I’m delighted you’ve dropped by. My name is Traktor Topaz. Not long ago I was playing synthesizers and composing music, and these days I’m a ‘touch-style’ musician, meaning I play stringed instruments by two-handed tapping, providing two-handed simultaneous play. On this site, I’ll tell a bit about how I got interested in these kinds of music, and if you wish, you can hear some of my compositions.
When I was a young man in Texas, I played drums but then paid little attention to music for many years. Here’s how I got all caught up in music later …
The story begins in Los Angeles in 1971. I lived in a house with many roommates, one of which was a jazz musician named LaMont Johnson.
One night I had a peculiar dream: I was a musician in a space-age society, and gave a concert for a small auditorium of people, playing music by moving my hands inside a square ‘grid’. The music must have been really good, because both myself and the audience just got caught up and we were all getting higher and higher and higher.
And somehow, we never came back. We just dropped all those bodies. And I woke up thinking I’d either been a stupendous musician or maybe an unusual mass murderer.
Over breakfast, I told my roommates about my peculiar dream. And LaMont said, ‘Such a thing exists. It’s called a “syn-the-sizer”, and I know a guy who has one.’
Well, at that time, none of us had ever heard of a synthesizer, and the upshot was that a couple of nights later we drove to an industrial area of Los Angeles and found this warehouse filled with strange machines all covered over with cloth, and in a little side room I was introduced to a man named Paul Beaver, who, along with a teen-age keyboardist, was in the process of making one of the earliest US electronic records, which was later to be called ‘The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music.’
Mr. Beaver and his keyboardist had Moog Synthesizer #2 sitting there, looking for all the world like a row of suitcases filled with knobs and lots of colored patch cords going from one to another. In the middle of the room, like a mineature refridgerator, was an Ampeg tape deck. Beaver would write the arrangement and program the synth. The keyboardist would play the line, and they’d record the track. Then on to the next instrument, one by one. Mr. Beaver showed us how it worked and how it sounded, and it just knocked my socks off.
And that was the end of that.
About twenty years later, I was married and operating an answering service in San Francisco, and one day I went to the West Coast Computer Faire, and while crossing the floor downstairs, I heard in the distance the strangest and most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. It was faint through all the hubbub, but I tracked it down to a small booth where a guy was demonstrating some software which was playing a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. And I learned that the synthesizer had become something reasonable, and right then I decided that I was going to learn how to make that beautiful sound.
So that night over dinner, I told my wife that I was going to get a DX7, and she said, ‘That’s odd.’
And it turns out that one of our answering service clients had a message up for callers that he had a DX7 for sale. This was a musician we’d served for several years, who with his partner wrote commercials in an office down at Ghirardelli Square. I figured it had to be a DX7 synthesizer, so I called him and made arrangement to go see him. Although I’d taken his calls for several years, and we’d spoken a lot, we’d never met and it turned out he lived in a gorgeous house beside one of the San Francisco parks.
s I was sitting at his dining room table, writing his name onto a check, I suddenly got the impression I’d heard his name once long ago. It was Bernie Krause. Flash! I asked him, “Twenty years ago, were you a teen-age keyboardist with Paul Beaver in a warehouse in Los Angeles?”
How I got interested in the Stick.
I had gone from the DX7 to several other synthesizers and learned composition and multi-tracking, even writing an additive synthesis program in C that ran on an Apple II. It had software oscillators to set up for each harmonic, and then it would chug along, calculating all night, dumping the result byte by byte into an Ensoniq Mirage sampler. And then the next morning I could play the new waveform.
I found composition effortless, and the computer stuff pretty easy. But it was clear, after four years, that I was never going to be worth beans as a keyboardist.
However, all during this time, I kept seeing this ad in keyboard magazines for the ‘Chapman Stick’ and I thought that thing looked wierd, and I was fascinated. Finally I went searching and found one used and bought it, never having heard one nor seen it played.
As soon as I picked it up in my clumsy hands, it felt like my instrument.
Since that time, I’ve found other tapping instruments I whose sound I prefer, but I’ll always have a soft place in my heart for that Chapman Stick. (And as it turns out, I had some troubles with the Stick company, but that’s another story.)
How I became ‘Traktor Topaz’.
As I was approaching my 40th birthday, once again I began to think about changing my name. I’d been born ‘Richard French’ back in Henrietta Texas, but ever since I was 30 I’d been thinking about changing my name. My theory was that we humans tend to ‘act out’ our name. The only reason that this is not always so totally obvious is that each person’s idea of what his name means is very personal, quite ideosyncratic, and not always visible to an outsider. I figured that, if this were so, maybe it would be a good idea to consciously choose the name you’d like to act out.
Although I’d had this theory for ten years, I’d never found a good name to choose.
As my 40th birthday grew near, once again I was thinking I’d like a new act, so I was again thinking about getting a new name. And one day I thought of a name I liked: ‘Traktor Topaz’.
I liked it because it was after Arthur, Lord of all Brittany, and after Jupiter’s father, so it had the classical elements. My initials would be ‘AC’, as in electricity, and when I signed my name (‘ACronos’), it would mean ‘outside of time.’
I was delighted, and so I told my wife I was going to change my name to Traktor Topaz.
‘That’s not a very nice name,’ she said.
‘Oh,’ I said, and went away for awhile. About a week later I came back to her and said, ‘You know, I’ve decided not to change my name to Traktor Topaz.’
‘No?’ she said.
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ve decided to change my name to Traktor Topaz instead.’
‘Oh,’ she said, and she went away for awhile. For about a week. Then she came up to me one day.
‘You know,’ she said, ‘Traktor Topaz is not so bad.’
So I legally changed my name to Traktor Topaz. I thought it would be complicated, but in California it’s easy to do. The judge asked me, ‘You want to change your name for business purposes?’ and I said yes, and that was that.
So then a few years later, minus the wife, I’d just sold a business and I’d been playing this Stick thing for awhile and I realized that I could probably play well enough to do dinner music in restaurants, so I needed a stage name.
I couldn’t help myself. That name was still in my back pocket. I had to try it on.
And now, it’s funny. More people know me around the world as Traktor Topaz than ever knew my legal name. I have become Traktor. So for God’s sake, be careful!
Item (to be arranged)
And Now … Traktor Photos Revealed!
Traktor does Tuxedo!
Traktor Wigs Out!
Although I like to drink beer and dance foolishly as much as the next guy, I’ve always especially enjoyed softer kinds of music. I guess my preference is for jazz harmonies with rock and latin rhythms and elevator-music instrumentation!
At any rate, when I developed my ‘Celestial Jazz’ dinner-music act (see tuxedo-head above), I began to concentrate on standards, bossa-nova, beatle tunes, and 1970’s ballads. Still like them. Still play them. But you never know. Maybe I’ll become cool later.
About The Music
Here are some selections of my music, for your listening enjoyment. Because I’ve never composed much on touch-style instruments, most of these songs are played with synthesizers. Hope you like my compositions.
The blue Shockwave Song Player should appear below, and you operate its controls just like any tape machine. Click on a song title to place the title in the ‘Current Selection’ window, then click the triangle to play it. The two bars means pause, and the square means stop. You can adjust the volume with the red slider on the left.
Cassette Titles: ‘Left My Heart’ and ‘Time Will Find You’
Available as: out of print
Brief Description: The ‘Left My Heart’ cassette was a collection of dinner-music tunes I often presented in my ‘Celestial Jazz’ act, which was — surprise! — solo dinner music in restaurants. The ‘Time Will Find You’ cassette was a collection of my compositions, presented with synthesizers and multi-track recording. (I refer to my studio as the ‘Wide Band’.) All songs are my own with the exception of ‘Theme from Black Orpheus’ by Luis Bonfa.
For folks as are interested in gear and effects, the Stick(R) pieces from ‘Left My Heart’ were played solo on a black polycarbonate instrument with processing provided by an Ensoniq DP/4. All the other tunes were played in a synth studio consisting of a Yamaha controller keyboard, two DX7 modules, an Ensoniq Mirage sampler, an Oberheim Expander, Simmons Drums and a Yamaha drum machine, and an Lexicon PCM70 effects unit.
(These days I play a Santucci TrebleBass(TM) equipped with magnetic and piezo pickups, using Korg ToneWorks pedal arrays into a Barbetta amplifier, and occasional help from two Axon Neural-Net MIDI converters going into a WaveStation SR synth module.)
- From ‘Left My Heart’:
- Celeste with Dark Eyes from Her Window When There is No Moon —
Spookly lyrics, happily instrumental here.
- Theme from ‘Black Orpheus’ (Luis Bonfa) —
When I began playing dinner music in restaurants, I always felt nervous when I started to play, so since I knew this one pretty well, I always started with this tune. Now it always relaxes me!
- Celeste with Dark Eyes from Her Window When There is No Moon —
- From ‘Time Will Find You’:
- Fly Like Summer Love —
My favorite song.
- Maggie’s Song (A Haiku) —
This song is in three parts, and each part has a title. Together, the three titles make a haiku: “Dreaming in Bright Sunlight, Swimming in Dark Water, Trusting in Your Heart” It is dedicated to three Maggies I have known and cared for: Margaret Hurn, Margaret Northcott, and Adrienne Gallant. Only the third section has any lyrics, and there only this: “There you go, falling into love again. Like a fool, trusting in your heart. Did you know, when you promised ‘not again’; did you know you would break your rule?”
- One Mile Above Brazil —
This fake flute was done on synth, and attempted to do a Carlos-Jobim trick: playing the same melody over four different but related chord progressions. But my favorite part of the song is the percussion, which was played by my drum machine driving samples made by my friend Rach Cztar (‘Rock Star’) of the Nuclear Whales, who recorded all the samples into his Ensoniq Mirage by banging on pipes and objects in his house. Nice Brazillian percussion, no?
- Big Walter —
True blues-harp fans will recognize that I’ve stolen the famous harp solo recorded by Chicago harp-monster Little Walter on his song ‘Juke’. So I call the song ‘Big Walter.’
- Time Will Find You — Traktor Sings!
When will you know? That I know. Time won’t let me. Time won’t let me follow you can be my own. When will you find, in your mind, that you love me? That you want to take me home, for your own, inside of time. How time changes, you need it so bad, and it’s good. How time changes, the thoughts in the world, as it should. Should. Time won’t let you tarry, if you try. Coming with you, meet your mom, meet your daddy. We will be happy. When will you know, that it’s so? Time will change you. Time will find you, far away, in just a little while of time.
- Forest Home —
A very sad song with violin from hell.
- Fly Like Summer Love —
Cost: -Not Available-
Order From: Celestial Jazz, 1001 Bridgeway #216, Sausalito CA 94965 USA.
I’m happy to say I’ve sold out of my cassettes on hand, and have no immediate plans to produce further copies, as my music has moved on. When (someday) I have a new recording for sale, I’ll update this website. Hope you enjoy the tunes!
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Traktor Topaz (Celestial Jazz)
Post Office Box 969
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web address: www.traktor.com/presents/traktor
Home Phone #: (415) 453-1926