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Master of Mastering

by Mike Gibson
Teacher, author, and musician Seva (aka Seva David-Louis Ball) represents his la
test sound art project Ready, Fire, Aim as a commentary on both the war in Iraq, a
nd on the emptiness of Western consumer culture.
But the title might just as easily refer to the questionable administrative deci
sion that eliminated his part-time position teaching sound art in the University
of Tennessee s media arts program. In a cost-cutting move, college officials met
this summer and chose not to renew Seva s adjunct professorship for 2006, and rema
ined unwilling to retain him even after he offered to teach courses for no salar
y.
Teaching has become really important for me, so that s why it has been so frustrati
ng that I couldn t do it anymore, even if the alternative was that I would have ha
d to have worked for free, says Seva, noting that in the past, other UT departmen
ts have made arrangements to enable certain professors to continue teaching on a
volunteer basis. But they said they wouldn t be comfortable with that kind of arra
ngement. Why that would be the case why anyone who wanted to offer their skills wo
uldn t be accepted is something I can t fathom.
I still have hopes that I will eventually be able to teach again, he continues. The
re haven t been any indicators that I should hold out hope, but I do.
It behooves someone to find a faculty opening for the 47-year-old former classic
rock DJ, whom many remember as the effortlessly smooth Commander Dave from radio
station 103.5-FM, WIMZ. One of the most amiably eccentric not to mention diversely
talented figures on the local music scene, Seva typically handles more work than
any other five record-producer, single-father, converted-Sihk, ex-disc-jockeys y
ou d care to name put together.
You can say that you re blessed with work, and then you can say you re fucking blesse
d with work, he says with a chuckle. But never say you re tired of work. Because the
n the Universe might take you seriously, and take the problem off your hands.
In addition to his studio and engineering chores, Seva still does radio voice-ov
ers on the sly, and works intermittently as a musical archivist, committing old
analog recordings to digital format for the Library of Congress and the Lewiston
Archives. He also manages a considerable number of personal artistic and musica
l projects, including the aforementioned Ready, Fire, Aim. Seva stages RFA with the
Academentia Audio Ensemble, a trans-media performance art group (of which he is
a founder) that features an ever-changing cast of performers.
Many artists tend to think that audio is ancillary to visual media, whether it s vi
deo or theater or whatever, Seva says. But I m coming at it from the opposite perspe
ctive. I m an audio guy first; I pick out some visual elements to look at while yo
u listen.
Held at venues like the A-1 Art Gallery and the UT College of Art, the RFA Academe
ntia Ensemble performances include a particularly disturbing selection of photos
of dead soldiers from the war in Iraq, as well as video images taken from the sh
allow, low-brow side of Western popular culture Paris Hilton pics, reality televisi
on clips, pornography, etc. Seva s collaborators in previous Academentia performan
ces have included Knoxville Circle s Modern Dance troupe; video artist Wendy Warre
n; multi-instrumentalist William Daski; and hip-hop producer Lifesource.
The triumph of sound over the tyranny of the visual arts has been a continuing t
heme throughout Seva s career, whether it be in his stint as a rock jock, his work
as a local music producer and engineer, or via the classes he more recently tau
ght at the University of Tennessee.
What I taught in class was essentially modern electronic music creation as it app
lies to other media film, TV or even video games, Seva explains. Most people aren t aw
are how much sound art is created along with, for instance, a movie. Without the
ambiance, the sound effects, the aural space, film doesn t have nearly the same i
mpact.
At his home-based Soundcurrent Mastering studio, Seva s other recent projects have
included mastering (the final sonic touch-up stage of producing an album) a CD by
Americana artist Jan Smith, another by Maryland heavy metal artists Earthride,
and a third from Kentucky slamgrass outfit the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. In 200
4, he was producer of record for God Bless the American Plague, the sophomore al
bum from Knoxville s American Plague.
One minute there s monkey-chant music coming out of my basement; then there s some d
eath metal; then some electronic music from the 70s, Seva says. Sound is the fastes
t way to change somebody s mental space; it s faster than poison gas, faster than br
ight light. It can make you change mood in half a second. That s why it s important
for me to work with all kinds of music.
So important, in fact, that Seva is currently writing a book on the subject of a
udio recording The Recording Studio Adviser, to be released by Thomson Publishing
sometime in 2006. Seva says the book addresses the philosophy of finding a good
recorded sound, rather than the technical aspects of such.
There are plenty of technical books available; this one is about the human part, h
e says. This one is about how to work on your talent, not on the tools. When the
publishers approached me, I wanted to write something that would be relevant for
a long time to come. Technology comes and goes, so I talk more about the physic
s of sound, and about teaching yourself how to hear. The principles will still b
e valid in another 25 years.
But though he has a book coming out, an uncountable number of engineering and re
cording gigs on his plate, and even some voice-over work for symphony orchestras
in St. Paul, Pittsburgh, and Israel thrown in for good measure, Seva says his m
ost important project for the foreseeable future is that of raising his son Guru
dev Jeremiah. According to his father, the precocious nine-year-old is already e
xhibiting some of dad s musical aptitudes not to mention his eccentricities. Fans o
f the Sci-Fi network s Farscape, father and son are currently learning and transcr
ibing the show s theme music for piano and keyboard.
I can t accentuate how important it is being a father, Seva enthuses. I want my boy t
o be a Renaissance boy. I want him to know math and music and spirituality and a
rt...
Early indications are that young Gurudev is well on his way; Seva describes him
as a small rocket scientist with a red belt in Tae Kwon Do. And for a role model the
eccentric, productive, self-sufficient and spiritually enlightened kind the boy n
eed look no further than his own immediate paternal ancestor.
I ve turned into the older guy who noodles around his house all day, Seva says. Which
is pretty damned cool, because it s all I ever wanted to do anyway.