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"Renaissance Man" Page

   Hello, my name is Christopher Duncan.  In addition to operating NRP, I'm an artist and musician.  My musical instruments of choice are soprano, alto, tenor, (and some bari) saxophones and flute.  I sing lead and background vocals and write lyric.  As a visual artist, the tools of expression I use include pen & ink, acrylic and oil painting, photography and airbrush to name a few.  I've created this page to provide a brief snapshot of my background.

Photo by David Coleman at the NEOBA Blues Jam with Modern Roots   

 

    Throughout my life I've been comfortable expressing myself artistically.  Even as a little kid it was a natural thing for me.  I remember as a preschooler I was given a finger paint set.  It may seem a little thing, but to me it was huge. On the box cover was a fantastic painting of an Indian Chieftain in full headdress.  That picture had such an impact on my young mind that I can still recall the image clearly in my mind's eye. 

    Some things don't come so easily for me however.  Math for instance, has always been a challenge for me.  Also, I think I'm about half dyslexic, especially when I'm extremely tired (in my observation, this is not uncommon among creative people).  Further, because I insist on thinking about what I'm reading, It can take me a long time to finish a book.

The thing is, the "world" wants to view these things as weakness rather than uniqueness.  Our systems are just not set up to deal with anything other than what the world calls "normal".  I have instead come to the simple conclusion that I have been gifted more in some areas than I have in others.  In my estimation, each of us is given an equal measure. An equal measure of what you ask? That's as diverse  as the universe itself. National Lampoon summed it up in the simple phrase "We're all bozos on this bus".

Over the years I've invested a lot of time and effort into both developing my talents and strengthening my "less gifted" areas.  All you need is faith and the determination to stick to it and work through whatever is set in front of you - using the particular set of gifts God has entrusted you with.  I say this as an encouragement to others.  So that if you have difficulties in certain areas, persevere in your efforts, focus your attention on what has real meaning, and move forward with your life.

    Which leads me to some of the things that have real meaning in my life...

The dictionary defines ren-ais-sance as a rebirth; a revival.  A period of revived intellectual or artistic achievement or enthusiasm. 

I've always been drawn to the renaissance period, and hold high admiration for many of the great renaissance artists.

    Over the years, there have been many paths of interest I've immersed myself in:  astronomy, wood working, sign painting, building & construction, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, hydronics, electronics & recording technology, martial arts...  On the creative side, fine art, designing things, pen & ink and pencil drawing, painting (mostly acrylic, some oil), the study of human anatomy, photography, air brush, sculpture & wood carving, music, singing, lyric writing... some who know me think of me as a 21st Century Renaissance Man.  I think it's just that I have this tremendous curiosity about things; why they are the way they are, and what makes them work.

    My passion for music and recording reaches back to when I was a kid.  I used to have a portable cassette recorder which I had built into a wood case with space for a few dozen tapes.  The musical influences that had a part in shaping my early musical atheistic covered the gamut from Led Zeppelin to Curtis Mayfield, The James Gang to Three Dog Night...  I was also influenced by my mother's love of contemporary artists such as Herb Albert, Henry Mancini, Andy Williams and others.

    A handful of years later, my musical aesthetic was broadened to include the likes of bands such as Weather Report, John McLaughlin and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Passport, Tom Scott & the LA Express...  a discography ranging from Phoebie Snow to Stephen Stills...  Vangelis to Pink Floyd.  I owe a great deal to my brother Keith's well fed musical ear.  He was constantly bringing home new additions to his beloved "album collection" and I, by sheer proximity, was exposed to a wide range of innovative and talented musicians.

    In the year of my high school graduation my friend Willy got me interested in playing the flute.  I remember dizzying hours trying to coax notes out of four bamboo flutes I had made.  After months of practice those handmade bamboo flutes became more familiar but remained difficult to play, so when I came across a used Bundy student model C flute I jumped at the opportunity.  Two years later, while living as a "starving artist" in Arizona, I picked up my first Bundy/Selmer alto saxophone at a pawn shop.  God bless my sister Scherry (and her neighbors), who tolerated the squeaking and squawking until I finally learned to consistently play my new instrument.  At that point my musical interest had taken on a whole new awareness of tone and resonance.  I became enamored with albums such as Gato Barbieri's 'Caliente!'.

Photo by Scherry Duncan at Papago Park Arizona

    The course of my life has taken me across a lot of ground.  Too much to cover in this brief overview.  Suffice it to say that there were more than a few detours taken.  Yes, there were discoveries made, there were victories and there were also humbling failures.  Along the way I found that Christ was there waiting for me the whole time.  His patience and grace toward me are immeasurable.  A line of lyric from a song I wrote says it best...  "Humbled I stand before the Mighty One, who holds my life in His hand".

   My journey has taken me through four semesters at YSU in Youngstown Ohio, I've owned an art gallery called 'Christopher Gallery', worked on construction crews in Arizona, scratched out a living as a fine artist and sign painter, earned my Journeyman's and Master Plumber's Licenses, State HVAC, Plumbing and Hydronics licenses, Backflow Testing Certifications, married a fine young lady named Christine, was a founding member of the Contemporary Christian band 'Rushing Wind' and over the years have been a longtime member of several Christian worship teams.  In 1990, with a little mentoring from veteran musician and MIDI guru Vern Crews (an extremely talented yet humble man with an infectious enthusiasm toward music),  I put together a my own MIDI music studio.

    The summer of 1993 brought me to a new threshold.  It was time to set off on yet another exploit.  In doing so my longstanding dream of building a recording studio would finally be realized.  Earlier that year we had disbanded 'Rushing Wind'.  I attended the CBN Songwriter's Conference in Richmond Virginia and was reenergized from my experiences there.  After much prayer and soul searching, the decision was made and in the fall we broke ground on the New Renaissance Productions TM Recording Studio.

   The first step consisted of building a control room, with an isolation room, and rest room facilities.  For anyone considering taking the plunge into building a studio, take heed...  there is pretty much nothing about recording studio construction that would be considered normal or standard.

    Many considerations have to be taken into account in studio construction...  Hidden things that are under the floor, behind the walls and above the ceiling.  Floating floors, sound-isolating "room within a room" designs with de-coupled inner structures & foundations, independently isolated power and lighting circuits, variable transformer dimmer panels, strategically placed audio panels and conduits, low velocity ultra-quiet heating and cooling systems, internal room geometry & proper room proportions, acoustic treatments and so on...  I braced myself and dove in with a commitment that if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right.  It was July of 1995 before the studio was finally operational. 

    Insanity does run rampant however, and in 1996 I designed and built the studio addition.  This phase of construction moved along relatively quickly (mainly because the mechanical systems were already in place).  It was a simple(?!) matter of adding on to what was there and building upon already-proven designs.

    This time around the building material of choice was masonry (hats off to Dave Kline, the Master Stone Mason who handled the masonry work).  The 15.5' x19' room (inside dimensions) was built primarily with RPG Diffusor Blox.  Using these specially designed and engineered concrete blocks incorporated three important design criteria right into the wall system- sound isolation, sound diffusion and sound attenuation.  A mere(!?) six months later and I was standing in the completed studio.  Sort of... the acoustic treatments had yet to be completed, but that's a whole other chapter in the book.

    Acoustic treatment is as much art, as it is science, as it is voodoo.  When you're talking acoustics, there are more schools of thought than you can shake a Schroeder diffuser at. They are all valid approaches, each backed by their respective research, documentation and ardent school of supporters.  To further muddy the waters, there are a plethora of manufacturers offering acoustic treatment components and packages touted as "complete solutions".  Which concept is right? Which approach and solution is best?  In the end, the path I chose was to study and absorb as much knowledge as I could get my hands on (short of obtaining a degree in acoustic engineering) and forming my own opinions about what works in my space.

      In 2000 I turned my attention toward providing a break area, and built a commissary (a kitchen area with a refrigerator, sink, microwave, coffee pot etc).  At the same time I addressed the need for more storage and built cabinetry to stow cases, stands, and equipment.

      Early in 2004 the task of installing the permanent audio wiring at NRP was finally completed.

When the structures were originally built, the planned conduits and boxes for audio panels were installed, but were only temporarily equipped with audio snakes.  All that is now changed.  Stainless steel audio panel covers have been designed, bent to shape, punched and outfitted with Neutrik female XLR and 1/4" TRS connectors.  The panels are hard wired with Mogami ultra low capacitance multipair cable and terminated into Switchcraft 52 point 1/4" TRS solder type patchbays.  The completed wiring renders a substantial upgrade in audio quality as well as providing a high level of flexibility in wiring configurations.

  

    The studio is an undertaking that has been and continues to be a labor of love.  Though often exhausting and sometimes downright exasperating, it's nonetheless a fully engaging journey and a continual source of growth.  Operating the studio grants me the pleasure of meeting a lot of interesting people, and the privilege of interacting with a wide variety of talented artists and professionals.  It also gives me great satisfaction; knowing I've had a hand in helping fellow artists realize their dreams and goals.  It's a challenge that is both fulfilling and personally rewarding.  At the same time, the obvious side benefit is having access to this laid-out recording facility.

    On the first of January, 2006 I made yet another major change in my life.  I went back full-time into music and art.  For over 27 years I'd established myself with a career in "The Trades" (meaning the plumbing, heating, air conditioning and boiler industries).  Still there was a big portion of my life left unfulfilled.  Two full time jobs - my "day job" and attempting to pursue my creative endeavors - got to the point where it was just too much.  The realization finally took hold that there are more days behind than ahead, and if there's something I really want to do with my life I'd better get to it.  I thought about it long and hard, agonized over it even.  After much planning and deliberation, I made the decision to leave the family business and go back full time into music and art.

    The saga continues...  For a long time I've wanted to provide my recording artists with the ability to "dial up" their own headphone cue mix in studio.  The bass player might want only drums and lead guitar in his headphones.  The drummer might want only lead guitar and vocal, the lead singer, well... more lead vocal, and so on.  Also I wanted to provide full musician-to-musician and musician-to-control room talkback capability.  I set about finding a system and in December 2007 ended up with the Furman HRM-16 / HDS-16 headphone cue system.  Six HRM-16 remote mixers provide up to 12 musicians with 6 customized mixes, all powered by the Furman HDS-16 Headphone distribution amplifier.

  And so I embarked upon yet another good sized  project; having to source and install the internal wiring "infrastructure" in the conduits and audio panels to make it all work.  138 feet of 25 channel audio snake cable, ten Centronics connectors, several weeks and well over 750 (extremely small) solder joints later, the system is in and functioning flawlessly.  Without fail, every one of my clients who have used the new system have turned in rave reviews.

2013 has seen the addition of two new pieces of studio furniture. A shockmont rack to organize and store the many microphone shockmounts we have accumulated, and a pair of hinged gobos with laminated glass windows- to provide sound isolation between musicians and instruments.

    As I've walked along life's path I've been blessed with a few close friends.  Some of these friendships spawned a lifetime of musical and artistic collaboration.  An unfortunate fact of life however, is that if you walk this earth long enough you will eventually outlive your friends and loved ones.  On November 1st, 2005 my good friend, brother in the Lord, and musical "partner in crime" Bryan DeMuth died suddenly. 

    We had so many ideas, so many big plans for projects we were going to do together, so many things we were right in the middle of...  In an instant, all that came to an abrupt end.  Ironically, one of the pieces we were working on at the time of his passing was a composition of Bryan's titled 'Reunion'.  When the time is right, and if the Lord grants me the days, I plan to produce 'Reunion' along with other select pieces of Bryan's music. 

    Bryan touched so many people's lives, both through his talent and the way he lived.  For now, Bryan has gone on ahead of us.  Someday my time will come.  I will see my friend again, and what a reunion it will be.

    I think about life a lot and have reached at least a few conclusions.  First, the longer I live the more I realize how little I really know.  Second, that with few exceptions, not many things in this life that are worthwhile, are easy.  The holy scriptures tell us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; that our flesh wars against our spirit.  So it is, both in my internal and external life.  And though my feet are on the path I was made for, the One who created me definitely isn't finished with me yet.  The phrase "Except for the grace of God, there go I" certainly applies to me.

     My advice?  Seek after the truth with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  Pursue after it with every resource available to you.  And when you think you've found it; poke it, prod it and test it to discern if it really is the truth.  Truth is constant, unchanging and eternal.  The word of God clearly and plainly states that "the truth will set you free".

 

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