STORIES

THE LAST SONG IS THE FIRST SONG. HUH?   

The birth of the album, Bamboo Blue, began inside a little bungalow in the coastal town of Santa Barbara, California where our band Chasm would rehearse.  We always started out by jamming to the same A-minor blues before getting down to our serious practice. This warm up jam later developed into what is now the album’s opening track, Bamboo Blues.  These rehearsals took place in the home of Michael Whipple (Chasm co-founder) where he often fed everyone dinner afterwards. He liked serving up his latest experimental culinary creation such as Cajun blackened shark tacos or curried lamb-burgers between big Portobello mushroom cap buns, saying he was trying to balance extremes between taste and texture.  I don’t know, but it sure was good! The food, not only the music was world fusion. Eventually these bungalow sessions came to an end when Michael relocated to Oregon. 

Chasm carried on as a foursome with Brad Strickland on guitar, Arne Anselm on bass, and I on guitar & marimba along with various drummers sitting in. Later Brad brought Aaron Winters onboard as a steady drummer with his hi-bred djembe trap kit. It was during this period that new songs were written, developed and improvised in front of live audiences, unlike the music from the first two Chasm releases (self-titled CHASM and Panorhythmica) that were developed during the recording process. By the time we hit the recording studio for Bamboo Blue we were quite ready with various arrangements of each song to pick from. The sessions went very smooth and some first takes were chosen to be on the album. 

After the four of us recorded our parts I asked Michael to reunite with the band ~ virtually that is. He agreed to track his flute, percussion and keyboard parts up in Oregon and send them down to me as digital files. I then transferred them to what we had already recorded and… ka-BLAM!  He was back in the band. Also, guest musicians from our past joined the sessions such as drummer Brad Ranola who is featured on the song Soothsayer Swing, Bodhi Jones with his big drums on Now What? and Mark Freddy who sings on the final track, A Balance Of Extremes (a ditty Michael and I wrote long ago but never recorded until now). 

At the end of the recording process it was this track, A Balance OF Extremes, that we disagreed over. Michael thought the song did not fit the jungle jazz vibe of the rest of the album and therefore should not be on the album. I agreed with the vibe part, but as producer I still thought it should stay. Conceding this, he then suggested I remix the song to make it even mOrE different than the other tracks by pumping the drums, fuzzing the flutes and slap-backing the vocals. Counter intuitive!  I loved the idea and felt that as long as it was the last track on the album, no matter how unrelated to the rest of the music, when played on a CD wheel it could sound like the first song on the next disc. Huh? What? I’ll let you the listener be the judge of all this.  -Mark Esakoff

 

SEEING  WITH  THE  EAR  

During the recording sessions for Panorhythmica Mike and I often discussed music in terms of visual imagery. It soon became apparent that the choice of metaphors we were using corresponded to the sounds we were each trying to get. We saw eye to eye, or more accurately, ear to eye. When one of us would use visual terms like "smoke", "wood", "purple", "green", etc. to describe music, the other would instinctively know what he meant. This visual-aural language we had developed between us during the recording process ultimately became the theme of the album… seeing with the ear. 

Naturally, we tried to come up with a name for the album by combining something that’s visual-aural. I proposed the title "Panoramic Rhythms." Mike, immediately upon hearing it said, "Panorhythmic!"  It was instant, we both liked it. Later, he wanted to add an "a" to the end it so it would roll off the tongue… "Panorhythmica."  I preferred it without the "a", but he passionately argued for it. I conceded defeat. 

The theme of seeing with the ear continued into the album cover artwork. I contacted an artist friend of mine, Tom McKeith, who in the past had offered to do the next Chasm album cover art as a favor. I had a concept for the artwork that included a face in which the ear and the eye were switched around. This image was in part inspired by a psychologist / philosopher named William James (1842-1910) who I remembered studying while in college. James hypothesized that if the ears could be surgically connected to the visual portion of the brain and the eyes to the aural portion, one would be able to hear colors and see sounds. I pictured this as an ear placed in the eye socket and an eye placed in the ear canal. 

While discussing this, Tom mentioned he had just finished reading an article about people who actually have a neurological disorder similar to this called synesthesia.  People with this condition have severe problems sorting out reality. Luckily, we were able to sort out our conversation and actually began seeing ear to eye.  He was able to follow my convoluted inside-outlook. Tom took the idea as a challenge knowing it would be difficult to draw something like this without it looking scary or like a Picasso. His first attempt looked like this picture1. His second attempt looked like this picture2.  And the third attempt is what became the final cover art for the Chasm album, Panorhythmica.      -Mark Esakoff

 

"YOU'RE  THE  WEIRD  INSTRUMENT  GUYS,  AREN'T  YOU?" 

One of my favorite memories from the analog archives of the first Chasm record is seeing the look on John "Golden Ears" Perez' face whenever we would come in for a session with some completely non-rock or homemade instrument. At the time, I guess John's clientele leaned heavily towards metal and rap, so when Chasm would show up, he'd get this kind of "so, what are you going to break out next?" look on his face. Recorders, alto flute, luitars; he would just look at us and laugh. But nothing beat the session when Mark brought in a hunk of 2X4 lumber and a saw, which he rhythmically hacked through at the end of the song "Jessica."  Between that and the swirling of bamboo branches, and a wine decanter filled with air rifle B-B's, I think John considered us quite mad. Still the homemade percussion added a unique texture to CHASM, and continues to be a large part of our sound, even after I talked Mark into using electronic percussion sounds on Panorhythmica...  -Michael Whipple

 

THE  ANGRY  FLUTE  

There was one particular session during the recording of our debut self-titled album Chasm, that I remember well. You could call it a fluke-flute incident. Early in the project we had started working with a new sound engineer, John Perez who was also the owner of the studio we were recording at: Audioworks (Glendale, CA).  Hence, John really didn’t know us.  

The session began and was rolling along with Mike in the recording chamber doing flute over dubs, while John and I sat in the control room. Things seemed to be going fine until Mike started swearing at his flute.  I wasn’t too concerned because I had seen him work like this before and he always ended up with a great performance. Still, there was a funny vibe in the air this time. Mike was becoming quite frustrated about not getting the sound he wanted… take after take…arguing with his flute… and then something happened that sent him ballistic. Right before our eyes, he reeled back and slammed his flute into the microphone stand !  John immediately jumped up running into the recording booth yelling "#%$& !!!" in fear that his $1,000 AKG microphone was going to take the next hit. I ran in after him trying to calm everyone down. What happened next was a bit loud and commotional, but eventually the dust settled. Fortunately, there was no blood and John’s microphone was spared. However, Mike’s flute was noticeably bent on an angle where it hit the mic stand. We all just stood there staring at it in silence. Then calmly, Mike raised it to his lips and began playing a happy little ditty like nothing had happened !  Despite the damage, it was still playable.  And instead of throwing us out of his studio, John simply asked, "Gentlemen, shall we continue?"  We agreed to give the recording another shot. Remarkably, Mike’s next few takes were so good that they ended up on the album. Those solos can be heard on the song "Wesley."  A great performance after all indeed.  

The flute was later repaired and given to a young music student. Mike got a new Armstrong concert flute, which he’s more careful with these days. He joked about the incident saying that Mozart may have created "The Magic Flute," but he has the distinct honor of creating the "The Angry Flute."  -Mark Esakoff

 

ON  HAPPY  ACCIDENTS 

For Panorhythmica, I did some pre-production work on two tracks, "Road to Panorhythmica" and "Elegy in G," in my home studio, which at the time was running on a prehistoric Mac laptop (would you believe 8MB of RAM and a cavernous 80 MB hard drive? Ahh, the bad old days). 

Anyway, "Elegy in G" was meant to be strictly strings. I was working up the arrangement, which consisted of layered improvisations underneath the main theme. Mark liked the piece and asked me to bring it in to the studio to transfer to ProTools. When I brought the mighty 840c PowerBook (and equally obsolete Opcode Vision software) into Audioworks, engineer deluxe and rabid Ohio State Buckeye fan John Perez got in some good natured laughs. I fired up "Grandpa," and Vision decided to call up a random set of MIDI patch numbers for some of the tracks. Maybe that venerable old code had a bit of heuristic inspiration, because the sounds worked beautifully, particularly the "Strawberry Fields" mellotron-like flute patch that comes in at the modulation. I just kept a straight face and humbly accepted kudos on my tasty "choice" of timbres. The lead English horn melody was later added on what Mark called the "Geisthorn" (ghost-horn in German), a Yamaha WX5 MIDI wind controller driving a Yamaha VL70m physical modeling synthesizer. Mark then added his century old German 6-string lute, a.k.a. "luitar", which is neither fish nor fowl as a musical instruments are concerned.  -Michael Whipple