Humans have been dreaming about going to Mars since the first telescopes were invented four centuries ago, and now that we have spaceships landing on the planet regularly and rovers motoring around, taking photos and digging in the soil, the dream of earthlings visiting the red planet is more real than ever. Space music maestro Ian Tescee, who has been dazzling electronic music aficionados for the past 22 years, has now created A Traveler’s Guide to MARS, the soundtrack for humankind’s pending journey to our closest neighboring planet (sometimes only 40 million miles away).
Inspired by the book of the same name penned by distinguished space scientist William K. Hartmann, this music by Ian Tescee has been used since the fall of 2007 in the major planetarium production about Mars at the Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Digital Dome in Pittsburgh.
A Traveler’s Guide to MARS is the fourth album by Ian Tescee (pronounced like t-c), who first made waves in the space music field in 1984 with the ground-breaking recording Io (pronounced ee’-oh), named after Jupiter’s moon, the most volcanically active world in the solar system. Tescee, who traditionally takes several years between albums, expanded his space music repertoire into deeper space on his second album, Continua, with compositions such as “The Big Bang” and “The Cosmic Dream.” Ian first got to know W.K. Hartmann in the Eighties because the scientist also is a renowned illustrator of space scenes and allowed the use of one of his paintings on the back of Io, another on the cover of Continua and one inside A Traveler’s Guide to MARS. “My third CD, Breathwork, expanded my electronic experimentation and explored innerspace rather than outerspace,” explains Tescee. “It was all about how rapid, deep breathing can facilitate an altered state without the use of drugs, something that could become important during extended space travel.”
Tescee has garnered a cult following of enthusiastic space music fans because of his mesmerizing sound which features strong melodies, catchy rhythm patterns, complex arrangements and a dazzling final-mix that allows each sound to cleanly emerge. He finds himself on the other end of the spectrum from space musicians who feature ambient sounds or lengthy aimlessly-floating pieces. Tescee’s melodic sensibilities derive from his pop-rock background, his rhythmic sense from many years as a rock’n’roll drummer, and his mixing abilities from two decades of managing a recording studio where he engineered and produced countless records in many genres (from guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy’s Acoustic Sketches CD to the heavy-metal cult-classic Ample Destruction by Jag Panzer).
Tescee’s music was meant to be carefully listened to, which makes it appeal to many in the prog-rock community. But the space themes and captivating instrumental passages also lend themselves to enjoyment by fans of new age music. While A Traveler’s Guide to MARS serves as the score to a current major planetarium show, Ian’s previous recordings have proved favorites for producers of various space-themed multimedia – the backdrop for the website ThisDayInSpace.com, in-house visual productions at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (where the Voyager and Viking space missions were controlled), and Andrew Rennie’s Spaceshow Documentaries in Australia.
Ian Tescee was initially inspired to begin recording space music after seeing Carl Sagan’s 13-hour PBS-TV mini-series “Cosmos” in 1980. “I actually tuned in because I heard some of the theme music by Vangelis and I later tracked down the album, Heaven and Hell, that it originally came from.” The ideas explained in “Cosmos” coupled with that Vangelis music not only influenced Tescee’s “Io Theme” on his first album, but also “Billions and Billions of Stars” on the new album.
Ian says he has always been more inspired by particular albums rather than an artist’s entire recorded output, and he specifically mentions The Moody Blues’ In Search of the Lost Chord with its prominent use of mellotron, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma with its extended live versions of the space-tracks “Astronomy Domine” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” Jethro Tull’s Stand Up, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn, Chris Spheeris’ Pathways to Surrender, Enya’s Watermark and Enigma’s MCMXC A.D. Less influential, but with sounds worth studying were King Crimson’s The Court of the Crimson King (also featuring mellotron), Yes’ Fragile, and Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene. Tescee additionally has been inspired by philosophy, science and sci-fi literature written by Carl Sagan, W.K. Hartmann, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Alan Watts, Carlos Castaneda and C.S. Lewis.
Born in Indiana and raised in Colorado, Tescee has early musical memories (his dad’s jazz albums and his mother singing showtunes). Soon Ian was listening to rock’n’roll, playing drums, and creating his own light shows. As he entered his teens, he started recording songs and learning to play guitar and keyboards. During high school he played tympani in the concert band (even today he uses the sound of those orchestral drums on all his recordings), played in rock bands (Perihelon was named after the astronomical term for the point in a planet’s orbit that is closest to the sun), and listened to music ranging from classical (Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia and the soundtrack to the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) to classic rock (The Doors, Iron Butterfly and Focus). After graduation he toured the Midwest for a year in the band Autumn before moving east to attend Cornell University where he took courses on computer programming, classical music appreciation and physics (Carl Sagan was a guest lecturer). Ian’s roommate was majoring in astronomy, which intrigued Tescee, but he spent most of his time in his room recording music.
Soon Tescee was also recording other musicians, and he wrote and published a book, The Musician’s Guide to Recording (used as a college text for several years). He received an honorable mention from the American Song Festival competition and played folk music in coffee houses in New York State. He returned to Colorado where he joined the top regional bluegrass-country-rock band Radford & Lewis (Tescee sometimes took center-stage to sing lead vocals as his rock’n’roll alter-ego, Brian Tuemer). Tescee opened the studio Startsong Recording, Inc. and worked with Firefall, The Auto-No (whose CD won Colorado awards), Zen Radio (another top Colorado alternative-rock band) and Randy Zambola (a national award-winning dulcimer player). Tescee has written and recorded original music in many genres, often with lyrics, but has only released his space music on CD.
Ian recorded the bulk of A Traveler’s Guide to MARS using synthesizers (keyboards and electronic drums), but as with all of his recordings, he plays analog guitars throughout and sings on one track. Also thrown into the mix are a half-dozen authentic NASA commands and a countdown, a cello solo by symphony-player Nancy Snustad, and the faint quoting of a line from Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Lost City of Mars.” Most of the music was composed by Tescee, but “Beneath The Ice” includes music written by electronic musician Russell Storey, and “The Wooden Prince” is based on the theme by Béla Bartók.
“Even though I am awed by the current exploration of Mars and the discoveries there,” says Tescee, “Carl Sagan taught us that the more you know about the universe, the more you realize how much more there is to know. Space music means something to me on a gut, feeling level, not an intellectual one. For me it’s about creating a separate, fantasmagoric reality that can be shared with others. A human has not yet traveled to Mars, but we can certainly imagine what it would be like, and I hope my music on this album can serve as a soundtrack for that imaginative experience.”
And, yes, the tire-tracks on Mars shown on the back cover are real (that’s a NASA photo of a rover trail, the first tracks made on another planet by a human-created vehicle).
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