Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” has a running time of about 15 hours. Only 15 hours? Lightweight.
Salt Lake City composer Steve Kusaba has composed a 47-hour — yes, you read that right — song cycle named “Centrifugal Satz Clock,” with the first part now available on iTunes and at the 57-year-old’s web site.
If you think this sounds like a seven-hour vanity project without merit or musicianship, consider the list of collaborators:
• Legendary guitarists Dweezil Zappa and Steve Vai both play on the project;
• Much of the mixing, along with piano work, was done by Bay Area producer Ed Goldfarb, who contributed to the score of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now Redux”;
• Additional production was done by Billy Hulting, who plays percussion in Dweezil Zappa’s project Zappa Plays Zappa.’
• One of the session players was Utah jazz master John Flanders; another was guitarist Mike Miller, who has played with Chick Corea.
“It’s very interesting, eclectic, and done well,” Flanders said. [It’s] hard to categorize.”
The album features a mish-mash of so many styles — ranging from classical to jazz to pop and rock — that it might be best to consider Kusaba’s description: “omni.” He adds: “It sounds like Lawrence Welk doing speed metal while his wife plays bebop from a coffin.”
In other words, you might consider Kusaba’s music as his modern interpretation of prog-rock from the 1970s, with an astonishing complexity. For example, his song “Murdering Arm of Kindness,” includes 17 different instruments, with sheet music for each written by Kusaba.
“Centrifrugal Satz Clock” also has a circuitous plot, which Kusaba describes by categorizing his lyrics as a modern-day morality tale. “It’s very connected to modern times. It’s an offering of a theoretical morality system.”
With the lyrics and music for the entire 47-hour cycle already composed, Kusaba is hoping to release the remaining 40 hours of music by 2015, once he is able to schedule musicians to help him complete it. But for the time being, he is relieved the first part of the cycle, called “Morning,” is out there for the world to hear.
“I’m just ecstatic that part of it is in physical form,” Kusaba said. “If you don’t have it, it’s just hot air.”
Born in Germany, Kusaba came to Utah in 1977 and attended music classes at Weber State University and the University of Utah, studying composition, before deciding to leave before graduation. Kusaba said he has made a comfortable living as a trader in futures and stocks, which allows him time to compose and write sheet music.
In his music, he mostly handles the singing, the guitar,and bass, with Jason Mielke (who has played with the Bountiful band The Charters and the Salt Lake band Existent Reconnaissance) on drums, aided by a large cast of supporting musicians.
With “Morning” now available, the musicians who participated say they are astounded by the breadth and ambitions of the music. “I’m not given to hyperbole, but I think Steve is a genius,” said Goldfarb, who was contacted by the Utah composer after he had read a Goldfarb interview in Recording Magazine.
Flanders said the project brings to mind the landmark 1979 Frank Zappa album “Joe’s Garage,” an experimental and mind-bending rock opera.
“Not only has it been a privilege working with a fun and creative musician, it has been a life-changing experience watching Steve’s work ethic on the project,” enthused Jeff Scott, a tubist with the Orchestra at Temple Square. “Never in my life have I seen someone tirelessly, day and night, work to make this magic come to life. Steve contacted famous musicians that only a personality like Steve could attract, all inspired by Steve’s love for music and love for hard work. It has been an honor to record on his CDs.”
“He’s a fascinating cat. He’s not like most people,” Goldfarb said of Kusaba. “Steve’s kind of crazy, but everyone’s kind of crazy.”
Listen to Steve Kusaba’s work
More • Hear selections from Steve Kusaba’s “Centrifugal Satz Clock” sessions at www.satzclock.com.