Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Composer Flautist Eight Time Emmy Award Winning Recording Artist Kat Epple Flautist - Composer Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
 
Kat Epple Creates Musical Dreamscapes
By: Ron Hefner for Gulf Coast Woman
 

In the 1960's, the musical "Hair" included a famous number about the Age of Aquarius, and era in which the paradigm of human relations would shift to a focus on harmony, peace and love. Well, it hasn't exactly happened yet. But, the fast-approaching millenium, for many people, symbolizes a potential new era, and popular music, always reflective of social trends, is marketing its own Aquarian commodity: New Age music.

In spite of the fact that the New Age label has been the impetus for her success, internationally renowned flutist and composer Kat Epple of North Fort Myers says she gets a bit weary of the term.

The problem with New Age, she says, is that it's hard to define: "It incorporates so many varying things. It can be anything from a zither player to Tangerine Dream." Still, New Age seems to have some basic, identifiable components.

"It's often less structured than other kinds of music," says Epple. "It usually has no lyrics. It has a 'world' influence; it incorporates a lot of different cultures. And, it usually relates to the spiritual, unlike rock music, which is a lower shakra; or classical, which relates more to the intellect." Indeed, Epple's work has a soothing, spiritual effect - it's non-threatening, unlike certain forms of pop music. And, it could be called therapeutic: even the non-musically inclined could benefit from listening to her tapes while driving, as an antidote to "road rage."

The music has a dreamy, floating effect, and much of it is decidedly non-linear. Instead of having a definite beginning, middle and ending, like the standard American song, it has a continuous flow; it seeps into the listener's mind, visits for a while, and then fades, leaving wind-like wisps of lingering melody.

Epple's musical gift has put her in demand in artistic circles around the globe. With 12 albums of original music and two more in the making, she has performed in China, Africa, the Amazon, Europe, Peru, Russia, Mexico, Japan, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean.

Her resume of soundtrack works reads like an encyclopedia of media: National Geographic, PBS' "Nova," astronomer Carl Sagan's programs, the Travel Channel, Turner Broadcasting, CBS's "Guiding Light," ABC's "Another World," and CNN, to name a very few. In addition, she was commissioned to write an orchestral score for the Southwest Florida Symphony's Young Composer's" series, and was musical director for the film "Captiva."

She has won seven Emmy Awards for her work in video, 10 Addy Awards for music in advertising, and she is listed in "Who's Who in Entertainment" and "Who's Who in the World's Emerging Leaders."

But, of course, all this didn't happen overnight. Looking back at her musical journey so far, Epple can truly say, in the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

A Musical Calling

Epple is not the progeny of musical performers - or even great appreciators. "My family's not very musical," she says. "My brothers and sisters listened to rock and roll. My father, who died when I was 9, listened to opera and some classical. But, I always felt like I wanted to play the flute. I loved the whole myth of the flute player. In medieval times, the flute player was a storyteller."

Epple started playing around age 12. "I worked and saved money to buy a student-model flute. Somebody showed me the fingerings and how to blow it," she says. Her first hands-on experience with the difficult-to-blow instrument was no struggle at all: "I got a note the first time. It wasn't a beautiful note, but I got a note."

Epple, who is 45, was blossoming right at the beginning of the Beatles era, so she "practiced Beatle tunes." Her first gig was at age 17, and was typical of the times: "It was improvisational playing for a poetry reading." The experience of performing improvisationally, without prepared music, and the "cross-discipline" of working in a musical/literary genre, left a significant mark on Epple.

"I still like to do that. I'm friends with Alexander Tkachinko (poet laureate of Russia) and we do that together on our tours. The last time we played together, we decided we'd like to do a U.S. tour of university literature departments," she says. From the poetry-reading gig, it was on to join a band that played Moody Blues and Jethro Tull material.

Epple says Tull's leader Ian Anderson, while perhaps not the world's greatest flutist, was still influential. "He was innovative, using his voice through the flute for effect, and he brought the flute to the forefront of pop music."

The band went on the road, the integral dues-paying part of any musician's experience. "We went on tour, doing the typical rock band thing - the old bus, the whole band staying in the same room. I wouldn't do it again, but it was fun when I was in my 20's. It teaches you hot to get along on the road. The experience comes in handy today when I play in Third World countries where there isn't always a luxurious place to stay.

Epple's next move was to New York, where she formed the group Emerald Web with her keyboardist husband, Bob Stohl. Consisting of flute, electronic keyboard ("very primitive back in those days; we used a Mini-Moog"), two guitars, and percussion, the group was beginning to experiment with the not-yet-named New Age approach. And record companies responded: "We got out first record deal in 1977," says Epple. "It was produced by Paul Leaka, who also produced Harry Chapin."

But the group's sidemen were not ready for the discipline of professional recording. "The record deal willed the band. The pressure of the recording studio was too much. And, we figured if the musicians couldn't deal with recording, they probably couldn't deal with the road either." Undaunted, Epple and Stohl hired studio players to finish the album - and then continued on their New Age quest. "By the time the first album was released, we had started the second album - the first really New Age one. It started selling really well," she recalls.

In 1979, Emerald Web moved its base of operations to San Francisco, whose music scene was quite receptive to its ethereal approach. Album sales were excellent. "We got good radio airplay. The DJs called it 'space music.' I still get royalties from those albums. We played planetariums a lot, like Morrison Planetarium in Golden Gate Park, and we did Star Trek conventions," Epple says.

During the next 10 years, Emerald Web toured the country and released seven more albums. Then, the cosmic roulette wheel took its turn and a lot of things changed for Epple. "My mom was living in Fort Meyers, and I wanted to visit her," she says. "We came here thinking we would stay long enough to complete our next album, but ended up staying for good. We both loved it here, and I really enjoyed being close to my mom."

But all was not joyous. Stohl died in a tragic accident in 1990. The loss was tempered by the music itself. "He was a big part of my life, but the music got me through; it empowered me." Epple says she believes in the healing power of music and has taught courses in it. And, the music itself changed in Stohl's absence. "He wasn't really a great keyboardist; he was more into electronics. So, the music became more acoustic-oriented and orchestral. It also took more of a 'world" direction. I started branching out and using different kinds of flutes," Epple says.

During the ensuing years, Epple got more deeply involved with composing, performing and recording her own music. New things began happening for her. She began traveling abroad. In 1995, she went down the Amazon River. "When coming down the river, I played my flute and the animals in the jungle would respond back. People along the banks, gathered around campfires, would call back, too."

Last September, she played solo flute at the Guggenheim museum's retrospective of Captiva artists Robert Rauschenberg's works. "I played in the big main hall, with speakers pointed straight up into the five-story corkscrew-shaped spires of the building," she says. Earlier last year, she toured Russia with poet laureate Tkachinko and also worked with a Russian band called White Crow. Local activities have included composing and performing with the David Parsons Dance Company at the Arcade Theater and solo performances at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts.

Although she says she "enjoys collaborating," which can involve anything from an upcoming album with keyboardist Chuck Grinell to "jamming" with local rock band The Juice or jazz guitarist Steve Uscher, Epple is no longer part of a group; she is a now singular entity with her own specific identity, greatly admired and in-demand. As she says, "I always knew I would play my music."

At Home, In the Studio

Epple's home in North Fort Myers speaks of her taste in art, music and life in general. On one wall hangs an original work by her friend Raushenberg, who is considered one of the world's greatest living artists. Other walls are adorned with similar abstract work. in various corners are ethnic musical instruments, including an African balophone made from crude wooden bars and gourd resonators. There are also pieces of "musical" artwork, consisting of suspended metal plates which can be played with a violin bow or mallets.

Under her glass-topped coffee table is a collection of more than 100 flutes gathered during her world travels and made from bamboo, would and clay. The flutes are of all imaginable sizes and shapes, from a 3-foot-long bass recorder to a small "Pan" flute made from a bundle of bamboo tubes.

On the shelves of her stereo case sits an eclectic collection of CDs and tapes, ranging from the Turtle Island String Quartet - a pioneering classical group which has ventured into things like Jimi Hendirx - to Natalie Cole. All in all, it's cozy and artsy at the same time. But, just down the hall is more modern, spaceship-like environment - Epple's studio, the place where her musical dreamscapes are created. Mystical, snake-like coils of electronic cables connect keyboards, amps, a 24-track recording console, and a Macintosh Power PC on which she can compose directly from piano keyboard to musical score, using "performer" software.

For the uninitiated, this is quite an amazing process to see: as the composer plays on the keyboard, the notes appear on the musical staff on the computer screen. The program has full editing capabilities, much like a word-processor, and can create a complete orchestral score from any piece of music.

Here, Epple plays excerpts from a master tape of her works. One, done mainly with electronic synthesizer, is from a documentary about the Calusa Indians. "I'm trying to replicate the sounds of the ancient Calusa instruments," she says. "They used conch shells, shell percussion instruments, and reed or cane flutes. Underneath, I had a sound that had a 'long past' feel."

Listening, one can indeed hear an eerie echo that seems to come from across the centuries. Over that is a flute playing a primitive, repeated melody. It is clear why Epple is in demand for sound-track work: she has a gift for fitting the music to the visual images.

Next is music from the documentary "Children of the Fourth World," which shows the squalid living conditions of Guatemalan children living in garbage dumps. "The scene here shows these huge garbage trucks," says Epple. The music, done with a violin bow on the musical metal structures in Epple's home, resonates with a steely groan. Later in the documentary, as the kids are shown escaping from their sordid environment and attending school, Epple has scored a triumphant, child-like folk melody, cheerful and jingly. Epple also gets a kick out of her work for soap opera soundtracks - admittedly a more commercial enterprise, but one in which she is no less creative. A track from "Another World" has a jaunty melody with a "hip-hop" type rhythm. "I usually do music for the soaps to create suspense or a 'lurking' effect,:" she says. "But I wanted to branch our and do a more light-hearted kind of scene."

The Instruments

Epple's main flutes are a Haynes and an Artley. The hand-made silver Haynes is appraised at $9,000. "I got it in 1980. There's still a waiting list for them," Epple says. The Haynes, probably the most coveted flute made, is not always appropriate, however. "It's so sweet-sounding. My Artley works better for rock an roll. And I don't carry the Haynes in Third World countries, it's so valuable."

Epple selects different flutes from her "world" collection, according to the occasion. "I also love the Costa Rican cane flute. It has a real resonance to it, a reedy sound." She even has a simple flute made from a piece of PVC pipe. "I like the PVC flute because you can take it outside and not worry about it. It's not bothered by salt spray or hot sun."

Epple's electronic keyboards (there are six in her studio) have varying applications. Some are "midied," which means they can be hooked up to the computer for electronic composing. Epple says electronic keyboards are similar to computers in that they seem to become near-obsolete every six months because of rapid advances in technology.

The Present and Future

Epple is currently working on several documentaries about the Calusa Indians. She has also been doing voiceovers for audio cassettes with children's books. "I'm proudest of 'The Adventures of Dizi.' It was done beautifully. It was read and acted out with the music scored to the story. I worked with Andy Wahlberg on that. It's a nice book because it's educational. "I also recently finished a video soundtrack and voiceover about quartz crystals," she says. "It has the ethereal aspect of crystals and also the scientific."

Epple is also musical consultant for the SyZyGy art gallery, performing there as well as booking varied entertainment for gallery openings. Her upcoming solo album, she says, will include "more keyboards. I play enough to get by. I'd also like to do more with modern dance. And, I'd like to travel more. I love different kinds of world music. It's thrilling to hear music that is so different. . "I remember being in the Amazon rain forest and meeting a flute player. He and I and a bunch of drummers played all night long. It was so wonderful to hear the wall of sound from the animals in the rain forest. When I listened to a recording of it, the rain forest sound was almost on the same level as the music."

Epple says a woman's place in the arts is often hard-won. "It's a bit more difficult for (women) to be taken seriously. It takes a little more self-assurance for women, but it can be done. Years ago, I was singing in a rock band. The other band members were called musicians, but everybody called me the 'chick singer.' So, I quit singing!"


(Ron Hefner is a free-lance writer, college professor and jazz drummer. He lives in Fort Myers.)


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Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks Kat Epple Composer Flautist Eight Time Emmy Award Winning Recording Artist Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
Kat Epple Eight Time Emmy Winning Recording Artist - Soundtracks
 

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Background art by Robert Rauschenberg,
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