“Escape”: Track by Track

artwork for Escape album

Ways to listen:

During much of 2020, I rummaged through 600+ original composition recordings in various formats (DAT, analog reel-to-reel, cassette) in the Dixon “Vault” for long-forgotten pieces suitable for release. In addition to music written for modern dance and a suite of contemporary jazz pieces, I realized there were quite a few electronic instrumentals created during my time in college, where I had access to vintage synthesizers and equipment. Over the course of several summer months, I selected, cleaned up and remastered 22 tracks (1 hour and 10 minutes) for an October 2020 release. These tracks were originally recorded between 1989 and 2008.

A large portion of these compositions were recorded during the last 3 years of my undergraduate college years (1990-92), where I had an explosion of inspiration thanks to access to the synthesizer studio at my alma mater (East Carolina University School of Music). Vintage synths used to create music of that time included the Mini Moog, Yamaha DX-100, Ensoniq EPS sampler, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, Korg M1, Yamaha TX81Z, Korg Poly 61, Korg Poly 800, Korg Trinity, Korg 01/Wfd, Korg Triton, Korg DDD-1, Roland TR-909, Oberheim OB-Xa, and Roland D-50. Additionally, software instruments like Apple’s Garageband and Logic Pro X were also used in some of the more recent recordings in this collection. At least half of the recordings were restored from original analog 1/2-track reel-to-reel masters.

The album is sequenced in a particular order, but not chronologically. The first section (tracks 1-9) includes much more atmospheric and moody compositions using mostly vintage equipment. The second section (tracks 10-22) is more upbeat, soundtrack-like, and positive in tone, utilizing more modern instruments. Over the course of listening from start to finish, the music will begin to lighten up gradually from the early dark pieces.

  1. DixonFilms Fanfare 1 (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1998, this short track was composed to accompany animation to my fictitious “DixonFilms” film company! Historically, I professionally produce our home movies with music, video editing, and even opening credits, so I wanted to open them with a “DixonFilms” branding animation like you see with LucasFilm and others. It was used in many of my video productions until Fanfare #2 was composed (featured later on this album). The Korg 01/W was used to create this work.
  2. Seven (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1989, this work featured seventh chords and involved numerous hardware synthesizers sequenced together using Opcode Vision software. The Korg M1 was used for percussion and some string sounds, and other sounds came from the Roland D-50, Yamaha DX-100 and TX81Z. This track was actually an assignment for my MUSC 3366 electronic composition class (as were several on this album).
  3. September (listen on YouTube)
    Written in 1990, I can only guess that it was written in September of that year, as I can’t deduce any other reason for the title. The work was composed using the Yamaha DX-100 and TX81Z, Mini Moog and Korg M1.
  4. Earthrise (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1991, this piece features the Mini Moog, Korg M1 (cymbals and timpani), Korg 01/W, Roland D-50, and Ensoniq EPS. The imagery I was trying to depict was that of standing on the moon and watching the Earth very slowly rise on the horizon.
  5. Roadside (listen on YouTube)
    Probably the most unique recording out of the 22 tracks on the album, this composition was created in 1990 utilizing the Mini Moog, Yamaha DX-100, and Korg M1. There is no music. Instead, my idea was to recreate what it would sound like sitting on the side of a road as vehicles go by. Various electronic sounds simulate birds and other noises in the distance including thunder from a recently past storm. Another sound was created to simulate a bottle cap being blown down the side of the road as cars wiz by. 
  6. Feel of Space (Majesty and Wonder) (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1992, this actually was two separate compositions fused into one. Mainly composed on the Korg 01/W, this piece invokes musically what it might feel like floating in space hovering over Earth. The “Wonder” portion is more subtle, trying to invoke the silence of space (but obviously not being silent in the piece itself!).
  7. Sea Passage (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1990, this piece was part of a duo of works (the second one is below), to musically portray life at sea. Instruments used included the Korg M1, DX-100, and the Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 analog synth, which was problematic as it would fall out of tune as it warmed up…requiring retuning!
  8. Desert Breaths (listen on YouTube)
    Using the same instrumentation as “Sea Passage”, this piece was also recorded in 1990. It depicted the barren landscape of a hot, dry desert.
  9. Rise and Blind (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1991, this piece attempts to depict the sunrise slowing approaching the horizon…and the sun blaring into my bedroom and onto my face (blinding light as a wake-up call!). It has a sci-fi soundtrack vibe, and was recorded on the Korg M1 using its sequencer and sound banks.
  10. DixonFilms 2 (listen on YouTube)
    This short recording was composed in 2008 and used to fit new animation I created for my fake DixonFilms brand for home movies. It was created using Apple Garageband and its built-in sounds. This track also represents a shift in the album to a bit lighter/soundtrack-ish set of tracks that follow.
  11. THEA 1000 Documentary (Opening Credits) (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 2006 along with several other supporting instrumentals, this track supported the opening credits to a full documentary created during my time at East Carolina University to support the online version of THEA 1000 “Intro to Theatre”. Classroom students would usually tour the facilities and main stage for “behind the scenes” access to whatever production was underway or being developed. Online students couldn’t do that. So I worked with theatre faculty member Jill Carlson to co-produce/direct the documentary, handling all video and audio production. The video was then copied to DVD and shipped to students for years prior to being put online for streaming delivery. The music was composed using Apple’s Garageband.
  12. A New Beginning (listen on YouTube)
    This orchestral piece was composed completely on the Korg 01/W in 1998 to accompany another short documentary on the making of the Digital Resource Collection (image database created at East Carolina University to house thousands of images for use in art classes).
  13. Waters (listen on YouTube)
    Composed in 1998, this was written to accompany a digital presentation of famous artwork showcasing all forms of water for the dean of the East Carolina School of Art & Design’s opening convocation. After producing the sequence of images in Adobe Premiere with visual effects, I composed the music on the Korg 01/W and synced the effects revealing each painting to the music. 
  14. Waters (End Credits) (listen on YouTube)
    Obviously, this piece was composed along with “Waters” mentioned above, to accompany the end credits of that multimedia work in 1998. The music was composed on the Korg 01/W which was my primary workstation for electronic composition in the mid to late 1990s prior to transitioning to digital audio workstation software like Garageband, Pro Tools and Logic Pro X.
  15. Loaded Andante (listen on YouTube)
    Written during what I considered to be my only hiatus from creating music (2003-2011), this track was created in 2004 using Apple’s Garageband and was sort of an experiment to see if I could use almost entirely stock loops to create a piece of music. The only exception is the oboe part.
  16. Man and His Piano (listen on YouTube)
    Written in 1992, this work was composed specifically to accompany my comical “choreography” in moving a giant full-sized grand piano on the stage, by myself, off-stage while transitioning from piano to synthesizer during my senior recital in college. As I wanted to poke fun at both myself and stage managers who often struggle to roll these massive pianos off-stage to make room for other things, the music tries to depict the struggles and then triumph of getting the piano to actually move. At the end, I then take the lone piano bench and use it to sit at a synthesizer that is now on the stage, to finish the piano recital with an original composition. 
  17. Saxsation (listen on YouTube)
    Written in 1991, this track utilized both vintage and new (at the time) synths, including the Ensoniq EPS sampler, Korg M1, and Roland D-50.
  18. Perfect Day (listen on YouTube)
    This is another backing track to go with the DRC documentary (Digital Resource Collection) showcasing behind-the-scenes on the making of the database. It was composed in 1998 on the Korg 01/W.
  19. Fine Arts Promo (Backing Track) (listen on YouTube)
    This track was written in 2008 to accompany a photo montage showcasing all of the fine arts programs at East Carolina University. The production was shown at a fundraiser for the College of Fine Arts & Communication. While the beat is consistent, the instrumentation changes subtly as imagery changes, which often showcased various musicians…thus a harpsichord is heard at times, brass, guitar, etc. This piece was composed using Apple’s Garageband.
  20. Ann-No-Log
    This odd little piece was composed in 1992 and utilized a hardware sequencer tying together a Korg 01/W, Oberheim OB-Xa, and Ensoniq EPS sampler. As to the title? I have no idea why I hyphenated the word “analog”, but I did perhaps to indicate that it was primarily analog sounding.
  21. Gratitude (listen on YouTube)
    This piece was composed in 1992, the year I graduated from college with my BM degree in music theory/composition. It was also the year that the long-serving former dean of the ECU School of Music and orchestra conductor, Robert Hause, was retiring. As he was a clarinet player as well, I wrote this tribute piece and performed it live in spring 1992 to the full college audience with Mr. Hause in attendance. It was composed and performed on the Korg 01/W. There were a few tears after the performance.
  22. Home Movie End Credits (listen on YouTube)
    This short piece was composed to fill time while end credits ran during one of my home movies created in 2004. The Korg 01/W was used to compose this piece.

— ©2020, Michael Barrett Dixon.