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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess Teaches the Magic Touch with Keyboard Wizdom

Photo by Darko Boehringer

It turns out  that seasoned keyboardist Jordan Rudess — famous for his sonic contributions to Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment — is into tech as much as you and I are. Come to think of it, his devotion is at an even higher level with now two apps under his belt for mobile devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Rudess took the time to chat with us recently about his adventures into the app world through Keyboard Wizdom and Morph Wiz as well as his ideas on the evolution of music and technology integration.

GEEK: What are your goals with taking the Keyboard Wizdom tutorials to mobile devices?

Jordan Rudess: I’ve been very involved with the whole app world, the iPhone and iPod Touch technology, and have been doing a lot of things in that area. And this company that I have been doing videos with, Mac Pro Video, a very forward thinking online educational company. They’ve always been doing cutting edge stuff and it was actually them who came to me and said, ‘Hey, we want to put your course on an iPhone app.’ And I said, ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’

I thought that was a pretty cool idea. You just take the whole course, make it fit and people can carry it around in their pocket. I’m excited about that whole idea. All of that instruction could be in somebody’s pocket; that’s pretty cool!

It’s good timing for me too, because I’m working on some more instrumental apps for the iPad and iPhone.

More after the break!GEEK: Could you tell us a bit more about these instrumental apps that you’re working on?

Rudess: Well, let’s see the first one that will hit had gone under the working title as some people knew about as Morph Pad, but my partner and I decided that we would abandon that title and it’s going to be Morph Wiz. So, you can actually be the first one of the block who knows that.

The plan is to get it out within the month. We’re very excited about it and I put a lot of time and energy into it. It’s a musical instrument app that’s kind of based on a Continuum interface. That’s the foundation of it, but it goes off in different directions.

One of those is the combination of graphics and audio and how they work together. There’s a part of my brain that almost sees them as the same. You tweak a sound and that also changes a graphic and then the other way, so everything works together. What a great platform to start to put those ideas together.

The first thing was to choose some basic waveforms, like the things you’d find in subtractive synthesis like sine waves, sawtooth waves, triangle waves and square waves. The next step was to ask, ‘Well, how do we represent those?’ So, we went and did a bunch of research into what kind of visuals would actually graphically represent those wave forms, but I was also concerned with how the really looked. I wanted something that was, quite frankly, cool looking but that also told a story of what it is. It’s giving you some information while you’re making your music.

Here's how the app will appear in your iPhone.

GEEK: Have you always considered yourself a teacher? Either way, what inspired you to create these tutorials?

Rudess: For a long time I’ve been involved in teaching. As a matter of fact I’ve had an online conservatory of my own called Jordan Rudess Online Conservatories – it’s been up there for a long time. And there are some videos that were up there. I’ve also done a DVD, an independent release that contained all this instructional stuff and that was the foundation of moving forward with the Mac Pro Video instruction project. We went back and lifted a lot of material off of there.

I really enjoy teaching especially with music technology to get my lessons across. That’s why it’s so cool to work with these guys at Mac Pro Video because they have a similar mindset where they want to provide the service and have this business, but they also care about taking advantage of the technology and doing it in cool, up-to-date ways.

I’m also interested in moving forward with the technology and doing something that’s not quite common. I’ve been experimenting with a system called Vokle wherein you go on and stream video and invite anyone around the world to do the same. You can have multiple video chats going on at the same time. That kind of technology really interests me for teaching where it becomes more of an online class in which you can see people and hear them.

GEEK: For someone who just started or who wants to start playing the keyboard and synthesizer, is there anything that they should know before they get into this?

Rudess: It’s interesting because nowadays there are more and more people making music with computers and different devices where they can easily call up different scales and sounds. It’s really easy to start making sounds quickly and there’s nothing really wrong with that. In fact, I’m making an instrument you can run on your iPhone and your iPod Touch where you can definitely choose different scales and there are ways to make it ‘easier’ to make music.

However, I still think that playing a keyboard is a very valid musical skill to have. It’s the best way to get a well-rounded look at what’s going on in music. All throughout history it was the piano and the keyboard has always functioned as this way to see a lot of elements in music at the same time like melody, harmony and rhythm.

I guess it’s because with keyboard you have a full range as opposed to something like a flute where you can’t play flushed out harmony. So, it’s a valid instrument in many ways to this day – that’s why people still play it – but the negative side of it is that you need to have a physical skill to play it the keyboard.

The ‘P’ word comes into play: practice.

Photo by Paul Undersinger

GEEK: As someone who is deeply experienced in both worlds, where do you see the future of the convergence of music and technology going?

Rudess: I think the future involves some sort of technology mixed with the keyboard that we haven’t quite seen yet. For those of you who are interested in what I’m talking about, while I can’t give all the details, you might as well practice a little bit of keyboard because you’ll definitely want to play with what’s coming out in the future.

GEEK: Seeing as you’re advocate of both, what would you say is the greatest advantage of merging technology with music?

Rudess: There’s more and more control that’s been made easier. And in our business with technology, every day the toys keep getting better and better, so it’s just more fun if anything else. I would say that in some ways all this technology doesn’t help people to get quality work done, which is funny.

From a musical point of view, you might have these instruments that have a zillion sounds on them, but does it mean you wrote your song any faster? You still have to write a bridge. You’ve got a computer with a million sounds on it. What’s your melody sound like? There still is that element of having to make creative decisions even in the midst of technology.

GEEK: Speaking of the music-technology merge, Dream Theater has included a good amount of their tracks in both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games. How do you feel about the presence of music games and how they might affect the original creations?

Rudess: It’s interesting because in every game that Dream Theater has contributed a song to we’re always the hardest one. It’s been funny because you don’t get to the Dream Theater songs unless you’re an extremely advanced gamer – you probably have good rhythm or whatever it takes. I personally haven’t tried to play the Dream Theater songs on any of those; I’m afraid to. I think it’s kind of cool. In playing a little bit of Rock Band or Guitar Hero it’s slightly educational because you have to be focused on where the beat is.

I don’t think anybody in our group has a problem at all with our music being used in the gaming market even conceptually or with the fact that it’s great for publicity. Especially for a band like ours because we’re not a total mainstream band – some of the games are mainstream. It helps bring our name to the public, so everyone is excited in our camp that those opportunities exist. We can be known as, ‘Oh, the Dream Theater tunes!’ We’re the hardest ones!

Interesting in learning more about Jordan or his brand new Morph Wiz app? Join him later tonight in a live video chat via Vokle where he’ll demo the app and answer questions. Want to see the wizard make magic in the flesh? See if Dream Theater and Iron Maiden are touring near you this summer — I know I will be.

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