GRAHAM MILLER, M.A. Ethnomusicology, York University
Konsole founder Graham Miller has spent the last two decades of his life immersed in the world of technology and music.
As an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, sound designer, audio engineer, and professional music composer and teacher of all styles and genres, Graham's lifelong journey through music is perhaps the best way to begin to understand his unique perspectives and philosophies on learning, technology, aesthetics, and the musical process. And since Konsole is very much a sincere reflection of Graham's musical ideologies and passions, probably the best way to get to know Konsole, is to get to know its founder.
WHAT WOULD THE FUTURE SOUND LIKE?
From an early age, Graham became quickly interested in science fiction cinema. Like many other children of his generation, it was the original 1977 Star Wars film that ignited his imagination. Immediately, Graham became intrigued by this idea of ‘the Future’ and what it might be like to live in an advanced metropolis so many decades from now. What was Toronto going to be like in the 21st century and beyond? Would there be jetpacks and moving sidewalks? Skyscrapers that soared into the clouds? Underwater bases and lunar colonies? Could computers one day think for themselves? Would war and poverty and disease be abolished through science and technology?
He had to know, and thus began a lifelong quest to try to find the answers, initially through the prescient imaginations of others, and later through his own academic and artistic endeavours. Whether it were through films like TRON or Blade Runner, the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson, the philosophies of Alvin Toffler, Ray Kurzweil, or the early Italian Futurists, the industrial design of Syd Mead or Philippe Starck, the graphic novels of Moebius, or the architecture of Le Corbusier, Graham’s love of all things Futuristic was insatiable.
There was one crucial puzzle piece, however, that inexplicably seemed missing from all the Futuristic films and books and articles that Graham could devour. And while great thought had been put into the architecture, fashion, transportation, politics, social dynamics, and technologies of tomorrow, no one seemed to be asking what the music of the Future would be, or what it might sound like?
THE TECHNO REBELS
Luckily, Graham happened to be born at the right time, because a trio of young people in Detroit, Michigan were also asking the very same questions. Their answer was a new kind of machine music, a music that became known as Techno.
Techno music understood that the robotic arm in a General Motors assembly plant was not a threat, but rather an ally. Here, finally, was an art-form true to an emergent Futurist ideology: a machine music born of the assembly line, automation, late capitalism, and an age of Japanese consumer electronics; an Ode To Joy sung by voltage, capacitors, and speaker cones, forged in a loop of untiring reproduction and endless repetition. This would be the music that post-humanized the dehumanized – and it would be called Techno. After all, its creators were children of the '70s, unwitting social experiments of video game arcade immersion, Kraftwerk, electronic toys, personal computers, and the Dolby Stereo summers of the silver screen.
Prior to his discovery of Techno music, Graham had long been interested in what cultural theorists have since referred to as Afrofuturism. In his seminal 1995 essay Black to the Future, academic Mark Dery explains the concept: “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture—and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future—might, for want of a better term, be called Afrofuturism. African-American culture is Afrofuturist at its heart, literalizing [the SF novelist William] Gibson’s cyberpunk axiom, 'The street finds its own uses for things.' With trickster elan, it retrofits, refunctions, and willfully misuses the technocommodities and science fictions generated by a dominant culture that has always been not only white but a wielder, as well, of instrumental technologies.”
It was perhaps no coincidence, then, that Graham’s first instrument was the saxophone – a 19th century instrument originally intended for a European concert orchestra that wanted nothing to do with it, only to find its true voice once reappropriated by marginalized black American improvisational musicians in the first part of the 20th century. Not surprisingly, his first love of music was bebop, and later, the kinds of late 60s jazz fusion experiments pioneered by Miles Davis in his Bitches Brew period. The progression to Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Sun Ra, and Parliament-Funkadelic seemed like a logical evolution, considering these progressive black American musicians’ interest in science fiction, outer space, and sound.
SYNTHESIZERS AND SEQUENCERS: A NEW DISCOVERY
Next came the keyboard, initially because it was difficult to grasp the complexities of jazz harmony – especially on a monophonic instrument like the saxophone that could only play one note at a time. Self-taught on his grandmother’s century-old upright piano, Graham soon acquired his first synthesizer as a Christmas present in 1989. It was overwhelmingly complex for a first synthesizer, especially for a 13-year old: the then state-of-the-art Yamaha SY77 digital workstation, Yahama’s flagship synthesizer, and successor to the ubiquitous DX7. It would not be until several years later that he came to terms with either subtractive analog or digital FM synthesis, but what was most important about this first synthesizer was its basic 16 track internal sequencer. It was here, on its primitive little LCD display, and pages and pages of cryptic sub-menus, that Graham first began composing his own compositions, stored haphazardly on a disorderly pile of unlabeled 3.5-inch diskettes. Still, there was something inherently seductive about the cold precision of this new kind of quantized electronic music – a futuristic robotic groove that seemed at first at odds with the kinds of fluid jazz and funk sounds he had listened to in the past.
In 1995, Graham attended York University in Toronto on a scholarship for their Film Studies Program. Uncertain about his path, Graham thought perhaps that one way forward was to channel his love of the cinema and visual effects wizardry. Upon graduating, Graham worked for a small film and video post-production house, specializing in digital editing, motion graphics, and compositing, eventually rising to the position of Creative Director. And while his time there nurtured a passion for the kinds of dynamic motion graphic design and cutting-edge visuals he had enjoyed his entire life, music – his true love – was still calling.
It just so happened that the 1990s was a particularly vibrant time for Toronto and its world-class underground rave scene. For Graham, it was a major awakening. Here for the first time was a musical subculture that embodied Futurism and science-fiction in its very essence. From the graphic design of its flyers to the clandestine nature of its events, from its outrageous anime-influenced cyber-fashions to the very concept of DJ as musician, rave was as close as one could get to science-fiction incarnate in sound. It was at this point Graham began making his own electronic dance music. A veritable arsenal of drum machines, synthesizers, samplers, and effects processors were soon acquired and eventually mastered, as Graham began exploring electronic dance music production, and all its various subgenres, from House and Techno, to Drum n’ Bass and Breakbeats. Intrigued by the idea of performing electronic dance music live, Graham created an alter-ego for himself known as ‘Intrepid Traveller,’ a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon-inspired moniker under which he still produces much of his electronic music under to this day.
THE SOUND OF THE THIRD WAVE
Listless and frustrated by the post-production industry, Graham returned to York University in 2001 to pursue a Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology, a relatively new field that resides somewhere between cultural studies, anthropology, and music. Under the apprenticeship of Grammy Award-winning professor Dr. Rob Bowman, Graham began his academic journey into the world of electronic dance music and Futurism.
Under the tutelage of Professor Bowman, Graham finished his Master’s Thesis in 2005, entitled ‘The Sound of The Third Wave: Science Fiction, Imaginary Machines and The Future of Techno.’ Synthesizing Graham’s film theory background with his interest in Techno’s identification with science fiction and Futurism, ‘The Sound of The Third Wave‘ placed science fiction sound design in a musical context for the first time, rather than a solely cinematic one. Many of the techniques and tools used in both science fiction sound design and the creation of contemporary electronic dance music music were remarkably similar. Science fiction sound design sought to make sounds for machines that do not exist – imaginary machines that soar unencumbered by reality across the silver screen. Modern digital electronic musics such as ‘Glitch’ and ‘Microsound’ draw their sounds from machines that do not exist, at least not in the spatial sense – virtual software simulacra that illuminate a laptop computer screen. It was a link that few had made, and in many ways helps to explain why many present-day Techno subgenres sound the way they do, what they ‘mean,’ and why, to certain ears, those sounds carried the signification of ‘Futuristic.’ Academically unconventional as it was, Professor Bowman nominated ‘The Sound of The Third Wave’ for York University’s prestigious ‘Thesis of The Year Award.’
A NEXUS OF ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC
During the time he was writing his Master’s thesis, Graham also worked at Moog Audio in Toronto to provide a healthy balance to the relatively lonely process of Graduate level research. The bustling retail environment was a welcome refuge from the solitary glow of his computer monitor, as Graham welcomed the opportunity to share his enthusiasm and knowledge of electronic music technology with a myriad of customers, many of whom would become his lifelong friends. It was here that Graham first met and befriended a certain Joel Zimmerman – an unlikely skinny tattooed progeny who would go on to transform the entirety of EDM on a global scale, under the alias of ‘deadmau5.’
Moog Audio was an amazing experience because it was a central hub – a nexus of electronic dance music in Toronto – and anyone who was anyone would inevitably pass through its doors. It was here that Graham became friends with Thoughtless Music founder Noah Pred, Art Department, Azari & III, MSTRKRFT, My Favorite Robot, Arthur Oskan, Adam Marshall, Jamie Kidd, Adam K, Platform, Byron Wong, and countless other seminal Toronto EDM artists and promoters.
In 2007, Graham became one of the three founding members of breakandenter, a Toronto-based Techno music event and booking ensemble dedicated to bringing internationally acclaimed talent to Toronto in non-traditional venues with an emphasis on sensory-immersive multimedia experiences. It was during this time that Graham – under his Intrepid Traveller alter-ego – honed his Ableton Live chops, both hosting and playing alongside internationally renown Techno artists such as Jeff Milligan, Pan/Tone, Deadbeat, Stewart Walker, Alex Smoke, Maetrik and Noah Pred. Born from its humble underground loft-style parties at Salem's Loft, breakandenter has grown into one of Toronto's premier event production teams.
MUSIC AS DESIGN
After graduate school, Graham founded Graham Miller Music Design as an outlet for his original music and sound design for feature films, television, advertising, video games, and interactive media. In addition to his film and advertising scores, Graham was commissioned in 2011 to create the interactive soundscape and music design for the headlining experience of Scotiabank’s Nuit Blanche festival in Toronto, entitled ‘FLUXe.’
Participants could ‘paint’ generative brush patterns created by nine acclaimed visual artists onto a massive 100 by 30 foot wide LED canvas by simply drawing on their touch-based smart phones and tablets. The music and sound was designed as a generative interactive experience, controlled by the creation of the artwork itself. Each ‘brush’ carried a different set of sounds that combined to create an audio experience as unique and different as each ‘painting’ itself.
Since 2013, Graham has been working primarily with RMW Music in Toronto as a freelance composer, writing original music for television commercials. Founded over 25 years ago, RMW boasts a client base consisting of everything from Canadian, American and International Advertising agencies to film production houses and television networks. RMW's internationally renown work has been recognized at Cannes, The One Show, the Clios, Bessies, and the London International Advertising Awards. Here's a recent spot Graham just composed for Hyundai - check it out!
THE IMPETUS FOR KONSOLE
Eager to share his knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm of electronic music with others, Graham officially founded Konsole in 2012. Designed to be the first of its kind of learning environment in Toronto, Konsole's focus is on small class sizes, with a curriculum tailored to the individual skill levels and specific musical interests of its students. Having had many years of experience teaching students of all levels on a one-on-one basis, Graham understands the importance of patience and positive reinforcement in the learning process. Situated in the Graham Miller Music Design studio, Konsole students have the unique opportunity to learn how to integrate actual hardware synthesizers, drum machines, guitars, amplifiers, microphones, audio interfaces, controllers, and proper monitoring set-ups with their laptop computers and Digital Audio Workstations – a once-in-a-lifetime experience that most software training centres can’t hope to provide. From Ableton Live to Traktor, from Dubstep drops to Techno builds, Konsole has all the resources to help students of all abilities and walks of life to realize their dreams of making the music of the Future.
For more info about Graham check out: www.grahammillermusicdesign.com