Modulator is Trey Gunn with uber-drummer Marco Minnemann; but with a gigantic twist. This entire recording was composed and produced over the top of a 51 minute, live drum solo by Marco.
For this project, alternatively known as "Normalizer Two", Marco has enlisted several different musicians to create a full cd, each, from the same drum solo. No editing of the drum performance was done. All the music had to fit with what Marco played and, ideally, make it seems like only this drum performance could go with this music.
"This was the hardest recording I have ever taken on," says Gunn. "The challenges of this process prove the old adage that 'with great restrictions come great creative leaps'."
Trey Gunn – Guitars, Fretless Guitars, Touch Guitars, Basses, Keyboards, Samples, Arrangements (basically, everything that isn’t the drum kit except for M.C.’s contribution)
Michael Connolly – Uilleann Pipes, Fiddle (track 10)
Marco Minnemann – Drum kit
Marco’s drum solo was recorded in realtime on Jan 27th, 2006 at 7.57 am. Principal Studios, Senden, Germany
All other recording done at 7Directions, Seattle, WA between March 2008 and March 2010
Extra mixing by Don Gunn
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Other CDs using the same drum solo:
Alex Machacek "Twenty Four Tales"
Mike Keneally "Evidence of Humanity"
John Czajkowski "West ZooOpolis"
and, of course, Marco Minnemann "Normalizer part two"
and, finally, if you feel inclined to try your own version here is the drum solo on its own:
Normalizer Two Drum Solo
(but keep in mind that you can't use any of this in a released product without Marco's permission)
Alex, Trey Marco speak about the project with Mike Haid
Review at PopMatters
Trey Gunn / Marco Minnemann: Modulator
Trey Gunn has a name reminiscent of an Old West outlaw. He is also one of current progressive rock’s go-to soundmakers, mainly wielding his Warr guitar (a Chapman Stick-like instrument built to explore notes from bass to guitar range with a tapping technique), touring and performing with the likes of Tool, Brian Eno, and, most famously, prog giants King Crimson, of which he was a member for nine years and four studio albums.
On Modulator, the music is a thick, weird, pulverizing, battlefield of touch guitars, spacy sound effects, and free jazz drumming. The concept is even weirder—for Modulator, the writing took place backwards, with Gunn writing and overdubbing soundscapes and riffs on top of “rhythmic illusionist” Marco Minnemann’s 51-minute drum solo, recorded live in Senden, Germany in 2006. Gunn spent years toying with the material, literally re-thinking the process of songwriting before finally settling on an appropriate method of deconstruction: 22 tracks of controlled chaos.
Modulator won’t win over any doubters. If your idea of proggy experimentation is “that Coheed album with all the sound effects”, this ain’t gonna float your boat. But if you’re up for the challenge, Gunn, Minnemann, and Modulator offer a headphone-absorbing headfuck that only gets better the closer you listen. If the idea behind “progressive rock” is to literally “progress” rock music beyond its normal confines, exploring the limits and possibilities of what the genre is capable of, then Modulator is one of the most progressive (and interesting) things you’re likely to hear this year…or any.
from the Tandem and Corriere Canadese newspaper:
"Unlike his fragmentary last release, Music For Pictures, Modulator is a dynamic work that flows interestingly with a variety of instrumental colors (even bagpipes, hammered zither and Tibetan horns). The original drum piece may have been improvised but the Gunn’s creation is meticulously arranged and is one of his best works to date."
from Bill Kopp's MusoScribe:
Some concepts look grand on paper, but don’t execute well. Some ideas are great in concept, but fail to launch in practice. Trey Gunn’s Modulator is a project that succeeds on both counts.
The former King Crimson guitarist approached the making of this album in a unique manner. First, he enlisted the aid of drummer Marco Minnemann. The percussionist set up his kit and recorded a one-hour drum solo. No stopping, one take. I kid you not. Then Gunn took that recording and proceeded to write music to play atop the drum parts. Gunn broken the solo into twenty-two sections, but other than that, did no chopping, channeling or editing. In a Seattle studio more than two years after Minnemann laid down his solo in Germany, Gunn added guitars, basses, keyboards and samples. Save some Uilleann pipes and fiddle on a bit of cacophony called “Spectra,” the recording is only Minnemann and Gunn.
But how does it sound? Modulator is surprisingly accessible and organic. The pieces don’t jump out at the listener all full of hooks, but they’re not cold, remote exercises, either. There’s a constant and welcome juxtaposition between the percussion and the other instrumentation: sometimes when the drums are simple, the other instruments head toward angular, complex territory. When the drums get all complicated, the instruments sometimes traverse smoother sonic regions.
Except when they don’t. Sometimes everything is all forebodingly complicated all at once. On “Fall Time +/-” (yeah, that’s the actual title) Gunn’s guitar squawks and screams as if it’s being strangled rather than played. At times — especially when keyboards are mixed to the fore — the disc may remind listeners of Brian Eno circa Another Green World. In places Modulator is reminiscent of King Crimson’s Red era (long before Gunn was with the group). And on “Califor-a-tron” Gunn and Minnemann channel The River of Crime-era Residents crossed with Sonny Sharrock-styled guitar acrobatics. There’s a Tool flavor to parts of “Mono-punkte.” And on “Slingcharm” the duo (nearly) plays straightahead rock. But ultimately the album doesn’t ape the style or approach of any other artist.
Some sections of Modulator — though it’s broken into tracks, it’s best approached as a single composition with movements — are quite melodic, while others are static and nearly devoid of melody. Both approaches, work set as they are against each other. In a very real sense, even though the music was carefully constructed, most of Modulator feels (and sounds) more like a series of high-level improvisations. One could imagine achieving a similar result (assuming one has players of this caliber) if, say, hours and hours of improvisations were recorded over the period of months. Then an intrepid producer could comb over the tapes, select the best bits and edit them together to create a rewarding finished product.
Alas, that’s not what happened here. Such a course, apparently, would have been too easy, too lacking in challenge. Artists like this are sometimes willing to take chances — because, in the end there was no guarantee that a project like this would yield listenable, enduring music — and adventurous listeners are all the better for having heard it. And if all this weren’t enough, no less than five other musicians — including Mike Keneally — are each planning to take individual cracks at layering their compositions atop Minnemann’s solo. Yikes.
"The ability to take a 51 minute drum solo and make the music here sound as if it was nearly fully improvised is remarkable. The music to me generally sounds as if Trey took the lead, letting Marco play, and created a true "album", not simply a selection of songs. It's a fluid piece with amazing texture, always moving along. Just as you find yourself bopping along, all of a sudden a thorough deconstruction of that moment takes place, and a new moment arrives. Too me, it requires an active listen. Although I must admit, this album, played loud in my car, feels just as right as any other long haul music I have.
Two musicians who remain true to themselves and the music can create remarkable moments. This is several of them."
"As both a concept and a musical statement, "Modulator" is a tour-de-force of experimentalism. Spilling beyond the categorization of "rock" or "prog," it challenges the already hazy distinction between improvisation and composition. No secret has been made as to the creative process behind "Modulator," so you may already be aware that it began as a 50 minute drum solo by Marcus Minneman that Gunn wrote the album around. That Gunn can hear the kinds of musical possibilities expressed on "Modulator" within the framework of an unaccompanied drum solo bespeaks of a rare degree of musicianship and creativity.
Gunn's musical growth since I first took notice of him playing in Sunday All Over the World is astounding. For the uninitiated, this will be a brutal wake-up call to Gunn's brilliance as an experimentalist. There just is not enough of this kind of courageous work being done today, and certainly even less being done as well. This could shut down your next party, or, depending on what king of party you are having, send it careening totally out of control. I think it's a brilliant listen, but I admit to having eclectic tastes."
"I'm usual not a big fan of this genre, but I find myself listening to this over and over again. I love it in the evening as the sun goes down, out on the back porch. It seems haunting, soothing and yet uplifting too."
"The music put together in Modulator is one of the most creative pieces of prog work I've heard in a long time. To think that a 51 minute live drum solo was used to compose the tracks on is brilliant. On some songs the music has vibrant, and intense sounds, and flows into haunting ghost-like melodies in others. Very pleasing to listen to. It's absolutely amazing what these guys are able to do with the technology offered today when they have mastered it. Mr. Gunn...Mr. Minnemann....Much Kudos to you both!"