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- MOJO MAGAZINE, April 1998 Review
- RELIX, MUSIC FOR THE MIND, June 1998 Review
- RELIX, MUSIC FOR THE MIND, April 1994 Interview
- RELIX, MUSIC FOR THE MIND, 'Bay Area Bits'
- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE DATEBOOK, December 1-7, 1996
- MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL,
Thursday, April 29, 1993
- DUPREE'S DIAMOND NEWS,1992
From: MOJO MAGAZINE - London Issue p110
From: RELIX MUSIC FOR THE MIND - Volume 24 No.3 June 1998
"...Meanwhile, the Blotter Brothers' second trip finds keyboardists Tom
Constanten and Bob Bralove assisted by Joe Gallant, Henry Kaiser, Steve
Kimock and Prarie Prince, yet still deep in the Land of Wired Weirdness.
The parallax effect pianos of "Fasten Your Seatbelts" and the Indo-Outre
breakdown of "Ganges Valley Brew" conclusively demonstrates their
From: RELIX, MUSIC FOR THE MIND, Vol. 21, No. 2
(April 1994) Brown, Toni A., 'Bob Bralove'
"Dose Hermanos "Live from California" is a wonderfully adventurous album of
category-defying music by keyboardists/electronic wizards Tom Constanten
and Bob Bralove. The duo explores the realms of the avant-garde with a
little help from such friends as Zero's guitarist Steve Kimock, guitarist
Henry Kaiser, bassist Joe Gallant and drummer Prarie Prince.
Recorded live at the Fillmore west on 6/17/96 and 11/16/96, the set
runs the gamut of textures and moods as the musicians create a veritable
mosic tapestry of sound. There'a plaintive beauty to "Shadow Of the
invisible Man", which begins with melodic tinklings and evolves into some
complex, fast-paced playing, while there's a cacophonous twist to "Black
Lightning." A little more out in left field is the the esoteric,
percussive excursion of "Scenes of Pagan Iowa," and the ambient, almost
pastoral specters of "Antartica." All in all, a challenging and refreshing
album of intelligent music."
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Bob Bralove, the wizard behind the Grateful Dead's MIDI technology, has been
with the band for almost seven years. He is strengthening his musical
identity through several solo projects. Vortex is one of the side
aggregations he has been working with.
"Vortex played at this year's Digital Arts Be-In (in San Francisco,
January '94). there were some technical problems that interrupted us, but we
had a good time playing. Henry Kaiser is on guitar. He was nominated for a
Grammy for World Out Of Time Vol. II in the World Music category. Bobby
Strickland is on Saxophone, bass clarinet, woodwinds, oboe; he seems to be
able to play just about anything really well. [The Relix] audience should
know him from Todd Rundgren and from the Affordables. I'm playing keyboards.
Sometimes Vince [Welnick] sits in with us on keyboards. He didn't at this
recent gig, but it's always a pleasure to have him. He's always a great
addition tot he band. And there are tow brothers from Holland on bass and
drums, Paul Van Wageningen and Mark Van Wageningen on bass. Vinnie turned me
on to them. The musicality between them is just incredible. They're from the
Bay Area and play here on a lot of jazz gigs. They're the first-call
percussion sections for many of the Latin and Brazilian gigs, and they've
played on a lot of records. This is really a different context for them to be
I'm hoping to finish a Vortex album in the next month. The band
played out three times, the first time was for the first Digital Arts Be-In.
That was the reason to create the band. Someone offered me a time slot at
the Be-In to fill as I pleased, and at first I thought I'd do something with a
lot of machines and me, and maybe I'd do something kind of spacey and weird, a
kind of drum solo vibe, which is what this guy knew me for. that was why he
offered me the opening spot. But then I realized that I get to do that drum
solo thing with the Dead so much, and here was an opportunity to do something
I thought it would be great to go through my little book of
musicians and see
who I haven't played with that I'd love to play with , and what I could put
together that would be different and fun for me.
I got these guys together with the arrangement that the
whatever we played, we would be co-writing. The point was to come in and
share, not for me to be an autocratic band leader, but to really write
together and share in the creative process. The understanding was that we
would be improvising. We got together three days before the first gig, and
with the help of the brilliant John Cutler, we recorded the rehearsal session.
So we wrote, recorded and rehearsed for three days. We just walked in the
first day and said, "Okay, I've got these ideas. What are we going to do with
For the second gig we did the same thing. After these seven days of
recording (three days for the first gig and four days for the second gig), I
have more than enough material for an album. These are brilliant improvisers.
The trick is to unleash people like these and see what happens. They're all
such sophisticated musicians that they catch each other's references. So real
musical conversations come up. A tune can take a dramatic left turn, and
everyone will realize, "That was a hip way to go. Let's go there". That
created the environment for people to really play and be supported, and I
think that some wonderful music has come out of the band.
My big hope is to get a [record] deal for the album and then to
perhaps put a
little tour together supported by the record company."
"What music do you listen to personally?"
"I'm a really eclectic listener. I listen for things that work for
me. If I like it, it's good music. I listen to everything. I'm always
amazed at how much great music is out there. I've certainly been listening to
the Dead a lot the last six or sever years. But I like a lot of different
kinds of music. I come from a traditional classical background. I used to
write and study chamber music in school. In that scene I love Bartock,
there's some Copeland that I think is absolutely brilliant. Stravinsky is one
of my favorite composers. We do a piece with Vortex in which I'm using
samples of "The Right Of Spring". The keyboard is divided up in half - "The
Right Of Spring" and the other half is gunfire and explosions.
It's an interesting balance because we have a lot of technical
stuff at our
disposal. With the technical people like me and Henry (Kaiser) there, in
terms of the technical stuff, we're very sophisticated. We know how to get
something out. And with the other people that are sort of initially being
exposed to it, it's a wonderful check. We sue samples and synthesizers, and
somebody can say, "That's a really great sound, but it doesn't feel right for
here". So it allows us to put that stuff in balance. And the technical
aspects of the band, to me, don't feel like the most important issue. The
music is the most important issue. The technical stuff is just another means
of getting it across. that's kind of Grateful Dead training for me. When I
was with Stevie Wonder, the technical thing had a sort of supreme seat in that
pop scene where you want to be the first out with a certain sound on your
record. You wanted to be the first one to use a certain technology, the first
one to master a certain machine. The Grateful Dead, you just have to make it
"In playing out on your own, you're bringing more back into the
"Yes. I really feel that encouragement from the band. The kinds of
things I have learned just by playing out and being able to assess what it is
one is hearing and experiencing in that moment of creation is allowing me not
only to communicate with the band members better, but design sounds that will
be easily integrated into that moment. Sometimes you want to feel that
moment, and you want a new sound to come in and surprise you, and bring out
the energy and move it onto a direction that you expected it to go in, but
didn't know how to pull in. Sometimes that moment is very subtly integrated.
Vinnie might be playing a keyboard sound, and very gently that piano sound
turns into a flute. But over that length, there's a whole phrase while a horn
section maybe needs to come in right now for this chorus. And being out
there, getting a sense of what it's like to be playing, and hoping and
expecting things like that has really given me a handle on how to communicate
non-verbally with the musicians."
" Can we expect any technological updates within the Grateful Dead?"
"I'm just now setting up a more sophisticated MIDI communication
system. I'm not quite in a position yet to say that it's going to be what I
expect because as software and hardware communication development happen,
things take different turns. Until it's there, one is never sure. There's
now the ability to network communication boxes and machines in the digital
domain so that in the short run, it will allow say, Vinnie and myself, a more
solidly interactive communication with the sound sources. It will give us
each additional power, so we've gone from course tuning to fine tuning the
sound. That development will also carry over to everyone else. The drum
system will get refined in the same way.
The software that I'm trying to write now will allow me, in
come up with a mix for sound, a certain combination of instruments and volumes
for those instruments. In live performance, I'll have [a band member] turn
around to me and say, "That's it, that's the one I like". And we'll be able
to store it, digitally, right there and still each of us have the ability to
"Are there any other projects you're working on?"
"Everyone has differing degrees and styles in which they work. I
think to some extent, everyone has some option to set things up the way they
want. Phil does a lot of his prewriting, or sketches for tunes, with MIDI,
drum machines and parts done out. Bobby and Mickey have full 24-track studios
in their homes, and at the same time, Bobby can come up with a tune for an
acoustic guitar and say, "this is the kind of feel I want". Or he might call
me and say, "Let's do a MIDI version of this". He'll have written it. Or
sometimes we'll have writing parties up at his place to do that sort of thing.
It all depends on how involved they'll be for a given thing. When Jerry was
ill, for example, I used to go up there and play with his stuff in the MIDI
realm and in the visual realm as well, install painting programs and stuff
like that. His computer art is mind-boggling. You saw the cover for Infrared
Roses. He does other stuff that's real gorgeous.
Everybody has differing degrees of sophistication, but certainly
capable of coming up with stuff like that. but it's not always the way you
want to express yourself. Sometimes you just want to clap your hands and sing
a lyric. At the point you want to get it to the band, there are enough
competent people to help that happen and have the band members do just as much
as they want. Most poignantly, in Phil's case, it's a full board demo that he
could bring out of his home with vocals and bass and drums and keyboards and
horns, anything he wants to bring in. If everybody has to do these demo, some
of the tunes might not have the same organic quality that they do.
Personally, when I'm writing with a band member, I enjoy leaving holes in the
demo because if I come up with a drum pattern, I don't want to put something
there that's going to try to be what Mickey and Billy can come up with. I
want to put something there that's going to keep time, so that when Mickey and
Billy come up with something, they'll blow me away!
My approach to writing for them in the MIDI world is much simpler
other situations. I'm in the midst of doing this sound track with Jerry for a
dive video called Touch of Blue. It's a couple of dives with Jerry in Hawaii.
That's extensive MIDI work. We're trying to really scope that out. That
would be very different than doing a demo."
" During a Dead performance, do you ever find yourself with a gap in the
middle of a solo. and you have to fill in that space?"
"There's been this little section between drums and Space that seems
to be opening up where I'm playing and nobody's on stage. That's been growing
a little bit. The equipment that I have to prepare for that, which is pretty
much a keyboard, has allowed certain seamless qualities to open up so that, if
indeed, I', setting up for a moment and somebody's not there, I can add it.
Then they can turn around and say, "Oh, that's what you meant!" and be right
on it. It's a lot of fun that way. This is during the drum solo where I can
add a line underneath somebody."
"Do you have freedom on stage to develop what you'll deliver?"
"that's how that stuff develops. You have to have your freedom or
you're not going to be able to deliver. But the most important thing to me
during a drum solo is to make Billy and Mickey happy. and I have full freedom
to do what makes them happy".
"Have you ever not made them happy?"
"I would think so. But I don't focus on the way things don't work,
unless it's technical, as much as when they do work. I try to figure out what
it is that we did when it worked for us more than the moments that we missed.
It's a fine line - how to give them the space that they need and also provide
support. Every night we go out there, it's different.
There are sometimes references that we like, or sonic environments
like or processing that we like. Sometimes Mickey will say, "Kill this, and
move this up," or Billy will say, "Just change my sound. I've played this
sound enough". We're right in each other's faces back there, so communication
is not only musical, but visual and auditory. We hear what we're doing with
these headphone monitors. That's the thing that has dramatically opened up
that moment of the show where I'm playing solo. Before, when I had the
speaker monitors, I couldn't hear what Jerry, Bobby and Phil were doing. I
couldn't even tell when they were out there. I couldn't see them because they
were blocked by speakers, and I couldn't hear them because my volume was so
loud near me that it was burying any subtlety that they were doing. Now if
I'm playing, I can plug into Jerry's. Bobby's or Phil's monitor and say, "How
are they playing to me?" and figure out the best way to make that segue to
support what they're doing. The thing is how to make it happen musically ,
and when you can't hear them, it's pretty tough!"
" It's impressive that the Grateful Dead has been able to progress
technology the way they have. They haven't isolated themselves within their
"I think that's part of the magic of who they are. They are not
isolated musicians. One doesn't have to look very far to see the vast
influences that I come across this band. Whether it's the Guymoto Monks or
Phil reading an Elliott Carter String Quartet score on the plane or Jerry
listening to reggae music or Bobby doing what he's doing with Rob Wasserman -
this is a band that really feeds musically on its diversity and its
disagreement. part of the magic to me is that they are such different
musicians. there isn't anyone who's replaceable, in a musical sense, that if
the person is replaced it would truly define the band. When Vinnie came in ,
it seems to me that the sound of the band changed. To me, the technology is
an advancement of that. It's viewed by the musicians as an element in helping
to explore the diversity and difference that they can make musically with each
other. But because it is an element in this bigger picture, it's not relied
on as the sole element. They were always diverse musically, and they will
continue to be. And they're using all the tools that they have.
I think the sound system has always been that high-end quality.
like they were the first band to realize that you're not going to find
interactive musical magic in a system that you can't hear each other with. So
their sound system on-stage is very sophisticated, and has been for a while.
And then when you make the assumption that if we have to hear well, then what
are we doing this for? They have to hear will! The audience has to hear what
we're doing. So you end up with the best sound and monitor system in the
world. My feeling is that when [the Dead] had the opportunity to explore the
MIDI realms and the digital communications possible through musical
instruments, it's sort of the next stop in a continuing march. A lot of
people think there are very distinct stages in this. The only distinct stage
that I experienced was when I got hired, and everything else seems pretty
fluid in its development, to me. When Jerry first played his MIDI guitar, I
suppose it was a big moment to the audience. But for me, it was the next
logical step to where we had been going. Some day he was going to play this.
And when he felt comfortable enough, and I had done my job well enough, he was
going to play that little horn line, because it sounds like a horn when he
does it. Of course, it's a great moment when something I've been working on
is performed in front of an audience because that's what we're all living for,
making that moment happen. But it's not like that moment loves by itself for
" The Grateful Dead has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
" They deserve to be there. I feel very privileged to have worked
with two acts that have entered that scene (Stevie Wonder was inducted
previously). To me, it's a great honor because it means that their music
really does stand up over the long haul. It's also meaningless because their
music would stand up either way, but it's a very nice recognition. I just
feel privileged to be part of that music, whether it gets into the Hall of
Fame, or not! I worked with Stevie for six or seven years, and now with the
Dead for six or seven years. That's a huge artistic and emotional commitment
for me, and I can't do that without really believing in these people, sharing
the vision that they've been trying to communicate. It's nice that somebody
else sees that, too."
From: RELIX, MUSIC FOR THE MIND, Vol. 22, No. 2. Juanis, J.C., 'Bay Area Bits'
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From: SAN FRANCISCO
CHRONICLE DATEBOOK, December 1-7, 1996
"Siamese Step Children: across town at the Great American Music Hall on the
same evening as the digital Art Be-In, Zero and Second Sight packed them in as
well. Second Sight, formerly Vortex, came together a year ago for a
performance at the Digital Art-Be-In. Led by bob Bralove, the wizard behind
the Grateful Dead's MIDI technology on keyboards, Second Sigt is a musical
side project that features virtuoso Henry Kaiser on guitar, the Grateful
Dead's Vince Welnick on keyboards, Bobby Strickland on sax and brothers Paul
and Mark Van Wageningen, on bass and drums respectively. Bralove was forced
to rename the group after discovering that there was already a band using the
name Vortex. Second Sight mixes atonal jazz workings with sampled music and
sounds. They found a welcome audience opening for Zero.
Henry Kaiser, an astonishing guitarist, plays a unique "backwards"
is better heard than described. Bralove is best know for hsi behind-the-
scenes work with the Dead, especially during "Drums" and "Space", and he
really gets a chance to shine in this musical adventure. The band cut a
groove with a sampled rendition of Sly and The Family Stone's "Dance To The
Music". Second Sight already has a recording on the way and, on the basis of
its live shows, is definitely recommended."
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"Kelp, Larry, Second Sight Jams Into Gear, Grateful Dead computer wiz Bob
Bralove releases debut album with new instrumental band."
Bob Bralove recently moved his Steinway piano near the living room
his hillside Sunset District house. Now when he sits at the keyboard, he
takes inspiration from the sweeping panorama that goes from the golden Gate
Bridge to the downtown skyline. It's a spectacular, wide-open vista, but not
nearly as spectacular as the musical vistas he opens up in his all-
instrumental band Second Sight.
Bralove, a computer wiz who spent eight years with Stevie Wonder before
moving on to eight years with the Grateful Dead, is unknown outside a cult
following. As his guitar-toting buddy Henry Kaiser puts it, "Bob's the cosmic
facilitator," the artist whose work you could hear but not see on-stage as he
fed musicians sounds designed to inspire them to play their best.
Just as his view at home has widened, since Jerry Garcia's death
moved from sound designer for others to out-front performer, playing keyboards
in Second Sight. To celebrate the release of the sextet's self-titled debut
album on Shanachie Records, Second Sight plays a concert Saturday at Maritime
Hall in San Francisco, with instrumental cosmic surf band Mermen opening.
Second Sight's space-rock-jazz music swings wildly from driving
rock and funk
grooves (they even do Sly Stone's "Dance To The Music") into psychedelic group
improvisations that fall somewhere between the Dead and Pink Floyd. Joining
Bralove is Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick, guitarist Kaiser, hard-blowing
saxophonist Bobby Strickland and the bass-drums brother team of Marc and Paul
Van Wageningen. On the CD there are other Dead tie-ins, including some tune
titles supplied by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter ("Rosetta Rock" and Sin City
Circumstance") and guest performances by Garcia and Bob Weir.
Missing the Dead
Bralove still chokes up over the loss of Garcia, who died last
year. With a
bit of distance, he says, "I miss so much of the Dead, but in the past year
I've done more in front of people than in the previous 40. I'm getting to
play with some of the greatest musicians around. Because of that, Jerry's
death has given me a rebirth feeling. That I'm taking his energy and working
with it now is consoling."
In addition to playing in Second Sight and working with Dead
Hart, Bralove has a duo called Dose Hermanos with '60s Dead keyboardist Tom
Constanten. Their music moves into tripped-out soundscapes that make Second
Sight sound mainstream. "We're like tow kids in a sandbox," Bralove says.
Now 41, Bralove has been surrounded by music most of his life. "My dad
played piano. I took piano from Art Lande, who was living in Berkeley then.
And I listened to the radio. A lot.
"I went to college thinking I was going into psychology" - both is
are psychiatrists - "but I got bored."
He picked up his master's degree in
composition and film scoring at San Francisco State University, but found
himself working for a computer company. That led to call from Wonder, who
wanted someone to make his computerized keyboards talk to him, since he
couldn't see what was on their screens. Soon Bralove was in the thick of
"The real test came when we took a break one night around 4 a.m.,
tells me his fantasy of having a robot come on-stage to introduce his show.
He even knew how the voice should sound, human and not at all robotlike.
'Bob, you should do this,' he tells me as we get into it. I ask when he wants
it. And he says, "The show's on Monday.'" Not just any show, but New York's
Radio city Music Hall.
Bralove hustled for equipment, burned the night oil, and Wonder
got his wish.
From there it was world tours, "The Woman in Red," 72-hour nonstop recording
sessions. "That's the way Stevie works." During one seven-month tour,
Bralove had a week off that he used to help set up Steve Winwood's first solo
tour, "Back in the High Life."
Helping Wonder prepare for his performance on the Grammy Awards in
Bralove met San Francisco keyboardist Merl Saunders, who was then music
director of the revived television series "The Twilight Zone," using the
Grateful Dead as his soundtrack orchestra. He called on Bralove for technical
assistance. "As soon as I met Mickey and Bobby, we could tell we shared a
vision," Bralove said.
Bralove was brought into the Dead camp to help with sound on what would
become their hit 1987 album, "In the Dark." "I got invited into their inner
space. they'd show me their vision, and I'd offer options for how to realize
it," Bralove said. "It wasn't making them better musicians, but custom-
designing the environment they worked in."
In the Dark
Soon he was on-stage in the dark at his computer, headphones on,
own drone sounds during the Dead's Drums and Space jams. He assembled a 1991
album of those jams called "Infrared Roses."
Tow years ago Bralove was asked to do what he did with the Dead at the
Digital Arts Be-In. "But, I thought, I'm already doing that with the Dead.
Why not put together a band?" He called some friends and Second Sight was
born. "I think everyone know something was happening, so we did more shows.
Then between Dead touring, doing Jerry's thing, doing Mickey's thing, we were
in the studio recording."
With its debut album out, Second Sight is preparing for a January
tour of the
East Coast. Bralove has come into his own. "this is just the beginning of
yet another dimension in music."
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