Last year was the year I fell hard for synthesizers. I’d always had a passing interest, but never took them all that serious. Hell, growing up in the 80s and listening to metal albums you could usually find in bold lettering in the liner notes of said albums “No synthesizers were used in the making of this record“, as if it was a point of pride. Though, when you’re listening to dudes shredding on guitars at breakneck speeds, you really aren’t all that interested in Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson types. It all seemed so pompous(like dudes in leopard print tights and primped hair playing guitar solos with their tongue wasn’t?)
But as the years passed I learned to appreciate synthesizers and what they could do. There was an organic aspect to synths(especially analog synths) that I learned to love. After watching a documentary on Robert Moog and his moog synthesizers I had officially become obsessed with the instrument. Watching how these instruments were put together by hand, circuits wired and soldered meticulously, and the wood used to frame these synths cut out carefully, I saw these keyboards as organic and legitimate as a guitar pristinely constructed by a luthier.
So in 2014 I made some pretty significant discoveries. First was the band Causa Sui. This Danish band is a psych rock powerhouse that contains within it three amazing synth players. The first one I discovered was drummer Jakob Skott. Besides being a monster drummer, Skott also puts out heady, synth-heavy records under his own name. Amor Fati and Taurus Rising, both released in 2014, were two of my favorite albums last year. A mix of killer drum grooves and synthesizer atmospherics those records pretty much put me on a journey to discover as much synth music as I could. Jonas Munk, Causa Sui’s guitarist, also puts out solo music heavily based in synthesizer landscapes. His 2012 album Pan, as well as his excellent new record Absorb Fabric Cascade are masterpieces in the synth genre. These all led to me picking up albums by Rudiger Lorenz, Terry Riley, Bernard Szajner, and Sinoia Caves.
Being a freelance(not paid) writer, I like to reach out to folks that I admire and am a big fan of and ask them if they’d be willing to answer some questions about their music. I’ve been very lucky in that most are happy to oblige. I’ve talked with Mr. Skott on two occasions, and just recently interviewed Jonas Munk. During that conversation, Jonas mentioned a synth player that had an impact on him named J D Emmanuel. Emmanuel is a Texas-born and based musician that put out a string of small but influential synth-based records in the 80s. One of those albums was called Wizards. At Jonas Munk’s recommendation I listened to Mr. Emmanuel’s music and was quite impressed. Emmanuel goes by “Time Traveler” when referring to his music as, in J D’s words, “it can put the listener into a state where time and space seems to disappear.” I reached out to J D and he was happy to discuss his music and philosophy with me.
J Hubner: So where did you grow up J D?
J D: I grew up on La Porte, Texas, a small town on the northern part of Galveston Bay. I was born and lived the first four years in E Texas, Joaquin.
J Hubner: Was your household a musical one?
J D: Music was around me, but I don’t know if I would call it a musical household. My Grandmother was a piano teacher, so when I was around 6 years old she taught me the fundamentals but I never really got into it seriously. However, I did like messing around on the piano, but did not try creating anything.
J Hubner: When did you first seriously get interested in music?
J D: There was not a time when I became interested in music, it has always been in my heart.
J Hubner: Well, what was one of your earlier influences musically?
J D: Since I played bass trombone in Jr High and High School a lot of classical music at first, especially Bach and Mozart. Then I got into dixieland, and early and contemporary jazz – Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey, too many to name. I also liked rock & roll in general.
J Hubner: I know that meditation has been an integral part of your music, and that you had some very early experiences with it when you were young. Can you talk about that early experience?
J D: For me it started when I was a kid. When I was around 11 years old, I discovered that if I laid down and closed my eyes while listening to music, I went into this wonderful dream state. I started out on long, evolving classical music. When I became a teenager, I found that jazz was an excellent source because of the beat and the extended play on themes, ie, jams. In my late teens, rock started having long jams and those took me very deep. I discovered that if I liked the music, whatever kind it was, it worked.
J Hubner: What was it that pushed you towards metaphysical studies? Was there something that happened in your life to peak your interest?
J D: I don’t know, as such. I was always liked Sci-Fi and fantasy books and movies, which kinda linked to the metaphysical. I have always had a very open mind and know that we are infinite beings taking temporary visits in mortal bodies when we visit Earth.
There was a chain of events that started with a lecture I heard on the radio by Ram Dass/Richard Alpert, in 1970, Here We All Are. Profound. Then I got into the Carlos Castaneda/Don Juan books. In 1972, things really happened after I moved to Atlanta. I got involved with a meditation group, got introduced to the work of Edgar Casey, and met and worked with a trance physic named Paul Solomon.
J Hubner: How old were you when you discovered Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Walter Carlos? Who were some other artists that influenced you?
J D: I was around 21 years old. Carlos’ work with synths and classical music was interesting. Best influences were Riley, Reich, Glass, Achim Reichel, and early Tangerine Dream up to about 1983, to name a few.
J Hubner: When did you first begin to experiment with synthesizers? Were there any artists that influenced you to head in that direction?
J D: Not until around the middle of 1980. I wanted something to add to the Crumar organ. Not sure about the influence, I just like the sound of them and programming them. Maybe Carlos, TD and Klaus Schulze.
J D Emmanuel’s home studio set up.
Here is a list of J D’s instrument set up:
Setup within driving distances, combination of any of the following gear:
- 3 – Dave Smith Instruments Mono Evolver Keyboards
- Yamaha SK-20 Synthesizer, optional for local performances only
- T.C. Electronics ND1 Nova Delay Pedal
- SanDisk Sansa MP3 Player for playing environmental sounds and synthesizer loops
- Zoom H2 Portable Digital Recorder for live recording
- Kawai MX-8R Mixer
- Zoom R16 16-track digital recorder
- Yamaha SK-20 Synthesizer, circa 1982, analog synth/organ/strings – a gift from my wife,Cindy in 1982 – Sweet!
- Mono Evolver Keyboard, Dave Smith Instruments, as close as I could get to a Sequential Circuits Pro-One keyboard which was also designed by Dave Smith. Very cool mix of analog and digital sound technology with a sequencer and arpeggiator.
- 1998 Martin DBXR – I got this one in a pawn shop for $300. I could not figure out why it was so cheap and sounded almost as good as my D-35! When I researched it out, I discovered that it was a laminated guitar with wood bracing. This is a wonderful axe that sounds great and plays easy!!
- Zoom R16 16-track digital recorder
- Zoom H2 digital recorder
- Tascam 302mkII, dual well, 3-head cassette deck
- Midiman USB Midiport
- Behringer Denoiser
- Yamaha RX-595 Natural Sound Receiver
- 2 – JBL 4311B Studio Monitors, modified
- 2 – JBL 4311 Studio Monitors
- Sony MDS-JB930 MiniDisk deck for basic mixdowns and the source for tape dubbing
- 4 Dual Recording Cassettes Decks for Dubbing Tapes for Resale
- Tascam 302 mkII, also used as mastering cassette deck
- 2 x Denon DN-770R
- Sony TC-WE635
- Onkyo TA-RW505
- Sony Acid Pro 6
- Sony Soundforge 9
- Sony CD Architech 5.2
- Vegas Pro 12 Video Editor with DVD Architech Pro 6
- MixPad from NCH Software for Mullti-track Digital Mixing
J Hubner: I’ve talked to a few artists that compose and create on analog synthesizers and I always ask them what is it about the analog synths that appeals to them. What is it about the medium that brought you to the synth?
J D: Actually, I just like synthesizers in general, not just analog. I have used a lot of different ones over the years and just like the unique sounds I can create using them.
J Hubner: As a lover of synth music, I’m quite enjoy your work. In particular, I love your album Wizards. There’s something simple yet rather profound in the music. It reminded me very much of Rudiger Lorenz’ Invisible Voices. If someone was coming to your music for the first time, which of your albums would you recommend they start out with?
J D: Definitely Wizards. It is my favorite, too. Oddly enough, I listen to my music a lot as it was created for me, as such. I am glad others like it too. I would also recommend my last one, Inter-Dimensional Time Traveling. I like that one as much as I like Wizards. It also shows the progression of my music style very well.
J Hubner: So how often do you make music? Are you constantly creating?
J D: Rarely, right now. I was forced to retire in the summer of 2013, after losing my job again. Unfortunately, a lot of my time is spent on making ends meet. Occasionally, I will do special projects for Dublab or others.
J Hubner: I know you say your music is for deep meditative, or altered states. I can hear how being in a different state of mind could help enhance the experience of your music. Are you ever in an altered state or deep meditative state when creating your music? I’ve personally felt a sense of falling away and absolute stillness listening to Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians.
J D: That is basically the only way I create my music, whether live or in the studio. I always become one with the music, so we kinda flow together. You don’t have to meditate to be in an altered state.
J Hubner: In your years experimenting with meditation and reaching altered states, have you every experimented with sensory deprivation tanks? I’m curious if that sort of experience has ever come out into your music?
J D: I have not personally had the experience of using that type of device. I learned about them via the John Lilly experiments with floatation tanks. There was a commercial one in Houston in the early ’80 that used Rain Forest Music a lot for its clients.
J Hubner: Do you ever tour?
J D: I have never toured except for one time in Europe, 2011, for lots of reasons that I will not get into. I rarely play live anymore. I do enjoy it when I can. Part of the problem is the hassle of getting the gear I need to a location. A lot of it is the cost.
Plus as I have gotten older traveling is not much fun for me anymore, I spent over 20 years on the road with my job and I guess I have traveled enough. But that doesn’t mean that things can’t come together for me to be able to do a live program somewhere.
J Hubner: Are there any new albums from Time Traveler on the horizon?
J D: Not at this time. I am in discussion with Black Sweat Records out of Europe to publish my early electronics, 1980-83, that is not on any albums. If it happens, it will be later this year or early 2016.
J D Emmanuel is a great guy, incredible musician, and a deep soul. Read more about him here. And check out(and buy) his music here.
“Basically, I am a Seeker, someone who is always interested in learning more about my relationship to the “Universe” and the “Source of My Being”.” – J D Emmanuel