06 December 2002

(Black Journal Excerpt 4: India)

As Russian Nick would say: "off the fucking hook!" Due to some glitch- or, maybe it wasn't a glitch- I am sitting first class on the Alitalia flight from Milan to Mumbai (Bombay)! After shopping for Versace sunglasses briefly with Felix Da Housecat (whom I met in line exiting the plane), I bought a blue drink and wandered around the duty-free shops, finally settling down in the departures area. I took a bus, and now am in the lap of luxury, baby.

Starting out with a hot towel to wash our hands, we were given a nice Alitalia cosmetics bag (!) and a pair of Alitalia socks (?!). Then, I kicked up the footrest on my mofucking adjustable leather seat and drank orange juice and champagne before plugging in plush headphones and digging the sun illuminate cloud formations while sipping red wine, having a dope lunch, and looking at that fine Italian stewardess. Damn, dog!

I'm not even sure where to start... I suppose the beginning would be the place, right? Walking off the plane in Bombay, I was immediately struck with such an excitement that I felt far from tired; instead, I had this bizarre euphoria where I saw dreams and memories materializing in front of me, and the line between real and surreal was being swirled around my finger. I could touch, smell, see, and hear, but it triggered as many memories of India as it appeared as sensory information: it was a present that existed as a vehicle to strengthen itself, to strengthen my perspective on exactly what was happening around me so I could forget where I was from and exist where I am.

So many people, but as comfortable as a walk on the NYC subways, Times Square transfer. The shuttle from Port Authority, swarms of insects in tunnels, funneling through hives to destinations. But outside here, everyone was stationary except for hands waving signs, and eyes eagerly bouncing back and forth. A kind man named Mahalingam was wating just outside in the tropical midnight, amidst a sea of drivers and friends, all waiting. My flight arrived an hour late, so he had been there for a while. He shook my hand when I approached him, smiling so genuinely I could feel it, then presented me with a flowered necklace just like the ones I had worn the last time. So fragrant and light, with soft petaled balls of color I could play with and hold to my face.

I went to the car and dropped off my bag- there was a gift basket waiting for me from Shve and Mahesh with food, a small picture of a deity, and a letter detailing the next couple of days. Mahalingam brought me a Coke and allowed me to use his cell phone to phone Shvetha, who was wide awake at 1:?? AM. Then, I waited with him for Boris to arrive: a French business associate of Mr. Jaishankar's. I stood in that same sea of people, men holding hands and walking around, dogs randomly sitting around, Hindi lettering looking like abstract and holy graffiti. I smelled my flowers, but also everything floating in that thick, dark air: spices, diesel, dust, clouds of mita-pan flavors all mixing with the flowers around my neck. People stared, but not with disdain or malice or even indifference; I just stuck out, really.

We took the car to the hotel, and I met Boris, whom I immediately liked. He's 32 (actually, his birthday was yesterday!) and has a high voice with a thick French accent that cracks every once and so often. The hotel had a gate and looked like a palace, complete with chandeliers, marble, fountains, glass elevators climbing upwards to glimmering lights in a far-away ceiling, like upside-down jeweled pyramids of stars. It was 3 AM at this point, and I was nearing delirium but was too excited to lose it. I went to my room, marveled and became almost giddy, then somehow managed to fall asleep.

I awoke too early and made the horrible mistake of taking my Malaria pill without food. After my shower, I headed to the cafe where a large buffet was waiting. Almost immediately, I was overcome with nausea- nausea I tried to swallow down. I felt feverish, and this is where I became scared. I was alone for all intents and purposes, and I had no idea what was wrong. I sat and looked at a newspaper, trying my hardest to pretend I was OK, chewing a dry, powdery cake I couldn't swallow, and chasing it with thick lassi. I wasn't going to make it. A couple bites of an omelette, sips of lassi- I felt I was going to lose it right there: I had to get to my room. I told the waiter it wasn't the food- it was the pills. I realized it only after it was verbalized. I left quickly, petrified by the idea I wasn't going to reach my room in time and that I'd puke in the carpeted elevator. And everyone was just so welcoming around me, swiveling heads around and smiling- "good afternoon, sir," "hello, sir," genuinely glad to be there- and all I could think about was the "Ving" key card to room 1815, the place I'd narrowly make it to before throwing up the milky white mixture of my breakfast.

I called Mahalingam and he came to the room while I slept, looking out the window at the sea whose color was only now beginning to separate itself from a foggy gray sky. A couple of hours later, I was fine; but, as I lay in bed- sick- I was honestly scared. I thought of going home. I thought of my mother rubbing my back and softly saying, "shh, you're going to be fine. It's OK- shh."

We got in the car and went to the first item on our itinerary: a lunch at a family friend's house where all the women were being decorated with henna while sitting on couches and pillowy mats on the floor. Shvetha's was the most elaborate- covering her toes and feet, hands up to her forearms- beautiful and intricate patterns that looked almost like fractals, but organic and breathing orange and brown on her skin. Beyond the main room where the mehendi ceremony was taking place was an outdoor terrace where servants had set up the buffet of "Indian-Chinese food." Guests were everywhere: family and friends, Indian and Western. Names unfortunately went in one ear and out the other, but I remembered every face. I had a henna tattoo designed on my left palm, which I was then unable to use or move for about a half an hour. A white woman named Nancy helped me with the food, and I sat next to Shvetha who- while seated on the couch between two women (one painting henna while the other fed her)- looked as beautiful as ever.

Talking about how I met her over and over again, "I've been friends with her for four years now" was the strangest sounding thing. Four years ago when we lay together holding hands as Steven sketched her face, the waves licking the side of the boat, complete darkness beyond the florescent lights. And here she was, a day before her wedding.

I have to say- at risk of sounding strange, stupid, or both- I almost didn't like the fact there were other Americans there! Why is that? I remember on Semester at Sea feeling the same way: being someplace cool, absorbing the experience, and then having some silly white people walk in and just ruin everything. It wasn't the case here, but I definitely noticed a general disdain for Mahesh's friends from New York. Nothing specific- everyone was nice- I just didn't want to be around them. Instead, I spoke to some of the elders, and then found myself with Boris and another older colleague of Mr. Jaishankar's, Matthieu.

We went back to the hotel, and this began the period where I was able to practice my French! We headed out together, crammed into an auto-rickshaw, and headed towards Juju beach. Diesel fumes and pollution permeated the open vehicle, as did amazing sights along the way as we snaked through dense and ominous traffic, snapping photos and generally riding in what was truly a sensual experience.

The beach itself had an incredibly low tide, with hundreds leaving imprints in the soft, wet sand. Little boys with monkeys and small drums; people selling peanuts, seashells and fruit; ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds... And it seemed like the place had a different rainbow! A different spectrum of color with so many more reds, oranges, and earth tones, and- so vibrant! The pink of cotton candy the man spun on cones. And, down the beach, the theosophical seminary with the monument that read "There is no religion higher than truth."

Back on the streets, we walked along between everywhere and nowhere: a supermarket, a small indoor mall with sari shops, and up sidewalks under construction alongside schoolchildren in ties and skirts. Then, back to the auto-rickshaw and hotel- a hot bath and a rest- because later were the parties. We donned our kurta pajamas and, at first, trying them on was frightening because the pants' waist is enormous! Mahalingam eased my mind when he showed me his were the same, though. We piled in the car: three westerners in full kurta pajamas heading to a pre-wedding soiree on a terrace, under a deep, dark yellow moon that illuminated the skyline. Our driver couldn't find it, and pulled over seven or eight times to ask directions; each time he did so, he shut off the engine and was barely able to get it started again, even once having to push the car! Finally, now inside, we took an elevator up and heard the music coming from beyond a heavily flowered hallway with a Ganesha in the center.

There was a live band, servants passing out- no, not passing out... forcing you to take- hors d'oeuvres, and bartenders serving drinks. Shvetha's little cousin talked my ear off! That would just be the beginning... Shve was all dressed up and walking around, talking to all of her old relatives. She invited me to the Sangeet (another party at the hotel for her friends) and I was definitely ready to split after getting drilled by her little cousin.

Pooja, Boris, Matthieu, a dorky other cousin and I all got in the car and headed to the party. It was retro music, bhangra, Hindi pop and film music, and Shvetha's Indian model friends were all getting down! I sat next to this guy, talking about what he does in Bombay, but really I sat there to be across from a stunning girl whose name I'd learn was Gayatri. I introduced myself to the guy on her left- a dork I figured was her boyfriend. Nope! Then, I met her. Her smile... I wanted to crawl inside it. It was hard to hear her, so I moved closer in to her right.

She studied in NYC at FIT! Crazy, I thought. Throughout the night, I had my eyes on her- dancing, chatting with others. She seemed different- real sweet. I finally grabbed her hand as she sat at a table and got her dancing. When she was on her way out, I was trying to ask her a question close in her ear, and we kissed each other on each cheek. We had planned to exchange information the next day at the wedding reception. Although it's not hard to believe, I honestly looked forward to it throughout the whole next day.

The wedding was beautiful, period. It was so colorful and full of symbolism, joy, music, and smiles, and had a perfect fourth from a sine wave generator unifying the drums, horn, and ambient sounds. Prayer in the form of flowers were hung around Shve and Mahesh's necks- garlands, actually. The ceremony moved from room to room with colorful crowds dressed in kurta pajamas and saris, flashing photos like the paparazzi. The professional photographers there had case such a bright light on them it made it appear like a movie.

Once back in the main room, the bride and groom sat on a decorative stage with the priest kneeling at their side, and looked quite nervous- or at least determinedly transfixed at the floor- the entire time he spoke. It was as if she was so deep in contemplation about exactly what it was she was doing, and I was nervous for her. But, I was simultaneously just so caught up in everything, framing each moment, prayer, and movement within my lens- and the lens of my camera.

We threw flowers at them, they burned offerings to society in a fire: puffed rice and liquid. There was the idea of one becoming two, becoming a family, then the universe. We are all brothers, and I felt that within that room.

Swimming felt wonderful after a south Indian lunch and emailing my family. I just watched birds fly in and out of the small waterfall, flapping their wings and hopping around peacefully. I did laps and yoga poses, and sunned myself on the poolside then lay in the whirlpool against the jets.

I went to Boris' room for rich chocolate cake; it had been his 32nd birthday. Matthieu and I sang "bon anniversaire a toi" and it was such a nice moment, although the cake was so rich! They are such nice guys and so absolutely funny!

We went with Shravan and Manav to a pan shop to get mita-pan, and walked along a boardwalk, staring at the sea to our left and the buildings directly in front of us- a skyline very reminiscent of Chicago's. I wanted to stay in that moment. It's not necessarily that I didn't want to go home, but I wanted home to come to India. Looking around, I understood why people hated Americans- or, at least, America. I think I had understood before while on Semester at Sea, when my friends and I went out of our way to get away from westerners, but this time, I think I really got it. How loud, ethnocentric, cold, and touristy these motherfuckers are- materialistic, tactless, insensitive, and inappropriate. At that moment, I didn't want to be an American; I wanted to affect some accent and be from anywhere else.

That night was the wedding reception. I had seen them decorating the pool area earlier, but wasn't ready for what would become an absolutely beautiful scene for the party. It was a touch corny with "M"s and "S"s sculpted from ice, but a line of trees formed a pathway to the buffet and bar area from the hotel. I sat and had a Bacardi and 7Up, and chatted with a guy who lives in Dubai and works for a video game distributor...

*Note: after the ellipses there, the generator failed in the restaurant I'm sitting at in Goa right now, and I lost my train of thought. My feet are in the sand, and I'm writing by candlelight.*

So, back to the wedding reception. The next thing I know, I'm gathered among a ton of people on the grass beneath palm trees, straight chillin'! I can see the fireworks reflected in the windows of the hotel. It's so beautiful that it stops conversations around me. Then, there were speeches:

One speaker opened, "a wise man once told me a best man's speech should only be as long as the groom takes to have sex. So, thank you, and enjoy the party." Pretty funny, I thought.

*Note: the lights are back on and the music is that fucking song from the SAS video, "Return to Innocence." Blech! It's so gay! Though, I think because it was used in that video, it was given some strange credibility all of a sudden and sounds warm to me now! I kind of wish I was on a trip as long- or longer- than SAS.*

I noticed Gayatri through the crowds but we didn't get eye contact. I wasn't yet ready. I went to my room to use the bathroom after mingling a bit with some fine fucking Indian models named Naithra and Carol (who ironically were in the Cosmo mag in my room here in Goa, along with Shve and the wife of that annoying Italian fuck). It's like having Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, and whomever else at your wedding reception, no? Coming back, Gayatri couldn't have positioned herself in more of a perfect spot: sitting alone with her mother in plain view, away from the crowds. We noticed each other and I walked right over to talk with her; she was even more beautiful than I remembered. And then- of course- who comes to sit down next to me? Shvetha's little cousin! Augh! Now, I give the guy credit, OK? Real outgoing, smart, whatever, but no common sense! Here I am with a beautiful girl, and he thinks he can just sit down and bug me? Nope.

I was starving. I hadn't eaten a thing, so I told her I'd find her before she left. Of course it was one conversation after the next and, by the time I returned, she and her mother had gone! No problem, though; I got her number from Shvetha the next day.

I booked a flight to Goa at around 2 AM, and was just drinking with Boris, Matthieu, and Manav. Good sleep, good breakfast that next morning, then flew to Goa and arrived by car to the Renaissance, which was a tourist nightmare- Jesus! Overpriced as fuck, catering to westerners who think they're having an authentic experience. I hate that shit. Fuck tourists and fuck these tourist resorts! Yoga in the morning, Ayurvedic massage, western muzak in the fucking lobby.

After bringing in a third bed in the room, I swam in the ocean and the pool, and pretty much ignored Mahesh's friends. Then, it was time for a nap. I walked towards the beach afterwards and thought I was still dreaming: is that "Blue Suede Shoes"? Oh hell no- fucking medleys! And white people in their fifties dancing to a shitty live band. I couldn't stop laughing. I felt kind of bad, but not really.

My hand is cramping. I have to continue this later. I just finished Garlic and Butter Shark at Captain's Cabin on the beach.

*

Yesterday, I took off for North Goa: Baga Beach. It was a real long car ride, about one and a half hours. We listened to Goan music on cassette most of the way, and I looked out of the windows at everything from passing billboards to cows walking peacefully around. People in shacks sitting and staring out at everything, people working. I arrived in my room. A man named Ricardo and the little girl Suchi told me about (Cripa) led me up. It's a quaint room with two twin beds pushed together to make a double, a couple of windows, and a bathroom with a shower (with no door, curtain, or anything separating it from the toilet). There's no toilet paper, either- just a bucket and, luckily for me, two water spouts around ass-level.

I went to Traveland and booked my airline ticket to Chennai, then I made the mistake of believing this short little salesman when she said she just wanted to talk to me- dumb American, right? After a fairly short conversation, she started showing me all this fucking garbage and told me business was slow. Yeah- I said I came to talk, not buy a piece-of-shit sarong, thank you!

The beach was nuts and crowded. "Shacks" (bars and restaurants) lined the beach as far as you could see, as did people swimming or traversing the sands, or lying underneath umbrellas providing shade. I saw people parasailing and of course I had to try!

The boat started driving off and I ran for a second before clenching in my legs and taking off, letting out a giddy, rollercoaster-esque "eek" sound; my smile was enormous. They took me so high above the water that it was half-scary. I've found that a huge thing in traveling alone- and just living your life- is trust. You have to have trust in others but, more importantly, in yourself. I got a large, strong Kingfisher and headed down the beautiful beach as the sun fell lower and lower in the sky. I met a man named Phil who showed me a collection of ruggedly cut agate, amethyst, crystal, and carved elephants and turtles. I went for a huge piece of beautiful crystal, and he threw in two inter-connecting amethyst agates.

I walked in the tide up the entire shoreline. The stars were so bright in the sky, and I was singing and freestyling, seeing beachfront lights and hearing songs fade in and out of each other the further I went. I stopped at Cafe Oceanique, now pretty drunk after [woah! deja-vu!] getting a few more beers: King's and Kingfishers. I met Justin and Rajeeb (they just reminded me of their names as I sit here again on the next night), and talked for a while before heading up the road and finding a cool email spot. It was in the front room of a woman's house and- through a cracked door- I saw her children lying on mats. It was thirty rupees for a half-an-hour, which is less than a dollar. And to think, at the Taj, I had spent fucking 500 for an hour! Foreigners are so easily taken advantage of.

So, after buying some Ayurvedic soap and two packets of Pantene shampoo, I returned for what was unfortunately a cold shower in my hotel room. I felt so in control of everything: I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. It was all up to me- I could've gone anywhere! I could've met anyone, had any experience. My life is in my control. That may seem like a stupid comment, but one hardly realizes how much it is true sometimes. Remember those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books and how much you used to love them? Dungeons and Dragons, rolling fancy dice, meeting people, buying things, acquiring weapons and potions and fighting monsters? All of that adventure, all of those choices, they are ours to make! Each of these days, we have so many paragraphs and pages to turn to, but who knows if we are really [choosing] our own adventure? The book may already be written, but perhaps the ink isn't dry. And God gives you the pen and maybe helps your hands to move as you write; or, you just remember the way He wrote it for you, and that's deja vu: you remember that passage, that sentence, that word, the loop of that letter, the feel of the pen as it touches the page- that's the beauty of it. Remembering. Remembering the present, the future. Sometimes, it's as easy to remember as the past...

So, there I was, and I chose not to end my night quite yet. I would find this Tito's nightclub, right? Well, no... I walked around and became close, saw a sign, but I walked into Mambo's instead. It was OK- pretty silly, actually- and there were few good looking girls. I met a crew from London and talked music, drank more beer, and got shitty. Finally, I headed towards Tito's. Apparently, there had been some kind of show and it had ended, so it was dead! There was a driver who said, "oh, so you want to party?" And yes, I did. I had 250 rupees left in my pocket, and he said it was that much one way. Hell no! Like Cedrick the Entertainer said, "nigga, please!" I could've done the fucking Karate Kid kick to his face myself... I'm getting ahead of myself. I didn't know then what would happen, and I do now.

We agreed I pay him 250 there and back. We drive there for a while. He is asking where I'm from, and then if I'll take him to America and find him a job. Yeah, no fucking problem, buddy! Moron. He's babbling to me, and I just say "sure, whatever" to placate the fool. We arrived, and I saw two people leaning on a bike. I mistakenly took this as a good sign. There was music coming from the place, called "West End." Well, there was fucking no one and I mean no one there. I don't mean there were only twenty people or something, I mean NOBODY! And this DJ just kept on playing CDs. I told the driver to take me back.

I shouldn't have given him shit, really. I told him he wasted my time, and that I was disappointed. Then, he got on this whole bullshit trip about how Americans don't care and Indians will do such and such for you, whatever. And I'm just drunk, tired, and pissed that this fucker wasted my time. We get to my place, argue for a moment, then I give him 150 and jet. Fuck him.

Next day.

I told him I knew how to drive a Kinetic, of course! Ha. It must've been a bit obvious I didn't when I nearly crashed getting out of there! It was a bit scary at first- I didn't feel too safe on the thing. Soon enough, though, I was driving with someone else I had picked up: a jeweler from Jaipur. He then drove me to Vagator and tried talking to me the whole way. I couldn't hear or understand anything he was saying, but there was something about Bombay, Chicago, a girlfriend, and selling his shit. I just kinda said "uh huh" and "what," as if he could somehow clarify what he was saying the second time around, and then I pretended to understand after that. It's not like "If You Can Huh You Can Hear It"- fuck that. I know what Mos [Def] is saying, but not when you're on the back of a scooter and the person is making no sense.

When we reached Vagator, we walked our separate ways and I got a mango juice box to drink while I looked out at the ocean. Now, don't be afraid- you made it out fine... But, as you tried to do a 180 degree turn from a stationary position- carefully looking both ways- you fucked up and slammed the Kinetic through a small rock barrier on the roadside and crashed head-on into the soft, red dirt wall in front of you! Luckily, another person on a Kinetic stopped to help you push it back on the road. So embarrassing!

After that, though, you got more and more comfortable to the point where the bike became an appendage. You toured through Anjuna, had Kingfish and chips for lunch in Chapora, stopped at different cathedrals, and made it up to Mupasa to walk around a bit. Back on the road, you tried calling Shve from an STD that didn't work. Finally arrived at Anjuna beach after navigating narrow, winding roads through shacks that were so full of sand you had to push. Swimming, Ayurvedic massage and an ear-cleaning (!), people selling you necklaces, music.

Then, back on the road where you picked up another hitchhiker! You're trusting, aren't you? And this time, you rode fast comfortably, swerving through "entre chien et loup" traffic. Lights turned on in windows, on Kinetics and motorcycles, and businesses as you made your way back to Baga for what turned out to be a delicious BBQ on the beach at Cafe Oceanique. To the soundtrack of trance music, you ate pomfruit, king prawns, and chicken tandoori, drinking your signature Kingfisher strong, writing and chatting with the waiters, Justin and Rajeeb. Feet in the sand, cute dogs walking around.

After a (cold) shower, it was off to Fiesta to meet everyone whom you had left two days earlier. Ah! I remember why I left! Oh well, just not my type, you know? It was one Red Bull and rum after the next, then rum and Sprite, Latin music at Mambo's where so many of the people had returned once again. You finally headed out on your own with two English guys, one named Ash. I can't remember how I met them anymore, but it turned into a very strange experience and conversation: a drunken slap in the face by both reality and my very own hand.

We talked about America, and about Americans. All these bottled up feelings about the country started coming from my mouth, pouring out anti-American drunken banter and apologies- I said I felt guilty about being an American! I told everyone to tell me what they thought and to be totally honest, that I'd probably agree. No one had anything nice to say except about me, whom they saw as different and as a huge anomaly. I got drunker and drunker, now sitting on the patio of an emptying bar with a revolving cast of characters from the UK, Ireland, and a fuck from Palestine who started talking shit about America's involvement with Israel. I said, "well, I'm American and Jewish," to which he said, "I know- I can always tell a Jew."

I felt worse and worse about things being said. Here I am feeling guilty for being an American, and having concurrent guilt for having such a sentiment in the first place! You can only be the subject of a joke for so long until it ceases to be funny. Needless to say, I awoke with a hangover to the sound of Otilia pounding on my door saying I had to leave soon! Not having a clock- especially not having an alarm- can be a bit of a problem when you're traveling! I was OK, though. I showered and packed in plenty of time, ate across the street at a Kashmiri restaurant, and headed off to Goa's airport with a Danish woman named Lotte.

In Bangalore, I realized I had hours to kill before my plane would leave for Chennai, so I headed for the streets. Of course, before I even made it out, auto and cab drivers accosted me; this time, however, the results were wonderful! They took me to a place called Kemp Fort, and it was this 60,000 square foot mall with an amazing temple just outside a Shiva temple. As soon as I came to the door, I was greeted by everyone outside, and a pretty girl named Anita took me around. She first brought me to the temple, carrying my backpack over her shoulder; the temple was breathtaking! The sun was just beginning to set, and by the time we had walked through and looked at the gift shops, it was a beautiful twilight.

I went off to Pondicherry the next day by bus. Little did I know how absolutely imperative it was to pee before getting on it! Time passed, and I was just looking out of the "windows" (erm, no glass- just openings, actually) at all the passing colors, people, and shifting landscapes, smelling everything as my hair blew wildly in the wind. I started having the urge to pee, but tried not to think about it. Just stare at everything, I thought. Just gaze out of the window and remain amazed at how wonderful everything is around you. We got onto highway-type roads where it was green outside, crossing over bridges and around bends. Don't think about it! Think of the wedding, Goa where you came from just yesterday, anything but the now-almost-pulsing sensation in your crotch, the feel of your urethra opening up and being filled with pee ready to come out like a liquid cylinder widening and elongating before bursting open its container: your dick!

It was becoming unbearable. I considered peeing into my empty water bottle- the culprit! That would teach it a lesson, right? I uncapped it, determined whether or not I could do it by reluctantly trying to shove it up the leg of my swim trunks, moving aside the mesh. I could- technically- do it. I had a seat to myself, but just across the aisle, someone would've seen. I'm not sure I cared so much, but that was a problem. Another problem was I could've failed and shot urine down my leg and onto the bus floor where it would've slid like floodwater over the passengers' bare feet. It would've been the white guy who did it! I would've been tossed off the bus in the middle of fucking nowhere. I thought of nonchalantly peeing off the steps and holding onto the railing, but that would've sent the pee immediately to the left- either onto the faces of the incredulous passengers, or again onto my leg. Besides, what if I fell? I'd rather pee myself than die.

I told the guy next to me: I have to pee- bad! He said maybe they'd stop the bus. On a passing sign, it read 107 km to Pondicherry; there was no way in hell I would make it. I walked to the back of the bus where the conductor sat, feeling like a little boy.

"I have to pee," I said to the stern-faced man.

"?"

"Pee." Then, I pretended to hold my dick and swayed back and forth. "Real bad," I finished.

He understood then, saying I could do it in 10 minutes. OK, we'd stop in ten minutes. I went back to my seat, dejected but also in anticipation. The anticipation, however, only made it a lot worse. What I had thought was unbearable before now became almost impossible. I put my backpack on and grabbed the pole in front of me, sitting hunched over like I was in pain. Well, I was! I cursed quietly, looking out of the window and opening and closing my legs like scissors, continuing to think that any of these things would take my mind off of it. Like waking up from a nightmare and thinking about cupcakes, puppies, Disney World- anything- but having these incessant, horrible thoughts keep sliding in between. People around me started realizing what was going on, and were smiling.

Ten minutes passed, and a town came and went. The bus stopped, but hardly even long enough for the few exiting passengers to completely walk off. The bus moved on. NO! My neighbor said I could've gotten off there. Yeah, that would've done me a shitload of good: the bus would've left me and I would've been fucked! I looked back at the conductor, who then walked up to the driver and said something or other, and all I understood the driver to say was a harsh and loud resounding no! Not good. I was in pain. This was the worst I ever had to pee.

My neighbor went and tried reasoning with the driver. No. Another neighbor- one with only one functioning leg- got on his crutch and hobbled up there for me. No. I imagined the pee infecting my system then flooding my body with poisonous yellow. I didn't care anymore. I felt like going up to the driver and peeing all over him, but I didn't have the chance. The conductor went up once more and yelled this time, pointing his finger at me. The driver- as if by an act of God- nodded and, after passing over a bridge, did exactly what my body had wanted him to do for at least the last half an hour: pulled over.

I ran off and stood in front of the nearest tree as the busload of people watched me engage in one of the most satisfying pee-sessions ever in the history of mankind. It went on for what felt like five minutes: a steady, unrelenting stream that would've made anyone proud. I looked over my shoulder at the onlookers and smiled. "I wasn't kidding," I said. Afterwards, I ran on the bus and sighed. Safe!

A man rode a bike-mobile and took me to Casablanca, the clothing store Manav told me to visit to get directions. I sat and waited for him, reading through a fashion magazine. Again, I saw models from Shvetha's wedding- so funny! We met, then I headed into the French quarter and along the rocky shoreline. I had prawns for lunch at Rendez-Vous, then went to the Aurobindo Ashram and watched hundreds of bugs swarming over the samadhi (flower arrangement) around which people knelt as they touched and kissed the petaled padding and prayed. It was very peaceful. Then, it was onto the handmade paper factory, which was super-cool! I got a tour around from this guy who showed me each stage of the process: taking cotton shreds, adding liquid and stirring the resulting pulp, and pressing it into sheets, then drying, cutting, and adding anything from pieces of sugar cane, rice, flowers to it. Finally, painting the sheets marble-style with oil paint within basins full of water, and binding the beautiful paper into books.

An auto took me around Auroville, a huge, man-made forest where people lived and worked on farms. There were a lot of westerners abound on Kinetics and bicycles. Apparently, it's the only man-made forest in the world!

I got on the bus for a terribly long ride where I became tired and pretty irritated. The pollution seemed worse that night for some reason, and the fumes of the bus were awful. We stopped in what I realized was Mahabalipurim for too long while people stretched out their legs; I tried calling Shravan to tell him I wouldn't arrive anywhere near the anticipated time of 8:30- it was already 8:10. The call didn't go through. I did get through to Abe (Sunil), though.

After stops in Chennai, the bus driver asked where I was going. He seemed angry. "I'm going to the bus station," I said. He kept pointing out, and people were getting off of the bus- a lot of people. "Bus station," he repeated, pointing vigorously outside. "Go!" He was still pointing even as I started walking off, and something didn't seem right. It wasn't it! Maybe it was just around the corner and out of sight. No! What the fuck did I know, and why in the hell did he tell me to get out? A swarm of auto drivers surrounded me, and I was furious.

"Where's the bus station?" I demanded. This was the first time I had gotten mad.

"Bus station," one said, pointing to the ground.

"No, the big one! The main one!"

They talked amongst themselves, and agreed it was thirty kilometers behind me. No fucking way! Then, someone else arrived.

"Where are you trying to go?" he asked, and I immediately felt a little better because he spoke English far better than the others around him.

"The bus station- the new bus station."

"This is the bus station."

"No!" I stammered. "The brand new bus station!" I was pissed!

He then pointed in the opposite direction from the others- the direction which the bus I should've been on was headed. Great! To make a long story short, he took me there for 100 rupees (or was it 70? I can't remember now). I waited around, then phoned Shravan who came to retrieve me twenty minutes later. People stared at me like I was an alien: what was I doing there, especially alone? After a Chinese dinner with some of the hottest hot & sour soup ever with Shravan and his friend Divea, we headed home. I wanted to shower! I felt disgusting. I had a layer of darkness on me I couldn't discern: was it a tan, or was it dirt?

Time for bed, but first: put on the bug repellent. Bad plan... I woke up with what I thought was a shitload of small, red bites on my hands, shoulders, toes, ankles, and- worst of all- forehead. Here I was thinking I was attacked; that's what I told everyone the whole day, too.

After breakfast, I watched a super-bootlegged DVD copy of "The Guru." It was as bad as I thought it would be, but was also a wonderful love story. Well, not really, but I just love “love stories.” We picked up Manav- suit and all- at a hotel before heading to a cool-ass place called Movenpick's. It's a Swiss cafe and ice cream shop, and I guess they have a hotel franchise as well. The seats there were legless- but not backless- so you could sit on them cross-legged and recline comfortably. We met two girls there, one of whom caught my eye immediately: Shirley. Petite, dark skin, and a beautiful face with a perfectly imperfect smile: the one tooth slightly over another, and generally a little crooked altogether. Anruti was the other, and she was planning on going to Mumbai soon to participate in the Miss India pageant. I couldn't personally see her winning, but of course I wouldn't say so!

We ate what was called "The Big One": six fat scoops of our choice of flavors & fresh fruit. Needless to say, it was the fucking bomb. I kept looking across at Shirley's smile, wanting to steal her away from there. It's too shaky to write. I'll come back to this later!

*

So, a good thing, no? (A lot less shaky on the stationary ground). I'm sitting in Bangalore at an Indian Airlines ticketing office, about to book a flight to Mumbai tomorrow morning. We went to an eyeglasses place to get Sunil his present: a voucher for frames. Now, this guy's name is just embarrassing: Abraham Sunil Lincoln. How are you going to have a name like that? You know how much shit that guy must go through? People probably think he's kidding. I did, until I saw his driver's license clear as day: Abraham Lincoln for Christ's sake!

We got to Anjali's and her house was beautiful! The party took place on an outdoor terrace that couldn't have been a more perfect spot. We set up a mixer, 2 DVD players we used to play CDs, and 2 fat speakers. We had a bar with bartenders serving cocktails, margaritas, beer, and we lit candles to provide the dim mood lighting. We got there early because we were playing the role of the hosts. A guy who was dressed ultra-American was- you guessed it- studying in the states at USC. This guy brought his CDs and, Jesus! I wanted to vomit. Every crappy-ass gangster crap album or song he had and played, and that fucking Mystikal track, "Move Bitch! Get Out The Way!" played something like 10 times that night! Luckily, there were other songs and also different kinds of music, but mainly crappy trance and whatever else.

I was really impressed, though: before most anyone arrived, that dorky guy's brother came to bring headphones to the party, and we got to talking about gear, music, whatever. Then, the subject turned to battle djaying. I told him I saw the DMC championships, and he had heard of DJ Craze. Well, so then I say he's done work with the label I record for and, not only had he heard of Chocolate Industries, he had heard of me! It's so fascinating to me, you know? Halfway around the world, my music is getting to people. Seeing it on radio in Europe, Japan, the U.S., it makes me very proud.

I hung out with a bunch of people at the party, and met some great kids. Shirley and I talked for a while, and she loves great music! It was crazy, once again, to meet someone so far away who is into the same kind of stuff: New Order, The Cure, Joy Division, all types of shit I can't even remember. She's such a sweetie. I met a model whose name I can't remember, a guy named Arun, Imbab (something like that, anyway) and Sharmista. I'll get to her later. I was just drinking Bacardi and 7Up like a madman, did a shot of tequila with the model whose name I forgot, had a margarita with rum, and munched on snacky foods like prawns and kabobs.

[Omitted]

I left, crashed at Shravan's and spent the whole day chilling. I talked to Shirley for a couple of hours, and tried calling Sharmista a few times but kept getting a busy signal. Oh well- not meant to be. I took a night train to Bangalore after dinner at the Ispahani Center. It was interesting: chaos, except I was comfortable in it. I no longer feel like I am traveling. I feel like I'm just living- I'm living my life, and it's just somewhere else. No culture shock, no "oh my God, I'm in India!"s, none of it. Just: here I am, me, somewhere else, doing my thing, exploring- and explore I did.

I got off the train after pseudo-sleep, and got an auto driver to take me to Hotel Ramanshree for check-in. I fell asleep and had bizarre, violent dreams. First, I was with some girl who was pretty fine, but when she removed her shirt, she was seriously wounded! One breast had a major gash over the nipple, and there were holes in her body with strange scabs. She was messed up, straddling me. Next thing I know, Ryan Phillippe and some other dude want to murder me. Don't ask- a weird, weird dream.

Bangalore is a really beautiful city. It's actually clean! Clean air, green trees. I slept from 5 to 10 or so in my hotel room before heading to the travel desk. Hampi would've taken too long to get to, there was a tour somewhere else (temples and whatever) that would've taken four hours each way to reach and was too expensive anyway, so I decided to return to Mumbai the next afternoon [which is today- I am sitting in the airport right now].

I got an auto driver who was like a gift! I've forgotten his name (what else is new, right?) but he spent the next three hours with me, taking me from place to place and waiting outside for me until I was done. First, I got my plane tickets to Bombay at the Indian Airlines office. Then, he took me to a cool shop which had better quality stuff than I had seen before. It was also more expensive, but you get what you pay for, no? I wasn't planning on buying anything, but when I saw the stuff, I splurged. I got a dope turquoise ring set in an 80% silver, 20% gold band, a silk sarong for Shana, and a "black star" pendant for Alex.

He wanted to take me to another store, so whatever, I walked in then walked out. The guy was like, "please, don't you want to make a good luck purchase?" Please! Good luck for you, maybe, but I don't want your drek. Then, he took me to a great Chinese restaurant called the Rice Bowl. I had hot and sour soup again, and Kung Pao chicken- yum! Then, he took me to the botanical gardens which were so nice! The sun was beautiful as were the flowers, trees, and bird calls. There were monkeys eating ice cream cones, and I was getting followed around by this guy named Jils. I had asked a couple sitting on a bench for the time, and he was going the other way. As I passed, I noticed him turn around and start walking behind me. Okay, whatever. Then, he told me it was 2 PM, which it wasn't. He just walked along beside me. It was harmless, and the park was too beautiful and sunny to get upset about it.

Finally, I didn't care at all, and we just had small talk. He pointed out some things to me, and spoke shitty, minimal English. So, we're nearing the gate, and he says "leaving, 100 rupees," sticking out his hand. "What? Are you crazy?" I laughed. He asked a couple more times, and I said no. How stupid did he think I was? I asked him, "give me one reason I should pay you. Can you think of one?"

I returned to the hotel, changed into the red kurta pajamas, and went to the cathedral for Shve and Mahesh's blessing with an auto driver who didn't know where the place was! Finding it, I paid and got situated in the church. To be honest- and probably not very nice- it was a super-gay service! There was this live band that played Christian rock music, and we had to sing along about Jesus and whomever. There was an organist... The reception was gay, too- gay elevator music while people went and congratulated them. All in all, it was just gay!

So, I tried checking to see if there was a cricket game. Nope. Tried getting back to the hotel, and my auto driver started asking me about shopping, trying to tell me I was ripped off and that a ring like that should've only been 400 rupees. So, he took me to this shitty store where the guy showed me crappy, fake-ass rings. I was like, what? Then, my auto driver ran out of petrol on the way back! I went to another auto that tried to gank me. We pulled near my hotel, and my driver from earlier that day started yelling at him and had fists! They almost fought! He told me, "pay 10 rupees and no more." So, I did. When the guy started saying, "hey-hey!" I flipped him off and said "fuck you," smiling all the way to my room and saying hello to all the hotel workers. Soon after, I went to the thirteenth floor of Barton Center.

It was really beautiful there. You could see the bright skyline, there was pretty good music, plenty of seating and a "look-out" bar along the edge. I ordered a big Kingfisher and a tandoori mix platter that had fish, chicken, lamb, etc. When I was requesting music, this Indian cat walked up to say "turn it up!" to the DJ and request more shitty hip-hop. I noticed he had an American-sounding accent, and he asked where I was from. We got to talking and, although he seemed like a tool, he was nice. His name was Tunga. After asking what I did, he suggested I meet his friend from NYC who was in the music industry there.

I finished eating, then went and sat with them. The guy from NY- Rishi- was nice. He had worked in the industry, studied medicine, then moved to Bangalore to start a music magazine. It seemed interesting, but he kept trying to put a business slant on our whole conversation, like I should bring these artists he knows to Chicago, and I should promote his magazine, and he knows where music is going and it's going to be world music fusion. That's all possible, but I'm cool, thanks. We started talking about politics (he's Republican) and about things going on in the world. In general, a nice night. I wrote a bit, then went to an internet cafe where I checked email and looked at porn with the guys there; it was quite amusing. Then, the driver took me to this weird spot. It was some sort of illegal bar where girls danced- fully clothed in saris and what not. I took one look inside, decided it was silly, and had him take me home. In retrospect, I should've stayed just to have the experience, but at that point I was tired and didn't feel like sitting around and drinking anymore to watch some clothed girls dance around.

After a rushed complimentary breakfast, my favorite auto driver took me to the airport for my last domestic flight within India for this trip: Bangalore to Bombay. I took Indian Airlines this time around. All the stewardesses were old- twice the age of those on Jet Airways- so that was no fun. But, the food was a step-up from what it normally is, I guess, because there was some sort of cooking festival happening on the airline with some chef. The presentation, unfortunately, was the same; therefore, I think the effect of having a fancy meal was rendered moot by the plastic compartments and tin-foil coverings. In general, plastic is not a cool thing to use when serving food. It's a mild improvement from styrofoam, but really not so far off.

At the airport, I got in touch with Gayatri who was in the middle of a photo shoot, and Rishi, who told me to stay at Kemp's Corner Hotel. As luck would have it, they were completely booked! Fucking great, I thought. Here I am with all of my shit and not the faintest idea of where to stay. Well, two doors down was my savior: Hotel Shalimar. I walked in and explained my situation- and budget. I was not about to spend a ton of cash, you know? I got a great room for only 1500 a night! I was so excited. He took off 500 for me which was even a better deal, and that included breakfast, AC, cable, and a nice bed and bathroom. The room was small, but an absolutely perfect size for one person, and had the TV at the foot of the bed.

I got situated and wrote a long email to my family- the 2nd one on this trip. Writing stories down helped me to remember, just like this is helping me to remember. The AC was up so much in their "business center" that my fingers were stiffening up! I took a cab to Minerva Theater and, for sixty rupees, purchased balcony seats to "Paradesi-Re." I walked around the area near the theater, and saw how exciting Bombay is! It's quite hustle and bustle, and so colorful and noisy- lo-fi, almost. The buildings look almost abandoned but occupied by squatters, or, like re-animated ghost towns, inhabited by dirty rainbows. And the sounds! Horns of all different pitches creating a constant melodic hum, bicycle bells and voices: all in stereo, all loud. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes are all turned past 10: Spinal Tap 11 on the Marshall stack of your nervous system. I wanted to swim through it all. It made me so numb. I was this passive observer amidst the movement, almost invisible. Except, I was far from invisible: I was neon against pitch-black. Eyes followed me everywhere, hellos, smiles... Sometimes, I wished I was invisible; everyone ogles a foreigner. So, I was just getting washed to the shore of this sea of eyes over and over again, waves constant and getting bigger and bigger: mob waves, school children waves, street kid waves, men on the street waves, fruit and pan and flower vendor waves. I felt I'd crash- lose my breath as I got swept out in the tide- but then I'd come back to the present because a cab would ominously shoot by with an all-too-late warning from its horn, drowning like me in the ocean of street.

Then, I'd shift my attention upwards to people in the windows partially hiding behind drying clothes, vanishing momentarily from view as the Hindi-marked double-decker buses drove past with a low honk, then higher honks in reaction, like a soundtrack to a cartoon. All smiles, but so dangerous. I thought of- damn, I can't remember her name now- Lorraine Andrews? No. Loretta? I may be thinking of [Coretta] Scott King. Elinor? Damnit! My eyes are burning with fatigue as I write this. Maybe it was Loretta. Regardless, the SAS librarian who was killed by a vehicle in Chennai. She was just like me: lost in senses, but maybe not paying close attention in the wrong place at the wrong time, standing in an unlucky shadow. Loretta Andrews? Shit, I mean, I can even see her face, especially in the picture where she sat next to me in Vietnam, days before it happened. I was eating dragonfruit and smiling, and she was just looking in a direction off in space. Maybe she was talking to someone. I hope so... I hope her last days were wonderful.

I made it back to the theater, then got some snacks across the street. The movie, well, it sucked! The main actor was really unattractive, and had the worst pair of eyebrows I'd ever seen: he had enough hair for three! And, the sad thing was they were sculpted. I almost thought, why bother? It's like trimming a few leaves off a forest. And meanwhile, these girls fell in love with his sorry ass, and one of them was totally fine! It could've been some sort of pity case because of his brows. Like a huge-ass monobrow with a reverse mohawk; a bad charcoal drawing smudge-job. He was also not too good of a singer, bordering precariously on plain bad. And the story? Yuck. Shit story, and totally unbelievable- not to mention corny.

Exiting the theater, loud drums punctuated movement outside- wild rhythms, fast-paced and full of energy. I walked down the stairs into the chaos, drawing closer and closer to them. Then, suddenly, it stopped. Was it over? Cabs whizzed by, and I weaved through the tapestry of people sleeping, walking, standing, just being. It started again. Louder. I was closer. Through an entry way, I saw a small commotion, and the drums were coming from inside. It was a wedding celebration, kind of like a sangeet someone later told me. The walls around the dancers were full of observers: one one side, four or five stories of boarding school students- all boys- looking out from their balconies. On another two sides, people watching from glowing, colorful rooms of apartment buildings, at least two or three to a room except for one woman who stood alone. And then the temple, inside of which I could see flowers and gods positioned. The music was frantic, and women sat or stood in saris. If they weren't dancing, friends tried pulling them into the circle.

I approached a group of boys from the school who explained what was going on and, seconds later, two of them joined me out on the street, asking where I was going. Only 15 feet away on the corner, there was a huge mob scene with 30 or more people, and I remembered what France had told me about those: stay away! Cops eventually came and broke it up, and I returned to my hotel just in time for: “Back to the Future”! I hadn't seen it in so long but, to be honest, I was pretty tired. It was 10 PM, and I didn't feel like going to a club or anything. It was just perfect relaxing on my bed, watching Marty help his parents fall in love. I got room service (mediocre grilled BBQ chicken) and fell asleep shortly after the movie.

What am I going to do today, I thought as I lay in bed the next morning. After breakfast, I decided: anything. I just started walking, and kept thinking about those buses and where they were going. Where would I end up if I happened to hop on one of them? I did... Three rupees out of my pocket and now the buildings and things outside were passing me by. Almost too soon, it was the end of the line. I had seen the beach and palm trees from my window, so I set out in search for that. I had no idea where I was going; I just wanted to find something.

I quickly realized there wasn't a logical way to get to the shore. There were all these manned gates of what seemed like condos. When I walked through some of them, I thought nothing of it because people stared at me even when I wasn't doing something wrong, so now that I was wrong, it didn't matter. No one understood what I was saying. I told them I wanted to go to the beach. People would point in the same general direction, but what they were saying didn't quite click. I just kept trying until, finally, one of my right turns led me not to nice condos, but to a slum. Now we're getting somewhere!

I walked up the narrow street amidst naked children, filth and insect swarms, blue tarps, people cooking and sitting in dirt, incense smoke mingling with shit. And that scared/excited energy underneath my stoic "I know where I'm going" exterior made me crack a smile. A crowd to my left, some children, some teens, smiling. Here come the hellos.

"I'm trying to get to the beach," I laughed. One of them smiled and pointed behind him, and behind him was someone's home. Um, OK... I walked up the steps, and then through a back-alley maze of hallways between rooms, separating households. Roosters, cats, and small women emerged from behind cloth doors. At the same time I felt I was violating the space, I felt safe: that invisible but neon feeling I had on the streets the day before. Swimming. Soon enough, I saw waves crashing, but not on sand: on rocks and, further on in the distance, trash. Rainbow piles encircled by flies. I walked on. Navigating the rocks was difficult, but not impossible. It was mainly lots of smaller broken shards, and some larger boulders jutting out into the wavebreak. I saw a small child playing, and a man fishing, calmly holding the line out into the dark, murky water - then, a man squatting above a yellow-brown pool, naked from the waist down. Smells suddenly got a lot worse before becoming nothing short of disgusting, and I realized what this so-called "beach" actually was: a public (too-public, actually) restroom! Then, I was stepping over piles of shit which hardly looked human and holding my breath. I had to get back to the main road!

And then I had reached the dump. It was a mountain of old trash covered in small flies. Beyond the heap, two small boys were emerging from what would be my exit. They were saying something to me I couldn't understand. I was overwhelmed by garbage of every color. I got back towards a road, and found a huge public bath. It was surrounded on all sides by steps where people prayed around small fires and pictures of gods. I was in a place called Banganga. I met someone as I stood at a bus stop who told me to see the hanging gardens after I told them I had no idea where it was that I was going. I bussed over there, and started walking around on paths winding around bushes pruned to look like animals, and plants. I heard a bunch of people laughing behind me.

"Which country," one of them asked.

"France," I said.

"How do you like India?"

"Ici, c'est tres bien. Tu parles francais?"

They had these phony "I think you're funny" smiles- 2 girls, and 2 guys.

"What's your name?"

"Francois," I said. Fuck off.

"Hello there, handsome" said another voice as I walked on. It was different, though; it seemed sincere at that moment. His name was Ashok, and we walked around the gardens together, then went to the park. We boarded the bus and went to a museum where he found it necessary to point out everything to me and even fucking read- with poor pronunciation- the placards adjacent to the pieces. I half-listened to him, and to the audio guide in my headphones.

Lunch at a cafe was necessary. I was starving and also totally ready to get the hell out of that museum- did he think he was my guide? Yes, he did... Lunch was good. We talked about different things, but a main topic was women. How I always get bored and want what I don't have. I told him a little about Alex, and showed him the picture I kept in my wallet. Anyway, the strange thing was that I really missed her at that moment. It's not that I hadn't missed her prior to it, but it was then that I really realized it. Being halfway around the world does things to you: it helps you forget your life, but you- everything you are- comes randomly in spurts of memory that appear almost as hallucinations. I don't know if it was because I was tired so much, or drunk, or spaced out, but I'd get these elaborate hallucinations of my family and friends, of my room, my existence at home. It was so separate from what I was experiencing now. Eleven and a half hours, but lifetimes away, like remembering a past life, an old name, who everyone was to you. And I was sitting there and feeling home, but in an abstract sense since I knew when I'd return, it would change. It always does. So, I felt home the way it was before I left.

We went to Sehangir Art Gallery, bought tickets to another Hindi movie called “Makree,” then got some chai at a cafe. The movie was really cute. It was about a young girl with a twin sister, and a demon who turns the girl and everyone else who enters her house- into an animal. Choonie and Moonie were their names, and Moonie was turned into a chicken.

I took a cab with Ashok back to the hotel after stopping in an internet cafe, and it was then that I realized what was happening. This is what he did! He didn't have a fucking government job. Oh, maybe he did. He didn't have an Australian girlfriend, but maybe he did. At that point, I no longer trusted him and wanted him to get out of my cab. The nerve! Cause, when he got into the cab, I asked "you're coming?" and he said he was a good guide. Aha! He said he did this all over India. Then, his pathetic attempt to read the museum placards and improvise stupid little comments made sense!

I paid for the cab and stepped out, telling him he had deceived me. He said, "a little for me?" and stuck out his hand. In actuality, he had been a great guide. I gave him 140 (3 bucks- a little less), and that was more than enough compared to the zero I wanted to give him.

I showered, called Rishi (who didn't come to Bombay after all) and Gayatri (who was still on her shoot), then called Shve. I was debating on whether or not to go out. After talking to her and thinking this is my last full night in Mumbai, I jetted. I ate at a great place called the Chinese Room, then went to try out a club I had been told to go to: Fire and Ice. The cab let me out and it seemed wrong. There was a bridge above, and a long alley-like street. Well, just walk down the street, right? I eventually found it and paid 600 rupees- 200 for admission, and 400 for drink tickets. Well, when I walked in, it was empty. Lame hip-hop with an empty dance floor. I got a Bacardi and 7Up- my drink of choice here when I wasn't drinking beer, and headed to the balcony where couples were making out all around me. I did dance briefly, but the music was corny and totally turned me off. Drunk, back at the hotel, I flipped through channels for fashion TV which, besides a crap movie about a vampire frat, was the only good thing on.

My last day in India was relaxed. I went to Chowpatty beach after breakfast and was surrounded by one mob after the next as I sunbathed and talked to a Brazilian/Japanese girl who was alone in Mumbai. I told her about Goa and wrote down all the info that had been given to me; things had come full-circle. After feeling sufficiently cooked, I had lunch at Cream Circle with a dessert of delicious four-flavored kulfi (ice-cream made from bull's milk). I then found a theater where I watched "The Guru" in Hindi. I wondered how much of it had been censored, or how the wording had been changed. I went to a cyber cafe, cabbed back to the hotel to clean up and pack, had a farewell dinner once again at the Chinese Room, then cabbed it to the airport.

It was sad, you know? Just as home had appeared in vivid memories to me throughout the trip, I realized India was becoming a memory as well- all these different moments and people. I looked around and said "see you next time" to everything around me, feeling melancholy. I didn't want to return quite yet. But now, after sleeping through nearly the entire flight from Mumbai to Milan where I luckily had the center 3-seat row all to myself, I am looking forward to it. I'm tired, a bit tipsy off of champagne and white wine, flying home. There's 5,572 KM to the destination and the in-flight movies will begin shortly.

Time to destination: 7 hours, 17 minutes; estimated arrival time: 1:04 PM. OK, so that's 12:34 AM for me- a time on the clock which holds a strange and unspoken significance for me. I can't wait to put everything together- the photos, the scrapbook. When I share these experiences - though they will be behind me- they will truly be a part of me: a part I thank God for every day.

21 November 2002

(Black Journal Excerpt 3 - "A Wish Before Sleep")

I feel so beautiful and lucky, like one of those times where I'm not writing but reading the words appear on the empty page... Where I'm not living, but observing actions of my body while I exist passively within it, smiling. Where my life is much too perfect, and I want to give my luck to anyone and everyone else so they can be as happy as I am. It's the kind of mood you want to be in when you die, because you feel ready; I honestly do. Not because I wish death upon myself- I'm fucking ecstatic- but because I am just so happy that I think even death couldn't bring me down.

Everything is perfect, and I feel that when I step on the plane tomorrow- or today- it's like I may never come back; you never do. Home always changes to encompass your changes, this constantly evolving space that emotes warmth and an undying love: a nostalgia for a time that keeps happening, a nostalgia for now. I want to scream that this is what life's about. I want to call everyone I know and thank them. I want to hug and hold the photograph that is this moment, and trace my fingertips over each shape within it. Kiss it. Fall into it again. Fall into this moment and watch it smile, welcoming me in.

I want to call Alex and wake her, even talk to her as she sleeps. Tell her I'll miss her again. See her rub her nose, moan, flap my comforter five times before she goes to sleep again and I stay awake, staring at her face as I wish for dreams.

God, thank you for this moment. Thank you for all these moments. This is all just one long moment, isn't it...

28 September 2002

(Black Journal Excerpt 2 - "Heartache for Nothing Gone Wrong")

I think the best thing to come out of all this is that I'm noticing patterns I fall into over and over again in my life, patterns that inevitably lead to a regeneration of the same exact experience, like falling into a fractal and seeing the same exploding shape all around you, and letting that shape dictate your feelings the same way it did before- before, when you thought exactly what you're thinking now and for no better reason other than your lack of confidence, your general mistrust of other human beings, and your overwhelming paranoia of being hurt and- on the flip side- not being able to love again. Because, as soon as the slightest movement, moment, or idiosyncratic action unbeknownst to its doer occurs, you feel wrongfully psychic and see whatever inconsequential action on that person's part as a grand sign that they don't feel the same way about you any longer. If someone gets in a bad mood around you, you think it's your fault. You have delusions which you let take control, and they ultimately force you into a false state of "knowing" you can't shake them: those tingly, guilty, anxious feelings of being alone after rejection, where you're subsequently jealous of anyone else having whatever it is you experienced in that beautiful- but transient- moment with that person. You are almost jealous of the ghost of yourself that stays with her after the universe splits- after "goodbye." So you call, or write, or sulk and don't say shit to anyone because rational thought is buried in the irrational: pure emotion. Pure but unexplainable heartache for nothing gone wrong, at a smile you didn't believe, at a mood you couldn't comprehend... At someone you are starting to fall for that you feel will let you down- that you haven't even allowed to try.

Go to sleep. It'll go away in the morning.

12 September 2002

[DISCOGRAPHY] Urban Renewal Program


Urban Renewal Program (Chocolate Industries, 2002)
CHLT027
(P-Vine, 2002)
PCD-23254 (Japan)
(Ninja Tune, 2002)
Format: 3LP & CD

[Caural] - "Interlude"
[Caural] - "Our Solstice Walk"

Miho Hatori - Night Light

Notes: This is still a mystery to me... Miho's manager provided me with Pro Tools data files of her vocals for the track that Prefuse 73 originally produced, and I was supposed to remix it for a 12". The vocals sounded pretty off to say the least; I figured that Scott sped them up and pitch-corrected the shit out of them, so I didn't think much of it. Well, when Miho heard it, she said I slowed her vocals down! So, I think something got fucked up with the audio driver I downloaded for Pro Tools Free, thus the remix was done at the wrong speed without the original to use as a reference! Confusingly, my version replaced Prefuse 73's when it went to press and was left uncredited; it appears on the Japanese version miscredited as Prefuse 73; and finally, it is correctly reflected and appears on Chocolate Industries' vinyl version of the compilation. Otherwise, Prefuse 73's original mix is used.

09 August 2002

Dusted Magazine - Caural's Recent Ten

http://www.dustedmagazine.com/features/

August 9th, 2002


Zachary Mastoon, a.k.a. Caural, reportedly grew up influenced by the old school pleasures of hip hop. This one-man mixing wonder showcases his talent with a plethora of sampled sounds and a talent for handling many other additional instruments. Unlike most sample and turntable gurus, Caural’s pieces are more premeditated songs than chance adventures of where the needle drops next. Comparable to genre-ambiguous artists like Fourtet, Tommy Guerrero and req, Caural stems from his hip hop framework into the undefined realm of electronic sound. His latest album, Stars on my Ceiling is now out on Chocolate Industries

- Nate Howe


Caural’s Recent Ten (in no particular order):


1. Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein (Def Jux)
Def Jux on a whole is putting out some of my favorite hip-hop today, but this album is an absolute gem- one of the best in the last five years. "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again/Get on the mic & die again/This the next lifetime & you wanna battle/Either you like reincarnation or the smell of carnations."

2. Minor Threat - Complete Discography (Dischord)
There is so much energy in this music that it makes me cringe. I had Out of Step & the skinhead cover on cassette in junior high, and played them until they disintegrated… I don’t think a digital format can melt- we’ll see.

3. Boards of Canada – Twoism (Music 70)
No, I don’t have a legit copy of this… But, the way the mp3 compression and what sounds like digital hiccups meld with BOC’s beautiful synth pads and crunchy breaks makes my CD-R a straight-up classic, thank you!

4. Do Make Say Think – Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead (Constellation)
My friend Ben put the title track "Goodbye Enemy Airship" on a mix cd for me and I listened to it on repeat one day for hours. This record is incredibly dynamic with cliffs of sound and emotion- and they recorded it in their keyboardist’s grandparents’ barn in Ontario! You can hear crickets in some of the quieter moments…

5. Vladislav Delay – Entain (Mille Plateaux)
Quickly becoming one of my favorite ambient albums alongside Datacide’s Flowerhead & Aphex Twin’s SAW II, I listen to this album entirely too much… Maybe that’s why I’m such a space cadet. This album breathes: repetition is buried in a constantly changing & exciting soundscape that makes me return to it again and again.

6. White Stripes - White Blood Cells (V2)
Yeah, so what? I like the White Stripes. I like the Strokes’ album too, so fuck you!

7. Depeche Mode – Music for the Masses (Warner Bros.)
Seven (@ Chocolate Industries) left this cassette in my car a few weeks ago and I remembered how much I love these guys. I drive around and feel like a teeny-bopper harmonizing with David Gahan on "Never Let Me Down Again" in my faux English accent.

8. Slowdive – Souvlaki (Creation)
These guys sound like My Bloody Valentine on heroin. I love almost all of Creation’s output, but this album- along with MBV’s Loveless- are my favorites.

9. SND – Tender Love (Mille Plateaux)
Okay- remember Fraggle Rock & how the Fraggles worked in the little crystal factory? SND sounds like a session in there- on these crystal & miniature instruments, with hammer clicks and hypnotic melodies. It’s so crisp and clean it’s almost frosted over. I also don’t think these guys realize how hip-hop they are.

10. Nuno Canavarro – Plux Quba (Moikai Re-Issue)
My family was robbed in Lisbon when I was little. They stole my Snoopy suitcase full of toys and stuffed animals out of our rental car; I actually yelled at a girl in SoHo who was walking around with the same suitcase. Anyway, Portugal has made it up to me on this record, giving me music that sometimes sounds like it was my stuffed animals themselves, playing with tape loops and electronics.

Chicago Reader - Post No Bills - An Ocean of Samples by Peter Margasak



Chicago Reader (August 9th, 2002)

Post No Bills

An Ocean of Samples


In the mid-90’s, when it came time to leave his native Evanston in pursuit of higher education, Zachary Mastoon bounced from Columbia College, where he took some film courses, to Oakton Community College, where he studied liberal arts, to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he studied music for a little more than a semester. Not until the fall of 1997, when he enrolled at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, was he able to address all of his interests, designing a curriculum that encompassed “music, creative writing, painting, reading and writing, the humanities. I really focused on making things,” he says. Now 24, Mastoon’s largely focused on music, but his aesthetic and methodology are still soup-to-nuts. Over the past couple years, under the name Caural, he’s constructed a series of outstanding records entirely from samples, drawing in bits of funk, hip-hop, jazz, gamelan music, rock, punk, industrial, and anything else that strays into earshot.

Mastoon’s uncle gave him a drum set for his third birthday, but by age six, infatuated with “heavy metal rock stars” on MTV, he’d picked up guitar, and spent most of the next decade taking private lessons and jamming with friends from school. By 12, inspired by the likes of King Crimson and Primus, he’d started his first band, Transmission, with reedist Stuart Bogie- now a member of the Brooklyn Afrobeat band Antibalas- and bassist Eric Perney, who plays on Tom Waits’ new album Alice. Mastoon continued with the group until his junior year of high school, when the other members all left for college. He hooked up with another group of schoolmates, a funk-rock band called Shag, which for the next five years gigged during holes in the members’ college schedules. In 1997 they became the de facto backing band for Evanston rapper Diverse (aka Kenny Jenkins), whose forthcoming single for the local Chocolate Industries label is a collaboration with Brooklyn rapper-actor Mos Def, but never released a recording of their own.

In the spring of 1999, frustrated with the collaborative process, Mastoon bought his first sampler, a Yamaha SU-700. “I wanted to be in control of every single minute of music,” he says. “I wanted to be able to do things that nobody could do live, like stop time and sculpt each moment. I wanted to extract myself [from Shag] and make something completely different.” He threw himself into this new project (last year the New York indie Toshoklabs released a collection of early tracks as Initial Experiments in 3-D) and with the help of his mother came up with the name Caural, pronounced like coral. “It’s something that feeds off of other things but that gives them life at the same time; a symbiotic relationship, which is how I see sampling. It’s me taking all these tiny little organisms or sounds and putting them into a new casing and recontextualizing them and giving them a different sort of life. I don’t see it as plagiarism or stripping it away from something in a negative way, but as a rebirth, or a different way of looking at things.””

The two records he’s released on Chocolate Industries over the past year- 2001’s four-song EP Paint and the recent album Stars on My Ceiling- find him coming into his own. He’s a regular presence at the Evanston and Wilmette Public Libraries, where he frequently checks out ten randomly-selected CDs at a time and spends the day listening for potential raw material. He also draws from years of home recordings made with his various bands- in fact, “Inbetweene Thoughts,” the first song on Paint, is a radical remix of an early Shag tune. Elsewhere, the instrumental music meticulously layers loose, funky breakbeats, alternately tight and spacious bass lines, and a kaliedoscopic array of melodic and coloristic details, including jazzy keyboards, assorted guitar licks, hand claps, vinyl surface noise, dramatic timpani rolls, plucked piano strings, and spacey synthesizer. His approach might sound similar to DJ Shadow’s, but the results aren’t. Where Shadow crafts cinematic, slow-building sample symphonies, Caural goes for tighter constructions that can almost qualify as pop songs.

Caural is currently working on new material; the EP due out in November features a guest spot by Diverse and a remix by hot Warp Records producer Prefuse 73, and for his next album he hopes to incorporate several MCs and singers. “I want to start melding worlds, the one I came from- live instruments and improvisation- and the world I’ve been living in for the past couple of years, which is complete control. I want there to be more mistakes in the music and I want it to breathe more,” he says.

Caural will DJ, spinning records and mixing in samples, on Thursday, August 15, at Smart Bar as part of the Wobblyhead Sound System (he has a split single comng out on the Milwaukee-based Wobblyhead label in the fall); Def Harmonic and the Turing Test also perform.

-Peter Margasak

01 August 2002

UR Chicago - Revolutions - Caural by Tim Pratt



UR Chicago (August, 2002)

Revolutions: Caural


A wise woman from En Vogue once said, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.” Listening to the Chicago-based electronic artist Caural, a better piece of advice might be: “Free your ass and your mind will follow.”

Born Zachary Mastoon, the 24 year-old is drawing interest of late with his chopped-up melodic mirth, combining clip-clopping, hip-hop style beats with strings, clunky percussion, scratchy vinyl pops and calculated atmospheric arrangements. On his new Caural album, Stars On My Ceiling, crisp, meditative vibes emerge from the cloudy haze of music, providing the listener with a sound that comes off as both minimal and dense.

Even if it’s not the same school, Caural is part of the next wave of artists following in the footsteps of DJ Shadow, relying on the sampler as their musical tool. Both Stars and his 2001 release Pain EP set a mood while weaving a story of aural pleasure. Elegant keyboards and moody strings cascade around environmental sample shards that sounds as much analog as digital, with loops of old jazz piano breakdowns intermingled with acoustic guitars (some with a breezy Latin feel) and the occasional vocal stab. Off-kilter instrument samples are wound through the mix, while other samples are reversed, time-stretched or otherwise digitally altered.

It’s not quite hip-hop, yet it contains elements of hip-hop; it’s not quite avant-garde, yet you ain’t gonna find Caural’s music lumped in with pop radio or nu-metal. Call it the new new jazz; the art of taking tiny elements of your musical experience and incorporating that into the sounds you’re hearing in your head to create something wholly new. Or you can simply call it music.

“It’s a mixture of what comes through me as ideas or feelings, and my conscious editing of things I am either trying to escape or improve, either in my music or in the sounds all around me,” Mastoon says. “I’ll hear a record and, more often than not, say ‘Well, what if this happened?’ I’m constantly reacting in that way, taking what I feel are the best ideas from whatever I hear and extrapolating them to what I feel is their logical extreme. I want to give the listener something beautiful, but fuck it up just enough to make them think about where it fits into their world, or how they fit into the world around them.”

It’s obvious that Mastoon is all about the jazz, man, the vibe: finger-snapping goodness, emphasizing dark, shadowy corners and eerie, trippy moods contrasted with perky melody and glistening strings. “My biggest influences are Anthony Braxton (with whom he studied jazz guitar and improvisation), Miles Davis, and John Cage,” Mastoon says. “Miles maintained his unique voice as an artist while continually redefining the face of jazz, and music in general, and was just an incredible band leader. And Cage unifies what have become modern-day aesthetics of hip-hop, musique concrete and sound art, spirituality and non-being in art, erasing any boundaries between art and life, and even those between the mediums used to create it.”

Mastoon says he became interested in recording at an early age, exploring the barriers of sound at age 3 with a plinky Casio keyboard and “sparkly blue” drumset. By six years old, Mastoon was learning how to strum a guitar, and later began messing around with recording stuff in his basement with close friend Stuart Bogie (who now plays saxophone with the band Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, signed to Ninja Tune Records).

He and Bogie began making recordings of their pseudo rap songs and eventually their musical tinkering evolved into a full-blown band, Transmission (still in existence today, in San Francisco). Mastoon says he played in a few other bands after his initial splash, but for him, it was never quite enough. “I wanted to be able to stop time and make every moment as perfect as it could be. I’d want to fuck something up or use a passage from an instrument that wasn’t around any of us.

“More importantly, I started getting into a lot of textures – amp noise, dust on a record, outside ambience, talking, water sounds, whatever,” he continues. “That became paramount to my musical experience and gave me the motivation to make music on my own. Composing and production is a whole other world from performance and it’s a world in which I have always been most comfortable.”

The artist says his mother came up with the name Caural after he found himself thinking of “something that fed off of other things but simultaneously gave them life (what sampling, in and of itself, does) and she came up with a coral reef. It’s a form of life that provides a home for organisms and feeds off of them in a symbiotic relationship. The spelling includes “aural” for sound.

In the near future, Mastoon says he’s working on the idea of performing live on a more regular basis and looking for other projects to fulfill his multitude of ideas, including composing music for a film, which seems perfectly suited to Caural’s impressionistic soundscapes. “I just scored a 9-minute short film and loved it,” he says. “I’d love to do sound installation and perhaps work with a visual artist. I have been collaborating with other musicians again and I just want to challenge myself. If I put out the same record over and over again, I’ve failed.”

- Tim Pratt

21 July 2002

(Black Journal Excerpt 1: "DUI?")

We are in a huge shift right now. It's strange because I am- and have been- so happy despite the silly little remarks in this very book about either wanting to be in love or not knowing what I am doing with myself, blah blah blah. What I've ignored for so long is this progression each of us is part of and has ignored for, well, as long as it's been going on, however long that's been. On the reservation, something I had half-ridiculed- but only because I was upset people accepted it with arms so open they would have (and did) believe it involved "star people" and fat cult rejects named Karen- I find to be true, at least symbolically.


But, isn't that what beliefs do? They react to symbols of what's really going on. Stories, religious texts, prophets, poets, griots, psychics... Television personalities exposing media explosions... "Magical things happening in this world" is what Laetitia Sadier just sang on Stereolab's "Peng." There is something happening- magical or incredible or not- and it's starting to become more and more opaque. The coming of the fifth world is what Karen had said. Who knows about that terminology. Some think it would be the end of the world; well, they thought it would be, you know, with Nostradamus and all these Enquirer/Star/World News reporters screaming in bold black and white that armageddon was upon us. I don't think it's a literal destruction. There aren't huge waves from the oceans, fire from the skies, widespread panic and looting, death clouds, locusts, meteors, and aliens. No- not yet, anyway. It's beginning in small ways- not the end, but the beginning. Maybe the beginning of what it was supposed to be like all along: a life and existence where things matter, where there isn't all the bullshit that makes life difficult in the first place. It's the shift into the beginning.


I was given a warning on Monday. Not of any of this, but just to pay attention. Maybe to better prepare me for the shift- prepare capital Me for the shift. I've been drinking a lot (too much) lately. Well, Monday, I met a friend out for drinks, then decided to round the corner to see who else was around. I saw Chad, his graveyard-shift-working cousin Ian, Abby, and some other dude I didn't know. We went to the Mark. I've been there and gotten ultra-faded before, sure, but as I sat doing shots of Jaegermeister, I became incoherent very quickly. I had already drank two 25 oz oil cans of Foster's and 3 Absolut Mandarin on the rocks.


So, all I really remember is tearing off the stickers on the condom machine and sticking one on the paper towel dispenser, one on the door, and one on the mirror; and finally, I remember seeing that mediocre-looking red head Erica (the girl who waitressed at the Keg). In fact, those were probably the last pair of eyes I met before I left and became completely unaware of what the fuck I was doing. Now, what I've been able to piece together is: I got into my car parked in a lot two blocks away, unrolled the windows, turned on the stereo, started the car, and actually drove. I didn't make it far; I made it three blocks- to Mulford and Western- where I somehow managed to pull over, vomit out of the car window (I vaguely remember that, actually!) and fall dead asleep at the wheel with the lights on, windows down, a cassette blasting and- best of all- the engine running. OK, so that's what I managed to put together for myself, you know, just from judging that when a policeman approached my car and I gave him my license, all of those things were evident.


I don't even know what time that was. Next, cops are just standing outside of my car. One of them turns the ignition off for me (thanks!), and it becomes light outside. I'm basically just trying to sleep; I was just so absolutely hammered that I don't even think I cared. They talked like cops do (can you blame them, though?) and my parents came to pick me up. One of the cops had gone and rang my doorbell at around 5:30.


I got home and puked again, and slept the entire day. There was a fellow from New Zealand over for dinner, but that's all that really happened that day for me besides sleep.


"So Zak, did you get a D.U.I?"


"Nope," I say, completely amazed.


So, God was obviously looking out for me. And, when I went to Moody's Pub for Keith's birthday, what did I drink? Ginger Ale, motherfucker!

10 July 2002

Stars On My Ceiling Release Party/Wobbly Showcase

For those of you in Chicago, here’s a little plug for my record
 release party next Thursday, July 18th.

Caural’s “Stars On My Ceiling” Record Release Party

July 18th, 2002 @ Danny’s

1915 W Dickens (at Damen)
[21+]
9PM- 2AM 773.489.6457
no cover charge!

Caural (chocolate industries, toshoklabs)

DJ Warp (people of rhythm records, abstract soundsessions)

DJ Striz (illmeasures crew, groove distribution)

James Hayford (groove distribution)

Graphical soundclash slide show by Struggle Inc.

I will be playing brand new tracks from the album and tracks that will 
appear on future releases… Danny's is a cozy place and should be a 
perfect spot for a fun evening with yours truly and other great music
makers. Be prepared for some downtempo, hip-hop, & experimental type
 styles-- and good drinks!! I hope to see you there.

Stars On My Ceiling, as well as my Paint EP are available at local
 record shops and online at:

www.amazon.com

www.cdnow.com

www.othermusic.com

www.turntablelab.com

www.ab-cd.com

www.forcedexposure.com

…and other fine establishments

Also: soon there'll be a Wobblyhead showcase at Smartbar. I will be
doing a live PA there as well, alongside some great new artists on
this up & coming Milwaukee label:

Thursday August 15, 2002
The Wobblyhead Soundsystem.
Def Harmonic (Live)

The Turing Test (Live)

Caural (Live) Chocolate Industries

DJ Old Man Malcolm

One F
Ticket: $6.00
Age: 21+
Doors: 10:00 Show: 10:00

Visit Wobblyhead @ www.wobblyhead.com

15 June 2002

Caural Newsletter #2

Paint EP’s “Clear Vinyl” backing old-school skater Rodney Mullen!

I am excited to say that the closing track of my Paint EP, “Clear
 Vinyl,” was used in On Video’s Winter 2002 skate video. The video
 features many new and old skaters including Rodney Mullen, whose 
influence more or less created freestyle street skating as we know it 
today… I was more comfortable providing a soundtrack for footage of
him than I was skinning knees and elbows like I used to do back in the
 day. For you skate fans, this video can be picked up in skate shops
 everywhere… I’d recommend Push Skateboards (40 E Chicago Ave, right 
near the red line: 312-573-9996).

Stars On My Ceiling LP out now!

My second full-length album- and first for Chicago’s Chocolate
 Industries- was released domestically June 11th. It contains songs
 written over the course of last summer, and definitely fits the
 season! You can find it most anywhere; online purchasers should visit 
amazon.com, cdnow.com, etc. The Japanese version released on Tokyo’s
 P-Vine label back in March contains an extra song for all you die-hard
 collectors. Anyway, here’s what XLR8R had to say:

“In a genre where accessibility is often regarded as suspect, I almost 
hesitate to tell you that there’s absolutely no one who won’t love 
this; electronix heads and b-boys, four-year-olds and grandmothers.
 OK, maybe I’m overstating by a smidgen, but Caural’s gossamer guitars
 and shirred hip-hop beats are quite simply undeniable, carrying the
 feel good appeal of the Avalanches, the melancholy of Four Tet, and a 
happy-sad nostalgia for a time and a place you can’t put your finger 
on. Over cracked mudflat breaks, technicolor tumbleweeds kick up
whimsical jigs and dust devils morph into fantastic, ecstatic
 whipporwhils. It’s a beautiful place in the country, and I’m buying 
property there now.” – Philip Sherburne

Chocolate Industries’ Urban Renewal Program on the way…

After almost two years in the making, Chocolate Industries is releasing 
the first installment of its Urban Renewal Program this coming August-
a compilation including myself, Prefuse 73, Mos Def, Miho Hatori of
 Cibo Matto, Souls of Mischief, Tortoise, El-P, Aesop Rock, DJ Food, 
Mr. Lif, RJD2, Diverse, While, and Themselves (Dose one and Jel). The
 first single (Aesop Rock & El-P) is out now, with the second (Mos Def
 and Chicago’s Diverse) to follow this July. I have contributed a remix 
for the next single- Miho Hatori’s song “Night Light”- originally
 produced by Prefuse 73.

Caural featured on Apartment B’s New York artist compilation


Another compilation coming soon is on a New York label called
 Apartment B. Its title “Various Artists: New York” explains it all;
 ironically, many of the featured artists (including yours truly) have 
since left NYC! Regardless, snippets of songs by Blitter (Hrvatski),
 I-Sound & Daniel Raffel, So Takahashi, Zammuto, and others are on the 
website for your listening pleasure:
 http://www.apartmentb.com/releases/aptb003

Songs from Stars On My Ceiling in an independent film, “Firecracker”

Songs from Stars On My Ceiling have been chosen for an independent
 film entitled “Firecracker,” built around the Los Angeles nightclub.
 Other artists on the soundtrack include Moodyman, Klute, Calibre, A 
Tribe Called Quest, and Bernard Wright. Stay tuned to PBS for its 
premiere!

Who is that singing on Longshot’s album?

Longshot, a new emcee coming out of Chicago, is dropping his debut 
album later this month, featuring guest artists such as Diverse,
 Juice, myself, Freebasic, Claudia of Family Tide, and Vicious da 
Canibal; production by DJ Lok, k.kruz, DJ Anomaly, & Ted Sirota. I am
 truly excited about this album, and you should absolutely keep your
 eyes open for it!

I am busy working on new material for release later this year,
 collaborating with some folks and getting excited for some summer
 changes! Thanks for reading, and happy listening!

13 June 2002

[DISCOGRAPHY] Souls of Mischeif - Spark (Caural Remix)

Souls Of Mischief: Spark (Caural Remix) (Chocolate Industries- Unreleased 2002)
aka "Summer On Cassette"

"Summer On Cassette" was a song I had been passing around for a couple of years. Seven at Chocolate Industries asked me to remix Souls of Mischeif's song "Spark" from the Urban Renewal Program- originally produced by RJD2- and of course I flipped it completely differently. Well, I suppose - fearing that it wasn't Hip-Hop enough (thank God!) - it was scrapped and he got Edan to remix it for the 12". Meanwhile, I had been rocking it in my live sets -vocals and all- and passing it around to friends. I had kind of forgotten about the track otherwise, but then Carlos Nino got in touch with me and asked for the instrumental. Well, he played it in a mix he did for the Gilles Peterson show in the UK where it was called "Spark Remix," and it found its way onto United Airlines radio programming. Plans for its release as a 7" on Chocolate Industries were made and then abandoned, so the instrumental finally saw the light of day on my LP Remembering Today.

10 June 2002

[DISCOGRAPHY] Caural - Stars On My Ceiling



Stars On My Ceiling (Chocolate Industries, 2002)
CHLT025 LP/CD
(P-Vine, 2002)
PCD-23233 (Japan)
Format: 2LP & CD

1. All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows
2. Stick To Modeling
3. Camphor
4. Retrospect
5. Sipping Snake Blood Wine
6. Mint & A Hospital Watercolor
7. For Earsnot (NYC)
8. Lilac
9. Red Sunshine
10. 99 Cent Garden
11. Crush
12. Ultra Vivid
13. Untitled
14. The Shadow Of Someone I Never Knew
*15. Basement Still-Life (Japan only)

Artwork by Kid Acne

One-sheet

Caural's musical journey began in the summer of 1984 with a Fisher-Price cassette recorder bumping the sounds of Thomas Dolby and the Beat Street soundtrack: the perfect backdrop for long summer days of skateboarding and break dancing. Now wrapped in nostalgia and headphones, the 24 year-old multi-instrumentalist and super human hailing from the city of wind takes you on his sophomore outing, once again delivering his unique blend of influences. The result is a potent dose of neck-snapping abstract soundscapes rooted in Hip Hop and drenched in the atmosphere of everyday life. With upcoming compilation appearances, remix work and tour plans, Caural is currently in the studio finishing up his EP slated for the fall, featuring new instrumentals, cutting edge lyricists, and a remix by Savath and Savalas. Until then, Stars On My Ceiling gives you a look at the sky through Caural's eyes.

Reviews

Alarm (Lucky Issue #13)
The title of this album is a fitting one, since the prime objective appears to be taking the listener on a journey to some other place. From the spastic beats, to the pulsating drum machines, to the bizarre effects and synthesizers, the music here does not appear to be of this world. But it doesn't sound like just another trip-hop album, and this distinction comes from the adventures that are to be had within these fourteen tracks, which utilize stylings that range from the usual electronics, to jazz, funk, and R&B. The spacey effects and assortment of side journeys prevent this from being too straightforward and predictable. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of upbeat and danceable numbers, but in an effort to spare listeners from suffering through an album's worth of monotony, Stars on My Ceiling also has a lot more to offer.
- (EF)

CMJ New Music Monthly (May 2002)
Zachary Mastoon, the 24-year-old sound collagist who records as Caural, claims a childhood love of rap. But, it's less a lifelong immersion for him than a wistful memory: when breakbeats appear in his music, they emerge and then recede. This blurry relationship to hip-hop makes the Chicago-area-based Caural hard to define and his second album a small treasure. Mastoon works with samples, but he's neither low-tech spontaneous like a turntablist, mixing sounds on the fly, nor high-tech crafty like a rap producer, looping hooks on PCs. Built only with a sampler-sequencer, the music of Caural can be called mid-tech, which may explain its warmth. Mastoon finds a burst of sound and then discovers the melody and counterpoint by restating it in different contexts. The result is dreamlike and more effective than if he just dropped fat beats over it. The wandering "Lilac" contrasts piano chords over so many sounds, it's like Mastoon can't decide which juxtaposition sounds best. The danger with creating this kind of album is where it ends up- most electronic acts don't set out to make unobtrusive background music, but sometimes that's how they're remembered: just ask St. Germain. But Mastoon seems to want to create rich background music, and there's no shame in his modest success.
- Chris Molanphy

Exclaim (April 14, 2002)
Just like Prefuse 73 manages to pull off with jaw-dropping success, Caural has the gift of taking dozens of breaks and electronic bleeps and has the skill to slot them in the correct spots to create beautiful music. Though not quite the musical genius Prefuse 73 is, Caural still has his foot in the door with a strong full-length under his belt. Caural's Paint EP was a pleasing little sampler of four cuts he had pieced together but who was to know it would lead to the advanced sounds he's produced on Stars on My Ceiling - an audio orgasm at times. Maybe best described as melodic and abstract hip-hop, Caural never seems to stay in one spot for too long and flips the script between tracks from dusty piano grooves, to deep jazz, and back to neck-snapping beats. "All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows" starts things off correct with a good dose of thumping beats later wrapped around a wall of tribal sounds. Then later the kid proves he can create the same amount of stereo pleasure by stripping things way down such as he does with "Lilac" leaving the occasional sudden gap and faint beats lingering or like "Untitled" with very minimal brush drums and soft, delicate guitar. Regardless what direction Caural chooses to hit you from he tends to succeed in painting a unique melodic gem.
- Noel Dix

Ghetto Blaster (Issue #7)
The sound maverick returns to drop another dose of hip-hop inspired beats. The Chicagoan comes with the raw literally. I mean what's more raw than composing beats. The multi-instrumentalist produces an ode to hip-hop that would have Beck in porno theaters in a rain coat wacking off. Don't get me wrong, he's no Premiere or RZA, but Caural gets downright creative with his work. In "For Earsnot (NYC)," Earsnot is a graffiti writer who has accomplished to scrawl his tag on more spots in NYC in a quicker amount of time than Joz or Easy did (that's for the graff heads). My question would be why the title. A poignant batch of tracks, Stars on My Ceiling is creative and innovative. Fifteen tracks deep and about an hour long- you'll enjoy it.
- John Arambulo

Lumpen (Issue 86)
I remember Seven pimping Caural (a.k.a. Zachary Mastoon) to me a year and a half ago when the Paint EP- which I ended up liking a lot- was about to drop... now the intrepid samplerkind is back with a third offering from his personal sonic landscape, Stars on My Ceiling.

I say personal sonic landscape because not only- like any talented artist- does Mastoon create a distinct, smoothly transitional mood across the entire album, but manages to build into every element the suggestion of his mindstate at the moment of its inspiration.

Like DJ Shadow and others (like Kruder & Dorfmeister), Caural has the ability to craft music that simultaneously rocks the beat and projects nearly tangible images directly into one's brain while listening. It would be nice to hear some collaboration action from this guy.
- Cowboy Joe Collier

Skyscraper (Issue 12)
I've heard a fair amount of hype about Caural, a young producer from Chicago, and as is usually the case with such a scenario, I received something quite different from what I expected. Stars on My Ceiling is one of those records that could either be filed in the hip-hop or the electronic section of your favorite record store. It's funny though, the first thing I thought of when listening to the album was the old New York City band Liquid Liquid. Blame it on the percussion of "All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows" and the opening bass harmonics of "Stick to Modeling" (the album's first and second tracks), but that's what came to mind. The rest of the album sounds more contemporary, straddling the line between hip-hop beats and electronica in a way slightly similar to Prefuse 73. "Sipping Snake Blood Wine" has a decidedly high BPM, while a few tracks are pretty beat-y in a funky way. It's pointless to attempt to resolve a definitive genre for Caural though, especially in the present musical climate. Unless we're talking about big ol' boom-bap hip-hop beats, I'm not the biggest fan of instrumental albums. But Caural holds his own. This didn't get my head nodding (I doubt that was the intention, anyway) but it's a nice, smooth listen. It's the kind of album that I find well suited to a long overnight highway drive or rainy weekend afternoon. And yes, Stars on My Ceiling was better than what I had expected it to be.
- Konrad Jandavs

XLR8R (April 2002)
In a genre where accessibility is often regarded as suspect, I almost hesitate to tell you that there is absolutely no one that won't love this: electronix heads and b-boys, four-year-olds and grandmothers. OK, maybe I'm overstating by a smidgen, but Caural's gossamer guitars and shirred hip-hop beats are quite simply undeniable, carrying the feel-good appeal of the Avalanches, the melancholy of Four Tet, and a happy-sad nostalgia for a time and a place you can't put your finger on. Over cracked mudflat breaks, technicolor tumbleweeds kick up whimsical jigs and dust devils morph into fantastic, ecstatic whipporwhils. It's a beautiful place in the country, and I'm buying property there now.
- Philip Sherburne

Aiding & Abetting
It is my firm conviction that the ability of DJs to create full arrays of sound using sampling, sequencers, drum machines, synthesizers, and the like has been highly underrated by a lot of folks. It's as if the mere use of technology somehow takes the soul out of the art. There's a similar argument going on these days in the painting (art) world concerning the possible use of lenses and other aids by the Dutch masters, and I stand firmly on the side of the folks who say it's the end result that matters. Caural isn't just a technology-driven outfit, but there's no way the sounds on this disc could've been created using the old cut-and-paste methods. The splices couldn't have been this smooth, this seamless. I'm sure plenty of folks will toss this right into the trip-hop pile, and that's not an unfair association. There are plenty of creative side trips and spacey grooves to be had here. But I hear more. The title of the album is revealing. I think Caural wanted to create an entire universe of sound. The folks came pretty durn close, too. From the first instant, the sound transported me to another realm, one with inverted laws of physics. Where the sky lies beneath the feet. I had to let go to truly grasp the full ideas expressed by this disc. And in that way, I guess, this album is one fine trip.
-Jon Worley

Allmusic.com
His third release following an LP for Toshoklabs and an EP for his label Chocolate Industries, Chicago resident Zachary Mastoon (aka Caural) creates a perpetually dreamy beat collage on his 2002 hip-hop instrumental set Stars on My Ceiling. Ranging from Prefuse 73-like rhythmic abstractions, sampling urban audacity likeness to Squarepusher, and a more organic Boards of Canada aesthetic, this is chillout music for the headmusic sect of both the electronic and post-rock genres, and a healthy mental subversion at that. Highlights include "Stick to Modeling," the haunting bossa on "Sipping Snake Blood Wine," and the AM radio throwback in "Lilac."
- Nic Kincaid

Boomkat.com
Beginning his musical journey in the summer of '84 with a Fisher Price tape deck bumping one cassette with Thomas Dolby on one side and the "Beat Street" soundtrack on the other, this 24-year-old instrumentalist delivers a unique blend of influences, only hinted at on last year's Paint EP. This fully-matured creature displays all colours of the sonic spectrum, a potent dose of neck-snapping abstract 'scapes rooted in hip-hop and drenched in the atmosphere of life. Kid Koala styled, this sampladelic maestro will go far. Fresh artwork by Kid Acne.

Boston's Weekly Dig (April 24th- May 1st, 2002)
What would be the final outcome if a post-rock band like June of '44 or Tortoise got caught at a battle between DJ Shadow and DJ Krush and somehow their respective styles managed to merge? Just maybe, the bastard creation would take its guise in the form of Caural (a.k.a Zachary Mastoon). Hot on the heels of his Paint EP, Stars on My Ceiling is versatile, with influences spanning from rock to downtempo. Think head-nodding beats, piano loops, and fleeting melodic hooks. Unfortunately, at certain moments, Caural's eyes are bigger than his stomach, and songs become overworked and scattered. Regardless, the album is interesting, as it sharply contrasts the music released by the darker and subtler Chocolate Industries staples: While, Sluta Leta, and Push Button Objects. That said, Stars on My Ceiling is an accessible, if not cohesive, debut full-length and is well worth checking out.
- Andrew Schrock

Both Sides of the Surface
At least one artist comes around that stands out from the rest every year, one whose techniques are understated but will speak volumes to all that stop, look, and listen. This time around, the honors go to Chicago's own Zachary Mastoon aka Caural. Recording for the Chocolate Industries label, he is certainly in good company alongside the genre-bending tactics of Sluta Leta and the block-rocking beats of Push Button Objects and While. Adding his own influences to the mix, Mastoon's outlook on life and music seems full of wide-eyed innocence. At least that's the impression one gets while listening to Stars on My Ceiling.

Hip Hop is the underlying theme, but what happens beyond that falls under a wide spectrum. His beat-making style rivals DJ Shadow's in terms of anchoring his compositions with drums that take over your heart rhythms. Drop the needle on "All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows," symphonic hip-hop against a lush backdrop of samples and percussion. (Then again, I like anything with a little kalimba in it. Nothing makes me chill out faster than the sounds of an African thumb piano). "Red Sunshine" features the same types of juxtaposition. Hard, fist-pumping breaks are front and center, but the playful lilt of Spanish guitars create a nice contrast. "Sipping Snake Blood Wine" continues the jazz descent, almost displaying beats of a broken variety, but held in check by a tight bass line. Then there's the mushroom-enhanced visions of "Mint & A Hospital Watercolor"- stoned enough to conjure up a psychadelic jazz vibe without leaving you reeking of patchouli afterwards. Call it dreamlike soul, call it hip-hop from an alternate universe, call it what you will... just know that Caural is the bomb. And he's just getting started.
- Macedonia

Both Sides of the Surface
(Top 15 of 2002)
Zachary Mastoon will go unnoticed by most people, which is unfortunate. This album is one of the best surprises that 2002 had to offer. Full of wide-eyed innocence, ambitious beats, and rich compositions, this is the soundtrack for a positive outlook and big dreams.
- Macedonia

Dusted Magazine (July 25, 2002)
Zachary Mastoon, a.k.a. Caural, reportedly grew up influenced by the old school pleasures of hip hop. This comes as no surprise while perusing the new double black-wax of Stars on My Ceiling, a grand follow up to his Paint EP. This one-man mixing wonder showcases his talent with a plethora of sampled sounds and a talent for handling many other additional instruments.

Unlike most sample and turntable gurus, Caural’s pieces are more premeditated songs than chance adventures of where the needle drops next. Comparable to genre-ambiguous artists like Fourtet, Tommy Guerrero and req, Caural stems from his hip hop framework into the undefined realm of electronic sound. The first track "All These Days Just Melt Into Tomorrows" melds a straight-forward hard snare beat with chimes that sound like galloping horses into a complicated, deeply structured track rich with meandering bass and heavy drum work. Caural’s organic feel for the samples and beats are elemental to his sound. While most of the music here is instrumental, the subtle jazz arrangements and atmospheric vibes are more original than most downtempo artists.

Chocolate Industries has, with Caural, again found and supported an artist that is fresh, young and original. The label’s recent work with Push-Button Objects, EL-P and Diverse, covers the more lyrical and subterranean roots of hip hop, but Caural differs from the trend. Stars on My Ceiling showcases the confusion of fusion that integrates lighthearted fuzzy feedback and samples with the high-hats and snares.

While current PC technology now allows your next door neighbor’s kid to throw down beats and loops quicker than ever before, Caural skillfully constructs the pieces of each track with a sampler and sequencer, the way it was meant to be done. Every song on Stars on My Ceiling is accessible, fitting rather perfectly into long drives and the late nights of mellow, undefined goals. The combinations of tight beats, guitars, and the old dusties, in cuts like "Sipping Snake Blood Wine" meet somewhere between DJ Cam, Fourtet, Beneath Autumn Sky, the touches of the Function 8 crew and even the experimental ends of Mira Calix. Mastoon dials out from the area of Chicago and is in the process of making a follow up to this wonderful release, but why hurry? Caural and Chocolate Industries have brought you the beat-oriented album of the summer, minus the bling-bling.
- Nate Howe

Dusted Groove
We'd guess this probably falls somewhere in one of the "intelligent" or "ambient" or "electronica" sub-genres, but this has a much warmer feel, clearly sampled largely from actual instruments and records, rather than relying on synthesized tones, and with a more energetic groove than you'd expect from some chill out type record. Quite jazzy at times, with nice space and textures, but like a lot of stuff on Chocolate Industries, defying easy classification. Fourteen tracks in all, mostly song length, but a few shorter interlude type numbers, including "All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows", "Stick to Modeling", "Retrospect", "For Earsnot (NYC)", "Red Sunshine", "99 Cent Garden" and "The Shadow of Someone I Never Knew".

Gridface.com
Caural may not be prolific, but he makes up for it in quality. Caural (aka Zachary Mastoon) released Paint, a four-track EP, last summer. This summer, he blesses us with a full-length. Caural's music is soulful and melodic. It's also light and airy and chock-full of instruments. On "Stick to Modeling," vocal bits swirl over deep bass thumps. A wicked break is mixed in about half-way through, and the track flows into the next cut's piano intro. "Camphor" combines a hip-hop beat with jazzy piano and bass, while "Retrospect" is a brief abstract interlude. "Sipping Snake Blood Wine" is even more jazz-inspired, with live bass, horn, and what sound like reversed vocal samples. "Mint & A Hospital Watercolor" combines a gorgeous guitar melody with a downtempo beat and the sound of crackling vinyl. "99 Cent Garden" is my favorite track (clocking in at 40 seconds) with cut-up samples a la Prefuse 73. At times this album reminds me of Luke Vibert's music. It's almost impossible to tell what's a sample and what isn't (if anything isn't). Nonetheless, Caural's a master at this genre. He's much more sophisticated than Amon Tobin, for example, with tracks that are never one-trick ponies.
- Jacob Arnold

Hybrid.com
When releases like this show in the office mail, it's both a burden and a blessing. You quickly realize use of the word "eclectic" offers no help when it comes to explaining a release such as this and you're left trying to explain the nature of the music without knocking you upside the head with boring metaphors. On that note, let's give it a shot, shall we? 24 year-old Chicago-based Caural brings his sophomore release and it could be best described as something you'd find off the Ninja Tune label, however he's on the excellent Chocolate Industries. Caural builds songs with his multi-instrumentalist approach to an instrumental and hip-hop based production style. Dirty breaks and jazz constructions give way to moody piano work, acoustic guitar and odd samples into work that focuses more on the general atmosphere and emotion of the piece then any proper song arrangement. You find the need to listen to the album over and over to really grasp the larger picture because, while subtle, many details are contained within each song. While the overall downtempo sound isn't anything new, the strengths are in the arrangement of the tracks. Caural is anything but predictable and drops a lot of beautiful surprises. The spectrum runs from gritty to lush and atmospheric and- best of all- you can feel the emotion and human elements in his music. Perhaps it's because of [his] tendency to stay away from the synths and stick to acoustic sounds, or maybe he just knows how to write a damn fine melody.
- Justin Hardison

IlManifesto.it (Italian)
Non e secondario, leggendo le note biogrfiche di questo artista hip hop 24enne, che Caural venga da Chicago. Gia, perche nonostante il nostro sia da sempre amante della cultura hip hop e di fatto l'impalcatura di questo bellissimo disco sia costruita intorno a ritmiche hip hop meravigliose, senza mai una sbavatura, quasi sempre "phat" come dovrebbero essere in un disco di questo genere, Caural pensa hip hop con in testa una vaga forma di post rock che fa suonare tutto diverso da qualsiasi disco di hip hop strumentale, americano o inglese che sia. Senza far uso di rime, Caural construisce allora quattordici suite di hip-hop strumentale zeppe di punti di rottura, di sorprendenti cambi repentini di umore e di atmosfere, in bilico tra il jazz e una vaga forma di indie post rock, che suonano ancora piu sorprendenti se si pensa che sono incastonate nel lento incedere dei beat al rallentatore di questo disco.
- (G.P.G)

Impactpress.com
This is not your typical instrumental hip hop album. Maybe it's the things Caural samples, but Stars on My Ceiling feels somehow off-kilter. Twinkling piano lines and what sounds like a guitar played in reverse are some of the elements that create the mood. Plus, toward the end, the songs progressively slow down until the beats are but just a memory.
- (AL)

KEXP.org
Say what you will about the Windy City, the musicians living, working and recording music there have a unique and distinctive approach to sound. Caural, Zachary Mastoon, is no exception. Like Tortoise, Cul de Sac, Jim O’Rourke, (is there something in the water?), Caural gifts us with a dreamy surrealistic pillow of sound. This is not the pillow that you rest your head on; rather it’s a pillow that you rest your head in. I can’t get this recording out of my MP3 player. If you like sound journeys, experience this record. A personal Poptart fav since 2002. 11/20/2003 -Don Yates

KEXP.org
An adventurous album of jazzy instrumental hip hop from this Chicago DJ who skillfully blends a variety of shifting atmospheric textures and exotic flavors with hard hip-hop beats. 11/15/2002 -Don Yates

Other Music
Chicago native Zachary Mastoon (aka Caural) has a fantastic knack for crafting incredibly organic instrumental electronic music by way of post-rock styling over hip-hop production. For his sophomore release, "Stars On My Ceiling," Mastoon samples acoustic instruments and sounds, from the human voice to the piano to handclaps, placing them over dirty breaks and jazzy compositions. Similar in concept to Amon Tobin (sans Tobin’s darker textures) and certainly more accessible than many of his Chocolate Industries labelmates, the arrangements throughout are mysterious yet sweetly melodic. "All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows" is propelled by sampled breaks and layers of cowbells augmented by the melodic repetition of a thumb piano. The theme is carried into the second track and becomes more haunting with the backward manipulation of a human voice. Throughout the album, Mastoon chooses the piano as his favorite source for sampling but he frequently utilizes distinct sounds like reversed tape loops or percussive noises to accent changes. Quite often, these also exist as the main melodies. In "Sipping Snake Blood Wine," a wind chime glides along a slippery bass line until the song deconstructs into the hyper refrain of jazz drumming and a collage of saxophones that buzzes like flies. Once again, Mastoon has expertly crafted an album that in spite of technology remains distinctly human and melodic. Recommended.
- (GH)

Pitchfork (August 5, 2002)
There are several musical byproducts of the technological revolution: a new widespread accessibility of complex audio software; a sudden wealth of extremely personalized, genre-less music; and a small army of critics, versed in pop-deconstructionism, who busy themselves with constructing new words to contain the sounds that they're purportedly experts on. From 'Intelligent' Dance Music to glitch-hop to whatever-step, critics are quickly establishing a new vernacular of non-descriptive, esoteric terms that act as a shortcut to actually describing the music.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not without sin; I've definitely splooged a few zingers into the critics' cannon of linguistic banality. And when something as indefinite and mercurial as Caural's new Stars on My Ceiling drops, I get that Rumsfeldian itch to deploy the troops; "hip-hop," "electronica," and "post-rock" anxiously clutter the front lines, while "glitch-hop," "downtempo," and "tribalism" ready themselves to swoop down and pigeonhole Caural into an artistic corner. So, for the sake of maintaining my analytical integrity, I will attempt to refrain from namedropping any micro-genres, and instead focus on providing a naked portrayal of the music contained within Stars on My Ceiling.

"All These Todays Just Melt into Tomorrows," the record's opening track, is an accessible and percussive-driven salvo that liberally applies a voice synth, cowbell, and various African percussion instruments. The track is organic, cerebral, and fragmented, like a musical fusion of Salvador Dali and Georgia O'Keeffe, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Perhaps what's most intriguing about the album is that, while Caural is musically manic, the distinction between sounds isn't based on track numbers. Caural will flip the script in the middle of a song while carrying over various sounds from track to track, a device that denotes his intention that his work be experienced in its entirety. The jazzy keyboards of the first track almost seamlessly fade into a two-tone line that introduces "Stick to Modeling," a track in which fast breaks swell up from a backdrop of backward music and stunted vocal samples.

Throughout Stars on My Ceiling, Caural attempts to inject certain aural motifs between the seemingly disparate sounds and samples, creating a monolithic soundscape out of asymmetrical bits and pieces. Juxtaposing sounds is definitely one of the themes here. On "Camphor," Caural places a mellow piano line against a drum line that hardens as the track progresses. Reversing samples so that the bass sounds warped and inside out is another theme: "Retrospect" is almost entirely comprised of them, and the listener is left wondering what the track would sound like if it were actually played backwards. But, for the most part, Caural ensures that the album is both interesting and enjoyable, and he rarely sacrifices the listener's pleasure to his various conceits. With its infectious Spanish guitar, laser-like samples, and clear, uncluttered beat, "Red Sunshine" is one of the loveliest and most listenable instrumental tracks of the year. And the organic, airy quality of "Ultra Vivid" makes it a leading contender for outside nighttime sex jam of the summer.

While it doesn't successfully translate into a prosaic form, on "For Earsnot NYC" Caural successfully brings the background noises (i.e., record static and recording noise) to the foreground in an attempt to illuminate the beauty of the incidental. While most of the song is comprised of noises that barely register on the EQ, Caural drops sound altogether for much of the last two tracks and uses the breaks and silences to develop a musical narrative. It's an interesting concept, albeit one that feels a bit too forced and indulgent.

And self-indulgence isn't the only problem with this album. "Mint and a Hospital Watercolor" drifts dangerously close to Air territory, and although I have resisted confining Caural to a certain genre, whatever it is would definitely be prefaced by "lite." Another major complaint is that at times Caural seems to be merely dabbling in the various genres that inform Stars, resulting in the equivalent of a micro-genre megastore that carries everything yet specializes in nothing. But while Stars on My Ceiling probably isn't going to impress a hardcore devotee of any one of the genres that Caural briefly appropriates, for those who love highly conceptualized, original music this is a pleasure.
-Sam Chennault

www.soundexchangehouston.com
Sophomore album from Chicago native Zachary Mastoon. A playful cross between low-end soul-jazz hip-hop (thick kick/snare beats, Steve Wonder "Innervisions" style-piano samples and electric bass slides) and poppy electronica (Mouse on Mars comes to mind at points). On Chocolate Industries.

Stance Magazine
(www.bobbykim.com/musicreviews.html)
Sounds like 24-year old Chicago native Caural is having a helluva time bouncing around on his second release, Stars On My Ceiling. In true postmodern artistic fashion, Caural spits raw hip-hop to effortless pianos, horn toots to bass riffs. The hodgepodge album is a dizzying ride through electronic sensory override, oftentimes jarring from one spastic soundscape to the next. You'll either love or hate homeboy's style, but something tells me he doesn't really care.
Sounds like: Rae & Christian, Radiohead, Sea and Cake
Influenced by: the Beat Street soundtrack, skateboarding, break dancing

www.synthesis.net
Caural's latest album, Stars On My Ceiling, is an involved and undefined work similar to the likes of Fourtet, Mira Calix and (predominantly) Prefuse 73… Stunted vocals, background noise, organic drums, playful guitars, melodic pianos and phone conversations preside over most of the album, creating a rich, but often frantic and indulgent showcase.

"All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows" weaves desperate sounds alongside a wide array of samples and percussion. The track is manic and fragmented. Backward music and cramped vocals create an odd, cluttered soundscape setting the tone for the entire album. "Stick to Modeling" features similar types of juxtaposition; an ongoing theme where Caural combines and introduces new melodies and samples throughout the track, but anchors it with a theme that is used again on the next track.

This is perhaps the album's best attribute. The distinction between sounds isn't based on song, but rather on idea, mood and direction. Caural will modulate, flip and break throughout a song, but will then carry over various aspects from track to track. This personalized device suggests that Stars On My Ceiling is to be listened to in its entirety. The downside is that with all the changes, Caural dabbles and touches on so many different forms of expression that the album feels forced, like he wanted to use everything at his disposal no matter what the result would be.

While Stars On My Ceiling is an interesting album from start to finish, the large breaks of silence on the last two tracks, and the constant flood of new sound gives the feel of an artist unable to find a clear voice. It's as though he tries everything, and is unable to specialize in anything.
- Rust.

Turntablelab
After checking out the Paint EP cause of the funny cover art, I dug the vibe, but it seemed that Caural’s style just dropped from the clouds. I had no reference point. Now that he has dropped a full-length, I am very impressed with this extended body of work. Tracks like "All These Todays Just Melt Into Tomorrows" give Caural a place at the front of the innovative beat makers. The sound is dreamy, but in a rhythmic, danceable way. I can imagine playing this record at the end of the night and the cokies getting down to the drum kicks of "Red Sunshine" or the licks of "Camphor." To complete the dreamscape, Caural fills in holes with a variety of abstract tracks like the analog hiss of "For Earsnot (NYC)" and the intricately produced "Ultra Vivid." Overall, a completed vivid picture is created with the hilarious Kid Acne cover art sealing the deal. A start of a promising Chocolate Industries career. 14 tracks on double vinyl.