Check out this interview I did with Taylor Northern of Shot from Guns:
Thank God for last.fm, or better yet, thank God for Internet radio. I cannot even begin to list all of the brilliant albums and artists that I have been exposed to via Internet radio. Zachary Mastoon aka Caural is one of those artists.
Caural is an ambient/electronic producer and multi-instrumentalist from the Chicago area. He has traveled all over the world and studied music theory and composition alongside some of the most progressive thinkers in the industry. During his travels, Caural has developed his own philosophy in regards to music and life and I had the excellent opportunity to speak to him about it.
You’re from my hometown of Chicago. Why live there, what’s so great about it?
I think Chicago is a great city – it is my hometown as well – though, I moved home from NYC to be around my family. To be honest, that’s a more important draw than anything else for me here. However, I have grown to enjoy the pace of this place. I love the lake and I love seeing the skyline each night on my walk home.
So if I’m a clueless tourist, what else can I do in the Windy City besides go to Millenium Park and eat real deep dish from all the generic pizza joints?
Well as far as pizza, Uno’s and Due’s are the first spots I know of, so there’s no need to visit the imitators all over town. I prefer NY style pizza, really – I don’t want lasagna with a crust, and that stuff makes me a little sick after just a slice. There’s lots of restaurants to check out, many of which I am learning about myself, but there’s such a variety of summer festivals, museums, galleries, and nearby gems like Ravinia which make this city so full of options for tourists and Chicagoans alike.
Which music scenes do you feel are most vibrant and promising in the Chicago metro area? How do you keep yourself plugged in?
I have never paid much attention or been faithful to any one genre, scene, or venue in New York, Chicago, or anywhere. There’s too much going on to limit yourself. I do, however, have favorites and have seen countless shows at the Empty Bottleand the Metro.
Which local acts have captured your interest the most?
I don’t even know who’s from here half the time (laughs). But as far as Chicago artists go, I’m most aware of my friends’ work. Keith Kreuser (aka K-Kruz) and I have been working on music together about seventeen years in one way or another. He performs live with me and really helped me mix my Boy King Islands project. I am excited about a record he is working on with the other member of Boy King Islands, who is a friend of ours named Jason Hunt. They are called Goodnight. He is also the main producer for Diverse’s upcoming album.
You’ve studied jazz improvisation under Anthony Braxton (famous experimental jazz musician). What was that experience like?
It was mind-blowing. He sees the connection between sound and image, and playing his music had me focusing on overall sonic textures and languages of improvisation. He really gives the performer a lot of freedom, but it’s structured freedom: He gives you boundaries in which to express yourself. Some of the music is traditionally notated (at least for certain measures or even movements in his pieces), but then you get to places where he draws a shape in the staff, or scribbles through it and dictates a specific logic (i.e., staccato notes, long tones, or even the concept of imitating your neighbor’s ideas through those few bars). As difficult as most of his work was to perform, he had such a beautiful sense of humor about it. I was just learning how to read music at the time, but there were graduate students fumbling through his polyrhythms and complex notation. So, when they’d fuck up, he’d stop the group and say, “No, no – it’s da da da, dada, dada – wait… no, that’s not right” and then burst into laughter (laughs).
I’m a huge fan of electronic music and I feel from creative and compositional standpoints, electronic music is the new jazz. The genre is about progression and infinite possibilities. Do you utilize your jazz theory training when creating electronic music? What’s your general approach?
Funny…I just answered a similar question recently, basically, what I saw as a connection between jazz and electronic music. Electronic music is hardly the new jazz, but even as I say this sentence… maybe I take it back.
I spoke at Princeton University this past April about my work, and prior to giving my speech, I was shown the software they were developing which turned the laptop into the musical instrument itself. I had never seen anything like it. I have seen tons of people hunched over a glowing screen pressing buttons, or moving blocks of audio around in Live, but the new frontier is people shaking their laptops, twirling them around in the air, bending the monitors, or whatever, and having software generate corresponding sounds and change their timbre with those movements.
If you have people who choose a palette and then improvise together, well, that can be jazz. It’s like, what is contemporary electronic music anyway? Is it someone sitting around and making loops in Reason or Live? Is it utilizing new school controllers like the Monome to control all of these new DAW platforms?
Music itself is infinite, and thus the media one chooses to produce it are as well. However, the problem starts when someone is like, aw man, I made this jazz track with pianos and upright bass and a horn sample and it’s just some looped up, played out bullshit that was old ten years ago. THAT isn’t jazz. Jazz is not the sounds one associates with it. It’s just the philosophy and openness that goes into creating it. And you don’t make jazz yourself… unless you’re playing with robots. But someone programmed those robots, so probably not even then (laughs).
You have a real penchant for creating very atmospheric and dreamy records. How did this come about? Was there an initial record or hallucinogenic experience that turned you onto that sound?
Well, like Anthony Braxton, I don’t see a distinct barrier between different sensory experiences. That is one obvious lesson one can learn from hallucinogens (you don’t need them to experience it of course). I think when I create music, or do anything really, there’s an acknowledgement of the inherent multi-dimensionality to it. There’s the horizontal melody line, its vertical harmony, and meter (this is in all notated music), but then you play around and utilize various kinds of source material and the juxtaposition of those sources. You get a mosaic impossible to re-create through live instrumentation alone. You create atmospheres not only with the composition, but with how they are executed.
A My Bloody Valentine song, for instance, would be a completely different statement if you took away the utterly neurotic production value of multiple layers of overdriven guitars, vocal takes, and crazy compression. Steve Reich, or Luc Ferrari, or any of the old musique concrete pioneers… the whole point was using razors and tape and field recordings as the notes if you will. That, in itself, is a very visceral environment – both for them and for the listener.
The same goes for an actual film versus a jpeg file, or oil paint versus a psd file. Although that gets into an entirely different discussion of what is real and what is its approximation. Sample-based music in general is so rich withreferences; even unintentionally, you are birthing an organism ofsorts from these living building blocks with definitions all their own.
Can you give readers some insight on what Caural has planned for the future?
Well, I have strayed from producing electronic music for the time being and have gotten into more immediate music – picking up a guitar, playing the drums, singing, and doing things which don’t require so much preparation to begin with. After doing my sound piece “Sorry, Underground Hip Hop Happened Ten Years Ago (for Regan)” and a few remixes last year, I lost a lot of motivation for this kind of work.
Besides that, I stare at a computer screen for a living now, and coming home to stare at another is the last thing I want to do. So, I focused onBoy King Islands. It’s a project I had been working intermittently on for years and I just finished it a few weeks ago. I am sure I will return to the electronic side of things, though certainly it will be on a much more experimental level. I would rather make a noise album than another collection beat-oriented material to be honest.
Hi friends, Some of you have heard various incarnations of some of these songs, but I am happy to announce that each has died and come back to life in an improved form, just like you will ;)
For those of you familiar with my work as Caural, Boy King Islands couldn't be any more different: There are no samples and absolutely no sequencing. It's the labor of my dear friend Jason Hunt and myself on actual instruments, recorded with actual microphones - hooray! I am on vocals and drums, and he and I share duties on guitars, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and assorted sounds. Guests include our friend Jacob Croegaert on bass for certain songs, and Jason's wife Beth lends beautiful backing vocals. And, the album wouldn't be what it is without the help of Keith Kreuser aka K-Kruz who helped mix it over the last bunch of months!
I have posted 5 songs from the as-of-yet-untitled album on our Myspace:
I hope you enjoy it; If you do, please share with your friends!
I just did an interview with Jeff Min from Centerstage Chicago:
Q: You have a very eclectic background in music. What were some of the experiences that stood out to you as instrumental in your development?
A: There were so many really... My parents' stereo system and record collection helping me to fall in love with music from before I can remember; My cousin Andy and I recording piano, Casio, and toy duets on cassette beginning when I was four or five; And then teaming up with my neighbor and surrogate older brother Stuart Bogie to do more tapes together when I was 6. I think some of my earliest experiences with music - even recording songs from MTV onto my Fisher Price cassette recorder- brought me more in touch with sound and melody as a part of everyday life, and that's a connection one doesn't lose.
Q: Now I know you studied music in universities, how does you education in school compare to the education you received on the road or on stage?
A: I don't think you can compare the two. For the most part, academia focuses on strengthening the mind. You learn how to "name" certain sounds and styles, and you build technique and hopefully a broad base of historical comprehension, but these are activities of the mind and the mind only. I think it was John Coltrane who said something to the effect of "we learn musical theory to forget it when we play," which of course is a butchered paraphrase and possibly a misquote to begin with, but it is true. The academic study separates you from the experience and creation of music, which I don't think is intellectual at all; rather, it is instinctual. So, if anything else, studying music history allows you to understand context and inspire you to take next steps forward, and music theory gives you the tools with which to do so, though - at least in my case - music theory helped me to better elucidate what was coming through me to begin with.
Q: You have a background in jazz and I think that comes across particularly in how you use your samples. What are the similarities in jazz and hip-hop as far as composition goes?
A: Although I studied jazz guitar and improvisation, I find hip-hop from a producer's standpoint to have nothing to do with jazz, to be honest. An emcee, or a graf writer, or a dancer is better aligned with the spirit of jazz, which means being fully present in a moment, listening, and responding.
Listening is the most important part of being a good jazz player - not playing - and you can tell how aware a musician is by what he or she adds to the whole picture. Producing tracks, on the other hand, can often be a very methodical process. While it may cease to be after you have gathered all the sounds and you begin improvising with what you have, there is still always an element of dissociation from the moment because you are constantly revisiting how everything is coming together (i.e., is this really the snare I want, is this bass sound working, do I like this reverb, etc.). So, in short, producing allows you to stop time - or at least really slow it down - and carve out each moment individually, while jazz is all about NOW, and listening to what is coming through you and everyone around you.
I think people often call something "jazzy" either because someone samples piano, or upright, or a saxophone, but that doesn't make it jazz. Kenny G plays the saxophone, and his music is the farthest thing possible from jazz.
Q: You cite Miles Davis as an influence, how did albums like Bitches Brew and On The Corner change things for you?
A: Miles Davis was perpetually reacting and growing, and he was one of the most monumentally important bandleaders in jazz period. It's not that he was a phenomenal player - he really wasn't; What Miles Davis did was PRODUCE. He got the right people together, listened to what was happening outside of jazz, and incorporated it into his sound to redefine what jazz itself sounded like again and again.
So, for me, I didn't (and don't) want to make beats: That is the most ridiculously boring and pointless shit possible. I am interested, however, in taking elements of what some consider to be hip-hop, or rock, or ambient, or noise, or whatever, and make songs, and evolve as an artist while hopefully offering something unique to music. The more people who discard these arbitrary boundaries and act on what they feel, the better art will be; People who have made the same rap records over and over again because hip-hop is this exclusive culture, well, they are the reason that art form is so completely dead and irrelevant nowadays.
Q: I’ve read in an interview that you’re not part of any particular scene here in Chicago. What is it about the city that inspires your music?
A: I think that was a particularly old interview, but it's still true today. I had been living in NYC for the last ten years on and off, and just moved back here almost two years ago now. I don't think anything in particular about Chicago or New York directly influenced my stylistic choices per se; It's just how I react to the energy of a place that takes my sound in a new direction. I do think Chicago is a beautiful city but, as far as inspiration goes, it's pretty hard to pinpoint anything outside of me.
Q: Can you give me a brief description of what a perfect day in Chicago is like for you?
A: Wake, practice yoga at Bikram College of India Chicago, meet friends for brunch outdoors, maybe take a bike ride on the lakefront or go to a street festival, have some wine, check out live music, try a restaurant I have never been to, and enjoy people watching afterwards at a lounge somewhere. That's a hard question... There's always too much to do!
Q: It seems that you’re just as inspired by the visual as you are the audible, how did you link up with Cody Hudson and what were some of the things you worked on together?
A: I met Cody years ago through Seven at Chocolate Industries, and have always admired him and his work. Funnily enough, I did music for a documentary called "The Run Up," and my music was used in his section totally coincidentally!
A year ago, he approached me about doing a soundtrack of sorts to an installation he created out of tambourines, so I made a track out of all tambourine samples. The installation opened in LA originally but, when it came to the Andrew Rafacz gallery here in Chicago, Cody added a video element to it as well, and it became this almost tribal, cult-like initiation piece - at least, that's how I experienced it! We have been talking about working on something else together, but time has so far prevented it.
Q: Do you still work with Chocolate Industries? What projects are you working on now and do you have a release date for a solo album?
A: It has been years since I last worked with Chocolate. My last two albums were on Mush. Lately, I have been wrapping up a project called Boy King Islands, which is more or less shoegaze rock: zero samples. I have done a slew of remixes over the last couple of years which are still getting released slowly but surely, and an artist in the UK is doing a video of one of my newer songs for a DVD on Eat Concrete. I have been performing live with my old friend K-Kruz, and he and I will start work on a collaborative electronic project as well. Though, for now, I have been much more excited about picking up a guitar or beating on a drum set than pushing buttons...
My friend Paul Gaeta (aka PG-13) recently interviewed me for his Circuitree Records blog:
Caural is Zachary Mastoon, a multi-instrumentalist and producer originally from Chicago. Musically "born" in the basement at age 6 with his best friend and neighbor Stuart Bogie (currently a saxophonist for Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra & TV On The Radio, among others), he's written and performed music throughout his life in both Transmission (now based in San Francisco), and the group who became the backing band for fellow Chocolate Industries artist Diverse.
I remember first being touched by his music while riding around North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains in an SUV and bumping Remembering Today (Mush). What impressed me most was its diversity: one track was a summer journey into the soul of an old video game system that booms and baps, while the next was a spacious and dreamy jazz reverie! Every song sounded glued together in a delicate, beautiful way, which gives each album a natural continuity. Over time, Caural has continued to blow my mind, releasing solid records every couple years, traveling abroad on meditation sojourns and somehow finding time to tour playing solo or with other musicians and rappers. If you ever have the chance to catch him live, you'll be impressed to see him punching out heavy grooving rhythms all by hand on an old sampler. It's quite a treat!
We recently asked Caural about his approach to music and travel, as well as the necessity of a studio and solitude. Enjoy!
PG-13: What would you say if you had a chance to speak with a younger version of yourself?
Caural: I would tell myself to think and drink a lot less, and recommend meditating more. Musically, I would encourage myself to move to Los Angeles, rip off Jay Dee's style, and make three-minute beats that go nowhere, cause then I'd be famous as hell. I think I must have stopped caring too soon; maybe I should talk to a 9-year-old version of myself instead. PG: What is one useful bit of advice or encouragement you can remember that impacted you positively?
C: Before I moved to New York, I was at Wesleyan and Anthony Braxton was my faculty advisor. I was really confused about what the hell I was doing in school and what playing jazz guitar 4 hours a day was going to do for me. The second - and last - semester I was there, other than music studies, I had signed up for a class in Buddhist philosophy, Astronomy, and Anthropology. And he looked at me and said, "Wonderful, it's all music!" He had a really profound influence on me and my recognition of art in everything.
PG: It seems you've always followed your own path, whether its traveling to the Far East for meditation, or going on a farming retreat. What are you getting from your travels, and is it intrinsic to your musical process?
C: Well, again, I view life itself as art, and so our creative expression is what comes through us during these myriad experiences, or at least our reflection of them afterward. To me, inspiration and sincere innovation can't arise from a vacuum, so filling your life with activities which challenge you and teach you about yourself will grow you inside, and thus undoubtedly shape what you share outwardly with others. PG: How important is solitude to your musical process?
C: Solitude is hard to define for me, because - while I have always preferred making music alone or with just one other person - I don't even think about the other people in the room, on the stage, or from whatever source I am sampling (which I do less and less nowadays anyway). I feel we hear music - not create it - so whether we are alone, or playing with ten other people, it's the same process: We react to the space around us and help articulate what's there. Music and sound is meditation. With Yoga, for instance, you focus on breath and form and are ultimately alone with your practice, but during a class with others each person's work influences the whole. So really, you are alone, together. And when you're truly alone, outside of your thoughts, you are more deeply connected with everyone.
PG: How would you envision the perfect studio space?
C: The perfect studio space? Well, of course there's the obvious answer of "amazing monitors, a great board, an experienced engineer, million dollar mics and preamps, and 2-inch tape that makes everything sound like butter - and oh yeah, pianos, Farfisas, Rhodes, and tube amps from the 70s with buzzy tremelo." But really, each setting is perfect for what you do, and that's what you remember when you make music. I did four remixes sitting on the floor of my apartment in Manhattan wearing headphones - literally on the floor cause I had no bed and sure as hell no mixing desk. I sat on sheets and comforters with my sampler in between my legs and tore up what are still some of my favorite tracks ever. And, around that time, I stole a loaf of bread off the street. My ideal studio situation? Some place I am inspired and have all I need to share whatever comes out, however it sounds.
PG: How the hell do you get such a creamy sound in your music?
C: Creamy? I drink whole milk now. I used to drink soy, rice and almond milk, but after I milked a goat myself every morning and got used to the real deal in my cereal, I couldn't deal with the hippie bullshit any longer.
PG: How would you describe Boy King Islands [Caural's shoegaze outfit] in one sentence?
C: "Beats are totally played," and "this is what I care about nowadays."
Spring is still hiding behind snowy rain here in Chicago but, soon
enough, K-Kruz and I will be spring-timing it up at an all-night party
here on the west side:
Resonate v4.0 - Saturday, 4.04.2009 @ 9 PM
[description from Resonate]:
RESONATE is produced by Chicago's Burning Man Community for the
Burning Community at-large. It embodies the tenets of
Radical-Inclusion, Radical Self-Expression, Radical Self-Reliance and
LEAVE NO TRACE!
Event begins at 9 pm, ends 5 am
All profits from this all-tribe event go back to our community and
are administered thru the Chicago steeringman committee. All budget and
expense info are reported transparently to the community (i.e. you)
thru the Burning Man-Chicago regional mailing list. BYO. Dress to Kill.
Near West Side location.
This event has too much going on... Music, video, performance, fire
(yes, fire!), live art, art installations, sound and light
installations, and it's going ALL NIGHT LONG. Check out the website
for full event details:
Caural Coming to Princeton!
I am honored to have been invited to speak for the Graduate
Composition Colloquium at Princeton University. My presentation is
open to the public:
Here's a short feature on me by once-fellow (so sad!) NY artists on their new site, Powerstripcircus.com. I answered a few questions asked by my friend KRTS, and gave them a brand new track for you to hear entitled "Sugar Cane Girlfriend": a simple song I felt I had to do last spring after spending months listening to hundreds of samples of the word "yo." Also featured is a video of my song "Lake" by Mr. Sean Capone (thesupernature.com). There's tons more to see on the site! Take a look/listen :)
Wow, it's 2009. 2008 was fairly insane for me: full of huge decisions and, therefore, major changes. As many of you know, a month before my departure date to Kobe, I withdrew from the JET Program and happily remained in Chicago among family and friends. I accepted a full-time position as a Project Manager at an E-Commerce company in River North instead of teaching elementary school students basic English, and have never been happier with an actual "grown up" job.
In any event, of course music continues, though at a much slower pace. After a first run at an improvised sampler set with Chicago producer and old friend K-Kruz for DJ Striz's party at the Whistler, we are teaming up again for two shows this month in Chicago:
(Abbreviated Press Release from A/V XPLO)
A/V XPLO presents: CHANGE WE XPLO
featuring nearly 50 artists and 8 music entities
Friday, January 23rd, 7:00 PM (17 & over) @ Subterranean
2011 North Ave. Chicago, IL 60647 (773) 278-6600 $10 cover
2008 has proven to be an historic year for the United States. Chicago's own Barack Obama ignited a political and creative movement throughout the city and nation. The good people who run A/V XPLO festivals (music director Paul Midstates and art director Tony Vega) could not sit by and allow this seminal moment to pass without throwing a party.
AUDIO : Golden Sores Ten Speed www.tenspeedmusic.com Midstates & the Choir of Ghosts midstatesmusic.com Change! http://www.myspace.com/changemusic Caural (Zachary Mastoon www.caural.net) with K-Kruz (Chicago producer) Panda Riot www.pandariot.com Pugs Atomz www.myspace.com/pugsleeatomz DJ SR71 http://www.myspace.com/srseventyone
VISUAL: Tony Vega, Jessica Wagner, Bernadette Aguilar, Jose "J-Rod" Rodriguez, Natalie Escamilla, Nuria McNeal, Brad Biancardi with many more to come.
For more information, visit http://avxplo.com
Caural & K-Kruz opening for Warp's Nightmares on Wax
Yes, in case you miss our show at Subterranean, the next week we'll be joining Abstract Science DJs and opening for Nightmares on Wax!
Saturday, January 31st, 9:00 PM @ Abbey Pub
3420 W. Grace Street. Chicago, IL 60618 $16 in advance/$18 at the door
This should be a great show. Thanks to the Windish Agency and Approaching Serpents for setting this up!
Boy King Islands: Finally ready to mix!
Over the last year, Jason and I have written and recorded a slew of new songs and thus totally reshaped the Boy King Islands record, which has been a long time in the coming. Five years and three record labels later, we will finally mix and release the album, tentatively entitled "Fall." I am really happy with the new material and, as soon as it's ready for public consumption, I'll post some new tunes on the good old Myspace for you to hear. Some older songs are up for you to listen to:
Stay tuned; Release date TBD in 2009
Tambourine Solo: Take One (Collaboration with Chicago artist Cody Hudson)
After an initial opening in Los Angeles this past May at New Image Art, my collaboration with artist Cody Hudson was unveiled - and is still up - at the Andrew Rafacz Gallery here in Chicago. If you missed the opening, you can view the video component here:
The video was also picked up by French clothing company Sixpack, for whom Cody designs cool shirts and hoodies. You can view Cody's line here: