Interview: Synesthesia

Dan McAvinchey: David, an acoustically dominated release is quite a change from your electric progressive style found on your two solo CDs. What was the driving force behind this recording?

David Martone: There were a few things that led up to this. Firstly, I have had this flamenco virus in my body for the last two years and it finally culminated in a release with Navid and myself. I am very fond of the nylon string since that is what my father started my on. I also obtained an awesome guitar from Wechter Guitars that made we want to play and play.

Enter Navid who has been bugging me since our first recording in 1993 to get together and do an album. Navid is a nylon string guru! The only thing that was stopping me was that he was in London England and I wasn't. We talked about the idea on the phone a few times and before I knew it I was in England recording in a small room in North London!

Dan McAvinchey: Navid, what you think is responsible for the incredible musical synergy between you and David Martone on "Synesthesia"?

Navid Nikbakht: David and I come from very different musical backgrounds but we also have a lot of mutual understanding and respect for each other's music. Usually "musical differences" causes problems but in our case, it become our strength.

We have also been good friends for a long time; I guess that helps. But musically, we used our differences (and similarities) effectively and set out to explore new musical ideas. Kind of like backpacking through a new country with an old friend. Perhaps our enjoyment in making Synesthesia is what you're referring to.

Dan McAvinchey: What were your personal musical goals for the project when you started?

Navid Nikbakht: My goal is always the same, to make music that I like. When David arrived in London we discussed things very briefly and decided to make music which is unlike our own solo projects. We never talked about styles, categories, markets, sales or any of the usual nonsense. We simply set out to make music using whatever we like.

Dan McAvinchey: Technically, is it more of a challenge for you to play the material on "Synesthesia"?

David Martone: I would have to say that it is a totally different animal. The thing that was most important to the music was the rhythm guitar. I spend quite a bit of time making sure that they "grooved". All Latin or world music requires a very strong groove even if it is slow. That was a challenge since I am coming from a rock/fusion area. It helped my playing that way. Also when it came to soloing, I could not rely on my legato technique as much since it would not come out as well. Thus I worked on my alternate picking for a few months before the recording. Also I brushed up on my minor7b5 and diminished lines since these are used quite a bit in my soloing over these types of progressions. I did use the electric on some cuts like "Voluptuous Vulcan" in which I was able to legato my face off but I ended up picking most of it! Go figure.

Navid Nikbakht: Technique is like vocabulary. You can still say a beautiful and meaningful sentence using simple words or you can express the same idea using complicated words. I don't thing the words you use to express an idea are as important as the idea itself. In the case of Synesthesia, technique is important but not essential.

There is a real danger in the "quest for perfect technique" and it's easy to forget the reason for technique. In my opinion technique is a tool to express your ideas. It's not the only tool but in a superficial way, it is the most impressive one. Many fine players have been lost in the "quest".

Dan McAvinchey: How did you two divide up the songwriting duties?

Navid Nikbakht: The album is more or less a 50-50 effort, both in writing and playing but we didn't plan it that way! We started by playing our ideas to each other; we then selected some and rejected the others.

We are both happy and comfortable to play on each other's songs. More importantly we understand when it is best not to interfere with over playing! On several sections I would take a back seat and let David do his thing. Similarly David would do the same. We could do this because there is very little competitiveness between us, which is unusual for guitarists!

David Martone: Basically we came to the drawing board, so to speak, with approximately three songs each. I remember getting off the plane in Heathrow in London after a long eleven hour journey with no sleep from the night before because I had a gig and having Navid whisk me away to his pre production studio. We were so excited to see each other and show our songs that we stayed up all night. We would make suggestions on each other's tunes and suggest harmony ideas. Some of the tunes that we did not have a chance to get to were written in the studio on the spot. This was an interesting way of doing it. It definitely does not give you a chance to change it if it does not sit with you later, but for the most part, it went pretty smooth.

Dan McAvinchey: What were the methods used to write and record the songs on the CD?

David Martone: For myself I did pre-production in Vancouver on a Trinity Workstation. It has 16 tracks of MIDI and 4 tracks of audio. This works the best for me -- to pre-produce the song and try different things while the studio clock is not ticking in real life. I then brought a cassette tape of the tunes to England and re-created the tunes with better sounds and gear as well as maybe some new ideas.

The engineer, Christoph, was great to work with because of his quickness in the studio and ideas that he would come up with. The first few tunes required that I started the song with just a click or a drum loop. This was very hard to do since there was no "map" of the song laid for me to follow. I was setting the map so I had to be careful not do to little, or too much, since it was the building block of the tune. I have been trained on recording in the analog medium so the first songs were done in a traditional method of playing the whole song and then fixing the problem areas with punch-ins. Since we were recording on a Pro Tools system that is totally digital, we tried recording say, just the first verse and I would play it three or four times. We would then pick the best one or even edit the best parts of all takes together. We would then continue on in the same fashion for the rest of the tune. I am not sure which method I like the best. There are good and bad points for both techniques.

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Dan McAvinchey: Who came up with the idea to add the electric guitar 'surprises' on some of the tracks?

Navid Nikbakht: That was David's idea and since he is so good at it, we both said yes.

Making an album with no restrictions, offers an endless number of possibilities. Selecting the correct sounds is very important. So Indian vocals, shredding electric guitar, Persian Santoor or African drums are all global musical colors (depending on where you come from) that we both agreed on. There were many we could not agree on and were thrown out.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you have plans to perform any of this material live?

David Martone: I have already performed some of the music live over here in Canada. Unfortunately without Navid, but we are planning to book live engagements in the UK. Navid is taking care of this area since he has more of the contacts in Europe. We are hoping within the next three to four months to have something scheduled.

Dan McAvinchey: What is next on the horizon for you both?

Navid Nikbakht: I am currently working on my solo project, which will be released by Divan Music ( in mid-2001.

As for Synesthesia, we are both working on ideas toward the second album but I deliberately try not to develop the ideas too much. Most of the fun is in writing and finalizing ideas during the recording sessions. Pressure is often the best incentive.

David Martone: At the moment I am doing some compilation albums for Progressive Arts Music ( and have some contracts to fulfill. The Joe Satriani tribute, "Crushing Days", is slated for release in North America around Nov. 7. There is also a Jeff Beck tribute CD for which I did a version of "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat", and a Carlos Santana disc for which I am doing a version of "Oyo Coma Va".

I have been busy trying to finish my next album which is 66% finished at the moment. I had a hand injury through almost half of 2000 and that has slowed down production but I am back -- with built up aggression! I will be out on clinic tours with Johnson Amplification in November and that is going to be cool. I have been trying to obtain work in the US and it has been a bit of a challenge. I was offered a job to teach at GIT but it was only part time and the Canadian government wants to see a more substantial income than that to let me in. I am still trying to exhaust all possibilities at the moment. I would like to relocate to New York City or Los Angeles. This seems like the next evolvement of my career.

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Synesthesia is the project name and the title of the new CD from guitarists David Martone of Canada and Navid Nikbakht of England. An acoustic duo effort, the CD fuses elements of Latin, Asian, flamenco, jazz and rock to create a unique and individual recording. Nikbakht and Martone met in 1992 while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Synesthesia is the pair's first professional collaboration together.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Martone and Nikbakht to discuss their new release and the methods they used to record the exciting and exotic sounds heard on the mix.