Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind

Site search Web search


ALL artists!  I am very, VERY happy to announce that IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION is ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS again.  I have been granted a (possibly long-term) stay of execution for my trip to Iraq.  I will still  be traveling all over the U.S., so new issues may be a little less timely, but (as always), we will review your materials as soon as possible after we receive them.  Look at the guidelines for submission below, please:


MUSIC:  All formats accepted.  Snail mail to:  Zzaj Productions, c/o Dick Metcalf, 5308 65th Avenue, Lacey, WA 98513  The only criteria for music you submit is that it MUST HAVE high performance energy... if you submit lacklustre material, it will be reviewed accordingly

POETRY:  Poems are accepted for publication ONLY via e-mail.  Poems submitted in any other fashion will NOT be published.  Poetry that includes some reference to music is granted first priority for publication.

BOOKS:  We will review some books; books about music are PREFERRED.  We will NOT return any books submitted for review.  Snail them to the address listed above for MUSIC.

DIY Announcements:  We will post your (e-mailed) ad about DIY projects, regardless of genre or medium... HOWEVER, this is ONLY for INDEPENDENTS... if you are a corporation, don't even BOTHER sending stuff... it will be marked and reported as SPAM!


Improvijazzation Nation - Issue # 74

INTERVIEW with Tom Furgas


Zzaj: I like to start off these interviews with a little “personal insight”… so please give us a little history about yourself…. where you grew up, where you live now… how old you are, your day job (if any), & other interests you (may) have besides music… kind of a “bio”, if you will!

Tom Furgas: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1954, and I currently reside in Austintown, Ohio, only a 20-minute drive from the old neighborhood on the west side. I started my love of music in kindergarten, when Mrs. Loag would play songs on the piano that we children would sing along with. So my interest was so keen that my parents obliged me with piano lessons, which I continued until the sixth grade. I studied music in high school, and had a bit of training in college as well, at the Dana School of Music in 1973. I decided, though, that I didn't want to try to make a living as a musician, since I wouldn't have been able to do it they way I wanted to and make a living at it. So, in a sense like Ives, I got a "day job" to support myself while I continued to work at my music in my own way and in my own time. I have worked at various retail-sector jobs, never making very much money...but then I never really needed to make great money since I have never had any interest in raising a family which is of course a large financial undertaking. I currently work the night shift at a Major Retail Establishment doing building and equipment maintenance.

Zzaj: You/I have been with the “tape underground” for some MANY years now; how/why did you get started with home recording?

Tom Furgas: My main desire was to hear my own music, since finding others to perform and record it has always been out of the question, it seems. I started composing in an avant-garde "classical" idiom but have since progressed to a kind of progressive/avant-garde pop-rock-classical hybrid style, with strong elements of "classical" avant-garde (i.e., in the tradition of "classical" composers, leading up to Webern, then Varese, Stockhausen, Carter, Xenakis, Cage, etc. etc.) I began home taping by the most primitive means imaginable; overdubbing by bouncing and re-recording tracks between two tape decks...very primitive and the early tapes are just horrible to listen to. But I evolved with better equipment over time. I played various electronic keyboards including a fine old ARP monophonic synthesizer, some Casio keyboards, an old electric bass, drum machines, and anything I could borrow.

Zzaj: A “standard” question on Soundclick is “How does the Internet affect your music?” Expand that a bit, & tell us how accessibility to the net, as well as improved gear, has affected your (own) music, please.

Tom Furgas: Well, I currently don't go in for MP3's and such as yet, since my home computer is a very primitive laptop with a terribly slow processor, but my good friend Ken Clinger has made a number of tracks of ours (mostly pieces that I've composed which he has done realizations of) available as MP3 files on Soundclick. Mostly, having the Internet means access to e-mail and thus instant communication with a number of like-minded musicians, so we can set up collaborations and/or trades. This has been the area of largest impact on my own activities so far. As for improved gear, well, home-recording has now gone digital in a big way (i.e. it's now easily affordable to almost everyone) so the quality of the recordings are on par with the professional studios. As almost all of my recordings are direct digital recordings from keyboards or other equipment to the CD burner, there is no loss of sound quality and it's about as close to perfect as can be. I am not a fetishist about audiophile quality, I just want my recordings to sound the best they can, so that the music comes through without the defects of an imperfect recording medium.

Zzaj: Who (out of the original crew of home recordists) do you play with most these days? Are there any “new” folks you’ve discovered (as a result of the new technology, perhaps) that you play with now?

Tom Furgas: Mostly I still hang with my old favorites from the '80's such as Don Campau, Ken Clinger, Zan Hoffman, and many others. But I recently did a fine collaboration, our first, with Russ Stedman, and there is another collaboration in the works with the superb improvisor Eric Wallach. On the whole although I have the potential to have tons more contacts I am limited by my time and cash-flow to trading with mostly just the dozen or so musicians whom I have known for over 20 years now. I wish I could expand it, but at this time my time and money don't allow it.

Zzaj: One of the tenets in the old “tape days” was that “home taping will kill the music industry”… though it didn’t do that, have the advances in technology helped to “re-shape” the industry, or is it still one big “snake-pit”? Or, is that really important?

Tom Furgas: The music business is just that, a business, and as such the most important factor is the bottom line, the profits gained from moving so many units of merchandise. It might as well be boxes of detergent for all the businessmen in the business care (except perhaps that they like having access to the drugs and groupies, etc.) Home taping (nowadays, more like "home disking" I guess) has nothing to do with's essentially electronic "folk music"; music of the people, by the people, for the people. The music industry, as has been seen of late, is starting to come unravelled, though...thanks to the Internet and advances in home-recording, but from those musicians who wish to create and market their music as a source of income. Those of us "amateurs" (i.e. those who do it for the "love" of it) don't have much effect on the situation on that score, but that's OK...that's not what this music-making is about. We don't persue it as a means of earning a living simply because our audience is naturally too small to permit that. Not because of the "quality" of the music, but because there are not enough listeners to financially support it.

Zzaj: How has the “new gear” influenced your own studio? Have you gone more & more “digital”, or do you still run analog tape first, then digitize?

Tom Furgas: Right now I have several electronic keyboards, as well as a "groovebox", a kind of advanced drum machine, and these are recorded directly to digital recording on a Tascam CD burner. Using the sequencer of one keyboard, and the multi-tracking of the groovebox, I am able to have multi-tracked compositions without recording them to analog tape first. Any other elements such as sounds or voices I can mix in "on the fly" as well. I have an analog tape 4-track that my good friend Bill Lehman has given me, but it doesn't factor in what I am doing just now. But I will be using that at some point, so I will still have an opening for analog tape in my arsenal. But by going direct from the tape to the CD burner it will still probably sound almost 100% perfect as my current setup does.

Zzaj: Were you musically “trained”, or did you pick up the music pretty much by ear? On that note, how important do you think formal training is to the quality a musician is able to display?

Tom Furgas: I've had piano lessons, and some training in composition and harmony in high school and college, but mostly I am self-taught just by picking up books on music theory and applying those lessons to my own work, or breaking those rules as the case may be. For many of my own recordings I don't compose on paper but "compose" by playing and recording, doing retakes for rethoughts rather than using an eraser on music paper. The kind of formal training a musician has should be determined by what that musician wants to do. In some cases formal training can be a greater hinderance than a help. Some musicians will be exposed to conventional theory, harmony, etc, and find themselves straitjacketed by it. Some who never have formal training will find themselves limited by the lack of it, and not know it. So it varies, I think, with the individual. I think a bit of education regarding music HISTORY is important; one should know how we arrived at the current situation, so as to know which paths one may follow, or create, fruitfully.

Zzaj: How do you approach the artwork for a project? Do you try & do your covers/tray inserts/etc., all by yourself, or do you use the Internet to aid you in the design? Do you think the artwork for a tape or CD is as important (or nearly) as the music itself?

Tom Furgas: I make my own CD sleeves using a photo program on the computer, currently the MGI PHoto Suite program. I have also tried Adobe Photoshop, but not with my current computer. I have a pretty standardized format for my sleeves, usually with the titles and credits for the CD laid out on the front, the text centered (rather than having left or right margins), and then inside the jewel-case (I only use "slimline" cases) a photo or piece of artwork. Some discs have an artwork on the front and the titles/credits inside. I have downloaded images from the internet when I wanted a particular image for a given CD cover, but just as often I might create an abstract image using the Photo Suite program, or I'll just put the artist-title listing on the front and the titles-credits inside. Generally a pretty simple setup...just to put the imformation out there in an easily readable format. I like to experiment with typefonts and layouts, but they generally adhere to a standardized format. I do feel that a good CD design is important, but not as important as the music should be there to provide information which will enhance the listeners experience. I am in agreement with Martin Davidson of Emanem Records, who feels that clarity of information is the most important aspect of CD design.

Zzaj: From researching the net, it looks like you (too) have done quite a bit of work with folks (poets) like John M. Bennett; I personally believe that the marriage of music and words is very, VERY important… what are your thoughts about that?

Tom Furgas: I used to have a band with Bill Lehman, we were Courtesy Patrol, and at the time (1984-1996) I felt that I did have important things to say with song lyrics, or felt that Bill's, or other contributors, lyrics had important, poetic, meaningful things to express and that they should be combined with music and expressed in that way. And I still like to occasionally incorporate found voices in my recordings, but not as often as I once did. I do find that the inclusion of words of any kind immediately push the music into the background; suddenly the focus is on the message in the lyrics or poetry or found words or what have you. Now, I have nothing against that, not at all! But for me, currently, it is not a high priority; I prefer to keep the music in the forefront of the experience. But that could change at any time, who knows? I may want to start writing song lyrics again, and then I will certainly team up with Bill (he'd do it at the drop of a hat) and continue in that vein.

Zzaj: Give the folks reading this your thoughts on “how to get started” in music, please. What are the most important values one should have when starting out? What (do you think) an artists’ “goals” should be for their music?

Tom Furgas: It's certainly easier than ever to get started in the home-taping and trading field...the equipment and contacts are there to be used to any extent one wishes. But in terms of starting in music itself...! Well, if one has a vision, a sense of purpose, then one should persue it diligently and with passion, and everything else will simply fall into place. Well, not "simply" takes great commitment and dedication to bring it to full flower, whatever one wants to master be it hair-metal guitar, writing rap lyrics, programming a drum machine, or any means and methods of music making. I knew a young man, many years ago, who swore off all partying, carousing, troublemaking with his neighborhood friends and shut himself up in his parents basement with a guitar and an amplifier and did nothing in his spare time (outside of school and homework) but practice, practice, practice. No TV, no video games, no distractions of ANY kind. He became an amazing and brilliant guitarist as a result. Not sure if he is still persueing it as a profession but if he is I know he is successful at it (although not famous...yet). Is that degree of commitment necessary? Well, for HIM it was, and it paid off. For others, maybe not that degree of commitment, but certainly one will become as skilled and focused as one wants to be with the proper amount of dedication and hard work. It's a matter of acting professionally, not simply dabbling in it and letting it drop as soon as one encounters obstacles or challenges. A friend of J.S. Bach once asked him for a simple keyboard piece, and Bach obliged him with a minuet. His friend complained that it was too difficult for him, and Bach simply said "Only practice it diligently, and it will go well."




RETURN to Zzaj Productions MAIN page!


'k, alla' you hardcore D.I.Y'er's!  We've added a D.I.Y. forum board!  Simply click on the lil' button below to TELL US wot' you think...




Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind

Site search Web search