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 Bottle and 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 with references; even unintentionally, you are birthing an organism of sorts 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 on Boy 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.