R.I.P. Dr. Zoltan – Article by Mike Epstein

From A Prog Blog:

I take a pretty sarcastic tone when discussing progressive rock, but I don’t want that to confuse anyone from that fact that I love the genre more than any other style of music available to my ears. My outlook comes from the fact that I’ve been surrounded for many years by people who consider my musical tastes a source of great comedy. They let me know this any time I bring progressive rock up in conversation, and while this never keeps me from enjoying my music, it has allowed me to keep a fairly healthy perspective on the genre. For instance, writing a song in 5/4 creates a different sense of feel and flow that catches the listeners ear and really makes them listen to what is going on in a phrase. Writing a song in 17/8 is basically a way for you to wave your giant progressive dick in the air and tell the audience ‘look how fucking skilled I am, suck it peasants!’ Of course I still enjoy the song in 17/8, but I’m fully aware of the artist’s intentions when he/she writes the song. No one’s brain is so mutated that they feel like they can best express themselves using phrases 17 beats long.

To wave my own giant progressive dick in the air, I have to say I feel pretty unique in this outlook. Progressive rock nerds don’t take it too kindly when you try to poke fun at their music, most likely because they’ve been poked fun at for their entire lives for various non-musical reasons. So while metal fans can thoroughly enjoy shows like Metalocalypse that thrust every single metal stereotype in their face and show them how stupid being a metal fan can be, even suggesting to a progressive rock fan that Neal Peart’s hat is kind of funny looking will result in massive nerd-rage.

As it turns out, I’m not as unique in my love/hate relationship with progressive rock as I thought. At least, I think I’m not. It’s kind of hard to tell. To be perfectly honest, it’s nearly impossible to wrap my head around the music and personas of one Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk/Sir Millard Mulch/Carl King (no, I don’t know why he needs two fake names to release music under, maybe there was a buy-one-get-one-free sale). Regardless, I think I may get what he and his music are all about. Or maybe I’m so far off that he’ll track me down and kill me for spreading lies about him and his music. Whatever, here’s what I do I know for certain:

-I can barely handle his music, and that’s part of the reason I love it. Melodies and phrases fly by so quickly that it’s worthless for your brain to try to grab a hold of anything and interpret what it just heard because it’s under a constant bombardment. You just have to experience what you heard and move on, otherwise you’re going to be buried under and avalanche of x-tuplets. To be stupidly pretentious (and I want to stress the ’stupid’ part of this), there’s something very Zen about the whole experience of listening to his music and being totally unable to become attached to what is passing through your ears, to only be able to listen and have that one immediate reaction.

-He’s absolutely amazing at programming his music. Yes, he programs a very significant portion of his music, and considering the deep attachment most progressive rock fans and artists have to authenticity, I’m kind of surprised by total acceptance of this practice. To be perfectly honest it bothered me for all of 10 seconds for the sole reason that he is talented at what he does. Regardless, the music is complex to the point where it almost HAS to be programmed, because having people play his stuff live would probably cause the Higgs Boson to appear (look it up).

-All of his music free. All of it. You just sign up for his mailing list you can download everything. I don’t know, maybe he robs banks (it’s not like his music career has made him universally recognizable and thus unable to hide in public), or maybe he has some sweet black mail gig going.

So all of that being said, what does his music sound like and why do I feel like I have another sarcastic kindred spirit in prog appreciation? Well to answer the first question, think of him as a cross between Frank Zappa and Weird Al Yanchovic, only with less polka. There’s a huge throbbing vein of comedy in his music, and it’s always popping up in different ways. Maybe he’s lamenting the common criticisms toward the music industry as it exists today, with its lack of artist talent or originality, but suddenly you’ll be thrust into an incomprehensible instrumental track that changes meter totally illogically. Then before you know it you’re back listening to something with verses and a chorus again, lamenting the good Doctor’s experience working as a sales rep. The humor in his music is obvious at some points and at other times you find yourself wondering “Ok…that passage was ridiculous…it wasn’t even the slightest bit musical…and I loved it…did he just play a joke on me for liking that kind of shit or is he just as fucked up as I am?” But then before you can even think about answering the question you just asked yourself, you’re smashed in the face with something new.

The music is extremely also drum heavy, to the point where Keith Moon would probably tell Øbelisk to chill out a little bit. Another reason I have this music crush is that when he’s not programming drums, Øbelisk recruits the most beastly drummers available for his albums. It honestly seems like he opened up an issue of Modern Drummer and just started circling names, telling himself “Ok, I want him and him and him and him and him.” And yet at the same time I get the impression it’s almost another joke, being able to say that you had Virgil Donati, Nick D’Virgilio, Marco Minnemann, and Morgen Argen, amongst other prog heavyweights like Devin Townsend, all perform on your albums. It’s kind of like rounding up Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Brian Wilson, and Freddy Mercury and having them sing the most bad ass version of “Good Vibrations” ever recorded, but then having them sing “Happy Birthday” during the harmonica solo, because why the fuck not.

All of this results in a final that product that is clearly progressive rock, but what is even more clear is the love/hate relationship Dr. Zoltan has with the genre. He knows his music sounds complex for the sake of being complex, and he lets you know that he knows that his music sounds that way, so in the end we all have a good laugh and then go back to enjoying a piece of music that changes key and time signature ever single measure. I personally think that’s a healthy way of looking at the genre, and it’s extremely rare that someone can look at their own music in such a way.

I titled this entree ‘RIP Dr. Zoltan….” not because the artist has passed away, but because his most recent album, “Why Am I So Wise? Why Am I So Clever? And Why Do I Write Such Good Songs?” may in fact be his last, according to his news letter anyway. I’m depressed that this may be his last amazing effort, but at the same time I think my brain is happy to throw in the towel, like a drug addict’s brain must enjoy the concept of never having to deal with another acid trip. So thank you, Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk/Sir Millard Mulch/whatever name you decide to assume next, for sharing a joke with me. I think.

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