…taking our listeners to new places, of a musical & artistic nature –
What kind of a world do we want to have ? – and what kind of people do we want to be ?
Along with the above questions, the back of the CD package for “Bluetopia” describes “an incredible range of musical expression, inspired by the spirit of Helmholtz Watson, a character in Aldous Huxley’s novel ‘Brave New World’.”
The music, lyrics, and compositions in Bluetopia explore mature themes, often in sophisticated ways. But, while the overall album presents the typical wide range of musical styles that Steve DeDoes employs – the subject matter for each track here is very opaque. Poignant, thoughtful…”Bluetopia” also presents songs that are warm, dramatic…and fun. Thanks to everyone who helped realize this artistic vision.
Read more below about “Bluetopia”, about each song and track, and about the “Helmholtz Project”. Note: this content is from an old post, we hope to update and streamline this material for the future. However, we make this available for those that are interested… S.D.
Cover Photography: Joe Christy
Cover Art Assembly: Tom Petiet / Concept Studio
Links for CDs, Online Stores, & Streaming:
Tracks from “Bluetopia” came online in June 2018 on Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify, and many other stores and streaming services. Click on this link, and go to this page, to access “Bluetopia” online and/or to order a CD !
Track List & Credits
- (On Some) Blue Planet
- Everything’s Alright (arranged by S.D. for jazz sextet) – available on CD *only*
- UnSure (featuring a vocal duet by April Tini & Steve DeDoes)
- Lullabye For Lisa
- Is There Time ?
- 2 B Online (from the 1999 stage show “Digital Domain”)
- The Friend That I Can Be (featuring vocalist Kristen Ryan)
- Moments To Consider (music from the film “Lack Of Appeal”)
- They’ll Never Find Me Here
- Oops, I Did It Again (yep, the tune made famous by Britney Spears…arranged by S.D., featuring the “North Coast Horns” in a funkified version) – available on CD *only*
- I Will Remember You (featuring vocalist Eric Taylor)
“Helmholtz Project” Personnel:
Lead Vocalists: Track 3 – April Tini, Steve DeDoes; Track 7 – Kristen Ryan; Track 11 – Eric Taylor. Steve DeDoes sings Tracks 1, 5, 6, & 10.
Featured Instrumentalists (soloists): Mattie DeDoes, alto sax (1,2,3,8,10,11); Keith Stevens, trumpet (2,5), trombone (2) flute (11); Chris Collins, flute (9); James Cooney, guitar (10); David Taylor, drums (10); (Cary Kocher, percussion (9).
Quartet on “Lullabye For Lisa”: Pete Kahn (soprano sax); David Stearns (bass); David Taylor (drums); and Steve DeDoes (piano).
Helmholtz Project Rhythm Section performers:
Drums/Percussion: David Taylor (Tracks 2,4,10,11); Stinson Diddle (all other tracks with drums);
Bass: Styles Bichley (except for Track 3&7); David Stearns (Track 3)
Guitar: Singe (Tracks 1,3,5,6,9,10)
all Piano/Keyboards: Steve DeDoes
Composer/Arranger credits: all tracks (2 exceptions) composed and arranged by Steve DeDoes, Full Score & 7 Music (BMI). “Everything’s Alright” by A.L.Webber/T.Rice; “Oops, I Did It Again” by M.Martin/R.Yacoub – arranged by S.D. for this album.
All music recorded & produced at DeDoes Music Productions, Ann Arbor, Michigan – with the following technical assistance, support, and additional studio production:
Eric Wojahn, Solid Sound (tracks 2,4,11, including mixes); Howard White, OmniMedia (tracks 2,4,10,11); David Lau, Brookwood Studio (tracks 4,7).
About the Album: Themes, Background, and Descriptions
“…the world that I’ve known – is going away.” Lyric taken from the song “(On Some) Blue Planet”.
Human existence continues to evolve at a speed and pace that makes it impossible to keep up. Stresses mount daily – within communities, across social structures – and, most of all, for our planet as a whole.
Things continue to change, and not always for the better. A crowded world must find ways to manage strained resources, to communicate through a cacophony of noise, and to care about one another on a more meaningful level. All this while superficial, technological layers keep getting piled on top of our primary needs.
The cover art of “Bluetopia” shows a superimposed perception on top of the reality that exists. This concept is open for your interpretation. For just about everybody, the world that we face and reckon with is different from the one that we idealize and long for – whether those desires eminate from the past, from the future, or from some kind of alternate reality. So, how do we reconcile those differences, and how do we find an equilibrium ?
Regardless of where our world is headed, or where it has “been” – we MUST learn how to coexist better and cooperate more. Some things in life will ALWAYS matter most: the people we love, the things we cherish, and the people that we lose. However, the ways that those fundamental needs mesh with daily life require us to take new approaches. And, we must constantly evaluate how – in the words of currently-popular comedian Jim Jeffries – “we can all do better.” If/when we face challenging times, even cataclysmic ones – how will we treat one another as those situations unfold ?
Each of the songs in “Bluetopia” has something to say in this regard. If you’ve read this far, I truly hope that you’ll not only read on; but more importantly, I hope you’ll truly LISTEN to these pieces. I can confidently say, for listeners, that there is much to enjoy on a musical level; however, there is also much to contemplate on an emotional one. As the composer of this music, these songs all have great meaning and purpose for me. I really hope that you, as a listener, find yourself drawn into the experience; that you enjoy the reactions and the considerations that you derive; and, that you are moved by these expressions. S.D.
- “(On Some) Blue Planet” is the opening track on the album. Rather than *spell out* the intentions in the writing of this song, we’d rather you listen to it and interpret – for yourself – the concepts it presents. Regardless of how you absorb the ideas, and the allegory, in this lyric, you’ll enjoy the driving groove, the “hooks” — and Mattie DeDoes’ horn solos are simply incredible…
- The song “Everything’s Alright“, from the Rice/Webber musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar”…
- The duet “UnSure” fits wonderfully into this spot, as it is a song about striving to find love, and about unrequited mutual affection. Specifically, it is about navigating the layers of modern communication and establishing some sort of “real” connection and understanding. We have many tools for connecting these days – but in some ways, expressing something as delicate as LOVE requires overcoming some of the obstacles presented by mechanisms such as social media.
In this recording, the sound of April Tini’s incredible vocal instrument certainly “carries” the weaker male vocalist (!). “UnSure” also presents some more great saxophone work by Mattie DeDoes — this song was previously released on his album “Outside The Lines” before appearing in this collection. If you’re hearing this tune for the first time, you’ll hear a vocal ballad which, in its compositional structure and arrangement, puts forth an intentional, unresolved tension through the use of explicit scales, harmonies, and aspects of form.
- Steve DeDoes is unabashed about his instrumental composition, “Lullabye For Lisa,” and also in what it says about his spouse and the love of his life. He composed it many years ago for her – and now is proud to share a recording that he worked hard on in order to, as he says, “make every note PERFECT.” Steve wanted every phrase, every statement, in the interpretation of this jazz ballad to mean something; and he relates this piece to the feelings he holds for the woman he has spent 30+ years with. “Everyone who meets Lisa knows how great she is,” he says. “But there are even more qualities to her than simply those that are obvious. I feel that this piece reflects the layers, the intangibles, and the complexities that are a part of her, along with those that are easily apparent.” And, he adds, “anyone who knows Lisa knows how lucky I am to be married to her.””(composer Claude) DeBussy once made a profound statement about music,” continues DeDoes. “He said, ‘music is the space between the notes.’ Well, not only is great music about that ‘space’ – so, too, is your relationship with someone you’ve known and loved for so long. After years of being together, a partnership has so much more to it than what is apparent at the surface.”The recording features the haunting soprano saxophone of Detroit stalwart Pete Kahn, in dialogue with the piano; Dave Stearns’ bass provides the perfect foundation, and drummer David Taylor provides the tasteful rhythmic icing on the cake of what DeDoes calls “one of my highest artistic achievements.”
- And now, after exploring love, it might be time to explore one’s self. “Is There Time ?” utilizes a hypnotic, repetitive motif as a basis for introspection. In this tune, the singer is questioning another person about the value of his or her life. What is the meaning of one’s pursuits ? What do they all add up to “at the end of the day ?” Is there still time to make a difference ? The languid track uses a trumpet solo (by Keith Stevens) to create a sense of a journey that is not finished, and of meaningful issues that are not resolved.
- Steve DeDoes served as artist-in-residence at Oakland University in 1999. The stage show “Digital Domain” was part of that “gig” – a unique creative collaboration that included a number of his original songs, including “2BOnline.” Here, the number not only is intended to provide a bit of an upbeat, fun diversion – but also serves up a bit of irony. “At the time I wrote the song, the Internet was still fairly new,” DeDoes says. “Then, of course, many people were touting its power and impact…and the lyrics of this song kind of take a sarcastic look at that potential. Now, of course, we’ve gotten further down that road, and we’ve learned that it’s not always ‘so great – To Be Online’.”
As the topic and the application of this tune suggest, Steve merges a “show-type” tune style combined with a bit of “techno” in the music, the textures, and in the arrangement.
- Years ago, vocalist Kristen Ryan teamed up with Steve DeDoes in a series of musical endeavors. One of their most interesting projects was a stage show called “You’re Nothing Without Me.” The one-act romp between the two protagonists (male/female, vocalist/pianist) then served as a springboard for a night of cabaret-style presentation. The show featured a number of original DeDoes tunes; The Friend That I Can Be provided an intimate statement of what it means “to be a friend”. Here in “Bluetopia,” Kristen’s beautiful voice combines with Steve’s solo piano – to form a heartwarming duet that truly captures the essence of deep friendship.
- Moments To Consider is constructed from music written for a film. In “Lack Of Appeal” (2013), an existentialist comedy from director Wil Chodos, the main character is reckoning with himself through haphazard trials and tribulations, trying to overcome the entropy of his basic, miserable existence – and thus trying to maintain a plucky optimism despite how he is perceived by others around him. Much of the soundtrack you hear here served as the underscore to the self-analysis that occurred during one particular scene. In the jazz-based treatment, the spaciousness of the musical motifs – of course, without the film around it – not only make for intriguing listening, but perhaps offers a framework for personal reflection…as it did for the character in the movie.
- Yeah, maybe I’m getting a little too serious. So, by dropping in the instrumental ditty They’ll Never Find Me Here, we take a much-needed vacation ! A steel-drum melody, with a Latin-based groove, transports us at least a little bit closer to Carribean beaches. It’s impossible to deal with the seriousness of everyday life without a change of attitude once in a while. And, when you can’t afford to *actually travel* – music can at least help you get to a place where “you can’t be found.” A highlight of this production is the flute of Chris Collins, dancing around the rhythms and phrases of a catchy, simple tune. However, some unexpected twists and turns in this composition cause it to go from “point A” (beginning) to “point B” (end) in interesting and unpredictable ways.
- Hang with me here. I DO know that “Oops, I Did It Again“, was made popular by Britney Spears. However, if you give this arrangement some “good ear,” I believe that you might look at this song in a different way…
- To close out “Bluetopia” – the song I Will Remember You addresses a meaningful subject – the loss of someone important to us. Even more specifically, it tackles a situation that so often occurs: when that beloved individual is NOT, at the time of closure, the person that they were, or are no longer “the way that (they) used to be.” However, it is at these times that it is so important to recall the many (good) times with that loved one, along with “the many times that (you) were here with me.”
From the composer’s perspective, “I Will Remember You” is a meaningful statement, and a fitting end to this presentation. How we remember people, and how we gracefully accept loss in our lives, is a big part of how we continue to live.
It is the arc of one’s existence – and the small, meaningful impacts that are made along the way – that truly define a “quality of life.” Sometimes, some of us actually accomplish noteworthy things; however, it is how these observable achievements fit in with and eminate from a basic, compassionate, and broad-based human nature where those accomplishments truly matter – both now and for the future.
About the “Helmholtz Project”
In Aldous Huxley’s earth-shaking, dystopian, 1932 novel “Brave New World,” Helmholtz Watson was not only one of the characters in the story, but he happened to be a writer (and “jingle creator”) as well. “Brave New World” is one of the seminal works of the 20th century, and is also one of my favorite books. It tells the story of a futuristic society that struggles for meaning on many levels.
Helmholtz was also a “conspirator” of sorts with one of the main protagonists in the story, (“Bernard Marx”). Toward the end, both Marx & Watson are being ostracized from the modern society because of their inability to “fit in” with the soulless directions of the pervasive culture. The controller/lead politico, “Mustapha Mond,” asks Helmholtz where he wants to be “sentenced.” Watson, who has come to hate his empty, ongoing life as a author/composer of meaningless, commercial drivel for the BNW society, replies (sic), “I’d like to go someplace where it’s really AWFUL…I think that I’d write better there.” The controller (Mond) says in turn, “I like your spirit, Mr. Watson…”
Anyone who spends his or her life developing a serious craft HAS to relate to this philosophy. While I have always enjoyed the process and the inherent challenges of creating interesting and successful music for commercial projects, and for the range of applications that I have been fortunate to work within – I am now extremely happy to release music that comes from a more personal place.
I like to think that I “write better” these days; and “Bluetopia” certainly represents my attempt to communicate in new artistic ways. However, I’m also proud of what is represented in our previous album releases. In the course of one’s life and work, a journey begins to take shape. In one’s prior efforts, there are certainly degrees of meaning and purpose; but over time, directions begin to percolate, and motivations evolve. Then, one strives to put it all together in new ways. I hope you find it interesting.
S.D., June 2018