Greg Zbach – PhotoArtist                 “The art is in the telling”


Life before Photography:

My first recollection of a fascination for the visual arts and music came in the late 50’s, when I saw Disney’s Fantasia at the beautiful Warner Theater. The combination of music, art and animation had a profound impact on the rest of my life, and it was clear I wanted more.

My interest in being on the stage side of entertainment, dates back to high school days, with running sound for Tech High School auditorium; College with radio, theater and TV, and DJ w/my equipment for a fraternity (Not an official frat); Amsco R&D picnics (DJ w/my equipment and committee) and ISS Picnics (DJ w/my equipment and committee chair).

At an early age I also recognized my love for electronics. In fact, I was experimenting with RTL logic circuits in the seventh grade (bought from the infamous Poly Packs – “U-test-em”). I designed and built a 4 transistor crystal microphone amplifier and a tube uhf receiver for police weather and fire frequencies. I also obtained a CB license and installed an antenna on my parent’s roof.

During my high school years the performing arts tugged at me, and I ran sound for the high school auditorium (stage crew) and hung around musician types. Through it all, I dreamt about composing.

The first two years of electrical engineering at Gannon College were brutal. I needed something for the right side of my brain to achieve balance in my life. I was already into music collecting, and this quickly got out of control. As an example, I was into Pink Floyd in 1968. I had an extensive album collection approaches 3,000 (from classical, folk, blues, rock, progressive, jazz and of course electronic), and don’t even mention CD’s! Continuing to seek balance, I helped in the proposal, building and running of WERG – Gannon radio. To help with the radio station I passed a test in Buffalo and obtained an FCC Radio Telephone Third Class Operator permit.  If that wasn’t enough, I was sound engineer for 39 Gannon theater productions; and a member of Alpha Psi Omega, an honorary dramatic fraternity. The bulk of my sound work was done with the old-fashioned tape splicing method. This was very tedious work. I remember using two reel-to-reel tape decks loosely synced together, to simulate quadraphonic sound effects in the theater. I received four awards for my theatre work: Erie Bravo Award for Musical Direction in Sound for 1973 and 1974; and Talisman Players: Technical Contribution in 1973 and Greatest Technical Contribution in 1974.

As a sign of the times to come, my senior seminar was titled: “Electronic Music Synthesis”. I actually used an Arp Odyssey for the synthesizer demonstration.

After graduating in 1974, I had three job offers on the table. The first was for a crystal engineer at Bliley. The second was a design engineering position with Smith Meter in their Research and Development department. And the last was an engineering position and a radio host for WQLN, a public broadcasting station. I went to Smith Meter for the salary and what was fascinating me at the time, electronics. I would eventually be affiliated with Bliley at Sunburst Electronics, where I currently work. But what would my life be like now if I chose WQLN?

Between 1974 and 1984, I spent the bulk of my time in electronic design, including hardware/software development with one of the first microprocessors; very high-tech at the time, and very exciting for me. My big corporate design was the Prepay/Postpay HK Cashcon console. In the evening I also designed microcontrollers for a number of companies in town. The fascination for electronic music had a hand in my buying a high-tech digital music synthesizer for the Apple II computer, the Mountain Hardware Music System with Passport Designs Sound Chaser. I was very excited about this technology, but was not quite ready to delve into the difficult user interface. I designed and help build the Erie City Council voting machine in my junior year at Gannon. The design beat out the competing senior entry in 1973. The voting machine is still used today. For local businesses I designed a controller for a dry cleaning machine, an X-Y micrometer interface with drivers and an Auto Sampler Temp Probe Selector Switch.

Again I felt that tug from the other side of my brain, and started Studio Z in 1983, an electronic music production studio. Through Studio Z, I recorded many commercials, demo’s, and concerts for local businesses and organizations; including Walter Hendl’s music for the play “Dark of the Moon”, and Erie’s Bicentennial Fanfare. To get more involved with the community, I joined The Erie Civic Ballet in 1985, and became an Executive member of in 1987, where I fell in love with dance.

When MIDI was first introduced, I obtained a copy of the specification, and in a true engineering spirit, designed a hardware MIDI interface and a software music sequencer for the Apple II in 1984. About this time, a radical shift occurred, a complete change in my way of thinking and living; when I realized I wanted to use creative tools to compose, rather than design them (hardware/software).

With encouragement from a musician friend, I bought a MIDI synthesizer, drum machine, and a PC with DOS Cakewalk. In 1988, I composed a ten second radio spot for announcing Glass Growers Gallery come back after a fire, and was hooked. With no musical training, it took me six months to compose my first instrumental, appropriately named “The Awakening,” and I haven’t looked back since.

As for multimedia I designed professional websites and interactive CDROM’s for my employer and a number of local organizations. I also created a number of videos, 3D animations with my music and a video suite based on music from my CD – “The Seasons” and my photography.

Over the years I composed music for a number of short 3D computer animations, and radio and TV commercials; including United Way, Glass Growers Gallery, Children’s Piece Festival and the Arts Festival/Erie Bicentennial. I prefer writing for dance and was commissioned to compose an instrumental suite for modern dance, to celebrate Erie’s Bicentennial. A number of my instrumental works have been choreographed and performed at Mercyhurst College, and We Love Erie Days. Recently, two of my tone poems were choreographed and performed at the Erie Arts Festival by Sandy Brown (with Baryshnikov’s American Ballet Theater). The Arts Festival was also the site for the premiere of “Legend,” a tone poem based on an Eries Indian legend of how the peninsula was formed; Choreographed by Christina Maria of Lake Erie Ballet.

I have published three audio CD’s of music for dance, “The Seasons,” in 1998, “In The Telling” in 2000, and the latest CD “Grimsby – A Children’s Ballet” in 2002. All three are registered/copyrighted with the Library of Congress. By combining my two loves, electronics and music, I have fulfilled a childhood dream to compose. Who would have known?

“Grimsby” is a full length children’s ballet based on the book by Erie author Don McQuaid. A performance of the piece, Choreographed by Christina Maria, was presented in March of 2002 at the historical Warner Theater. The performance included original costumes and lighting. To hear my music at the Warner, where it all began for me, was a thrill.

Continuing my involvement in the community, I joined the board of The Erie Summer Festival of the Arts in 1992, where I held an executive position. There I formed a program called “Computer Tools for Arts and Music” or “CTAM,” to expose/educate the community to the creative power of this wonderful invention. We celebrated 10 years in 2002.

As an outreach program, I formed “Festival of the Arts Computer Time” or “FACT” in 1998, conducted at The Blasco Memorial Library. This is a hands-on environment, where children are exposed to creative software in a fun setting. FACT has been expanded as a result of a grant from the Verizon Foundation.

On a side note, I finally got to meet someone that has inspired me for a long time. I met Dr. Bob Moog at a lecture on the history of synthesizers and a book release on Leon Theremin by Albert Glinsky, all held at the Erie Art Museum on March 18th of 2000. What an honor! I bought my first digital camera just for this event. It was a Sony 1 megapixel with floppy drive for storage. Within a week or two, I realized two things. I loved photography, and the camera I bought was not enough for me.  My hero of electronic music synthesis was inspired by Leon Theremin. I finally got to meet Bob Moog who inspired me to get into electronic music originally, and wound up indirectly getting me into digital photography.” How is that for fate!

And to prove it is never too late to pursue a dream, I am now seriously into digital photography, something I have wanted to do for years. Most of the photos are taken close to home, appreciating what is around us!!! The digital darkroom is a natural for me. There is a parallel here….with my composing! My interests seem to follow the technical revolutions; such as midi in the late 80’s and now digital photography in late 90’s. (Electronics comes naturally to me!) I have copyrighted six CDROM’s of photographs. Thirty of my works were exhibited at the Schuster Art Gallery in 2003 (Camera Meets Computer). The video suite “The Seasons in Photos and Music” also premiered at the gallery. This multimedia piece will soon be released as a DVD. Other exhibitions included “The Water Element” at Glass Growers Gallery and “The Growing Season” at Auer Framing Gallery.

Photos were accepted five years in a row for exhibition in the Erie Arts Festival Panorama juried art exhibit, where in 2003 I received the “Excellence Award,” in 2004 the “Gold Circle Award” and in 2006 “Third Place.” Photos were also accepted three years in a row for the “Lily Festival” at the Stonewall Gallery where I received “Honorable Mention” in 2006 and five honorable mentions at the 2005 Erie National Wildlife Refuge photo contest. I was offering works for sale at two local galleries, Glass Growers and Bayfront.

For the longest time, I always felt electronics was my first love! Now…..I am not so sure!

From microprocessors to composing! From tape to digital audio! From radio to photography! My life is a series of interconnecting paths, and in the natural process of seeking balance, I wind up traveling them all!!


Greg Zbach

3-9-01; 8-3-01; 2-25-02; 7-22-02; 8-03-03; 07-26-06; 04-14-20; 05-04-21