Chef of the Pasture,
Artist (Ambient Americana)
We work with a lot of unique artists here at Cakewalk; young hip-hoppers, Rock Gods, Grammy award-winning producers, techno-wizards and DJs, but our cutting edge music production tools are not solely the domain of these modern music makers. Take the case of Chef of the Pasture. Although their repertoire is rooted in tradition, cutting-edge software synthesizers, sequencing and processing underscore their music's mysterious and haunting vibe.
Marty Cutler and Kenny Kosek are "Chef of the Pasture," two incredibly talented guys who serve up eclectic banjo and fiddle music seasoned with electronica, alternate realities and specious folklore sprinkled with a generous helping of expert musicianship, imagination and humor; especially humor. After all, they take their name from the "Chef of the Future" Honeymooners episode combined with the Texas saying "If I don't see you in the future, I'll meet you in the pasture. "That was Marty's idea," Kenny laughs.
The name and music may be atypical for Cakewalk customers, but they've been doing it longer than many of Cakewalk's customers have been alive. Marty and Kenny go back over 40 years, to New York City's Washington Square music scene of the mid-to-late '60s. For those into traditional American music at the time, that was the mecca and the one place you could congregate, share ideas and simply play the music you enjoyed most, especially on Sunday afternoons. Anyone and everyone in the scene came to the square on Sunday afternoons.
"Most of the bluegrass and old-time music crowd, including guys like David Grisman and Eric Weissberg, would show up for an afternoon of music," Marty explained. "Lots of touring luminaries in the folk and bluegrass world would show up to jam, and I got the chance to play with people like Doc Watson, fiddler Richard Greene, and the late Clarence White when they were traveling through town. Kenny and I had mutual friends from that scene and we hit it off right away."
"Our initial musical intercourse was as traditional bluegrass trainees,"Kenny adds. "By the early '70s our musical striving was more skewed to the left. I recorded with 'Country Cooking', an early 'Newgrass' band(one of the first on Rounder Records) then helped form a reconstructionist, flipped-out eclectic bluegrass-based band called 'Breakfast Special' (Rounder Records) and both Marty and I were involved with the totally subversive 'Wretched Refuse String Band' (Betrayal Records). Marty's own 'Charged Particles' (Green Linnet Records) was a pioneering 'Fusionoid' grass band."
There is a possibility that you are not hip to Chef of the Pasture. But chances are you've heard Kenny and Marty's work individually. Kenny is one of the most recorded fiddlers in America today. The featured soloist on hundreds of albums, soundtracks, and jingles, he can be heard on recordings by James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, David Byrne, Chaka KHAN,Willie Nelson and John Denver. Kenny's distinctive roots-music-inspired compositions have been used in television documentaries including The Way West, The Donner Party, Harlan County, U.S.A., and The High Lonesome Sound; in Broadway musicals Big River and Foxfire; and on television in NBC's Another World, CBS's Guiding Light, and Fox's Kirby Kids. He has also been a frequent guest player with the Late Night Band on Late Night with David Letterman.
As a writer and humorist, Kenny has also contributed to The National Lampoon and has been in demand as a writer of liner notes for a variety of artists from 1980 to the present. His track record even includes comedy writing with John Goodman (who occasionally contributes to Chef of the Pasture's repertoire) and along with fellow Chef Marty Cutler, a spin on Saturday Night Live, musically shilling for "Swine Fever" with Chef of the Pasture. Marty, meanwhile, maintains a reputation as both a banjoist and electronic musician and writer. He has performed with everyone from Hazel Dickens to Twyla Tharp and all points in between. As a synth guru, Marty has done everything from creating jingles and sounds for the first commercial software instrument to playing sessions with Tito Puente. He is also a contributing editor at Electronic Musician magazine and a well-known wiseacre.
Given their senses of humor, it's not surprising these two have been making the proverbial beautiful music together for so long. We wondered if there was something in that New York City water or something greater at work that brought them together on those many days a long time ago: "There's a certain smart-ass New York milieu we both shared - being immersed in New York Jewish culture and playing music of the deep south which is steeped in this 'High, Lonesome Sound' mystique," Marty offered. "We've both traveled down South, played bluegrass festivals there, and taken of the ritual Gatorade and Moon Pie, neither of which exactly conformed to Kashruth [Jewish dietary laws], so you can't help but admire the music and bluegrass lifestyle from an outsider's viewpoint and laugh at the discrepancies between our cultures. Kenny helped found 'Breakfast Special,' one of the most revolutionary outgrowths of the crazed NYC bluegrass scene. They'd go from straight ahead bluegrass to stuff with elements of the Beatles and Klezmer without dropping a beat. Currently, Kenny also plays with Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys, so as you can see there's a strong current of eclecticism in the scene here. Kenny and Marty have also spent over three decades as members of New York's infamous Wretched Refuse String Band, which Marty calls "a hybrid of old-time snake-oil shows and the Mothers of Invention."
Right off the bat, you'll realize a Chefs' show is like none other. "One of the bits that kicks off our set is a mash-up of bluegrass great, Lester Flatt introducing a banjo and fiddle duet to an enthralled New York audience," Marty says. "We mixed in snippets of Godzilla localized in the audience, seemingly having a shout-down with audience members screaming out requests for the very popular Martha White Flour theme. As Flatt delivers a very folksy drawling intro, a flying saucer from"The Mysterians" pans across the soundstage. We usually follow this with a straight-up banjo-and-fiddle arrangement of the music from the depth charge scene in Godzilla. It's amazing how many people immediately recognize that theme, and it sets the appropriate tone for the rest of the show."
For the traditionalist though, a Chef show offers "unvarnished traditional, but highly improvisational banjo-and-fiddle duos to cleanse the palate between courses of evocative blatant electronic ambiances that frame most of our compositions.
"That's quite a musical stew, considering Chef is a relatively new organism, roughly a year old. "It started germinating about six months before that when I got a couple of calls to play small-format gigs, and gradually the concept started growing, " Marty said. But that's what comes with knowing each other for a lifetime. "'Chef's' evolving; we're working our way through this thing slowly as it takes on new dimensions and develops pseudopods."
The Chefs Like Cake
Marty first started with the original Cakewalk for DOS MIDI sequencer,when the company was still called Twelve Tone Systems. "On the PC, I had initially used Voyetra Sequencer Plus, but after I bought my first copy of Cakewalk I never looked back. These days, I use Dimension Pro and Rapture for all of the amazing evolving pads and electronic sounds. Dimension Pro has a terrific complement of beautifully animated textures. It’s one of the first places I look to for pads. There’s also a nice complement of meat-and-potatoes sounds, with some especially nice acoustic and electric guitars. There’s a muted trumpet in there with lots of life; it really turns some heads. I also use Cakewalk Studio Instruments for real-world sounds, especially the drums.
Kenny, a Mac guy, also uses Dimension Pro in Logic Pro 7 on his "wheezyG4. "Marty uses the V-Studio 100 as his default I/O with his Macbook Pro for reviewing software synths and sample sets for Electronic Musician and others. "When I first got the VS-100, I was using the Wave Recorder function as a standalone recording device, but I then discovered how gloriously it works as an audio interface and mixer in the Chef's folk club and coffeehouse shows (where we pipe banjo fiddle, vocals, loops, and MIDI tracks through the VS-100)."
"Almost every folk-oriented venue I've played has been a bit timid about the balance between the electronics and the acoustic instruments, so it was hard to make the sound integrated and immersive; now, the controls are in our hands," Marty beams. "Our live setup is relatively simple. We basically send a VS-100 stereo-feed to the house mixer," Marty explains. "The VS-100 carries the sequencer's audio output and the banjo and fiddle mics plug into inputs one and two. We can then regulate the acoustic instruments' relative balance to the sequencer parts. That means that we can keep vital control over our instruments, rather than turn that control over to someone in a folk club whose idea of a proper mix might be much more conservative."
They also include old friend John Goodman in their shows even when he's not there, Marty explained. "It's a pretty simple arrangement.Goodman's vocals are just pre-recorded voice-overs: audio files we've pre-arranged. John and Kenny play multiple characters and I arrange the clips chronologically with enough space to hit the pause button and insert the musical numbers in between exposition and commentary."The obvious question for two men playing music from a figurative different time and place is how they balance the new technology of today with the traditions of the music. Are they worried that technology will overshadow or bastardize traditional American music? In short, no."Traditional music will not disappear or be compromised by experimentation," Kenny replied.
Marty agrees. "I think Kenny nailed it, although I'd point out that what we do is part of a tradition," he adds. "Bluegrass was really an attempt by Bill Monroe to make traditional Appalachian music commercially appealing. For our part, the synths, drums, and samples are evocative, and we use them as an expansion of that mysterious 'Lonesome' sounding traditional vibe rather than simply shoehorn contemporary sounds and grooves behind banjo and fiddle music. For instance, I'm working on a Dock Boggs song and laying down pads with a MIDI banjo tuned to one of Dock Bogg's weird banjo tunings. My Axon MIDI guitar converter lets me store and use alternate tunings without physically retuning the instrument; you just can't get those voicings from a keyboard. Of course, there will be purists who will consider our music sacrilegious, but I just consider it a show with a lot of sonic costume changes."
With so much on their plates outside of their duo incarnation we had to know where Chef was taking them next? "One of the great ironies of my editorial gig with Electronic Musician and others has been that I've had access to all of this wonderful digital recording and sequencing capability," Marty muses. "I have the means of production, but I was always too busy reviewing and testing products. It has only been this last year or so that I've been able to follow through and get Chef of the Pasture off the ground, and recording Chef is my muse realized.
"But there is most certainly a CD in the near future, as well as some touring," he added. I am hoping to get us over to Europe before the end of the year and maybe even to the West Coast next spring. "The control is now in the 'Chefs' hands. Go figure: A couple of old cowhands bringing their music to new audiences through newfangled technology.
Well, that's one way to keep from being put out to pasture...