Oakland University
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Computers key to innovative music made by OU student, bandmates

By Dan Bodene, contributing writer

It was the fan letter from Indiana that really got to John Katona. Thirteen pages, in different-color inks.

“It was really crazy, but really gratifying,” said Katona, an Oakland University senior in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Katona, with bandmates Ian Sigmon and Ben Vrazo, comprise the group Dog & Panther, which recently released an extended-play single, “Giant Hands,” and a video that documents the recording of the song.

“Giant Hands,” available as a free download, inspired the fan to pen the letter to Dog & Panther. “We did it for fun, but I think it’s cool that people want to listen to it,” said Katona.

Making music has been nearly a lifelong passion for Katona. But the process of making music, like his life, changed radically along the way.

Katona played piano growing up but switched to guitar (he bought his first one on eBay) in high school. He and snowboarding pal Sigmon, who shared his interest in music, formed a band.

But everything changed after Katona broke his neck and the aftermath left him unable to play guitar. That’s when he really became involved in using technology to make music.

“I have a studio in my house, which is basically microphones, a computer and computer programs,” said Katona. For Dog & Panther, those tools helped rewrite the traditional process of each musician trooping into a sound studio and laying down a track or two.

“Giant Hands,” for example, was recorded note by note on sound files, and includes not only vocals and instrumentals, but also sounds “played” on a car engine, roof pillar and wheelbarrow. Katona, Sigmon and Vrazo worked together to combine and edit more than 200 sound clips, experimenting with them until they got the sound they wanted. Their video on YouTube shows them at work.

It’s a process that Katona first worked on with Sigmon, who at one time was making short films at OU and asked Katona to score them. That led to making original music, and eventually the pair were joined by vocalist/lyricist Vrazo.

The trio created an album, “What Happened,” over the course of about four years. The follow-up was “Giant Hands,” which by itself took three months to complete. “It took a long time to figure out,” said Katona. “It’s a slow process, but we’re getting better.”

There was one recent development that was more immediate, but involved no less preparation: performing live.

Dog & Panther appeared at The Crofoot in Pontiac this January before about 500 club-goers. Katona said the trio, along with 14 musician friends, rehearsed in groups over several days. The actual gig was the first time they all played together at the same time.

For now, Dog & Panther are at work on a new album, and may perform live again. And although their music is mostly downloaded, Katona is kicking around the idea of committing it to a medium some might find ironic – vinyl. “It’s another way of getting our music out there,” Katona said.

And he knows the right guy to help.

“What Happened” was mastered by Joe Lambert, who has worked with artists ranging from Johnny Cash, to Ted Nugent, to Social Distortion. Lambert is a practitioner of the “lost art” of vinyl cutting for music recordings.

A friend of Katona described Lambert’s work at mastering “What Happened,” but the description might also fit Dog & Panther’s whole approach to music: “It’s 50 percent equipment, 40 percent ‘crazy ears’ and 10 percent black magic.”
OU students John Katona, Ian Sigmon and Ben Vrazo comprise Dog & Panther, a group that released a song and video, “Giant Hands.”

Created by Katherine Land - Deleted (land@oakland.edu) on Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Modified by Katherine Land - Deleted (land@oakland.edu) on Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Article Start Date: Tuesday, June 7, 2011