5 writers, 5 questions, 1 band, hand-picked by MWA. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: Chicago ambient/drone artist, Cinchel.

Working with just a guitar, a laptop, and a handful of effects, Chicago based artist Cinchel has spent the last several years creating dense ambient, drone, and noise music. Through collaboration, complementary visual art, and stimulating live performances, Cinchel has crafted an impressive discography. We chat about all of that and more in this week’s FIVE x FIVE.

Where does the line between music and art begin to blur for you? It seems like a lot of the work you create could easily fit into either realm. You even used actual samples from an evening at an art gallery in your album Witnessing. Where do you see Cinchel fitting into Chicago’s art and music scenes?

I don’t really see a line between music and art, they are just focused terms for the greater idea that is “the pursuit of a creative activity to express an emotion”. I enjoy making visual art but I do it mostly to complement the audio work vs as a stand alone entity. I enjoy making paintings to house the LP or tape, or creating simple abstract videos to give a visual narrative to a piece with the idea that it may get more people to listen to the music. I’m never sure how to answer the question of “scene”, I hope to fit into whatever scene is inhabited by nice people that do good work. I tend to find “open calls for proposals” from friends or just randomly around the internet, and I apply when i have ideas that fit. Sometimes they get accepted, like the ASCII event that I created “Witnessing” and sometimes they don’t. It’s fun to try and explore other creative spaces, and meet new and interesting creative people that I wouldn’t see normally at a typical “rock” show.

I hesitate to say I’m “part of the noise scene” but I do have friends that are and I feel that scene kinda bridges the gap between gallery and “rock club” since noise shows happen equally in either venue. Since I play out live with a guitar I also tend to play shows with shoegaze and even recently a hardcore band. I like a lot of music outside of the type of music I make, so basically if you are nice and I dig your stuff I’m totally down to playing shows or trading tapes and generally hyping your work. I don’t like to limit my thoughts to just the Chicago art/music scene, I am a bit of a twitter junkie and because of that have friends and fans all over the world. I’m currently collaborating with a woman in Vietnam that makes wonderful piano and music box ambient music. I released a CD on a friends label out of Australia. A bunch of us who make similar kinds of music will bounce ideas around via twitter/soundcloud/email/etc.

How big of a role do digital samples play in your live performance compared to your use of guitar effects?

There are no prerecorded digital samples used in my live performance. I’m not opposed to those that do use prerecorded samples in a live set. In my live sets the laptop is a guitar effect, but one I’m using to create chaos or randomness to interact with. My guitar pedals are fairly standard, a few different delays, a distortion, rotatory speaker effects (chorus, phaser, tremolo) and a looper. The laptop is feed a guitar signal which is processed by a number of different computer effects, like gates, freq filters, randomizers, pitch shifted reverb, and other weird effects that I don’t really understand. I have learned that different combinations of guitar effects feed into these computer effects produce a whole bunch of other new sounds. Sometimes predictably and sometimes not. So the laptop is like a ghost improviser keeping me thinking and engaged.

You have a pretty extensive catalog of music, what inspires you most to keep creating?

As my wife will attest to, after proof-reading these responses before I send them to you, I am terrible at writing. Unfortunately, I have an almost infinite array of visual ideas and stories floating around in my head. I try to translate those imaginary worlds and scenarios into something real through the abstraction of sound. In conjunction with that, I also have many ideas of how I would like to abstract or process various sounds, in an experimental way. For instance, “What would this bell sound like if i sampled it and played it against a slowed down and mutated version of the sample?” These 2 paths feedback into each other often and I’ll find some new sound that finally goes with some image i’ve had and vice versa. The whole process is fun for me and I enjoy looking back and seeing the way my workflow has changed. Also, I have maybe what, 40 or 50 more years to do this, that is not enough time! If i’m not creating or thinking about creating everyday, I feel that it is a wasted day.

How do you approach live performances as opposed to studio recordings? Are your live shows a bit more spontaneous or are they fairly accurate reproductions of your recorded material?

Everything is spontaneous. For studio recordings I like to try and sample more instruments than just guitar. I have a rhodes, a microbrute, a glockenspiel, a chord organ and a melodica and an assortment of toys and bells. I’ll sample melody lines and improvisations from these instruments and then manipulate them in the computer. At some point I will sit down and try and mix down a cohesive narrative from the sounds. Even this step is spontaneous and I almost never do it the same way twice. I’ve gone back to samples that I’ve made into recordings and tried remixing them and almost always find a new idea or story. I couldn’t even recreate a mix that i made a release out of. It’s all about listening and expression and trying to tell a story.

For my live shows I setup a few channels in Ableton that i can feed my guitar into and work with as I mentioned above. on the guitar I will tune to some odd/open tuning where I’ve worked out a few chords and melody lines before hand. I’ve been focusing on making the live set have 3 movements so to speak. I usually only get 20-25 min sets so I try and focus on setting a tone, burying a melody and then attempting to shift the piece and close it out. I also focus on volume. Many comments after some early shows I played mentioned that it was nice but too quiet. I don’t have a proper practice space so playing live is the only time I get to work at “concert volume” and it has taken me a while to both get comfortable with being louder and keeping everything in control. It’s the most fun when I can push a performance just to the point where I’m about to lose control on it, like something is just about to feed back, or loops are just going a bit too crazy, and rope it back in like a sculptor gently pushing clay around to get a desired form. I hope that this tension is somehow translated to the audience. Otherwise, it’s just watching a lonely guitar player on a stage stare at his feet.

Your music has a somewhat cinematic feel to it at times, have you ever considered composing music for film or collaborating with visual artists?

I did a release last year that included a small photocopied zine of photographs that my wife, Kirstie Shanley and I took around her parents house over Christmas break. The titles of the record describe a house as one year goes by so I wanted a visual representation to go along with that. I’ve wanted to make a project that showed of both our talents and I hope we can make more art projects like that together in the future. I did a release for the (now defunct?) net-label Feedback Loop where I used some short videos my friend and painter Cole Pierce had made, to inspire a score. I just recently made some music for series of vignettes my friend Lindsey Best shot of mountains and fog from her recent trip to Iceland. Outside of that I’ve made a few video’s myself. I would love to score a movie! Another friend of mine, Tim Coglan, makes short films and we are talking about working on something together in the future. I’m am always down to collaborate on other visual projects.

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