Talks with cyberCHUMP 

 

cyberCHUMP

Visit cyberCHUMP's website

 

Sankhara

 

Secrets to Tell You

 

Scientists in the Trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sankhara:
Ambient Visions Talks with....cyberCHUMP
©2007 Ambient Visions

 

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?

M:   My mother sang professionally, so I grew up with much music in the house. I had a record player and a radio in my room as early as I can remember. I was very intrigued by late night AM radio and then FM free format radio. I remember when I was 4 I thought the bands must be all lined up on different stages, waiting their turn to play the song live. As a teen I hid in my basement bedroom and recorded songs, soundscapes, etc. In my early 20's I started a band called Xposed 4Heads that was a sort of cross between Pere Ubu, Devo, and Wall of Voodoo.

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?

M:   My parents got me a Wurlitzer organ when I was ten and some lessons. I hated the lessons, but loved to experiment with the sounds. Learning and playing other people music bored me, so I began making my own songs up fairly early. When I wanted a guitar, my parents made me trade the organ for the guitar I wanted; I guess they were frugal. Eventually, I was able to acquire more than one instrument at a time and starting trying to figure out how to multi-track with two cassette recorders and a radio shack 4-channel mixer. 

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.

AV:  Was there any particularly impressive music that you listened to during those years that your interest in music was growing that stuck with you and influenced what you eventually did with cyberCHUMP?  

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 thing. 

AV:  When was it that you were first exposed to electronic/ambient music? What were some of your first impressions of this musical form?  

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 organic instruments.   

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 me. 

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 for me. 

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.  

AV:  Since the two of you donít actually work in the same studio for the most part does that present a challenge for you when you are composing or creating a piece of music?  

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?

M:   I can't see how Jim and I would have been in a friendship and not created music. If you hang around Jim long enough, you will end up in the studio.   Early on, Jim had an analog 8 track and I had a cassette 4-track recorder. We were recording with these back in the early nineties after I had moved back to Milwaukee.  Then, each of us got a digital mini disc 8 track recorder and started mailing the discs back and forth. Eventually, we starting using software and FTPing files.

J:   Recording has been my recreation, my spiritual sustenance and my muse for a long time. Mark seems to have been drawn to recording process as powerfully as I. Recording music is a major factor in our friendship.

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 local stores.

AV:  Tell me about some of your first releases as the duo of cyberCHUMP and how that music was received when it started to disseminate to listeners around the country.

M:   Our first release had a number of songs on it that we created over an 8-year period, it laid out a very diverse palette. We work to have our music grow and change. We have gotten a very positive response. It seems that many people who listen to us, eventually get all the releases.  We tried not to get categorized, but eventually I guess you need to have something people can find you under.    

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.

J:   The cover was certainly a reflection of the recording process this time. The music on Sankhara is in some ways very simple but we found it was perhaps the most difficult to create. The same went for the cover. Mark and I tend to come at things from almost opposite perspectives but we usually have a quick meeting of the minds. We certainly did not have a quick resolution of our differences with the naming of Sankhara nor with the art work for the CD. 

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 music?

M:   Each release is a step further and a reflection of where we are at any given time. Scientists in the Trees was right after 911, and it is a rather mean album. Secrets to Tell You is much more healing. I think our work is increasingly more minimalistic, subtle and textured. 

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.

AV:  What kind of instrumentation went into the making of Sankhara and how much of it was electronically created and how much was live instrumentation?

M:   We both play a number of instruments.  Jim has tended toward the guitars and I have tended toward the keyboards and bass.  But that can change at any moment and isnít exclusively true.  Unlike many artists who have a studio all set up a certain way, we set it up from scratch for every piece, depending on the sounds we are trying to create.  We never create with the same palette.  I might start a piece by plugging an accordion into a delay unit and recording the breaths.  Another time I might start with a keyboard or drum track.   

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.

AV:  When you set out to create Sankhara were there any boundaries you had set for the project or feelings that you wanted to evoke with the music?

M:   We are trying to evoke feelings from the listener. But we worked to only provide impressions without spelling it all out. We wanted the pieces to be something that the listener could interpret in their own way. 

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 guitar!" 

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 create music?  

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. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcSxCfuMZyI  

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 spiritual journey. 

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 do.

J:   cyberCHUMP has taken on a life of its own. I don't think initially we had any concept of this being a long term project. Being able to create something that we can go back to and really enjoy ourselves is a reward in itself. That others might be able to get something positive from our music is more rewarding still. 

http://www.cyberchump.com
http://www.myspace.com/cyberchumpaudio

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcSxCfuMZyI

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.