Courtesy of Benjamin Beck

On Friday, listeners are invited to embark on an odyssey led by Benjamin Beckman ’24, an undergraduate student composer with a passion for innovative musical storytelling. 

In June 2020, Beckman was contacted by his high school friend Roshan Nayar to produce an instrumental jazz fusion album. Beckman had taken a leave of absence due to COVID-19 restrictions canceling music events on campus. 

“I think stylistically this album is very odd, there’s not much out there that’s like this — instrumental jazz rock, new classical fusion,” Beckman said. 

Although he has composed contemporary classical music in the past, this was his first foray into jazz. Throughout the creation process, Beckman drew inspiration from Armenian jazz pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan, guitarist and composer Shubh Saran, the progressive rock band Thank You Scientist and T.R.A.M., a jazz metal fusion band led by guitarist Tosin Abasi. According to Beckman, it’s unusual to combine such different musical styles. 

In composing the music for this album, Beckman sought to occupy a niche that reflected the mantra “Write the music you want to listen to” — a quote used by his former mentor Sean Shepherd. 

“‘VOYAGE’ fits this weird niche,” Beckman said. “‘VOYAGE’ is filled with a lot of metrical play and really interesting polyrhythms and time signature shifts, as well as a tonal harmony that’s informed by the genre conventions of contemporary classical music. Especially the tracks ‘Through the Haze,’ ‘You Don’t Know You’re Lost’ and ‘Zenyth,’ have large string parts and really orchestrated-out texture that I think I only could have done because of my classical background.” 

Beckman also incorporated jazz elements such as textured vocals. 

“There are no lyrics. It’s ‘doo’s and ‘da’s and ‘ooo’s,” Beckman said.

In the album, Beckman sought to push the bounds of musical convention and genre, while exploring various textures and emotions. The first track, “You Don’t Know You’re Lost,” reflects a feeling of wanderlust which prompts the listener to begin a journey upon hearing the next track, “Departure.” 

“This is a concept album in that all of the tracks string together, and it’s a semi-programmatic narrative of some sort of voyage, some sort of journey,” Beckman said.

According to the liner notes written to accompany the album, “VOYAGE” is an odyssey of creativity, exploration and reflection. From the first track “You Don’t Know You’re Lost” to the last track “Beyond,” listeners may realize that “for all of the distance we have traveled, there is still so much more that lies beyond our horizons, waiting for the next voyage to come,” he said.

Beckman utilized a number of continuous transitions between songs to further embrace the concept album approach. “You Don’t Know You’re Lost” leads straight into “Departure,” “Mists” goes straight into “Harrower” and “Disjunction” goes straight into “Beyond.”

“Continuously, the material from one passes over to the next,” Beckman explained. “This is an album that should be a rewarding experience to listen to from top to bottom. So when you have tracks that feed into each other nicely, it keeps the energy going across the whole album.”

Beckman described the tracks as ranging from being “incredibly winding and rhythmically complicated” to “ambient.” The album takes advantage of its role as a concept album to feature multiple different themes and emotions. “Through the Haze” is a slow ballad, while the end of “Zenith” borders on metal music. 

The process of creating this album has caused Beckman to rethink the direction of his career and consider embarking on a new voyage of his own. 

“This album process has been such a blast and I really love this music, so I am definitely going to make another progressive jazz album within the next couple years,” Beckman said.

Now, Beckman hopes to freelance as a composer and performer in the future. 

In January, Beckman recorded the album’s core instrumentation — saxophone, piano, bass and drums — in a studio in Los Angeles. In May, the strings and the string quartet were recorded. A month later, Beckman recorded textural vocals with Maura Tuffy MUS ’21. The editing and production phase followed. 

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done to audio in order to make it a really fully-produced studio recording — tuning any slightly out-of-tune note, shifting a slightly offbeat rhythm so that everything flows super well and then adding synths and electronic effects,” Beckman said. “There are tons of stuff like little delays here and there, little reverb shifts here and there, sub bass boosts just to keep the energy going through the whole album and give everything its own unique texture.” 

Jack Riley, a high school friend, was in charge of mixing the album. Riley’s and Beckman’s friend Sannivas Reddy then mastered the album in September. Beckman chose a late October release date in order to build up anticipation for the album. 

Prior to the album’s release, Beckman sent pre-release codes to the people who supported the album financially on Kickstarter. David Ewing ’23 had received special early access to “VOYAGE.” 

According to Ewing, “Balancing unbridled excitement with virtuosic orchestration, “VOYAGE” takes the listener on an expedition through the mind of Benjamin Beckman — a place in which only the brave and wild-of-heart have dared to step forth.”

More information on “VOYAGE” may be found on the Bandcamp website linked above and Beckman’s Instagram. “VOYAGE” is available to stream on Spotify and for sale on Bandcamp.

KAYLA YUP