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Shakatura Interview

James Kent

Galen Butler talks about his first CD release under the name Shakatura

TRIP: So who is Shakatura? Is it just one person?

GB: Shakatura is a thread in the magik carpet of Bay Area musicians, artists, dancers, activists and healers committed to raising a positive vibe for anyone in range. It is an artistic costume worn primarily by Galen Butler but shared among various musical and artistic collaborators. It was conjured and is being developed as a magikal mainline to the healing powers of music and dance.

TRIP: How long have you been making music?

GB: My earliest musical memory is of playing a kid's drum covered with dayglo orange funfur at about age 5. This was a clear sign of how things would unfold later. Guitar came into the picture during high school and there was much epic psy-fi noodling and whiteboy jambalaya in subsequent years. A computer-based studio started taking shape in 1996. The idea of painting with a limitless digital palette of sounds really appealed to me in a way that no single traditional instrument ever had. It was like my imagination had finally found it's native tool.

In 1998, I was playing guitar and electronics in a SF-based rock project called Dreamspy. This band was a sort of initial run at fusing the kind of acid and progressive rock we'd cut our teeth on with contemporary electronic textures and dance floor punch. It was a tall order, one which the band didn't survive long enough to fill, though we were pointed in the right direction. This sort of "organic-electronic" live dance band concept is still a vision of mine. In the Bay Area, acts like Sound Tribe Sector 9, Lost at Last and Medicine Drum, among others, are honing different spins on this idea.

TRIP: What first inspired you to make this particular CD?

GB: I moved to California from New England in 1996 and became immediately submerged in San Francisco's dance music culture, especially the psychedelic trance scene. The color and energy of this music really absorbed me for a good three or four years. In parallel, artists like Mixmaster Morris, Adham Shaikh and Simon Posford were releasing some beautifully sophisticated ambient dub music that was really accessing beautiful and powerful spaces. So as I started putting tracks together, I suppose they landed somewhere on the periphery of these immediate influences. I wanted to make an album that had dance floor elements and lush headphone appeal as well. Within the electro-funk-dub stylistic mishmash on the album, there's something for the body, something for the mind, something for the spirit; that kind of thing.

It's a wonderful thing when music can effect people on different levels and really open the whole organism. This is what I'm trying to do with music - open up and let it pour though from the highest and funkiest and most healing sources available.

TRIP: What gear/software did you use to create the tracks on Shakatura?

GB: The music on the first CD came together gradually at the stormy confluence of sonic inspiration and technical pro wrestling. The studio was in serious flux over the course of the album's production. A lot of vintage analog synths and a bunch of newer digital synths and samplers were involved. The production environment used on Shakatura was Steinberg's Cubase VST on a Macintosh. I haven't played a synthesizer I like more than the Access Virus B for range and sound quality. I use a EMu rack module as a Swiss army knife of drum sounds and samples. A Studio Electronics ATC-1 serves up the pure analog butter and cream.

Of course it helps tremendously to play a traditional instrument, and have friends who play instruments. Electronic music has created a range of new musical aesthetics that completely discard any traditional instrumental tones and ensembles we're used to hearing in favor of a completely synthetic sound. Personally, I'm into fusion and integration of electronic and traditional instrumentation and I think this comes across on the album.

Seems to me that, beyond the basics, one's choice of particular tools is not as important as one's understanding of them. The computer is the heart of any digital composition system, acting as multi track recorder, sampler, synthesizer, drum machine, and mastering suite. With an average personal computer and a single good synthesizer, the only limitations are time, imagination, and patience.

TRIP: Did you use many samples or was the sound all homegrown?

GB: All the synth sounds were generated in the studio. Some of the samples come from sample disc libraries made for the purpose, some come from field DAT recordings, some from experimental goofing around. Everything audible is fair game if you can record it. This album does not really go as far as I'd like to eventually in terms of mining the world's technosphere and biosphere for interesting sounds. The album is about 85% an electronic studio creation, and it sounds like it. Moving forward, each track and definitely each album release will bump the ceiling of complexity. It has to be this way to stay interesting.

TRIP: What do you call the type of music on this album? Trip house? Organic downtempo? Murky disco? How would you classify it?

GB: Murky disco? A new sub-genre is born! Friends of mine were kicking around the term "psy-hop" a few years ago to describe a fusion of psychedelic trance and hip-hop. This term was describing something super fat and funky; something equally trippy but not as morose or jazzy as a lot of trip hop. The name game is endless of course, especially when you're mixing genres. The music on Shakatura pulls from downtempo electronic, ambient, breakbeat, trance, house, funk, disco, and rock. If there's one thing that's truly unique about it, I'd say it's this stylistic fusion.

TRIP: What's your favorite track on the album and why?

GB: That's a tough one, because I've liked them all best at one time or another. The opening track, "Lava Tube," I think best captures the lush and colorful spirit that surrounded this project. "Quark" is a nice one too. "Playa Mimosa," which opens, by the way, with a field recording from post-burn chaos at Burning Man 2001, will be remixed on the next album. That was the last track made, and the one pointing the direction into the current work.

TRIP: What other CDs are you listening to right now? Got any tips for us?

GB: In my opinion, anything on Interchill Records is really the top of the stack as far as organic-electronic ambient music goes. There are two new compilations coming out on this label within the next few months, and based on the prospective track listings, I'd recommend them both. Meditation2 is also forthcoming on Ceiba Records and will be great as well. There's a little list of enduring releases on the website at in the music section.

TRIP: So you did the cover art for the album as well. It's pretty inspired. You've got some sort of Vedic calendrical mandala, a strand of DNA, pristine rainforests, sacred eye portals... What's going on here?

GB: Well, if you've worked with the Tarot at all, that's how I think about this image. It's a sort of mandala, an integrated collection of symbols which reflect related aspects of the psyche in a (hopefully) meaningful way. As this image was coming together, it became apparent that it was representing the level at which human identity is balanced within the earth's biosphere. The lunar/astrological calendar reminds us that the motion of time is a concert of energy, made of meaning, ultimately beyond cause and effect; that everything is tightly wound in a web of synchronicity on all levels. We can develop awareness of events as synchronic and work with this understanding: in music, in relationships, in work of any kind. The DNA spiral represents the unbroken evolutionary chain and the energetic distillery of life on this planet. It is the single organism differentiated into myriad shapes. When we feel this relationship on a cellular level, a tree or bacteria is literally "another Yourself." The waters, forests and sky represent the interpenetrating levels of the biosphere inhabited by and maintained by this DNA creatrix. The moth wings with floating eyes represent lunar vision, the ability to view and integrate unconscious psychic contents and transhuman energies through fearless interior exploration. The central eye, which is the eye of a human infant, represents transparent vision, the pure unencumbered state of witness to existence, gracefully embodying all potentials. The music sounds really good from this vantage point ;-).

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    Tags : psychedelic
    Rating : Teen - Drugs
    Posted on: 2002-08-02 00:00:00