Carlos Severe Marcelin Biography
We all are born and die within the blink of the cosmic eye; why?
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
Reality is an illusion too small to comprehend. Existence is multidimensional. There are fundamental truths, unknowable, though we try… we must. Listen to how I make sense of things… listen to the rock, the symphonic, the electronic and the acoustic, the visuals, the sonic stories, hear the darkness and the light… The Indeterminate is OK, possibility, often performance art. Guitars and loops. Dissonance happens, it is real, all notes are real, infinite numbers of frequencies. Dramatic harmonies can alternate with swirls… playful consonance can be surprised by industrial percussion delivered and coated with urban dust and dirt. Sound, audio shapes, in the universe of life…
My work is usually not mainstream, it is personal and nuanced and does not find its way to the charts often. It is for adventurous listeners and is music about the journey. It is for the journey itself that it is written. A non-conformist at heart, the music I channel has never quite settled into any particular genre. Each project is a stand-alone work with a theme that takes up a specific area of the musical universe, a microcosm exploring a little pocket within the vastness of the musical cosmos.
“Like a droplet, we all leap up once, and drop, then return to where we came from and leave a ripple in the future. Through my actions while I am leaping up into the air as a free droplet, and through my music as I fall back to earth only to return to the great link and make some waves, that’s how I do.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Growing up in a Cuban American household, music was inevitable. Early infusions of afro-cuban rhythms and soaring melodies filled his subconscious, along with the endless fun songs and 70’s pop that he and his older brother Luis spent many a day singing. My mom, Martha De Quesada, performed in a guitar quintet and one of my earliest memories is watching her up on stage with the other young ladies. Once the teenage years hit and the electric guitar was in play, Luis, an expert rocker, indoctrinated me into the world of classic rock. Together we explored the entire catalog of many an artist, the songs, lyrics, album art, concerts. A deep connection to the power of music was firmly established.
From 1990-1994, eager to find a permanent home for music in his life, I earned a BFA in music composition and theory at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. For these four years I balanced the real-world experience of being in a gigging rock band, Geraldine Fischer, with the rigors of university studies.
I studied musical composition and orchestration under Polish Composer Barbara Jazwinski and took in the full spectrum of western music theory and history. The compositional techniques and experimentation that occurred between 1200-1600 AD caught his ear, as well as the 20th century Avant Garde music of such iconoclasts as Frank Zappa, John Cage and George Crumb. Also a major influence was Professor Jazwinski's flair for color and orchestration. This universe of sound was woven into his classic rock upbringing and his compositional style was conceived.
INDIE ROCKIN’ THE PACIFIC NW
I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1994 with fellow bandmates from Tulane, and a pretty good size clan of friends and pets. The band was renamed to Silkenseed, played the local scene a good amount, and signed to local record label Rainforest Records in 1998. There was some regional touring, a SXSW appearance IN 1999 and a couple of showcases for industry executives in Los Angeles throughout the years as they played local venues, cemented their lifelong bonds, and becoming a part of the Pacific NW musicians community. Silkenseed's final album "Hurry Home" is their culminating work and is a testament to all the amazing musicians in the band and the unique sound they created together. Though Silkenseed disbanded in 2000, the bandmates friendships remain strong to this day.
THE HOUSE TOMATO BUILT
In 2000 I formed the iconoclastic band Sally Tomato with his now wife, Toni Severe Marcelin. Sally Tomato’s music is uniquely thought provoking, occasionally humorous, and sometimes just as dark. Together, with drummer Eric Flint (of Silkenseed fame) Sally Tomato has published 2 rock operas (stage and film), along with 8 musical travelmentary videos, 2 EPs and 4 full length albums. Her story song approach to entertainment resulted in an early cult classic “The Original Barbie”, a 15-minute journey through Barbie’s universe as seen through the eyes of a curious child with very conservative parents, from the 2004 album “Concentration”.
In 2006 the collaborations begin and things would never be the same… Sally Tomato had just written her biography out in song, it was called “Toy Room” and was a cathartic song series for the band and for Sally personally, as she channeled all of her life challenges into the piece. This was decidedly heavy subject matter. A rock opera was in order… Excited to produce a large collaborative work of art, I put together an all-volunteer writing, acting and filming team of about 30 local talented artists to realize this elaborate multi-media production. But I had never written a stage play, and he’d never made a film, now he wanted to do both… Luckily… I was introduced to local filmmaker Jason Wesley Turner (Heliorana Film Works) and things started to fall into place. Jason had a colorful career as local experimental, adventurous and talented filmmaker.
THE ROCK OPERAS
In Toy Room (2008) Sally Tomato offers a glimpse into her tumultuous, evocative and iconoclastic life in a 4-act stage play made film, where the audience leaves asking themselves what has happened with their own inner child as they have grown.
It is a multimedia piece where some of the props have video projected on them. Some of these are live video streams, both static and roaming. There are 4 main characters (2 singing) and 8 additional characters. An iconic half-a-vw-bug sits on the floor in front of the stage as some of the audience floor becomes part of the stage at times. Eric and I perform live in a pit area while sync’d to an Ableton Live session that fills in the bass, keys and orchestra and helps me trigger his guitar loops to fill in the sound. The stage play was filmed and then interwoven with traditional film segments to construct the feature film.
The whole Toy Room project from inception took over 5 years to run its course, it involved the original CD and stage show (2008), a comic book (2009), and the DVD (2010). The Film Festival Circuit took Sally and me for some fun adventures in 2009 as we traveled to Great Britain to 2 festivals while the film premiered at 11 film festivals that year and won 5 awards around the globe.
The bands second rock opera, Strange Divinity (2019) also took around 5 years to run its course. This time around the same writing team as Toy Room got together and focused on telling the story as a film, Once again, there is no narrative (that would make it a musical). Testing new waters in experimental film, a piece of technology known as the C-Nitizer allows the user, Otto Von Grunberg, to pre-view the various futures that are possible based on the decision they make in the moment. This multi-verse themed story gets to the most essential questions about the nature of the human condition. Orbs, Goddesses, Demigods and Mortals spin a quantum tale as Jason Wesley Turner returns to the collaborations as the main character, Otto Von Grunberg. Besides the “multi-verse” editing technique that displays future outcomes together on the screen in real-time and shows how Otto picks one, the use of black and white footage for all that is mundane and in the realm of the mortals, is sharply contracted with the wild colors and rich overlaps used to represent the realm of the Goddesses and Orbs.
Transformations, Emotional Deconstruction is a multimedia work of art imagined and created by maker Sean Hathaway and brought to life through the collaboration and hard work of a number of volunteers, including myself as composer and one of the many assemblers of the piece. It debuted as part of the showcase BYTE ME 2012 at Launch Pad Gallery (which later became AFRU Gallery). It is a large work which features 80 customized Teddy Ruxpin dolls wired together, delivering real-time emotional content from the internet in discreet 1-minute sonic-events organized by Emotion. Classification of the emotions was based on the Emotion Wheel developed by the psychologist Robert Plutchik. Additional interactive real-time input could also be received from text messaging or an on-site user interface.”
The exhibit was very successful in Portland and went on to exhibit at Maker Faire 2013 in San Fransisco as well a one month installation at the University of Texas Psychology Department in 2014. For this project,
I composed 24 short pieces, one for each emotion from Plutchik’s wheel, to be played underneath the real-time text to speech conversations that were occurring off of internet postings and shared with us by the many bears… I produced “The Making of T,E.D.” and captured all of the efforts, the highs and lows, associated with another multi-year project.
A 2013 collaboration produced by me and included local musicians, some remote submissions (including a guitar solo for Immigrant Song from Paul Masvidal of Cynic (and Death) fame) and the backing singers dubbed the Valkyrie Choral Ensemble. This rag-tag team recorded Led Zeppelin III as a tribute to one of our favorite rock bands. In addition to the studio album and true to form, we performed the album in its entirety, including bonus material, live once and there’s a live video of the event.
MUSICAL TRAVELMENTARY SERIES
“The Traveling Tomato” is an ongoing series produced by me and featuring Sally Tomato and myself as we explore and compose around this great planet. With original soundtracks written by me, Sally and I learn about far away lands and even try to teach us a thing or two along the way. What is referred to as a “Musical Travelmentary” series has visited Area 51, Wales, Stonehenge, New Orleans, Turkey, Panama, Mexico, Greece and various areas in Oregon including its covered Bridges, caves and light houses.
THE ACOUSTIC EPS
Sally Tomato’s intimate debut “Soup” (2001) and “One Night” (2011) compliment CSMs (me, Carlos Severe Marcelin) solo debut “The Instrument Cried, Play Me” (2008) as 3 acoustic guitar driven albums that strip away all of the ornaments and give a raw feel for what’s going on. As an interesting side-note, Carlos and Sally occasionally will write songs on the fly, and the two Sally Tomato EPs contain many songs that were originally written in this fashion.
THE COVID YEARS
2 years in isolation allowed Carlos to focus on writing and 3 solo albums were produced from 2020-2022. “Impressionist” is mostly instrumental and has lots of guitar work woven throughout. The single “One Heart” is a Covid-inspired collaboration piece, featuring remote submissions from dozens and friends and families for the unity-inspiring chorus, as well as chilling spoken word from local poet Alicia Jo Rabins, a section by The Poseurs and remote bass work throughout from childhood bassist Roger Bueno. As much as “Impressionist” is a fitting front book-end to the pandemic, released only months after the world shut down, “Dance Your Body” was released as the pandemic wained and officially ended in April of 2022. Dance your Body celebrates all that it means to be a social being, who needs to socialize, and to get out and dance.
ORCHESTRAL AND AMBIENT MUSIC
Some of Carlos’ music has no guitars and can be quite mellow and soothing. There are a handful of 10-hour Sleep Videos (The “Hoodnight Moon” Series (2019-2021) out there that many, including Carlos and Sally Tomato herself often use to help them go to sleep. “Forth” (2019) is ambient electronica and includes the VR video “Alternate Routes” created by Eran Haas where you can throw on your VR glasses and explore a light show space jellyfish as it meanders through the cosmos. “Shattered Owl” (2022) is a song cycle celebrating the beauty and wonders of nature and contrasting this with the havoc humankind is wreaking on our planet. It is intended to be performed live by a chamber ensemble of 20 performers with multiple video projections and is about 35 minutes in length, comprised of 6 songs, 2 of which further divide into 3 and 4 sections. The showcase piece “In the Stream of Consciousness” is expressed via 12 minutes of footage of some of the worlds most extreme and inspiring global warming related imagery and leaves a powerful impression on the listener that cannot be ignored. "The Alvord Meditations" (2023) weaves fabrics of sound that defy tradition and can put you a trance-like state if you're not careful.
Roll Oriented Listening Layers is a system I devised to create indeterminate music. Each piece is created interactively between the performer and the audience and will never sound the same again. Carlos premiered the technique at the Avant Garde Festival in St. Johns, Oregon circa 2015. It was very fun and produced some really cool Listening Layers. Participants roll dice to define the parameters of the piece (tempo, melody, chords, etc). Since it’s inception, additional variables have been added to the ROLL system to support visual parameters as well (live audience feeds versus nature videos, etc.).
INFINITY AND BEYOND
Often, I perform in my duo with lifelong drummer, Eric Flint. The instrumental "Planets" album by Sally Tomato's Pidgin (2012) showcases my' guitar playing and Eric Flint's percussive capacity while featuring cameos by Sally Tomato. My duo with Eric was renamed to The Infinity Zoo in 2020 and there is a large repertoire of songs being recorded by this band on an ongoing basis as part of the ForeverScape project, featuring the worlds longest illustration by fellow pacific northwesterner Vance Feldman.
Besides running Severe Enterprises, a film and music studio in Damascus, Oregon, I am also a volunteer at AFRU Gallery, an art gallery in Portland that supports local, non-traditional artists. I am also part of the Local Roots NW team which produces a syndicated FM radio show, television concert series, live concerts, and festivals showcasing music from around the Pacific Northwest.