My first recollection of music is sitting on the couch or on the plush, white shag rug in my living room and listening in awe to my parents' records from a pair of then-enormous speakers. My dad was a bit of an audiophile at the time and I was incredibly lucky that both my mom and he had such a discerning and eclectic taste in music. In between the speakers was a piano and, when I was three, my first drum set was placed in the room next to the fireplace- at least, until I drove my parents bananas and it was moved to the basement. My cousin Andy was my age and had a Casio keyboard- a little PT-80 (the kind that came with a ROM card which would play "Greensleeves" and other hits) - and I immediately wanted one out of jealousy.
Andy was my first musical partner-in-crime, and we had worked on recordings together briefly (around the ages of 4 and 5). He'd play piano, and I'd bang on things or use my snare drum to keep rhythm; eventually, we'd include random sounds from toys or flushing toilets and such, and I've decided that finding the one surviving cassette of this music will become my life's goal. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared into the ether.
My across-the-street neighbor and oldest friend Stuart Bogie - whom I met when I was two and before I could walk or talk - quickly became the most important influence on me as a surrogate older brother and fellow musician. Our first recordings were done in my basement using a Fisher-Price cassette recorder set-up on the stairwell.
Influenced by the "Beat Street" soundtrack, Thomas Dolby, and some other early 80's hip-hop, Stuart would rap over the pre-programmed beats on my Casio about everything from Roald Dahl's book The Twits and the benefits of smoke detectors, to Mister Rogers' character Lady Elaine and how robots like to dance. Meanwhile, I'd improvise random notes on the keys, strum a guitar I didn't yet know how to play, and attempt to solo on my sparkly blue Remo drums. "1984," the opening song on my debut album for Toshoklabs, was a recording he and I made in that year. We called ourselves "The Ultraviolets."
A few years later, when I was nine and Stuart was eleven, we pulled an all-nighter and recorded three songs on a Radio Shack 4-channel mixer in his basement. By this point, the beats had been upgraded to a Boss drum machine, Stuart had gotten a new keyboard, and I had actually learned to play guitar well enough to rock-out on about ten chords. This time it was me on the microphone singing about what only a 9 year-old could imagine about love and life, but Stuart assured me the pre-pubescent girls at Interlochen (a music school he attended that summer) were enamored with us.
And so things kept progressing: armed with Stuart's Yamaha drum machine and my first electric guitar, we were recording these half new wave/ half punk songs in his living room, and played our first concert- billed as "Stuart and His Neighbor"- in Joshua "Kit" Clayton's basement in north Evanston. Noah Sheldon (drums) and Gabe Shuford (keyboards) from a popular high school band called Truth sat in with us. I was in eighth grade at the time and - admiring local high school bands like Avocado Jungle Fuzz and Billingsgate who had released their own cassettes - we were inspired to make something happen.
Through marching band, Stuart met a drummer named Andrew Kitchen, and Andrew recommended his friend Eric Perney to play with us; Eric was a guitarist at the time and basically learned to play bass when he joined! I was an assistant to a DJ named Eric St. Claire on Northwestern University's radio station WNUR, and would pull records for him during his sets on Wednesday nights. It was he who recommended we call ourselves "Belt Buckle," which I thought was a pretty hot moniker. When my mom picked Stuart and me up from one of our rehearsals at Andrew's and asked what we were called, she laughed and said "Belt Buckle" was the stupidest name she had ever heard. Jokingly, she said, "you may as well call yourselves ‘Transmission'!" Well, we took her advice, and our first full band was born.
It was now 1991, and I was a freshman in high school. At this time, there was an after-school club at my school named Sound Exposure sponsored by an Elektra Records employee named Nan Warshaw (who now runs Bloodshot Records in Chicago). The one venue for high school bands in Evanston - Prism Gallery on Davis Street - closed that October, so Sound Exposure made most of our first gigs possible. Typically, they'd be held in a church auditorium where we'd play alongside bands like Prophets of Rage, The Dreavs, Naugahyde Nation, Dragonfly (a prog band Andrew also played in), and a slew of ultimately forgettable high school bands fumbling through songs by Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Lousy cover versions aside, it was a truly exciting time!
With Stuart as our lead-screamer, our music ran the gamut of punk, jazz-fusion, and King Crimson-inspired odd-timed Prog Rock complete with lots of feedback, gratuitous drum fills, and wailing on the sax and clarinet. We had some great live shows, but our one surviving studio recording from that year is a terribly embarrassing number called "Black and White." It basically sounded like John Tesh meets Metallica: I don't know what we were thinking.
A little better was our first release a year later: a cassette-only EP called Black Angus King Size recorded in Chicago while Stuart was away at Interlochen. On the recording was a new singer named Christian Champagne, Eli Kelly on Trumpet and vocals, Gabe Shuford on keyboards, and a horn section consisting of Jason Hunt, Jacob Croegaert, and Keith Kreuser. I think the problem was that we were really a live band and, again, this recording again sounded pretty stiff. Regardless, we were getting better, and the next year we did a few shows when Stuart would return from his freshman year at University of Michigan. Our final show was in May of 1994 at the Francis Parker school in Chicago, and that summer we recorded You're The King (named after the phrase our engineer - Scott Thomas at Gravity Studios - would say before or after we'd do a take). It was our second EP, and some of the last work we'd do together as Eric and Andrew joined Stuart in Ann Arbor, and Transmission entered a second incarnation with saxophonist Colin Stetson.
The horn section on Black Angus King Size had formed a rock group named Shag with their friend Billy Melody on vocals and, when they eventually kicked him out, I took his place; however, almost immediately, the music changed drastically. We began working with an emcee named Andrew Reece and played live hip-hop. There was a little bit of rock left in the sound, and the first recording we made in December of that year (also at Gravity Studios) included a full-on rock song which I eventually sampled to create "In Between Thoughts" on my Paint EP for Chocolate Industries. Soon, we were opening for bands like Rubberroom (two members of which later formed The Opus) in bars where we were too young to buy a drink, and we were often so high the songs' tempos were in quicksand. It was really a lot of exploration within that limited hip-hop framework, and it remained that way throughout the years that followed.
In 1996 as Transmission played avant-garde jazz in Ann Arbor and Jacob, Keith, and Jason continued on in Chicago, I began studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Having left film school behind, I dove headfirst and quite fully into music, studying Indonesian Gamelan and jazz guitar and improvisation with Anthony Braxton, who I was doubly lucky to have as both a teacher and a faculty advisor. I'd lock myself in my room and practice, or sit in the library and listen to dozens of records by experimental giants like Stockhausen, Subotnick, John Cage, and Alvin Lucier (who also taught there). I saw La Monte Young's piece "Music for Tables and Chairs" performed by Lucier's experimental music class, and was just so excited to be part of what was a very talented music community. Unfortunately, Middletown, Connecticut was quite possibly the most depressing town I've ever visited and, after dropping out a month into the spring semester and returning home, I relocated to New York to attend NYU.
It was at NYU where my interest in creating electronic music deepened. I was interning at Asphodel Records - which released music by DJ Spooky, We, The X-Ecutioners (formerly X-Men), etc. - and I was also becoming more and more entrenched in the whole contemporary electronic music scene that was going on: I was a card-carrying IDM list-member and all. My friend James Hayford and I worked on his MPC on one of my breaks from school, and I think that may have sealed the deal. So, after being so inspired from my semester abroad (Semester at Sea) and the resulting culture shock of returning to America, I bought a Yamaha SU700, which is the machine I have used to this day. While traveling in Spain with my family immediately after the program, my mom invented my moniker, Caural, just as she had named my first band. I was trying to think of a naturally occurring phenomenon or object to use as a metaphor for sampling - something that feeds off of something else but exists in a symbiotic relationship with its prey - and she thought of a coral reef. Its spelling includes "aural" for sound. Its second meaning is more abstract, but involves deconstructing the word into two parts: [C] + [Aural], which can then be [See] + [Sound]. Evoking imagery and acknowledging the lack of borders between artistic mediums is important to me; ideally, music should be seen as well as heard.
It was 1999, and I had finished my first four songs in the few months of owning a sampler: "Glow In The Dark," "Moonboots," "Blue Green Value Five," and "Pieces of a Broken Glass God." I sent them off to my friend and mentor Peter Becker [with whom I worked at Asphodel] for advice, and he played them for the NY boutique label Toshoklabs' head Nate Harrison. Nate got in touch with me about doing a 12" (I was completely blown away!), and then it snowballed into my first album, Initial Experiments in 3D. It was finished in 1999, and sadly wasn't released until summer of 2001 due to multiple album cover designs!
At the same time, I was working with a producer named Matt Siebert (aka DJ Lok), Keith, Jacob, and Jason on a debut album for a relatively new Chicago emcee named Kenny Jenkins (aka Diverse). We had finished all but a couple songs when he was introduced to Seven at Chocolate Industries. To make a long story short, all the music we had done together was scrapped along with his live show, and he went to work on a new debut album. And, it was through Matt & Kenny that I, too, hooked up with Seven and Chocolate Industries in mid-2000 to release Paint, Stars on My Ceiling and Blurred July.
My few years in Chicago following school took me through a lot of changes, the most monumental of which was losing my mother to cancer; I feel the biggest subconscious - perhaps transcendent - motivation for my move home was to be there for her and my family. Most ironically of all, the moment I decided to stay the extra year before moving back to NY was when she became sick: July of 2002. I had moved with Keith, Jacob, and Jason into an apartment which doubled as a recording studio and practice space. Almost every night, I'd be cooking in the kitchen wearing ear-plugs while a random list of emcees and musicians would run through songs in a sea of blunt smoke and beer bottles, but it was an exciting time. Unfortunately, I had no idea how serious my mother's sickness was until that December.
I had been working on some new Caural material - as well as the Boy King Islands project with my roommate Jason - but my fragile mood crept way too easily into the music. My mother passed in February, and by September of that year I was back in NY, trying to get back on my feet. I had always kept those songs separate from the ones I started working on once I was back in NY (away from the emotionally-most-difficult year of my life) and dove headfirst into a lot of remix work throughout 2004. As time passed, I grew to like that music and felt it was coherent enough as a whole. Those songs, plus three older ones ("Mouth," "Insect Headphones," and "Non Art") became the collection Remembering Today, named after the intense feelings of deja-vu I'd been having throughout my mother's sickness and my eventual move back to NY: nothing surprised me any longer and, at every new juncture, it seemed I actually remembered the present as it happened (I remembered [today]).
Since I didn't want to tout the project as a proper new album, I thought it would be fun to release it only in Japan on P-Vine while shopping my new songs around domestically. Well, when I sent Mush the new material I had been working on in 2005, they offered to license Remembering Today as well; I couldn't refuse.
Shortly after signing a two-album deal with Mush and finishing a Japanese tour through P-Vine, I began working with my then-label mate Busdriver on his live set. I was flown to LA in the beginning of 2006 and holed up at his place, sifting through audio provided to me by his producers (Paris Zax, Thavius Beck, Daedelus, Omid, etc.). Over the course of three days, I remixed his material in a way I was able to play new interpretations of it fully live, and we began our first tour together opening for Aceyalone & RJD2 at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles.
That year marked a real shift for me, as I was on the road more than ever and feeling completely scattered. Between tours and spot dates with Busdriver, I finished my next album, Mirrors for Eyes, by early summer, and toured behind it through the fall both solo and with Busdriver across America and France. Though things were better than ever for me musically, I was reaching a breaking point; For lack of a better term, perhaps it was my "Saturn's return." That winter, I decided I wanted a change and, beginning in January of 2007, I started thinking about ways to make it happen.
We hit the road with Deerhoof and the Harlem Shakes, played the Coachella Valley Music Festival, and then did a prematurely aborted tour with CocoRosie. Only two weeks later, I packed up my stuff and, after doing a sabbatical of sorts - an organic farming fellowship in Connecticut - I moved home to Chicago. Other than a couple remixes, I hadn't worked on a proper Caural track in over a year, so I devoted myself to making the most involved sound piece I've ever done, and dedicated to my touring mate and friend Regan Farquhar (aka Busdriver): "Sorry, Underground Hip-Hop Happened Ten Years Ago (for Regan)." Over that cold winter, I revisited all of my rap albums and extracted every occurence of the word "yo," then arranged the resulting 450 or so individual samples in a rhythmic context; The whole process took in excess of 3 months!
The next year, I completed two new songs, "Dragon Top" and "Sugar Cane Girlfriend," and began working on a live set with friend Keith Kreuser aka K-Kruz. It was completely improvised with him on an MPC and me on the Yamaha SU700: that's it. No loops, no computers, no smoke and mirrors. At the same time, I really started diving headfirst into what had been a side project for years: Boy King Islands. Jason and I had completed a number of songs over roughly four years, and when we started writing and mixing new material together, we wound up remixing all of the old stuff as well and paring down the album.
As an artist at this point, I am more interested in collaborating again and interested in having my music include more than just sound; ironically, as expressed through my name, this was my goal from the beginning. Finally, just over ten years later, I think I am finally understanding how to manifest that for you...