The roots of thirtysecondcomplex began in the mid-1970s when my family dabbled in classic, AV-style multimedia. Dad built a recording booth out of rigid insulation and with a Radio Shack cassette recorder and microphone in hand, my family turned our very few vacations into full-blown multimedia extravaganzas with synchronized slides, recorded music, and scripted voiceovers. It had an effect. After the productions were complete, I used the equipment to play “radio station” by recording my “on air” performances while spinning records between the segments.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered the joy of live performance and theater. My positive experiences in community theater provided me with the confidence to branch out and explore music. In elementary school, I joined the Jamestown Boys’ Choir and under the direction of David Morelock, discovered musical performance. Music became more than something in the background.
Junior high included choir, theater, and a girlfriend who was a cellist, but I wasn’t the typical arts type or AV geek. I liked sports and focused much of my energy on math, science (and science fair) and engineering. All of my interests came together when I received my second computer and the media machine of the era: a Commodore 64. I started exploring computer graphics and fiddled with audio by tapping into the C64’s now infamous SID chip, It was at this time I started taking an interest in what made theatrical performances “tick.” I branched out and became involved in theatrical lighting, set design and technical direction.
The transition to high school was rather uneventful but busy. Like some crazed masochist, I signed up for everything: concert choir, school theater, swing choir, community theater, science fair, school newspaper as a photographer (mainly sports), yearbook (again as a photographer), National Honor Society, Math Track Meet, North Dakota State Centennial Committee and even the Junior Academy of Science. On top of that, I dabbled in video production (“Dr. Zap” for high school biology) and became the lighting engineer for a local cover band (“Redline”).
For all of that activity, I can trace my passion for music and media to three things. First, like all high school students I did have a part-time job — I was a live on-air DJ at an AM radio station and supported its FM counterpart. Second, my friend John was an up-and-coming live audio engineer and he introduced me to the world of live sound. Third, music videos happened.
College came and I wanted something different — something far, far away from the prairie. I left North Dakota for New Orleans and chose to go to college for broadcast production or as I told my friends’ parents, “to make music videos.” My second roommate, Tracy, was a music education major and like most musicians in New Orleans, joined a local band (“Impulse”). He was a keyboard and alto jazz sax performer (the perfect “hip” combo of the late 1980s) and I used to fiddle around with his Yamaha DX7 and Roland D-50 when he was off to class.
Through Tracy, I discovered the world of synthesizers and sequenced music. I tagged along to Tracy’s gigs and in the process hooked up with the band’s sound reinforcement company, Propaganda Productions. After helping load out several jobs, the part-owner of the company, Simon Frasier, offered me a job as a lighting engineer. The old theatrical experience now became my part time job and little did I know, I would learn live audio engineering from two of the most respected audio engineers in the Gulf South (Simon as well as Richard Byrd) on some of the best audio equipment of the time.
Over the years, I developed my skills in broadcast production, took a recording studio class, produced a friend’s album, studied photography, and worked as the programming director for the campus radio station. During that time and under the guidance of my friend and former manager, Jim, I emerged as one of a handful of Apple Macintosh experts in New Orleans and became proficient in the first releases of Photoshop, Illustrator, Director, and a host of other creative applications of the era. I had my first real experience with digital creativity.
Building upon my Macintosh technical skills and creative areas of study, I worked in advertising and learned about design through the eyes and actions of my mentor, the late Hugh Ricks. Hugh taught me to not let the tool dictate the creation, but let the creation itself drive the execution. It was during this period that I become involved in the fledgling computer-based multimedia industry. My career with Propaganda Productions flourished during this period as well and I moved into the role of audio engineer. I worked for Grammy-nominated Irma Thomas, was the house engineer for a number of Hard Rock Cafe shows and worked events such as MTV’s Mardi Gras Madness, NFL Super Bowl, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
After a very strange pattern of events that involved the collapse of a startup while working as a contractor, I eventually ended up at the University of Chicago in high performance computing and data visualization. There I tapped into the visual skills I honed in New Orleans, but my video production and music dimensions waned. I dabbled in photography again in 1998, and as multimedia gave way to digital media and the web all-but-eliminated the CD-ROM industry, I started to explore other creative possibilities.
In 2002, my fiancée moved to England and I stayed in Chicago. With her away, I became creatively restless. iPods had just hit the market and shortly thereafter, I started mashing together audio clips into songs. The process was laborious — I didn’t have a sequencer or DAW, so I approached audio production like splicing tape in a traditional recording studio. It was slow, complicated but very rewarding. Not long after that Apple released GarageBand and I started sequencing, but found that I thought in rudimentary musical notation and lacked the skill to play a musical instrument.
Eventually, I started constructing musical snippets that then became sequences and mixes. I picked up a copy of Logic and moved ahead. Roughly at the same time I started an annual film festival at the university. With music and video outlets in my life, my creative interests came together with Kathy adding her talents at a distance as screenwriter and producer.
It was at that time in the mid-2000s while looking out above Chicago from the windows of a high-rise, thirtysecondcomplex was born.