Tap-tap-tap-tap. What the hell? I played back the tape I had been working on the previous night for Igor Korneitchouk's electronic-music studio class at Mesa College. My study group and I had been assigned the task of composing and producing a piece of ambient music-a genre of music that creates a sense of being in another place. A huge fan of ambient-music-god Brian Eno, this was right up my alley.
The rest of my group flaked that night, leaving me to do whatever I wanted. I started playing around with a microphone and a reverb unit-tapping my fingers on the mic made a deep rumbling sound like the spaceship in the opening scene of Star Wars. Thinking myself quite the genius, I recorded eight minutes of tapping, but forgot to add the reverb.
It was a stupid mistake, but that's the purpose of Music 190 at Mesa College-to introduce students to electronic-music studio recording in a forgiving environment where making mistakes is expected.
The studio has come a long way since I was a student back in 1993. Then, it was a couple of old Mac computers, a small MIDI keyboard, a crappy mixing board, some small effects units and a couple of reel-to-reel recorders. The small setup meant that only two people could work in the studio at a time, and the class was so popular that you had to sign up for studio time far in advance. Professor Korneitchouk leveraged the course's popularity into a much-needed studio upgrade, arguing with school administrators that there was a backlog of students wanting to take the class-the more students he could enroll, the studio upgrade would pay for itself.
"It was a very popular class," he told me recently, "but it was also a very useful class [where] a lot of critical thinking goes on.... Technology is constantly being used, and all these are really useful skills to students."
Predicting a four-fold increase in enrollment, Korneitchouk got his wish. Mesa College's electronic-music studio now boasts six Macintosh G4-equipped recording stations and a 36-track professional Sony mixing board. It's an ideal environment for students to learn industry-standard recording technology, as well as how to make creative electronic music. In addition to the equipment, Korneitchouk's expertise and creative zest is there to encourage students to go further than they would on their own.
Todd Davidson the front man and principal songwriter for Square Circle, the group that won the Best Electronic award at the 2001 San Diego Music Awards, took Korneitchouk's class 15 years ago. He says the class influenced both Square Circle and Price of Dope, a groove-jazz band Davidson performs with.
"Igor really encouraged us to manipulate what we had to work with," said Davidson, "and that really moved its way into what I'm doing now-especially with the Price of Dope. Working with the Moog [synthesizer], playing it not just as a keyboard but manipulating the filters as I'm playing it, as part of the performance."
Davidson said most of the synth sounds he uses in Square Circle are his own creations. "I never really like to use stock sounds," he said. "One thing that Igor always encouraged was to dive into that thing and see what it can do, and come up with something you like."
When Davidson was a student, he was one of the few working on beat-oriented music. As might be expected, that has since changed dramatically. "Hip-hop seems to be the most popular," Korneitchouk said, "but [the students are] quite experimental with their hip-hop."
And as Korneitchouk's students become more open to experimentation, they've become more accepting of their instructor's own penchant to push the musical envelope. "They're not at all bothered by my bizarreness," he said, "because I'm always playing my weird stuff, too. And I'm finding it's become more and more acceptable, in a weird way, to them. Maybe the styles of music have become integrated. Avant-garde with jazz with hip-hop, which is no longer pure hip-hop, anyway; it's very electronica now. So there's never any reaction like, "Oh that's weird.' It's all good."
In addition to chairing the music department at Mesa College, Korneitchouk is also a composer, with a number of CD releases, as well as major commissioned works. But, he said, "composition doesn't pay. It never really did. That's why I teach here. But I have the freedom to do whatever I want, and that's what's interesting for me."To hear samples of Igor Korneitchouk's music, check out www.oldkingcole.com