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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
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
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
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.