It wasn't easy, but somehow we managed to whittle hundreds of entries down to one winner, five finalists, and twelve honorable mentions. Keyboard would like to acknowledge...
...Which leads us to our 1992 winner, Rick Richards (a.k.a. Sim Itar). This competition marks Rick's third attempt to capture the coveted vinyl disc; he was a finalist in the 1990 contest. This year, though, his rock-and-roll burner, "Aliens Among Us", went straight to the top. The tune kicks off with a hard rock punch, slides into a rap beat, and then breaks into a Satriani-esque guitar motif. Two blistering solos and several mood swings later, Rick screeches to a conclusion. The tune riveted our interest by offering a mixture of themes and dynamics. What ultimately sent us over the edge, though,was his convincing simulation of the electric guitar.
"Guitar players really hate me," laughs the 25-year old keyboardist about his faux axe-wielding. "It's taken me about seven years of trial and error to refine it." It all started when his brother brought home a Scholz Rockman one day. "I noticed an input on the Rockman labeled 'keyboard' and immediately the light went on in my head. There just happened to be this factory setting for a heavy metallic crunch sound. So I plugged in the Korg Poly 800 Mk II, hit a note, and my brother and I just looked at each other. We couldn't believe it. The initial hit of the note sounded exactly like the chunk of a guitar." From there, Rick started to experiment with synth patches specifically designed for driving the Rockman. He found that one oscillator could be used to simulate the string tone, and another could be used for feedback.
"It really took off when I got my Ensoniq EPS sampler," he explains. "That's when I started sampling the real thing, most recently a Paul Reed Smith. I'll multisample clean plucks and muted notes from the guitar and then I'll sample a harmonic feedback sound from the Korg M1." He then sets up velocity switching between the sounds. "Soft hits give me mutes and feedback, harder hits give me plucks with feedback, and the hardest hits give me plucks and chirps." He then routes it through a Rockman X-100, an Alesis MicroGate and QuadraVerb and, well, you can hear the results on the soundpage.
Just for the record, Rick started playing piano 11 years ago. With the exception of a few pointers from friends, he is completely self-taught. "I think a formal music education is a good thing for some people," he quietly confides. "But not for me. I've always gone for natural feel - straight from the heart." When we asked about the writing and recording of "Aliens," we got a surprise. "I wrote and recorded the whole thing in two days. I came up with the intro first, sequenced everything into the Roland MC-50, and then started working my way through the tune, writing it as I went along." In addition to the EPS for guitar sounds, Rick used a Roland S-550 sampler for drums and effects, and a Korg M1 for a variety of sounds (including bass guitar). "Basically, the whole song was quantized to some degree, except for the solos. I must confess, I had to slow the tempo down to get that one spastic, half-step triplet run that's in the guitar solo. But everything else in the solos was played in live."
Although Rick describes himself as a "one-handed bandit - I play everything with my right hand," his style is bound to translate well on stage with his newly acquired Lync remote MIDI controller. He plays occasional gigs around the San Francisco Bay Area, but mostly spends time in his home studio. Rick has one solo record to his credit, Subliminal Self [Inertia Records], which was reviewed in the October '89 issue of Keyboard. Rick warns readers, "My style has changed a bit since the record was released. Compared to my new stuff, it's pretty harsh. I plan to release another solo album on Inertia sometime in the future, but I don't want to discourage the possibility of recording for another label as well."...