Internal Combustion 2013, CD & DD album, 47m 55s
$9.97 CD $6.99 DD
Cyberchump, according to their website, ‘is an electro-organic duo that explores aural soundscapes of rhythm and moment’. While my rarely dormant inner pedant is keen to learn what other kinds of soundscape might exist, this gives a fair sense of the textures to be heard on Flutter And Flow. The music is far from ambient; it has a strong skeletal structure, but it is clearly directed at the exploration of atmosphere, rather than the articulation of narrative, or the erotic power of groove. There are plenty of signs of instrumental agency remaining in the music, which risks an audience focus on the self-expressive aspects of performance as against the evocative characteristics of the sound, but the payoff is a human and organic feel, where broadly ambient approaches to music-making can sometimes feel impersonal and detached. These are human-made moods and places that the soundscapes evoke, carved out by a cumulative, collaborative process of composition. Although they don’t specify where they obtained the source files, Cyberchump explain on their Bandcamp page that these tracks are built around timestretched audio, to which each of the musicians added their contributions, passing the work back and forth until both felt it met the criteria for completion. Those contributions include electro-acoustic materials generated by various instruments, synthesis, field recordings, and the results of various forms of processing applied to those sources; at times it is clear that a bass or a guitar is playing, and at others it’s anyone’s guess what’s making the sounds in play. It is also explained that each musician recorded their parts with the intention of responding dynamically to the other’s work, in a sort of delayed response jam session; there is certainly an improvisational vibe to the music, an open feel, a sense of possibility rather than one of compositional closure. The music evokes a sense of place, but it is, unusually, a social space that its tones and textures delineate.
The time-stretched audio backgrounds against which these seven compositions are articulated may or may not have been subject to some additional processing; all I know is that they have been edited, short sections selected for their usefulness as a setting for all the subsequent creativity. These short sections are predominantly soft-edged, tonal drones, lacking hard attacks and resembling synthesizer pads in most particulars. Against these backdrops of aural colour various elements do their thing. There is percussion, which is occasionally rapid-fire, as in the partially submerged drum ’n’ bass rhythmic stylings of ‘Flutter And Flow’, but which mostly adopts a tribal feel, with solid, cyclical grooves and tempi that evoke a human heartbeat. There is bass, sometimes decorating the soundscape, and sometimes grooving hard, but always deep-toned, earthy and grounded. There is electric guitar, which sometimes produces drones and washes of sound, and sometimes hard, distinct notes. There are keyboards, which given the vast range of sounds they can produce and the potential of processing to warp them are practically impossible to isolate or distinguish; there are a wide variety of synth-like sounds, and also many other sounds that might be from field-recordings (such are credited on the CD inlay), but could as easily be artifacts of the time-stretched source audio, or might have been elicited from any of the other sources by audio processing. What is common to all of these pieces is that the background audio washes, together with the other environmental sounding sonic elements, create a sense of a space or medium in which all the more hard-edged elements are immersed.
It could be some kind of amniotic fluid; it has the liquid feeling common to much ambient music, but the human musicians that are clearly creating the other sounds are not drowning in it. Instead it seems to nurture and support them. Perhaps it’s a cave: a large, reverberant space, enclosing and limiting, but also protecting and enabling. There is a curious combination of limitless vistas and a sort of claustrophobia. Affectively, it is an enveloping and gently invigorating atmosphere, but symbolically it seems to me to speak of a social context. The music is trance-inducing, and it has a powerful ritual, tribal feeling. What seems most remarkable to me is that, although it has been made in a technologically contrived and solitary (if collaborative) manner, it has an unmistakeable sense of communality. This partly springs from the associations of aspects of its language, the percussion rhythms that would be at home beside a festival campfire (or supporting the trans-cultural musical utterances of Afro-Celt Sound System), the trancey colours that might not sound out of place in space rock, or some kinds of New Age music. But both musicians are clearly creative enough to transcend the associations of their materials and to generate a language of their own; the sense of communal music making springs largely, to my ears, from the interactive and responsive approach they have been so careful to nurture and preserve throughout the process of composition and production. This is a music without a distinct sense of the individual; there is a strong sense of the particular, creative subject, but as a component of a greater whole. The music feels like the utterance of a group, the common ground between a range of artistic sensibilities, or the aural equivalent of a sense of social cohesion. It’s not the soundtrack to domestic life, or necessarily, on the other hand, to party-time, but it evokes a sense of coming together for some broad, transcendent purpose. The striking combination of grounded bass and ethereal soundscape speaks of the natural world, of roots connected to leaves, and of people seeking their apotheosis in some kind of union therewith. Two men made this, not simultaneously but separately, in what they refer to as the Alpha and Omega Chump Labs; but it sounds for all the world as though a whole clan of hippies made it in a moment of spontaneous ritual out in the woods somewhere. Flutter And Flow offers the listener a beguiling and immersive experience, an energising and confirmational atmosphere of colour, connectedness and exceptional beauty.