by Elizabeth Vogt, photo by John Ruebartsch
Making music is essential to us humans; it predates cave art and is practiced in every known human culture. Nonetheless, these rhythms and melodies that make us dance, cry, and fall in love are an enigma. Charles Darwin described our human abilities to make and appreciate music as “amongst the most mysterious with which [we are] endowed”. What is music…why is music? Kelly Meyer not only has profound answers to these questions, but also decades of professional experience in the how of music.
Kelly doesn’t just enjoy music; it’s his quest. From the sine waves and physics of it to rock, blues, and tonal experiments, he’s in it way above his ears.
We met with Kelly in Cookin Down Sounds, his Riverwest recording studio. It’s there that he works as a “musicians’ resource”, supporting live sessions with whatever is needed: mixing, fixing, playing, conducting, engineering, and/or producing. It’s a unique support system, requiring recognition of both the creative process and the artist’s vision. “It’s not a big room or unique equipment that makes a recording studio work,” Kelly explains, “but the understanding—the ear, the knowledge.” With that, the recording becomes singular expression. This approach means that Cookin Down Sounds may cover all from conception to distribution, guaranteed to include creative adventures.
Although he calls himself a ‘naturalist’ in recording, Meyer acknowledges that the definition of ‘natural’ has changed over the years. Until a few generations ago, music could only be experienced live. Music was an event colored by performance dynamics and irregularities. Strings were struck and singers’ eyes searched the distance. Today, we are usually separate from those human processes, as electronics afford an infinite capacity to modify, generate, and play music. That’s not what Kelly seeks to do. Dedicated to the human dimension in music-making, he works to find the most direct path from performance to recording. “I don’t leave the computer to make decisions.”
Studying Engineering Mechanics in Madison, Kelly launched a parallel career in music. Back then, new sounds were created by physically splicing tapes. He joined a band that played “country music at the beginning of the night, and by the end it was Led Zeppelin and the Who.” He still plays guitar, harmonica, and keyboards. Lately, he has been experimenting with ‘chance composition’, randomly generating chords and sounds into patterns. A musical nod to the ‘automatic writing’ of the Dadaists, it explores new realms of musical dynamics.
Time for such adventures is limited, however. Kelly Meyer works hard to apply his array of services to help other musicians. He also volunteers engineering and technical support at the Riverwest Radio and helped them reach their goal of becoming WXRW FM 104.1. Cookin Down Sounds is always checkpoint #1 at the Riverwest 24 bike race. He does jam sessions and plays with soundscapes. Time for daydreams? Sure. Kelly reports with a grin that he’d love to “walk into another studio one day and simply be a musician!”