Talks with cyberCHUMP
Secrets to Tell You
Scientists in the Trees
AV: At what point in your lives did music become an important
aspect of who you were? How did some of this initial curiosity and interest get
outwardly expressed in your lives?
J: I seem to have always been drawn to music. My parents bought me one of those
portable 45rpm players when I was 5. I had about 5 records I would play them
over and over and just drove my parents nuts.
I started trumpet lessons in the third grade and I help put our first
band together (2 trumpets and a bongo player) sometime around the 5th grade. We
played school talent shows and things like that.
When I was in Junior High I was in a band that consisted of
Trumpet, Sax, Piano and Drums that went by the name The D Jims due to the fact
3 of us were actually named Jim and the Piano players nick name was Dinky. This
group played out in nursing homes (they always had a piano handy) and again
school talent shows.
The most interesting thing about these 2 groups is that we
were already composing our own music. We found it tedious to learn too many
cover songs and discovered we had more fun to make up songs. These were simple
instrumentals. We usually came up with one cover like the Tequila or Saints Go
Marching In and the rest would be our own material.
AV: Was there any formal training in music for either of you
in regards to your interest in music?
J: Throughout Junior High, I played in the school orchestra
as well as marching band. I also played in the Community Orchestra. The
conductor, my mentor and teacher, Mr. Tucker always asked me to play the
instruments that he could not find anyone else to play, so I ended up playing
the Sousaphone in the band and the odd brass instrument in the Orchestra.
I took some guitar lessons when I was 15 for about 6 months. At the time I did not think that I learned much but it taught me the basic bar chording that I have really relied on ever since. I also self studied a book on slide guitar.
I taught myself piano and organ (I learned the riff to Green
Onions) when my Mom bought a piano. I loved it when she upgraded to an organ
when I was in high school and I could actually sound something like Booker T.
M: I remember hearing Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is early
on and realizing how a song could create a mood. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust
was the first album I ever bought. In the 70's I listened to Eno, Tangerine
Dream, Vangelis, Stockhausen, etc. Iíve
always been attracted to those art rock albums that are great complete listens.
J: The first records that I really remember being an influence would have been the instrumental, Telstar. I also was influenced by the beautiful voice of Roy Orbison and the harmony's of the Everly Brothers.
My biggest influences came later during my College days. I would have to say after much reflection that my biggest influence was the psychedelic period of the Beatles with the 5th Beatle, George Martin being the greatest influence of all.
AV: When was it that you began to understand that your
interest in music was going to go far beyond just listening to it on your
stereo system? What were some of the first steps that you took to take these
interests from dreams to reality?
M: At 8 years old my father bought me a cassette recorder. I
started making radio shows with my friends. I spent a lot of time experimenting
with sound; taking out a battery and bridging the gap with a piece of wire to
make it record slower, and then replacing the battery to play it back, which
would create a sped up voice. As a teen, I used to spend my free time recording
songs in my room. I only wrote songs so that I had something to record. It was
the recording and creating sound that was more interesting to me. I made a lot
of sound collages in my teens that played with slowed down pianos. However in
order to do that I had to alter the electronics of the cassette decks.
J: I guess it was as early as the first small groups that we
kids put together. Then there was a long period when I had dropped out of
performing and playing an instrument during my high school, college years into
my mid twenties. I was an active listener and developed a large record
collection in college which I continued to grow. I did not get interested in
playing again until an affordable synthesizer was being sold which was a Korg
monophonic synth and a affordable 4 track recorder was available, a Teac 3340.
I started creating original songs again, multitracking them. This was pretty
experimental stuff while at the same time leaning towards the Telstar thing pop
AV: When was it that you were first exposed to
electronic/ambient music? What were some of your first impressions of this
M: From Bowie I found Brian Eno. I remember the first time I
heard Discreet Music, I had it on my turntable for weeks, and it was branded
into my head so much so that I heard it when I was away from it. Brian Eno was
the greatest influence on what I eventually did musically. I was always
attracted to non-traditional music and the sound "between" things. I
used to try to make things sound electronic, like hitting a TV tray with coins
on it to sound like an electronic drum machine.
In some way cyberCHUMP has an electric sound, but is done with rather
When I was a teen and didnít have much money to buy
"real" equipment, I used cardboard boxes as drums. I always felt
embarrassed by that, but recently read that during the recording of My Life in
The Bush of Ghosts, they did the same thing. That album may have been the most
influential for me.
J: I would have to say that it was the Telstar thing and an Album by Dick Hyman who was experimenting with a Moog in the early sixties. My mom having bought a Wurlitzer organ wetted my appetite for "artificial" sounds and the synthesizer was an extension of that. There was also a music magazine that had one of those flexi-discs with it that was promoting one of the early synths. This disc had some electronic compositions that really intrigued me.
On the ambient side, I was a little late coming to that.
Probably my entree to ambient was Robert Fripp and Brian Eno's "No
Pussyfooting" album which why not strictly an ambient album introduced me
to Eno. I had followed Fripp since the first King Crimson Album and would say
that both Fripp and Eno are definitely two of more musicians that have influenced
AV: Did you realize immediately that this was the music that
you wanted to create? How did you go about getting your feet wet so to speak in
regards to creating compositions within this genre?
M: I have always had an affinity for "atmosphere"
in music. For me, playing an instrument is more about sound, than chops. I did
the new wave thing for a while, but in then end, I came back to what I had been
doing as a teen... experimental music.
I tend to focus on groove and atmosphere. I find that what inspires me is not always
evident in what I eventually compose.
J: I had originally come to composition from an experimental
yet almost naive nature. It was when I bought an Electro-Harmonix 16 second
delay which allowed me to loop sounds and play them back real time, mixing
these loops in with live performance that it really started to come together
AV: Tell me about the formation of cyberCHUMP and how the two
of you met. And Iíve been wondering where the name came and what image you
wanted to portray with it?
M: I moved to Kansas City to pursue graduate school. Jim had
a band called Short-term Memory (of which ZerO-One was an original member). I
had read about the band in Option magazine and sent them a cassette of my band
at the time, Xposed 4Heads. Jim showed up with his band mates at my door one
night. Eventually, we started working on sound collages and other music. One of
those early experiments is "Calling" and appears on Abstract Air. We
recorded that in the mid-80's.
Regarding the name, which we get a lot of guff for: it was
the early '90's. The Internet was just starting to come around. We were riffing
off of things like cyberpunk, and how we use so much technology to make our
music, but felt like chumps trying to use it. We admit that the technology
befuddles us at times. The name is humorous, which seems to be lacking in much
ambient music. I guess you are suppose to have an ethereal sounding name; but
we come from a punk/freak ethic.
M: We have certain hurdles; files get mismatched on each
others computers and the other ends up hearing something completely unintended!
Also, there are numerous band members that have never met one another. We
started by jamming together until we found something to work on. Then we moved
to originating compositions on our own and sending them. Lately, we have been
going back to jamming together to create source material that we tweak through
the Internet. Most our musical explorations are about trying to challenge
ourselves by changing "how" we make our music, hoping it will effect
the outcome. Much of what we do is about process.
J: We have yet to do the whole album without getting
together and I doubt we ever will. There is a certain vibe you get when working
together. Even listening to the music together is qualitatively different than
listening to it alone. I doubt that you can ever replace. Because I travel
quite a bit for a living, I can work my way to Milwaukee periodically. It
certainly helps that our wives are as close as Mark and I are so we have a
great time when we get together.
However the mix of time of separation and times of working
getting together may have turned out to be a good thing. Bands seem to blow
apart from being together too much. This space gives us time to get our
"egos" out of the way and come to terms with challenges over an
extended period of time. I think it is the reason cyberCHUMP has turned out to
be a long-term project.
AV: If it werenít for the Internet and the ease of
transferring files back and forth would there even be a cyberCHUMP?
However, the Internet has allowed us to be more productive.
It has driven some of the recording direction that affects the cyberCHUMP
sound. The Internet is not essential to being cyberCHUMP but it certainly has
become an integral part of it.
AV: How has the Internet helped to carry your music to the
public in ways that you could never have done if you had to rely on the old
brick and mortar way of selling and publicizing your music?
M: It has opens up the world for a band. Now, we can keep in
touch with DJ's, view play lists, contact record labels and fans. More and
more, the actual discs are for DJ's, while the audience is downloading the
music. I suspect eventually, DJ's will download the tracks from our server.
J: Believe me, the Internet is a quantum leap when it comes
to the marketing of our music. Short-term Memory recorded from the very first.
We were into the DYI ethic, recording at home, using fanzines to promote the
music. The stumbling block was the distribution. We simply had to rely on a
distributor that did not seem to work for us. We would get rave reviews, a lot
of radio play but it did not translate into sales of tapes or records. Band by
mail did not seem to work for us. With the advent of the Internet, it brought
DIY to whole new level. You can buy the CD over the Internet and download
individual songs and not have to depend on distributors to get the CD into the
J: Our music always seems to have gotten good reviews. It
has taken some time for our music to become more widely recognized. I think the
turning point was our 3rd CD, Abstract Air. We got a boost from our inclusion
on the Ambienism compilation CD. It was during this time that we became known
as ambient artists.
AV: Your new release is called Sankhara. Where does the
title come from and what meaning does it carry about the music inside?
M: Sankhara refers to your collected wisdom, that which
makes up your intellect or spirit. Jim and I started the project thinking it
would be called Abstract Earth and be a follow up to Abstract Air. We started
by recording a number of jams we did when we were together. As the project
started taking form, we realized it wasn't just about the forming of Earth, but
our own births, lives, health, aging and eventual deaths... as one of us put
it, "The whole enchilada."
AV: I liked the artwork on the cover of this CD. Who did the
cover for you and what were you shooting for in terms of the image and the
message it conveys?
M: I created the image and Jim decided on the colors. Jim
has this tendency to send me back my artwork with a Negative filter. It drives
me crazy. But this time, it really worked. We had trees on the cover of a few
of our releases, and this one could be a tree, a synapse in the brain, an
artery, etc. We both work on the cover art, layout, etc. Our collaboration is
based on the rule that each of us has to like whatever we put out. We probably
did 20 covers and CD names before we agreed. I keep an idea incubator of words
and names that we throw out over time. Many times draw from it, but this time
we had to keep searching for the right term to capture the music.
AV: So is Sankhara pretty much a continuation of what you
have done previously as cyberCHUMP or do you head out some new paths with the
J: But our direction is subject to change at any given
moment. Mark tends to be a planner while I tend to like things to just
"happen". We have been having discussions of what direction to take
but I would doubt that what we start with is where we end up. It is the journey
that seems to matter.
AV: On the back cover of the CD you refer to the music as
tone poems. Tell me how this describes what folks will find inside in terms of
the music that the two of you created for this CD.
J: We think of the music on Sankhara as a tone poem due to
the nature of the floating sounds, yet they are rhythmic without a lot of percussive
beats. At the same time the music seems to be emotionally enlightening. We
think of the tone poem as the "song" while Aural Sculpture is the
process we use to write and record the song.
AV: As a creative duo do you strive to not repeat yourself
when you are creating new music? Or is there always strains of what has gone
before woven throughout your compositions?
M: Though I do think there is a cyberCHUMP sound, we do not want to repeat ourselves. Each release has been different. Early on, I think there may have been a bit more overtness in our work. Over the releases, we have worked to become more subtle. Our second release, Inner Grooves continues to be our favorite. However, except for Karmic Buzz released by OM Records, it has not gotten as much attention. The CD is very jazz, lounge based.
Our ambient and electronica seems to be what people are
focusing on. Abstract Air, really opened things up for us. We like to think
that a listener will appreciate the different sounds, moods, and genres. We
mash up a lot of genres.
J: I agree that cyberCHUMP has a sound but it is not
something that is easily defined. We try not to repeat ourselves. I have this
theory that there is very little that hasnít already gone before. What may make
a truly creative artist is their giving back what they have previously
experienced processed through their unique but ultimately faulty memory. What
makes each cyberCHUMP CD unique is our attempt at something new combined with a
healthy dose of remixes of sound and style.
AV: I was curious about the title of one of your CDís,
Scientists in the Trees. Any message there that youíd care to elaborate on as
to the meaning of that title?
M: I am a psychologist. One of my patients was telling me to
be suspicious of the "scientists in the trees."
J: Mark shared this thought with me and I loved the term.
Scientist in the Trees is the CD on which we started our loop recording
process. I think we both felt that the music on the CD seemed to be some sort
of wacky experiment. The term seemed to fit.
Though we use a loop program to create our music, we have
been moving towards using the program more as a recording device. We created
most of what you hear on Sankhara. Many of these pieces began as live jams
between Jim and myself. We then used the programs to tweak, edit, add and
subtract samples, sometimes using samples from our previous releases. For
example, the didgeridoo is a sample of Julio Pabon playing on a song from
Dreams Groove, our first CD. J. Karl Bogartte, a marvelous surrealistic artist,
who created the cover for Secrets to Tell You, plays a Uillean Pipe that we
recorded and eventually found its way into First Transmission.
J: I think the electronic feel to Sankhara comes from the
manipulation of the sounds. With computer recording, you can change the pitch
and speed and placement of sounds at will. Mark was sending me recordings that
were in a middle to higher register. I found that taking them down an octave or
2 made the sound much more organic but it also gave some of the sounds an
"electronic" quality. We both like the overall feel of this
manipulation and continued in that direction.
J: We typically don't set boundaries. Our approach is
towards mystery, not answers. This CD may be our most ambiguous.
AV: How do the two of you communicate your musical ideas and
thoughts to each other from a distance? Do you find it harder to collaborate in
this manner than if you worked together in the same studio?
M: To enjoy collaborating you have to be excited that the
other person can take the music somewhere you never considered. We discuss our
music, but too much talking seems to get in the way. One of us lays something
down and sends it to the other. In a couple weeks, the track gets mailed back
with the other persons additions. I have
a set of Enoís Oblique Strategies and frankly, we have never used them. When it comes down to it, we both resist any
suggested direction. We are great
friends, but it works better to not discuss a direction too much. If we talk
about it too much Jim will reference Zappa and say, "shut up and play yer
J: I love hands on experimentation and responding to events
as they come along. I am not a planner. I find the unexpected result to be more
fascinating than the pursuit of an established idea.
AV: After reading through some of your interests and
activities in your bio Mark I have to ask when it is that you find time to
M: No rest for the wicked!
Jim and I are both fairly industrious. We have a workman like attitude
in our approach to music.
J: With Mark now a father, I think it is amazing he can
focus on this at all. My wife and I have no children and we are both artistic.
Our weekends are for being creative.
AV: Does your visually oriented work ever inspire you in
regards to musical compositions you might be working on or vice versa?
M: I think in terms of visuals when I compose, trying to
create some picture or presence. The
names I suggest for pieces tend to come from visuals I get from the work.
J: I always found it strange that with Mark being a
filmmaker that we did not pursue the visual side more. Our music certainly
evokes images. Mark did our first Video with this CD and at least one visual
artist has used our music for a soundtrack.
AV: How have your fans reacted to the release of Sankhara so
far? Any feedback youíd like to share?
M: It is really early in the release cycle. So far we have
gotten positive feedback. Many people have commented on the production quality
of our work.
J: Sankhara seems to be getting a lot of airplay. I find it
interesting that these days there are radio stations that play this type of
music. What a wonderful world we live in. The verbal feed back I am getting is
pretty interesting as well. It seems this one is being thought of as sort of a
AV: As a closing question what is it that you have found
most rewarding in regards to the work that the two of you do as cyberCHUMP? Was
this something that you expected when this all began?
M: Creating music and getting it out there is a chance to
communicate with one another and the listener. There is some place deep inside
where Jim and I connect. I hope that connection can extend to others who are
listening. However, we are both careful not to let feedback influence what we
AV: Thanks Mark and thank Jim for taking the time out to talk to me about your latest release and how you got to that point. I'm sure that you will have much success with Sankhara and I look forward to watching your growth as artists in the coming years.