UR Chicago - Revolutions

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