Local trails and ski runs were the ‘Keys’ to album
Parkite Douglas Morton, who is also a composer and musician, enjoys Park City’s outdoor culture so much he recorded and released a solo piano album called “Park City Keys” that was inspired by the area.
“For any kind of artist, nature has everything you need, really,” Morton told The Park Record. “You have every color, tempo and texture there, so I feel inspired to make music when I’m in nature.”
The songs on “Park City Keys” came to Morton like little revelations, he said.
“I hiked almost every day around the canyons and around my house, and when I would hear the wind going though the aspens, it sounded to me like a section of violins,” he said.
Morton – the president and founder of Q Up Arts, a sound collection service that offers virtual instruments, sample sets and music loops to computer companies, music producers, film and TV composers and recording artists – also felt inspiration while skiing.
“I know many people think of heavy music when you see skiers, but I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Isn’t there a kind of flow when you ski?” he said. “So I would attach some flowing melodies in my head to what I was seeing.”
After hiking or skiing, Morton would return home and sit at the piano.
“You feel really good after you’ve been up in the mountains, because you’re oxygenated and your brain is open,” he said. “So I would just start playing, and many of the songs on the album started as streams of consciousness from what I felt.”
Morton named the tracks on “Park City Keys,” such as “Kestrel,” “Aspen Grove,” “Sidewinder,” “Serenity” and “Rosebud’s Heaven,” after local trails and ski runs.
“Sometimes I would record something and then take the music on a hike,” he said. “Then I would stop people and ask if they would listen to 10 seconds of a piece and tell me if they thought it fit with the trail.”
Sometimes a particular piece would play while Morton was on a particular trail or run.
“If it felt right, I would name the piece right there,” he said.
Morton found himself with nearly 30 hours of music and picked the tracks that he felt would work together on an album.
“It just built from there,” he said.
Morton’s sister-in-law, Vanessa Montenegro, painted the album’s cover depicting aspens in the winter.
“I asked her if she could paint a winter scene and she did it for me,” he said.
“Park City Keys” can be purchased at CDbaby.com, Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon.com and at douglasmortonmusic.com.
Morton said five percent of “Park City Keys” sales will benefit the People’s Health Clinic, a local nonprofit that provides medical services to uninsured people in Summit and Wasatch counties.
“It’s been really fun to have a concept to compose to and make something that I can give to people,” he said. “It’s a little gift to Park City.”
In addition to “Park City Keys,” Morton has recorded three other albums – “California Keys,” which is another solo piano release, “Music for Aquariums,” which features ambient music that is used in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and “The Living Planet Aquarium” soundtrack, which is composed of music that he composed for the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper.
The aquarium albums can be traced back to his experiences in Santa Cruz, California, in the 1990s.
“I scuba dived a lot back then, and I went on a dive trip with some people who worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” he said. “We became friends and joked that we should work together.”
Morton took the joke to heart and started sending the aquarium music.
“I would dive and be under the water and see a school of fish and think that they would sound like a section of flutes,” he said. “So I began attaching instruments and melodies to things in nature.”
The compositions eventually became the aquarium’s exhibit scores in the early 2000s, Morton said.
Morton, who still composes music for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, began working with the Loveland Living Aquarium eight years ago.
“Sometimes I would set up my keyboards and when people would come see the exhibits, I would play for them,” he said. “It was especially fun when kids would come in, because I would ask them what a shark would sound like and then we’d play something on the spot.”
Morton started playing organ and piano when he was seven.
“There were no other big musical influences as far as family members go,” he said. “So I thought I was adopted at first, but that turned out not to be true.”
Morton fell in love with the sounds that he could make with pianos, Hammond B3s, Wurlitzers and Rhodes.
“Since I was raised in the ‘60s, I listened to a lot of (Led) Zeppelin and the (Rolling) Stones,” he said. “And there were a lot of keyboard players like Jimmy Smith, Brian Auger, Herbie Hancock and Gregg Rolie who I grew up listening to.”
Morton would play their records and try to learn the music.
“I would wonder how they got their sounds and what instruments they were playing,” he said. “I did this because I wanted to be a rock star.”
The playing led Morton on a journey.
“I decided to acquire electric pianos, organs, modulars and synthesizers,” he said. “I owned a lot of keyboards throughout the years, and I wish I would have kept them all.”
The modulars led Morton into music sampling.
“I worked at Emu Systems, which would provide sampled sounds to musicians in the 1980s,” he said. “Peter Gabriel would come in. Thomas Dolby, The Cure and New Order would come to us as well because they were all fascinated with sampling, which was a new thing back then.
“When you sample instruments, you basically dissect the instruments,” Morton said. “So when we recorded pianos, we would focus on the pedal sounds, the hammers and the way the strings fade out.”
After Emu, Morton founded Q Up Arts, which has allowed him time to create his own compositions.
“When I work on my music, I become a tuning freak because I’m a sample guy,” he said. “There are a lot of details that lie more on the technical side that I pay attention to. I’m like a musical nerd.”
Douglas Morton’s “Park City Keys” and other albums are available digitally at CDbaby.com, Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon.com, Google and most streaming services. Downloads and physical CDs can be purchased by visiting douglasmortonmusic.com.
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A Utah Symphony woodwind trio will perform an intimate Deer Valley Music Festival chamber concert Monday at Susan Swartz Studios.