INTERVIEW WITH MARC MASTERS ABOUT GHOSTS OF MARUMBEY
MARC - What led you to make this album how did you conceive of it, and how did
your ideas change as you recorded and put it together?
MIKE - In 2005 I spent almost 6 months pretty much straight on the road,
touring America the hard way, I spent a lot of that time alone or with
one other person traveling with me. The last 40 days, I traveled
completely alone, just me in my Buick with my equipment, from Los
Angeles to New York through the south west and Texas. I love playing
alone and the control it affords me but, by the time I finished that
tour, I needed to play with people again. I have the good fortune of
knowing some of the most talented musicians in the US and realized if
I could just get us all together it would be the most kick ass band
ever. Unfortunately I could not bring everyone to me, so I mostly
went to them.
I knew from the very beginning I wanted to put myself in the
"producers chair" and work on it from that angle.
I was thinking a lot about/absorbing Brion Gysin's cutups and tape
recorder projects, Uwe Nettelbeck, Jack Nitsche, Ennio Moricone, DJ
Spooky, Brise Glace, Adrian Sherwood, This Heat, John Fahey's City of
Refuge and Stan Brakhage's editing and overall composition. I feel
that my own experiments with film have definitely informed my music
editing techniques and that much of my music has a filmic quality.
I was very conscious that what I was doing was an album, rather than
just as individual tracks. At times I called it my Faust Tapes. In
fact, I initially conceived this album to be one continuous track. I
only broke it into tracks at the mastering stage.
I knew that I wanted to make something dark and intense. I returned
home to New Kensington, which is essentially a nearly abandoned
industrial town outside of Pittsburgh. It is a very dark place where
the world becomes so much smaller and almost schizophrenic and it
definitely put an imprint on what I was working on. Originally I had
joked about calling the disc New Kensington Blues, but my friends
thought Jack might take it the wrong way. But New Kensington
definitely had a lot to do with this recording.
Initially, I was working on Ghosts of Marumbey and what will be the
Language Of The Birds disc in my box set (due for release on 4/4/07)
at the same time. The thing was, after playing some of my songs
90-180 times, I was pretty burnt out on them so I abandoned Language
of The Birds for a bit to concentrate on what would become Ghosts Of
I started the recording in Louisville, Kentucky - home of Keenan
Lawler. It was November 16. Keenan has always been a dear friend and
an inspiration to me so I am happy this is where it all began. The two
of us did a few hours of improvisations and it felt amazing. It was
transcendental at times really. We decided it was going to be
something completely different than what I had thought it was going to
be originally. I was learning new software (sound soap - a noise
reduction program) at the time and inadvertently damaged the recording
Keenan and I had made. I ended up sending that one to Robert Horton
for a reworking that he just finished up.
Keenan and I also played a show in Louisville that I recorded, which
is where Keenan's parts on Ghosts of Marumbey come from. He played a
gorgeous bowed resonator guitar piece that ended up being the end of
Oh My Lord Please Spare This Soul From These Demon Hauntings.
Two days later, I arrived in Chicago to stay with Ken Camden (my
partner in Meisha) and Charlie Vinz for a few days. We recorded the
bulk of And Death Will Be No Resting pretty much live. I also
recorded several tracks for the boxset as well as two songs for Ken's
record during those couple of days.
I returned to Pittsburgh/New Kensington and met back up with Pete
Spynda (my partner in Meisha, Arco Flute Foundation and Natura Nasa).
We hadn't played together since Arco Flute Foundation broke up in
2003, so it was quite a joy to be together again. We recorded the
harmonica and accordion parts of Oh My Lord, Please Spare This Soul
From These Demon Hauntings.
Being in Pittsburgh also gave me the chance to play with Jeff Komara
(Arco Flute Foundation) again. He is one of my favorite drummers in
the world and definitely my favorite drummer to play with. I would
say that this is around the time where I really knew what I was going
to be doing with this record. We recorded all of our parts live
together in one night of improvisations. I was very conscious of not
repeating what I had done with Jeff previously with Arco Flute
Foundation so I tried to play as sparingly as possible to let Jeff
lead the music where he would, so that in the future all of my actions
would be around Jeff's fingerprint.
I was also doing a ton of recordings by myself. I wrote down as many
ideas as I could think of for different timbres and combination
possibilities and just started making and collecting sounds. I also
recorded several pieces that will be in the boxset during this same
I went through nearly every sound I had on disc from past recordings
as well. That is actually where John Fail's contribution comes in.
John, Matt Mcdowell and I had a group in the early millenium called
The 3. I used a couple of snippets from a few of our recordings on
And Death Will Be No Resting.
The bulk of my early solo sessions went into Beneath The River. I
have a pretty serious gamelan fetish and spent hours banging on
different pieces of metal and my tibetan bowls. I then manipulated the
recordings by slowing them down and bringing the whole mix back
through my guitar effects manipulating them real time. I had also
done all of the electric guitar overdubs for Beneath The River and the
end of Two Doors From The Corner during this time.
After these sessions I sat down for my first mix. I was really
tweaking the drums out and trying to push what was going on with the
rhythm into a different realm. It sounded like a very angry dub
record at first. It sounded so different from where it all ended up
going. At that point the record began with the organ drone at the end
of Two Doors From The Corner and went into the underwater bell
sounding parts of Beneath The River into the very end of rhythm
section of Six Minutes After Breathing and finished with Oh My Lord
Please Spare This Soul From These Demon Hauntings.
Around the same time that I was finishing the first mix, I was
contacted by Wilson Lee from Hong Kong (Fathmount, New Fairfield Parks
and Recreations). He asked if we could do some file sharing work
together. I sent him my Boyinger (NAFH 26) track and he remixed and
reworked it adding some terrifying guitar to it. We became friends
and I eventually released his first solo cd on my New American Folk
Hero label. I was so happy with what he had done with Boyinger that I
sent him these new recordings via yousendit. He added his touch to
the first couple of tracks. I thought they were just great and it gave
me the idea of how to make the Orchestra bigger without having to
travel all over the earth. I started to really think about the
strengths that every musician I knew had and I sent the music to a
bunch of different folks via yousendit and soulseek to see what they
would come up with. Aside from Wilson, Brad Rose and Tusk Lord both
gave me chunks of their sound through file sharing which I later
manipulated and worked into the record.
Months had past with my head seriously deep in the recording. A
number of mixes came and went and before I knew it, it was May and
Nick Schillace and I were to go on tour together. Nick is a
guitarist of the highest order and an incredibly inspiring person to
be around. We talked a lot about Marumbey and I asked him if he
would record a duet with me for the beginning of the disc. Just
before the tour I had written what would become the beginning of Two
Doors From The Corner. At the end of the tour we went to his home
studio in Detroit and laid down that track together in one or two
takes with me playing acoustic six string and him playing resonator
guitar. I also laid down what would become Ghosts of Marumbey on his
resonator. I tuned all of the strings on his resonator to C and just
rocked it as hard as I could, bent notes everywhere. I knew it was
going to be the end of the disc and I knew that I wanted to get
something that was just as full as the rest of the disc, but live and
on just one instrument. Like you go through this whole world of sound
that I conducted through out the record and then at the end it is just
me and a guitar, no effects, no overdubs, just as intense as the rest
of the recording.
From Nick's house, I went back to Chicago for some more input from Ken
Camden. Ken just has this way about him, that is difficult to put
into words. He just knows the perfect thing to play. He added the
singing slide guitar that goes throughout Two Doors From The Corner
and into Beneath the River. His biggest contribution, though, was his
dual bass playing on Six Minutes After Breathing. He told me he had
the perfect idea for it and he just went for it. I came home from a
show and I found him in the bedroom, completely mad, red eyed and
somewhat angelic. He said, Mike I think I really got something here.
He threw it on and we both laughed like school girls. It changed
everything. It made it a whole new record actually. It also made me
have to rethink what I was doing with the rest of Six Minutes After
At this point, the record was nearing completion, I made a new mix
and decided it was good but perhaps not dark enough yet. I knew that
there was only one person who could help me get it as dark as I
needed. I headed to Brooklyn to Bryan Camphire's Loft (Bloody Panda).
I stayed there for a week and finished all of the overdubs for the
rest of the album and recorded Bryan's parts. Blake Mcdowell (also
of Bloddy Panda) also added some organ into the mix. They had a
decent piano there and I did some unspeakable things to it during
Beneath The River. It was so hot in their place, We were all
shirtless and raving and it was only adding to the DOOM as Bryan calls
it. I found the right balance of darkness and finally knew what I
I returned to New Kensington and wrote the lyrics and music for the
beginning of Six Minutes After Breathing. I recorded the guitar,
hammered dulcimer and organ in a heartbeat. The vocals took a little
longer. I am mostly an instrumentalist, sometimes i just need to sing
though, i had a couple of walls i needed to break down before they
were right. The track wasn't quite done though. I needed a dirty,
twisted, jagged guitar line over the double bass Ken had added. I
tried a ton of ideas on my own and they pretty much all sounded like
something Matt Mcdowell would play. As luck would have it, Mcdowell
was coming to Pittsburgh that week. He brought the juice with him and
added the perfect guitar line.
Now I had to do the final mixes. I had the entire album up on the
screen. Gysin's spirit haunted me big time. It was 217 tracks. It
took me about a week to mix it all down at the end, though i was
really mixing all along. It was a manic, near sleepless week but in
the end I got it to all flow together just right. Eqing that many
tracks was unbelievable and took an incredible amount of patience. I
finished it on June 17. Wade Chamberlain did the mastering for me.
Sometime during the week of mixing I had a pretty terrifying dream.
I found myself in a place that was burning and apocalyptic, like a war
had happened. There was chaos everywhere. I became frightened by this
dream and did my best to try to run away from this place. I ended up
exiting this world through the ear canal of a larger version of
myself. When I got out I asked the larger version of myself what that
place was. I said Marumbey and I felt a huge jolt as my larger body
slipped into the ear canal of my smaller body.
MARC - How challenging is it to work with this many musicians? Is it hard to mix all these elements together without things getting muddy?
MIKE - Well it was awesome having this many ideas to work with. There were
never too many musicians at one time, so that was not really a
problem. Ken Camden really had the biggest affect on what was going
on. He and I often do that for each other. Sort of give each other
this push that opens up so many possibilities. He really made me
think and react differently than I would have without him.
The mix was tough to keep from getting too muddy and I certainly have
some versions where I absolutely failed and some parts were just a
huge mess. I ended up scrapping a lot of sounds at the very end.
They were cool ideas but too much for the tracks, I try to remember
the rule that every sound needs to have it's own place in the mix and
that I can't use too many instruments that take up the same frequency
space. I really want my music to pour from the speakers, to be so
full that it almost keeps the listener from being able to do anything
else but listen.
MARC - How much editing and mixing went into this? If you can tell me some
specifics e.g. you layered a guitar from one recording over a bell from
this another or something like that that would be great.
MIKE - I knew this was going to be a collage from pretty much the beginning.
The whole thing is layered, edited, mixed and remixed except for the
beginning and the end of the record.
MARC - How much of the BENEATH THE RIVER track was recorded ³live,² i.e. how many of the musicians
played together at the same time? Was any of it written and or
pre-conceived, or is it all improvised?
MIKE - Beneath The River actually started out as two different ideas or
parts. The first of which was the end of the song. I recorded myself
live on electric guitar with Jeff Komara on drums. It was improvised.
I also laid down some tracks with Bryan Camphire and Blake Mcdowell
live. On the entire record there are no more than 3 people playing at
one time ever. The gist of it is me or me with someone or that
The second part I wrote is the beginning of the song. It came about
from the end of Two Doors From The Corner, which is a thick organ
drone. I wanted to have a very underwater type of feel and also
wanted to sort of tip my hat at Gamelan music. The guitar solo during
that part is the only thing that was written.
MARC - Were there any particular inspirations behind this track? It reminds me a
bit of Rhys Chatham¹s ³Drastic Classicism.²
MIKE - I wanted the organ drone in the previous track (Two Doors From The
Corner) to feel like drowning. I wanted the beginning of Beneath The
River to feel like the moments immediately after drowning, after the
struggling for the top has ended and you are just floating there. The
end of the track was the rescue and life being pushed back into the
released November 1, 2006
mike tamburo and the universal orchestra of pituitary knowledge
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