Not too long ago, synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments were just for academics, since only universities could afford them. Then around 1980 Japanese companies such as Yamaha began to make affordable and portable electronic keyboards and synthesizers, and suddenly they were everywhere.
Electronic music has only continued to grow and morph into numerous genres, from disco-influenced techno to trance to space music. There are still academic explorations and experimentations with electronic music: the Princeton Laptop Orchestra is a great example.
Hopewell resident Ted Klett has been an electronic enthusiast for years. He is also a self-confessed gadget junkie, video artist, and creator of do-it-yourself light shows. As the soundman for the concert series at the Seward Johnson Center for the Arts (SJCA) at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, he has many times imagined the walls of that art center as a blank canvas.
“They’re just crying out to be painted with colorful light,” Klett says. “I had been thinking about what could be done there and presented the idea of a multimedia ‘happening’ at the SJCA to the folks at Grounds For Sculpture, and they liked it, especially since it would include sculpture.”
Klett’s vision will come to fruition on Saturday, February 27, with the Trenton Area Festival of Electronic Arts (TAFEA). The event showcases a variety of local and regional musicians and visual artists throughout the afternoon and will culminate with an evening concert featuring Brainstatik, Ryat, Stushido, and Ace Paradise.
Improvisational music performances throughout the day and evening include electronic sub genres ranging from ambient to experimental, with members of the Kalamandir Dance Company performing with the musicians.
Internationally renowned filmmaker, composer and “digital artisan” Richard Lainhart will perform live sound tracks to his short films as they are shown. “Mus Excelsior” by Princeton resident and producer Kevin Meredith will be shown three times during the afternoon in a breakout screening room.
In addition, the festival will exhibit select pieces by Metuchen-based sculptor Joshua Kirsch. Bringing Kirsch onboard for the event was a triumph for Klett, who is well aware of how complex Kirsch’s works are to install. “Josh was game, though, and as it turns out, his works will remain on exhibit through Sunday, March 7,” Klett says. “His work takes the TAFEA into the realm of fine art, in addition to being a music festival. We’re still working with sculptors and visual artists to see if we can get some of their work into the event.
“We’re also encouraging creative hobbyists to participate,” he adds. “Found object art opens doors for creative expression to folks who may not think of themselves as artists. If you can find stuff and take things apart and put them together in a way that invokes emotion, curiosity, association, or simply a new experience, you can make art. In this case, electronic components are the common medium.”
With this in mind, Klett has planned a do-it-yourself (DIY) show and tell, inviting participants to display their own circuit bending projects and innovative electronic art creations. There will also be workshops and discussion groups offered during the afternoon as well as an open e-drum circle and personal media player jam session.
“We think there will be a little something for everyone,” he says.
It’s a huge undertaking, and Klett gives a shout-out to Brainstatik co-founder Ken Palmer for his assistance. The two met when Klett did visuals for Palmer’s Cosmic Coffeehouse, a gathering of electronica, lighting and sound enthusiasts, which used to happen semi-regularly in Crosswicks. “I definitely couldn’t have done this on my own,” Klett says. His own group, Pax Electronic Collective — the new ambient and livetronic branch of the jazz fusion jam band Area 25 — will also perform.
“Some people might think this kind of music is a cop-out, that it takes less discipline to jam than it does to work on tunes and make them the same each time,” Klett says. “But it’s in our personalities to enjoy stretching and bending things. We enjoy never doing the same thing twice. We come up with a jam, not a song, and the challenge is to keep it interesting to the audience without being boring to the band.
“This kind of experimentation is not pop music to be sure, it’s more for the intellect, and has more in common with jazz,” he says.
Although Klett plays electronic drums and synthesizers with Pax Electronic Collective, his major instrument is guitar. Fans of Cajun music might have heard him play with his old group, Snapperhead Zydeco, and he says he still sits in with zydeco bands in the region, especially around Mardi Gras. Klett’s wife, Roxanne, the special events planner at the SJCA, plays too, and is a dynamo on the washboard.
A Hopewell native, Klett graduated from TCNJ (then Trenton State College) in 1983, with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He worked for human services in Mercer County and for various non-profits, then settled into the State Department of Human Services about 20 years ago. He and Roxanne have two grown daughters, Anya, a Rutgers graduate, and Lena, who is currently studying at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
Klett, 51, enjoys juggling his day job with the state and his more creative ventures at the SJCA. “I’ve been an independent contractor there for some time now. Going to work there really lifts you up,” he says.
As a teenager Klett started out playing folk rock, then discovered jazz fusion giants such as John McLaughlin, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever. More recently, he has been captivated by new influences such as English musician and producer William Orbit, Lotus, Thievery Corporation, Particle, Future Sound of London, EOTO, Ozric Tentacles, Orbital, and Mickey Hart.
“I’ve been listening to ‘Star’s End’ (the radio program featuring ambient music) for years, and I also like to tune in to Mike Hunter’s show on WPRB,” Klett says. “Then there’s the Princeton Record Exchange, where as long as you look in the right bin, no matter what you pull out, it’s good.”
Area 25, which also includes Bob Huizer, Juan Garces, and Tom McMillan, have played at John and Peter’s in New Hope as well as the Hopewell Train Station, and are looking forward to more public performances. “We’re a new band, and that’s why we’re going on early in the day,” Klett says. “We’ve known each other for years and have played together occasionally. Musicians keep track of each other. We always want to know who’s out there and available in case we want to start a new band.
“Music has been my passion since I was a kid and I’m re-discovering it now,” he continues. “I enjoy being a part-time musician. It means I don’t have to depend on it for an income, so I can do the kind of music I want to. It also means I don’t have to define myself just by my day job. I can do the nine-to-five and then do creative stuff at night.”
Video projection and light show designing has also been a lifelong pleasure. Klett recalls staging homemade light shows and multi-media happenings in an old barn behind his parents’ house, making light boxes from parts he bought at the lumber yard or hardware store. “In the early ’70s, before you could go to the mall and buy light shows in a box for your room, we had to make our own,” Klett says. “We made lamps out of the parts we scavenged on junk day and put colored light bulbs in them to create our own party lights.
“When you make your own, you can be more creative and make new visuals out of traditional lighting technology,” he adds. “It’s all part of the DIY culture: you don’t sit around and wait for someone else to make it for you.”
Trenton Area Festival of Electronic Arts, Saturday, February 27, noon to 6 p.m., with an evening concert at 6:30 p.m., jGrounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Live electronic music, dance concert, and interactive exhibits. $5 plus $10 park admission for afternoon session. $5 plus $10 park admission for evening concert. Register online for discount. Pre-registration is required for the DIY show-and-tell at www.fea-trenton.com. Rain or shine. Snow date is Sunday, February 28. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org.