Doctor Noize Invites The Kids To Lay Down Techno-Pop Tracks
by Yoshi Kato, San Jose Mercury News
So far, the children’s music explored in the Baby Beats column falls roughly into two camps: acoustic music in the folk tradition and rock/alternative music of the kind heard in clubs.
In a category of all his own is Doctor Noize, a.k.a. Cory Cullinan, a Los Altos native who has drawn on a love of electronic music and studio technology to create a fresh, modern pop style for little ones. Cullinan, who has lived for a year in Denver with his wife and two daughters, earned a music degree at Stanford and taught music at Pinewood School in Los Altos before moving to the Rocky Mountain state.
He returns to the South Bay for a series of programs at elementary schools, as well as one for the general public, featuring the music from his concept album “The Ballad of Phineas McBoof,” at Bus Barn Theater in Los Altos.
Cullinan’s descriptive e-mails show how energetic he is in his work, and a recent phone interview stretched to nearly an hour and a half. The musician, now in his late 30s, said an early influence was ’80s techno-pop singer-songwriter Howard Jones and his live solo concerts. Taking a leaf from Jones’ game plan, Cullinan delved into home studio technology during high school and took full advantage of Stanford’s extensive recording resources while studying classical music there.
In his music for children, he creates layers and loops and invites his young audience members to help make multi-track songs. Seeing and hearing how each contribution, from percussion and bass to melody and harmony, adds to the whole, audience members get a new appreciation for a song’s structure, he says.
“The Ballad of Phineas McBoof” unfolds in a similar fashion. The simian title character meets various animals that happen to play instruments (drums, bass, horns), and Phineas eventually assembles a group, the International Band of Misunderstood Geniuses, a la Dorothy’s journey down the yellow brick road.
“Initially, I was just writing songs for my girls and their buddies,” Cullinan says. “I just thought it would be a lark.” But after writing and recording about three songs, he was inspired to create a world with mostly animal characters and an accompanying narrative. His initial demos added up to about an hour and a half of material, too much for a single CD, so the story will be continued on the next Doctor Noize disc, currently in progress at his home studio.
Tickets for the Doctor Noize show are $10. Peninsula children’s musician Andy Z will sit in for a few songs. For more details, check Cullinan’s Web site, doctornoize.wpstagecoach.com.
Yoshi Kato’s column appears in the Eye section every other week.