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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cyberchump’s Journey of the Mind

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Conceptually speaking, many people draw a lot of stark lines when it comes to music, separating genres and marking distinctions between electronic and acoustic, pop and experimental, improvisation and composition and so on and so forth. The trouble is, it doesn’t work that way, and shouldn’t work that way, since the fuzzy gray areas between those ideas are where things get interesting. Thankfully, good musicians, incorrigible scamps that they are, are rather fond of throwing all those rules out the window. Take Milwaukee’s Cyberchump, whose new Flutter and Flow marks the latest phase in a longstanding exploratory mission, which, following the Tao of Eno, ends up in some pretty far out places and, counter intuitively, demonstrates how a little structure here and there isn’t such a bad thing.

“Our music is perfect for sitting back on the couch and letting it take you on a journey of the mind,” says Mark G.E., one half of the duo, the other being multi-instrumentalist Jim Skeel. Flutter and Flow proves him right on that, being wall-to-wall evocative soundscapes and outré experimental elements. “The clicking drum in ‘Signs By Night’ is actually an iPhone recording of my windshield wipers,” says G.E., enumerating how some of the unidentifiable textures on the album came to be. “We tend to work by accident. I have a DIY synth that creates oddball drones and otherworldly sounds and Jim plays his guitar through delays and a number of unique effects boxes. Also, the woman singing in ‘Neon’ is my massage therapist’s voice, but time stretched.”

Time stretching is just what it sounds like, using software to elongate any sound or piece of music, so that it unfolds at a glacial pace. It’s made for plenty of offbeat YouTube videos, but for Cyberchump, it coincidentally became the conceptual basis for the new album. “A friend had turned Jim on to a freeware time-stretching program, and at the same time, I had been seeing pop songs on the Internet that had been stretched into sounding like ambient pieces,” explains G.E., and with several releases under their belt, they didn’t have to look far for material to try it out on. “We just took some of our older songs, stretched them to between 30 minutes and an hour and started listening for interesting areas.” 

Isolating the more dynamic passages, they were left with a sonic foundation rich with possibilities, a syrupy, droning canvas ready to be embellished upon. With G.E. living here in Milwaukee and Skeel in Kansas City, that meant swapping tracks back and forth online, building pieces a beat here, a guitar line there,  never quite knowing what would land in their inbox. “Our different styles create a tension in the music,” observes G.E, noting that it’s a good kind of tension. “Both of us enjoy immensely how the other person can take the song in a completely different direction than you were thinking.  In order for a collaboration to work, you have to have respect for your partner and trust their choices, plus it challenges you to step up.”   

Listening to the record, you’d never know of the distance between them, but then again, the music doesn’t suggest any familiar physical space at all, but more of an abstract plane. As cosmic as it is though, Flutter and Flow manages to pull off being expansive without wasting one of its roughly 45 minutes. That’s mainly because all the weird layers, the windshield wipers, the time stretching and what not, are all tied together and arranged with admirable restraint that makes it accessible and enjoyable. “Even on the more ambient pieces, we always look for the groove, we try to do ambient like it’s a Beatles-esque pop album,” says G.E., pointing to the one line Cyberchump won’t cross. “We have a ‘no noodling’ policy in the band.” 

Flutter and Flow is available for purchase at cyberchump.com.

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