuff and wonderful use of acoustic guitars.

Theme From Milliways (Go for TMI)

Lastly, I’m pretty excited to over you this, an original composition. For those familiar with the Airspeed episode from October of 2006 called “First Solo,” this is the music from it.

I originally wrote it on a Martin Backpacker guitar tuned DADGAD. It’s named after Douglas Adams’ fictional restaurant at the end of the universe and for the cabin in Northern Michigan that belongs to my friend and legal mentor. The “Go for TMI” part got added when I decided to make it a part of my upcoming album, Songs from the Sheffield – The First folk Music of the Journey to Mars and Back. When the Apollo missions went to the moon, they first boosted into Earth orbit and then did a burn that sent them on a trajectory to the moon. “Trans-Lunar Injection” or “TLI.” I presume that “TMI” is therefore an appropriate term for the big burn that sends the spacecraft to Mars.

I sent all of the tracks to audio wizard Scott Cannizzaro a month or so ago and asked him to remix it a little and augment is as he saw fit so that I can make it available to Will and Rico of Wilco Films for use in the upcoming independent film, A Pilot’s Story. What came back was really amazing. I’ll play a little of my initial recording done in my basement and then play the whole thing as remixed by Scott.

[Theme from Milliways (Go for TMI)]


Check out Scott Cannizzaro at

All music selections used as permitted by 17 USC § 107. See the contact information in the sidebar for DMCA contact information.

David Kneupper and the Music of Apollo/Saturn V Center

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If the music right after the Airspeed theme in this episode seems familiar, the chances are good that you’ve paid a visit to the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I fell in love with the music in 2001 during my first visit to KSC and watching Atlantis go up on STS 101.

Airspeed is as much about the inspiration behind aviation and aerospace as anything, and it struck me as that I ought to try to get the composer of that music on the show to talk about the music and what’s behind it. It turns out that there’s a whole lot behind it – Like being present at several launches, being a pilot, and having strong family ties to the US space program.

David Kneupper [kuh-NIE-puhr] is an award-winning composer and sound designer currently living in Los Angeles, specializing in original music for museums, theme parks, film, and the concert stage.

David holds both a Master of Music Theory and a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Texas Tech University, and has composed extensively for Universal Studios, the Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros., Six Flags, and many others. Recent projects include music for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, music for the US Pavilion at World Expo 2005 in Japan, and music and sound services for TimeRiders, a ride film starring John Cleese.

In addition to entertainment projects, David composes actively for the concert stage, and is the recipient of numerous commissions and awards for creative excellence. His Passacaglia and Fugue Rondo received its Carnegie Hall debut in 1993.

David is also an award-winning sound designer for both themed entertainment and feature film. His film credits as sound supervisor include What Dreams May Come, U-Turn, Sudden Death, Terminal Velocity, and Bad Company among many others. He is a member of the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild, and former President of the Academy Award -winning Soundelux, the largest independent film sound company in Hollywood.

We caught up with David by phone at his office in Los Angeles.


David’s website:

Want to buy a copy of the music? Try the KSC Space Shop at and/or call them at (321) 449-4444. I’ve had no luck in finding copies for sale at KSC since my first visit, but David says that he recently re-mastered the music and provided it for printing new CDs. If you want to buy a copy, call them up and let them know that you want one and, if you find out how they’re making it available, please e-mail me at so that I can update the show notes!

Christopher Coleman’s review at TrackSounds:

KSC’s web page featuring the center:

Excerpts from The Music of Apollo Saturn V Center and The Star of Destiny used for comment and criticism as permitted by 17 USC 107 (fair use).

A Pilot’s Story – Interview with Will Hawkins and Rico Sharqaui

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Here’s an early look at the production of the new independent film, A Pilot’s Story. Many of you know Will Hawkins from The Pilot’s Flight PodLog, but not many of you know him as the extraordinary filmmaker that he is. He and Rico are working on the film with release scheduled for 2009 or 2010.

And you might be able to have a say about that release date. This is a labor of love. The aviation documentary is a largely untested genre, the success of One Six Right notwithstanding. And it’s not like there’s a lot of money around the economy for much of anything anyway.

But this is a film that needs to be made. Check out the interview with Will and Rico on this episode and then head to the film’s website and watch the trailer.

Then – and this is the important thing – scroll down and click the Donate button. Give what you can so that Will and Rico can complete this film.

I’m contributing music and other energies. Contribute what you can. Contributions that jingle help. But contributions that fold get the project made!

The story of flight is a sweeping saga that has exceeded the imaginations of even those who first dreamed it. And yet it unfolds (as all truly special stories do) in moments, places . . . and people. Always and ever in people.

Just above the heads of most of our brothers, sisters, coworkers, and neighbors there hang gossamer cathedrals of piled cotton below the cobalt dome of a perfect sky. But fewer than one in 500 will ever experience this through the front window of a flying machine. A Pilot’s Story seeks out the special few who have answered the call of the skies, those with the discipline, aptitude, and courage to become pilots.

Filmed in hangars and homes, at restaurants and on ramps, A Pilot’s Story tells the story of flight in the words of pilots themselves. What it means to fly an airplane all alone for the first time. What it means to fly an airplane for the last time. The easy rapport one can have with a person who is a complete stranger but for the shared experience of flying.

And the excitement that consumes pilots at the opportunity to share this world of aviation with non-pilots, airport communities, community leaders, and anyone else who will listen.

A Pilot’s Story is a film for anyone who has sat all alone in an aircraft, firewalled the throttle, charged down the runway, and rotated. And especially for those who might if given the chance.

For most people, the sky is the limit. For a pilot, the sky is home.

This is the story of the journey home. A Pilot’s Story.

More Pictures from the Thunderbird Groove Studio Session

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More on the suburb rocking.

Here’s the acoustic setup. The same two RØDE mics, only set up on a single stand offset at about a 45-degree angle and about 18 inches from the sound hole. That’s an Applause acoustig guitar with a plastic round back. I got it in 1985. It’s a step down from the Ovation guitars of the time, but it really sounds good. It has a really bright sound and I use XL acoustic phosphor bronze strings on it to make it as bright as possible. The strings on it are at least a year old, but I haven’t played this guitar that much during that time, so I got a good sound out of it. Mostly repetitive stuff on the lowest three strings and letting the others ring a little as appropriate.

I was not ready to play for ten minutes straight and was hurting pretty bad for much of the takes. I got about seven minutes in on the first take before having to take a break. But I think we only had to do a couple of punch-ins. I liked what I heard in the control room. I’m sure there are miscues somewhere in that 10 minutes, but I’m optimistic about how it’s going to turn out.

Electric bass. This went pretty well. I think I flubbed a few things, but let’s face it: I’m a guitarist who owns a couple of basses. There’s a difference between that and an actual bassist.

Laying down the power chords on my trusty Carvin DC-127T. I got the money for this guitar by using my mileage checks from inspections of foreclosed real estate when I was a foreclosure property manager for a bank here in southeast Michigan. You could say that I traded apart of a 1989 Ford Tempo for it. Really nice studio guitar. Wish I had more time to practice with it.

The fluorescent lights in the control room caused a lot of hum in both the Washburn bass and the electric guitar. Thus the dark foreground. Tim shut out the lights in the control room and that took care of most or all of the problem. Kreuch took this through the window while standing behind Tim at the console. I don’t like using flash much for photography (although I’m not like the National Geographic guys who never seem to use it and always seem to have blurry shots whenever they’re in low-light situations). Thus, I didn’t show Kreuch how to use the flash. A good thing, too, because that would have goofed up this shot. Kreuch was rock-steady to get this shot, considering that the shutter speed must have been something like 1/4 sec.

Can’t wait to get the music finalized, write the commentary, and get down to recording and editing the episode proper. Stay tuned!

In the Studio Recording Thunderbird Groove

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I’m rockin’ the suburbs
I’ll take the checks and face the facts
Some producer with computers
Fixes all my sh*tty tracks.

- Ben Folds
Rockin’ the Suburbs

Yeah, I’m a Ben Folds wannabe in many ways. And last night’s activities put a little finer point on it.

I spent four hours at The Soundscape Studio in Royal Oak last night recording the incidental music for the Thunderbirds summary episode. Definitely in the suburbs. It’s on Rochester Road near 13 Mile Road in the norther Detroit burbs about 20 minutes south of my house.

This is the first time I’ve ever recorded in someone else’s studio and it was a real treat. I took in my drum kit, two basses, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, and lots of other stuff.

The objective was to come out with backing music that I could use for the Thunderbirds summary episode, in which I’ll give a fully-produced account of the ride. I needed a driving and repetitive theme to back some of the commentary and drive some of the moments.

I started with a guide track that consisted of a basic drum beat at 62 bpm along with my voice counting off groups of measures and also cuing the transitions. I had the guide track going throughout the session so that I could synchronize everything and figure out when I needed to change stuff.

The piece is 10 minutes long. Most of it is pretty much the same repetitive figure in E, but I changed up the drum cadence (snare and high-hat only, straight cadence, and a triplet cadence on the kick drum) and the guitar figures on occasion to create maybe five or six different flavors in the piece. There’s also a chorus (if you can call it that) that uses power chords on electric guitar. That appears twice – Once about five minutes in and again about eight minutes in. That way, I have two climax points that I can use in the episode. The first will probably be the big pull on takeoff and the second one will probably finish out the episode.

Also, I used the Ashbory bass (pictured above) for the fretless, more acoustic sound in the first five minutes and then switched over to a Washburn electric bass beginning with the first chorus.

It’s not going to air as a full ten-minute piece. Rather, I’ll pick the appropriate parts when I get to the editing and dump in maybe 30 seconds here and a couple of minutes there. It didn’t really need to be 10 minutes long. I could have recorded a whole bunch of two-minute variations. But I didn’t want to have to record a whole munch of separate guide tracks and it also lent a cohesive frame of reference to record everything as a single stream.

Parts might suck or not. The most appropriate will go into the episode. Others won’t. I might or might not post the whole thing as an MP3 download just for giggles.

That’s Stuart Logan, one of my partners in the law firm, and Jim Kreucher, my best friend. Stuart is a student of may musical styles, but is especially a maven of 1970s punk. I met Kreuch in 1983 during our junior year of high school. When we build a recording studio in Hillsdale, Michigan (yeah, we built a recording studio in Hillsdale, Michigan – long story), I did a couple of albums of my own in there and Kreuch spent countless hours at the console engineering the stuff. He’s also a good rock vocalist, though he insists that he’s not.

Stuart and Kreuch joined me to schlep stuff in from the car and to generally hang out in the studio.

Tim Smith engineered the session and is doing the mix back at the studio as I write this. He plays drums for Zug Izland and most recently appeared live at the Juggalo Gathering on the main stage with Ice-T, Three Six Mafia, and 2 Live Crew in Cave in Rock, Illinois. He’s a genuine, skilled, and down-to-earth guy who thankfully didn’t laugh at my bringing in way too many instruments, obviously having too much else on my plate to have fully prepared the music, and having to stop and punch in a lot.

Having recorded myself for years and years, it’s really nice to be in a facility with the right equipment and have an engineer who understands how to mic everything. All I had to do was tell him what we were recording next and prepare to play the instrument. Tim immediately miced it out and had me ready to go. If there are any deficiencies in the recording, it’ll be with the performer, not the engineering.

By the way, I’ll have Tim’s mix to use in thinking about how to incorporate the piece into the episode, but I’m also sending the session to Scott Cannizzaro to see what he can (or wants to) do with it. Scott is the studio wizard who worked up the Airspeed theme music a few months ago and did simply amazing things with it. You probably heard the discussion on the episode featuring Scott.

Goofing around on mando. I brought a few other instruments in case we ended up having extra time. We ended up finishing recording with maybe 35 minutes to go, but decided not to try to do another piece. Frankly, I could have done all of the recording at home to an acceptable level (to me anyway), but I really wanted to use acoustic drums for this piece and the only real answer was to get into a studio with someone who had the right equipment and expertise. I can do any of the other fussy bits at home. They won’t be the quality that Tim achieved in terms of engineering, but it was time to knock it off for the evening.

Nice shot of the drum setup. Microphones everywhere. A good old Shure SM57 on the snare, RØDE mics for the ambient overhead stuff, and others to which I didn’t pay attention. I’m pretty pleased with what I heard in the control room when listening back.

I picked up a Pearl Joey Jorison Signature snare drum late last year. It’s all-metal and just cracks every time you hit it. I let the thing ring because I like that sound. I have at least one friend who sticks a maxi-pad or two on his kit to cut the ring, but I think that the metallic ring gives the snare a more business-like, slightly industrial sound. I could beat that snare all day. More 8K hearing loss anyone?

Anyway, the piece is recorded and I should have a preliminary mix this weekend. Scott will get a FedEx with the session DVD sometime next week, and I’ll get to writing. The session was a lot of fun. I could have played better. I just didn’t rehearse enough. But it’s going to be great for the intended purpose. And, after all, it’ll have the benefit of me mixing it into the episode, Tim’s engineering stylings, and possibly Scott’s mad skills in post. Producers with computers fixing all my sh*tty tracks

Contact information for Tim Smith and the studio:

The Soundscape Recording Studio
3323 Rochester Rd. (across from the McDonald’s)
Royal Oak, MI, 48073