Andrew Steck

Composer / guitarist / performer in Athens, Georgia

Andrew Steck is a composer/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist out of Athens, GA. His unique sound is derived from utilizing a fully-scored virtual orchestra along with guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, and other effects. Often several genres are referenced within a single piece of music. He describes how some of that versatility was acquired below.

“I began playing the guitar at age 12. I was self-taught aside from guitar magazines and was listening to mostly classic rock among, other things (Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin), for the first few years I played. As a teenager, I began researching the music that my favorites cited as influences. This led me to discover several blues players that I became enamored with (Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc.). I later became just as obsessed with jazz and folk musicians (Coltrane, Miles, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, etc). In those years, I began studying Scruggs-style banjo, flamenco guitar, and learning keyboard basics in addition to electric guitar.

I had some interest in orchestral music earlier on, but it was never a go-to for me. I liked Brahms, Debussy, Bach and Beethoven in particular. I also had a music appreciation cassette collection that included modern composers like Schoenberg, Berio, and Crumb which I really enjoyed.

It was not until I discovered Frank Zappa’s music that I really dug into more composers and began to consider the potential of larger scale composing. Through Zappa, I grew a fascination with more daring composers like Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varese, Alban Berg, and Charles Ives. At this point, my early 20’s, I started studying music theories (I always pluralize “theories” because it’s too often thought as a rule rather than a collection of aesthetic theories) at the UGA library as often as I could. I didn’t enroll in an institute of higher learning until my mid-30’s, so I was still just taking advantage of the resource gratis. On days off from my restaurant job, I would bring peanut butter biscuits to the library, so I wouldn’t have to take a break from reading about 20th Century harmony, orchestration, and pouring over pages of scores. I began practicing and experimenting with what I was learning by writing for various instruments and groups of instruments. At the time, I was unaware of software that would aid in composition, so everything was pencil to paper. I slowly became disheartened by not being able to hear what I wrote and minimized my studies in favor of electric guitar playing again.

I ended up playing Farfisa organ with a garage-pop group for a few years called Col. Knowledge & the Lickity-Splits with whom I recorded and traveled the country a few times. I played banjo in a string band for a stint, and lead guitar for a few heavier rock bands. Most recently, I played guitar in the 3-piece rock group, Liberator, for whom I wrote most of the music.  It was during my time playing with Liberator that I reinvigorated my inclination for composition. I had to scrap more than a few ideas for the band due to the difficulty a 3-piece group would have in pulling them off. I decided to spring for the composition software, Sibelius. With Sibelius, I was able to write for any orchestral instrument and immediately hear what it sounded like. I use a program called NotePerformer by Wallander to achieve a more realistic sounding playback -which is what is heard on the album. The music is written in the classic “dots and sticks on the lines” method, only its much cleaner and easier to edit than paper pencil. For practice, I initially began orchestrating things songs I wrote for rock groups (Amana, on my YouTube & Bandcamp, is a string quartet originally written for a very loud 3-piece group called In The Lurch that I played with). I also began orchestrating pop songs and other songs that I like. On my YouTube channel, there are arrangements of songs by Ween, Dolly Parton, Danzig, Lizzo, and Billie Eilish. I did these while creating original pieces for smaller groups.”

Inner Loop / Outer Loop – Album Notes

I began to envision writing an album of all orchestral music but taking more of a rock album approach to it. I got an idea to have a sort of “invocation” sounding opener (a la “Fanfare for the Common Man” or Ives’ “Unanswered Question”) that would break into a medley of more up-tempo songs at the point where it was starting to get too philosophical. After “On-Ramp”, “100 Nowheres,” originally written for Col. Knowledge & the Lickity-Splits, picks up the tempo with a fragmented surf rock feel. This begins the “Dance Movement” section of the album and is followed by a tango (Astor Piazzola is a huge influence) and a salsa/Chicano rock-influenced number.

“Bridges” is less adventurous musically, though it sounds like you’re on an adventure. It’s the “crossing of the threshold” number of the album.

“Cucumber Water” is meant to be a quick refresher from the route taken thus far.

The “Three Rings” pieces are sort of a mini ballet.

The final three tracks form the last cluster and are similar in mood. “The Big Stage 2020” is a reaction to the madness and, particularly, the performative tension in the world this year. It’s based on an atonal melody repeated with distorted and sometimes dissociated variation. “Disco Ostinato” was originally written to include “Off-Ramp” at the end, but this has been altered for the design of the album. Based on a 9/8 repeating pattern, it is intended to be comforting and confusing at the same time.

“Off-Ramp” is doom metal for orchestra.

The album was completed over the course of about one year and consists of approximately 145 pages of notated music. This is my first experience with mastering, so I hope I didn’t ruin it too bad.

The album was named Inner Loop / Outer Loop after the Loop 10 that encircles the city of Athens, Georgia, where I live. I’ve always considered the “inner/outer” aspect of that name to be interesting and comical fodder for semi-philosophical musings behind the wheel. As relates to Athens, they can also be seen as outwardly growing ripples in city known for making waves. This informed the decision to name the first and last tracks “On-Ramp” and “Off-Ramp” respectively. They are also mirror bookends musically in that they both are based on the same 4 note rising motif, but to very different effect.

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