it beats a sharp stick in the eye

From Computer Magic to Costa

December 19, 2020 — Gideon Mayhak


More of my CDs and why I have them. These sort of hit on opposite ends of my life, from recent adulthood to early childhood.

WARNING: This episode may contain a tangent of love.

The Cs, part 2

Computer Magic

Okay, strap in. This is going to get a bit weird, but I'll try my best to keep it succinct and coherent.

You see, it was the summer of 2014 and my older brother, Jordan, and I went to see Lucy at a theater in Illinois while visiting family. My first wife had left me earlier the previous year, and the one-year anniversary of our divorce had just passed. I hadn't once entertained the idea of being with anyone else, and then a song came on during a pre-roll ad.

Computer Magic's "Running" was featured in a Lexus commercial, and its mix of synths and haunting vocals grabbed my attention. I used SoundHound on my phone to find out who was behind the voice, and as soon as the movie was over I was listening to everything I could stream by them. I'm not going to suggest I was falling in love with this stranger's voice, but I felt the idea of having a crush on someone new for the first time in years. This started the process of healing and moving on.

Some switch flipped in my brain, and I realized I wanted to be with someone and that someone could be someone new. This new old feeling was the first step on the path to being ready when Sarah started trying to get my attention at work a few months later. Consequently, "On VHS" made it onto that secret message playlist I've mentioned a couple times now.

I own all of Computer Magic's Japanese CD releases: Scientific Experience, Phonetics, Mindstate, Davos, Obscure but Visible, Danz, and Super Rare. This is mainly because some of these were only released in Japan, but even the ones that saw US release have bonus tracks on the Japanese versions. I picked up the first couple along with Mindstate when it was released at the beginning of 2015, and I've bought the rest as they've come out.

(Sidenote: has been a really easy way to get Japanese CD releases.)

When I first started listening to Computer Magic, I was excited to learn that this "band" was really just one person: Danielle Johnson. Reading about her reminded me of Tom Scholz of Boston fame, this one person creating lush tracks all alone in their home studio (or in Johnson's case, a closet). Home recording has come a long way since the '70s, but it's still an impressive feat when someone can create layered, complex music on their own. I could easily just listen to "Running" on repeat (and I did), but she'd created so much more than one song from a commercial.

Johnson's shown musical maturity from the start, but there's also clear growth as I listen through her albums and EPs. In more recent years, she's worked more and more with analog synths and founded Synth History where she interviews legendary synth users.

There's a new album coming out next March, and with that comes a name change. Shedding the "Computer Magic" façade, Johnson will be "Danz CM" now. I'm really looking forward to what's coming next, and I'm excited to think she's just getting started.

Johnny Costa

I'm ashamed to say I don't have much to say about Johnny Costa beyond the one album I have, Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Jazz. I only recently picked it up after watching a video by Charles Cornell where he does a terrific job exploring the background of the music of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the pianist that made it so good. You should probably go check out the video right now.

The music of that show was such a staple of my childhood, ever-present and so much more complex than I realized. I had been thinking of finding some CDs featuring these innocent and poignant classics, and learning about Costa made it a more urgent endeavor. This particular recording is all instrumental, and Costa goes a little more over-the-top than he usually would have for the show. It's fantastic.

While I haven't talked much about audio quality up to this point in the series, I have to say I'm disappointed with this release. It's just not very clear, and there are some obvious compression issues on a few tracks. That said, I contacted Omnivore Recordings to see if there had been some mistake and they were kind enough to reply. I'll copy part of their reply here because I think it gives some helpful context:

"We, like you, are very concerned with sound quality and mastering! Regarding your question, we consulted with our engineer as it's been a while since we were in the restoration/mastering phase of this project. Though we did not have the original source to master from (it may be long gone), he advised us that no compression was used, but that the original recording was pretty compressed to the begin with. We're uncertain when or by whom the original source was transferred, but we can assure you what we used was not a needle drop, it's a transfer away from the original. Basically, we cleaned up all the anomalies we could from the source we were provided and EQ'd as necessary.

"This is indeed, 'as good as it gets' from the source available. In the event that an original flat master tape is found, we will certainly revisit."

In spite of these issues, this is a must-have if for no other reason than the outrageous prices vinyl copies command on the collectors market. The performance is something you should hear if you like jazz or have any connection to Mister Rogers, and this is still a good way to hear it.

I'll have more to say about the dear Fred Rogers in a later entry, but for now I'll just say I want to hear more from Mr. Costa.

Next up...

When we reconvene: a Burt Bacharach collaborator, and a phenomenal band discovered in a library.

"You were running well! Who interfered with you that you should not obey the truth?"

Galatians 5:7, WEB

Tags: cd-listening, meet-the-mayhaks, music