My name is Mike Opitz. I am an English Professor at The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.
In the early 90’s, Dr. Thomas C. Daddesio (now of Slippery Rock State University in Pennsylvania) and I began the serious study of reggae music—using methodology drawn from semiotics and contemporary cultural theory. After a while, we decided to try to play the music. This gave birth to The One Drop band—a reggae, ska, soca, rock band that played around campus for 8 years and released one album (The One Drop, 1998). Tom moved on the Pennsylvania and other members of the band graduated and also moved on. I played a few times solo or with a one or two other musicians over the next several years. Then Tom, Kathleen Regan (Downes), former singer in the band and former student and pianist, Caitlin Brutger, decided to get together to record music in the summer. We named ourselves “The Karma Refugees” after one of the first songs I wrote for the band. We’ve had these summer music sessions for the past several years and plan to keep doing it. We made most of these songs at the summer recording sessions. Our latest recording is the 5 song EP made last summer (2015) and posted now on this site.
My background has been in modern poetry, critical theory and cultural studies. I now include song writing and recording in my resume. This web page will be devoted to providing a kind of song that has intellectual content and theoretical implications. When I was a kid, I started playing guitar on an old beat up relic the descended from my grandfather, then stopped for many years while pursuing academic work. This page provides a return to those roots. And yet, the roots have vanished.
This page will also follow and embody the amazing journey sound has taken since I played my first chord on that old guitar. A favorite quote of The Karma Refugees is from Frank Zappa: “A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, and sometimes unsuspecting musicians.” I’m sure the air molecules around when I played that guitar could not have suspected anything. But sound was on a journey; it was being captured and recorded—on tape, vinyl, and cassette tape—and on forward into the digital age—on computers. I found a copy of the first live recording I made in the early 90’s—an old unlabeled cassette tape. It was a beautiful concert by my student at the time, Luiz Moreira from Brazil. I converted the analog tape to digital files, remixed the songs using computer technology and can now make this remarkable concert—performed in front of 4 people and a tape deck—available to anyone who can find it. The air molecules could not have suspected! This page records an ongoing exploration into thinking about and making sound.