An Evening With Astronoutcomfusion's jaime wright interviews electronic artist mark camp, aka astronout
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We sat in mark's basement studio in downtown san jose with a bottle of wine, a small tape recorder and a microphone. (03.15.01)
jaime wright: so what is it that draws you to create through electronic music versus the traditional musical instrument?
mark camp: well, i don't know how to play any traditional instruments. i've always been into synthesizers, plus i like electronic music more than i like traditional sounding music. so, what started out as a hobby will hopefully turn into a career.
jaime: that's cool. in jazz, for example, sometimes it's the accidental or the irregularity in a piece that gives it charm, uniqueness, so with the strict time sequence and the often regular musical scale of electronic music, is there any place for this accidental or irregularity that adds to the piece?
mark: definitely. i'm not trained musically at all, my only schooling has been towards, "computer" music. it is all about experimenting. there'll be times when i'll carve a sequence and some of the sounds will be off ... (for example) what used to be the base line is now a drum sound, and it's sounds really cool, and its these spontaneous irregularities that make the song ... with electronic music, or any music for that matter, it's an art so there shouldn't be any formula that you follow to make a piece of music, it should all be about experimentation and seeing what you can do, just fucking around basically. that's where you can get some of the best music ...
jaime: your music and other electronic music builds to a peak and then winds down, do you think there is a direct correlation with the drugs that help fuel the electronic music scene? ... drugs such as ecstasy, acid, speed?
mark: possibly, i guess there are certain forms in electronic music. as far as the drugs are concerned: it's what gets the dance floor going. the kids like when it builds up to a pounding beat. that's what's going to get kids on the dance floor, hopping and dancing. so yeah, the drugs ... have a lot to do with the way the music has evolved. especially along the lines of what kids want to hear when they're on drugs: trippy stuff, trippy sounds, weird stuff going on, the builds and the falls that go on along with the music that help build tension on the dance floor until there's the release--when people start groovin.
jaime: so it's tied to a more tribal or trance, or rather transcendental type of music?
mark: yeah, it's in that category of music, definitely. in that ... anything you can bounce to can be included within that category.
jaime: do you make music mostly for dancing?
mark: not really, i'm not a dj. that's why i like working with djs because they know what is going to sound good on the dance floor and what's going to make the dance floor hop. i don't write music for dancing ... i just write what sounds good. it just happens to turn out to be dance music.
jaime: do you ever have anything particular in mind when you're creating something?
mark: i have a particular sound in mind, or a particular direction i want to go. a lot of the times when i start out a piece it will sound totally different when it is done. i end up changing the sound all together during the process of writing the track.
jaime: that goes back to the irregularities, when things happen by chance. so in creating music do you think there is ever any tension between wanting to create something that is marketable, in contrast to adhering strictly to creative integrity?
mark: what's marketable as far as the stuff they play on the radio is so far away from what i create. the closest thing i have to what would be marketable would be one kiss simply because it has vocals in it and it has that traditional verse-chorus, verse-chorus, whereas dance music really doesn't follow that line, and also because it's really difficult to make a dance track that fits into the radio's three-minute limit. i just can't make anything radio-friendly and marketable, it's just not what i try to do.
jaime: what about working with voice sampling? if there's a track that has voices or voice samples it is more moving emotionally, for example, one kiss is that anything that you take into consideration when creating?
mark: as far as having vocals in a track i have a hard time writing vocals and i don't sing so i usually don't have vocals in the track--unless it is just a sample of someone saying, "hey!" or "get on the dance floor!" or whatever (laughter) ... i don't think that way when i write music, for me it's all about drums and rhythms and beats, trippy sounds.
jaime: have you had any "altered-state" experiences when creating the music ... you know, through the repetitiveness, some type of trance or different state of mind?
mark: oh yeah, definitely. i've been going to raves for years and so i've been in that trance state before, many times, so i know what it sounds like and what to shoot for if that's what i'm trying to accomplish. a lot of thought goes into that when i'm creating a track, how it will sound if you're on your favorite, "insert your favorite drug here." i definitely think that way when i'm writing music.
jaime: have you ever wondered or thought about the sequences and repetition of electronic music having a timeless effect as far as state of mind?
mark: yeah, with something so syncopated ... it is really easy to get into a trance like state ... you're getting into it, you're listening to the music.
jaime: do you think that some of the music you did with eac (electronic artist collective: with courtney neilson and dj spun) is dated?
mark: with any kind of house or electronic music it sounds dated quick. part of it is the dj's fault because they always want to play the latest thing, they don't want to play the same stuff that the other dj has. but at the same time there are always those gems that are anywhere from 3-5 years old and they stand the test of time.
jaime: there is a huge difference between your work with eac and now. does this involve difference in taste or improvement of skill?
mark: skill. i'm constantly evolving and now i'm spending a lot more time making music than i was then, not to mention i have better equipment.
jaime: what is your inspiration?
mark: i'd like to say, "looking at a tree" or "watching the clouds," but really it is just sounds. a sound will spark my creativity. i spend a lot of time making sounds [editor's note: he is talking about the music, i hope] or i might hear some cool drums and think "wow" i could do something with that. i can't say that my girlfriend sparks my creativity or anything it is just the technology and what i can do with it that sparks my creativity.
jaime: when you create something is it from the ground up or is it just through the manipulation of samples?
mark: i'll sample a lot, but i spend a more time creating or "building" sound textures, or beats. i'll start off with a drum loop (created or sampled) and start adding on top of it and either take out the drum loop altogether or start chopping it up and moving sounds around until something totally new and unfamiliar emerges. there are many ways i go about it.
jaime: do you think that sampling might change the way that people deal with knowledge?
mark: do you mean in making music?
jaime: well, you know, the whole idea of the loop or the sample, do you think that these have any effect upon society?
mark: sampling has been around a long time. hip hop started sampling ... it's a very urban style of making music. the original djs would just take an old disco or funk track and just loop a portion of it ... maybe the impact you are referring to takes shape in the way artists are influencing how society thinks about the composition of loops and samples, or electronic music.
jaime: what about yourself? do you think it has influenced the way you view reality?
mark: i listen to things differently now. anything aural can be sampled. if you walk around with a dat you can sample a train or car alarm going off and turn these into songs ... for instance, i was in hawaii recently and i was standing in the waves with a video camera and not really filming anything, but just recording the sound of it and the sound of the waves captured motion. it has definitely changed the way i view things, hear things. you can make a song out of pretty much anything.
jaime: so is it the sum of these particulars or is it the repetition of the whole, rather, that make a song unique for you?
mark: both, there will be sounds that i like individually, but its when you put them together, and they start playing off each other, that the original charm that first caught your ear is augmented. it's like the example of the drum loop that you use to start off with, but when you're done there are so many layers on top of it that you can barely hear it, yet the original charm can be perceived in the finished track, that is [now] so much more.
jaime: are there any aspects of your music that take on a "spiritual" dimension for you?
mark: as far as spirituality goes ...(silence) the music is mine, it is something that i have created so as far as that goes i have a really close bond with it. a lot of people say that there is no feeling in electronic music--people that aren't into it--but i get more feeling out of listening to a house song than i would some standard rock song. it takes a human to create electronic music, just as it does music produced by traditional instruments. it is just a different art form ... my music reflects what is inside me. that's about as close to the spirituality of it that i get.
jaime: who creates the music you create? is it you or does the actual track start taking its own shape after you've set it in motion?
mark: it's kind of like an ice sculpture: you take a drum loop or a bass sample, and in their raw element they are just a block of ice [editors note: see Thoreau's Walden pond for types of ice], but then you start sculpting it, giving it shape, until you have something round or spiraling ... a lot of my music is done with Protools and there are plug-ins that go with Protools that work like an effects processor. each plug-in will shape the sound a different way so i'll use a particular plug-in if i want to get across a certain feel for the sound. it's the same as a guitarist using a wa-wa pedal to get that wa-wa sound. this technology influences the way i write and i do write around the technology.
jaime: some sounds have a smooth round texture and some have sharp jagged edges, do you work with combinations of those to elicit certain emotions?
mark: definitely, for instance, a deep-house song, as far as the bass sound, you might want a nice clean-sounding sine-wave bass, you know, just a low-round-sounding bass. but for a hard-techno song you might want something with a little more grit ... like a 303 bass sound. it may not be as deep sounding, but it will cut through the mix a bit better. it really depends on what you're after.
jaime: does the programming part of it ever stifle the creative aspect?
mark: the programming part of it can be really time consuming especially when you have something in your head and you're having a hard time getting it out onto the computer. that is very very frustrating. there's a certain sound in your head and you'll sit there for hours just trying program that sound and make that sound sound like how you have it in your head. in a lot of ways, going back to the whole experiment/accidental thing, you'll be trying to get down what's going on in your head and come up with something that you like better. sometimes after hours and hours of trying to get that certain sound you'll just turn everything off and go watch tv or whatever.
jaime: does creativity get in the way of your relationships? do have a certain philosophy of music first or people first?
mark: it's a give and take (sigh) it's a really hard question. you want to spend as much time with the person you care about and the music, but sometimes it doesn't matter what your significant other is saying, you just gotta do your music. sometimes when you need to be spending a lot of time on your music you just want to spend time with the person you care about. i try not to let either one effect the other.
jaime: is there a "romantic" ideal or stereotype of an electronic artist? with writers you have the jack kerouac, getting fucked up all the time and writing. and this is something a writer can get too involved in and get off track. with jazz and rock it's the same thing, there's a whole stereotype you can fall into? is there that same stereotype or trap with electronic musicians?
mark: definitely. the thing about the electronic artist is that they are faceless and nameless to the general public. a lot of times people just think that the djs are responsible for all that's clever in the mix. for a lot of kids going to raves the dj is the star, and in a way he is for that moment, but these people don't understand that the song that the dj is playing was created by someone that they will never know or hear about or even think about ... it's the opposite with the radio djs when they play the music it's about the actual artist, but with raves the dj is that star. the dj does bring the music to the next level depending on their skill, but being an electronic artist i don't think i'll ever get that star name recognition.
jaime: do you have any advice for people who want to start creating electronic music?
mark: go out and buy the gear and experiment. play around with it. spend as much time as you can. experiment. experiment. experiment. in electronic music there are no rules it's just whatever sounds good to you.