Riding the new music wave
April 27, 2005
If the kid next door starts to sound like he’s playing his electric guitar in ARCO Arena, you can give part of the credit ” or blame ” to Mikail Graham of Nevada City.
Graham is well-known in the western Nevada County music community for his involvement in every aspect of the industry, as well as his interest in music ranging from down-and-dirty rock ‘n’ roll to the work of composer Terry Riley, the father of minimalism.
But he has another life, largely outside the area, as a consultant to manufacturers of professional audio and music industry technology, generally known as MI audio.
Graham spends three to four months a year working with companies in Japan, Europe and the U.S. creating the software equivalent of the racks of audio and special effects equipment that have been a staple of the music industry for decades.
Out of this has come digitally-based virtual instruments and small hardware accessories ” producing a big sound and special effects at prices that make the technology accessible to garage bands as well as professional musicians.
“We’re slowly taking the hardware and putting it on a computer hard drive,” Graham said. “We’re creating software versions of what the hardware does.”
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A good example of the trend is the G-2 stomp box that Graham is currently putting through final evaluations for the manufacturer, Zoom of Japan. The small guitar processor sits on the stage near the musician, who can manipulate it with a foot to create special effects like echo, delay, reverb, distortion and chorus effects.
“It’s the start of a new line of products ranging from $99 to about $600,” he said. “It’s for the kid in the garage band or the major player on stage.”
But, Graham cautions, technology like the G-2 won’t cover up a guitarist’s shortcomings. “This things will help you get a sound that makes you sound a little better, but without the talent, it’s still just noise,” he said. “It still comes down to talent and songwriting.”
Graham was experimenting with computers when the trend started in the ’80s and ended up working for C-Lab, a German firm that developed the first software that creates instant musical notation on a computer screen.
He traveled the world as an evangelist for the new technology. C-Lab eventually became Emagic, and was acquired by Apple Computer last year.
Graham said he was approached by several other companies in the field after leaving Emagic, but resisted their overtures for several months. He limits his consulting work to three to four months a year.
“I really, really struggle keeping it at bay, because it can just take over your life,” he said. “I’ve been offered quite a few good jobs, but this is where I like to be.”
When he is where he likes to be (western Nevada County), Graham wears several hats: Composer, promoter, producer, musician.
His involvement in practically every aspect of the industry comes from a life-long love for music, something he first realized when he was 3 or 4, sitting at his parents’ piano “making sounds with it.”
Graham eventually taught himself to play electric guitar and turned professional when he was 13. “That was too much,” he said. “I got paid to play music.”
But his life’s course was really set when he missed the eighth grade because he was recovering from a severe leg injury. “It completely changed my life,” Graham said. “I just turned my attention to art.
“By the time I got back into school, I had a different attitude about everything. Music seemed like a great way to go, and in those days you could get by on next to nothing.”
His 45 original scores for theater and independent film projects can best be described as avant guard. “I had these strange ideas about sound,” he said. “I tried to write pop tunes, but it just wasn’t my forte.”
Graham has toured extensively over the years, playing with such diverse performers as Riley and Roger Hodgson, a Nevada County resident who was in the pop group Supertramp.
He has played “just about anything and everything” since turning professional in 1969. He became a record producer in the ’70s because he couldn’t find enough musicians to play his own compositions, and has produced hundreds of albums for other musicians since then.
Graham has been an active member of the Nevada County Composers Cooperative and is the last of the team that helped start KVMR-FM who is still on the air with “The Other Side,” broadcast 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday.
He also plays with a local group, Buck Love and The Humperheads, and books musical groups for Cooper’s in Nevada City.
None of this pays a whole lot of money, and that’s where the consulting work comes in. “It pays for the art,” Graham said.