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.
09 August 2002
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.
01 August 2002
UR Chicago (August, 2002)
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