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Wayne Joness - Profile Photo - Vinton Messenger - February 4, 1988
Wayne Joness

Computer Composer

By Becky Hepler

The Vinton Messenger - Thursday, February 4, 1988

Wayne Joness sits down in front of his computer screen, pops in the floppy disk and he's off to work. But he is not crunching numbers or processing words. He is composing music.

The Vinton native started off in computer engineering at the University of Virginia, later switched to English and along the way took several music classes. As it turned out, that was the best combination of courses he could take now that he spends his time at the Kurzweil MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) controller.

The MIDI board looks like a very high-tech keyboard, complete with wooden keys, just as you would find on a real piano. Unless you have the sound module plugged in, however, there will be no sound coming from the board. When Joness plays this board, the controller translates the physical action of his fingers on the keys into numbers that quantify a vast amount of information, including what note he just played, the velocity of striking it, the loudness and so on.

All of this information goes into the computer and up on the monitor. Joness composes a musical phrase and the computer stores it. Then he can vary any element within the phrase and hear it merely by pushing a few numbers into the computer.

Some people think a computer will save you time, and it can, if you know exactly what you want," said Joness. 'But I find I spend more time listening to all the alternatives and trying to find the best combination of sounds.

Wayne Joness plays the MIDIBoard
Wayne Joness plays the MIDIBoard

It is not hard to find inspiration for composing. "Any event, phrase or idea can turn into a song," he said. His postgraduation trip to England was a great source, especially the English subways, as he recounted.

At certain places, they would have signs or a voice would announce 'Mind the gap, which was their way of saying 'watch your step.' It was always so bizarre to be standing there waiting for a train and to heat this disembodied voice saying, in that computer monotone with a British accent, 'Mind the gap, mind the gap. I just had to write a song about that phrase.

Viewers of public television may have seen Joness performing this song as part of WBRA-TV's "Festival Fillers" in December. That is when the station foregoes the normal fund-raising appeal and replaces it with performances of local talent.

When he finishes the composition, Joness can store the tune on a floppy disk or record it onto a cassette or reel to-reel. "It's funny,' he said. "I teach a class at the community college (Virginia Western) in four-track recording, but I rarely avail myself of that technology The computer's much simpler. The class is only one of Joness diversions. He is considered the MIDIman" at Stage Sound, an audio company that supplies amplifiers and other audio equipment. But the most fun is his band, The Deadbolts.

Voyetra Sequencer Plus II software on Radio Shack PC Compatible
Wayne Joness uses the computer to help him compose music.

The band formed in that time- honored fashion of collecting one person, then another until they had the critical mass. "Anytime two musicians get together, they always say to each other, 'Let's get together and play,' and usually no one ever calls. When I met Steve Langston, who plays bass, I said that, and miracle of all miracles, he actually called, Joness remembered. Langston knew a drummer, Lance South, who wanted to join a band, and Joness recruited Josh Jones from his class and The Deadbolts were born.

The music, written mostly by Joness and Langston, is all original, reminding one of The Doobies or Lighthouse with a cheery, energetic sound that is quite accessible. One of the reasons the band enjoys plays at The Iroquois Club on Salem Avenue in Roanoke is that this laid-back club allows the band to play its own music. Of course. that doesn't discourage requests from the audience.

We never bothered to learn any cover songs, because we really only wanted to sing our own songs. But people always want you to sing what they hear on the radio. So we'll play it and if we don't know the words we can get the folks from the audience to help us," Joness said. 'Luckily, the music is easy to figure out.

Music has always been a compulsion for Joness. 'My brain is hardwired for music. I can remember wanting to take piano lessons as soon as I could climb up on the piano stool." He got his wish and took lessons from Elma Swain for 10 years. He put it aside for a while when he left to college so he could take up guitar and play in a band.

Bands are still a favorite outlet for him, but looking ahead Joness would ultimately like to evolve into scoring music for movies and television shows using his computer, of course.

WBRA-TV Television: 'Festival Fillers' Featuring Wayne Joness - December 1987