Vapourspace – interview with Mark Gage

“Sonic Residue From Vapourspace” is not your usual remix album. In re-interpreting music from various Magna Carta artists, Mark Gage (aka Vapourspace) refrained from using any sounds not found on the original recordings. Thanks to Gage’s studio wizardry, the tracks ended up sounding radically different without relying on any new beats or samples. In an email interview, Gage told us about the making of the album.

How did the “Sonic Residue” project come about?

Mark Gage: Pete morticelli who runs the label phoned me up, and we talked about if i thought that somehow we could do some sort of a project. I wasn’t familiar with the label in the sense of knowing or owning their releases, but i was quite aware of the label, the “tribute” cd’s that they’ve made and especially the artist roster. While they’re definitely not techno or even electronic, i didn’t think i was above working with the source material. My friend CHARLES K SNIDER/DJ FAKE’ who ran the WIRE offshoot label WMO (releasing obscure spin-offs from the band WIRE and it’s members) and the electronic label THOUSAND, is quite a prog head as well, so i’ve been reliving my past through his mp3 discs of live yes concerts and such…

I think the idea of actually spending the time it would take make an album of original works seemed kinda boring when i thought i could make an album of original works with some other people’s source material, kinda claiming it for myself, while still allowing their virtuosity to ring through. I didn’t want to make a disco remix record, a piano beat laden 909 mush pit, or a coldcut click glitch loop edit extravaganza, i wanted to make a VAPOURSPACE record with TONY LEVIN, TERRY BOZZIO, STEVE MORSE, STEVE HOWE, TIM ALEXANDER, STEVE STEVENS, DREAM THEATRE members…Not to mention my complete boredom with what’s going on with the music business and the dj mixed cd! I wanted to do the opposite! I’m not sure whatever happened to music, but i rather listen to performance any day instead of a dj pro tooling a mixed cd. It’s obvious a percentage of these cd’s are actually recorded live with turntable mixing, so it’s kinda sad people are being immortalized for compiling a cd (trust me, i do understand a lot of these people are good live dj’s too, but how far will this go?…Until the record industry kills it, which already happened)…

Did you initially have a clear idea of how you would approach it (creatively and technically), and if not was it difficult getting started?

Mark Gage: Getting started is the easy part when i do a remix. I don’t take the typical approach of just sampling a bit and slamming out a mix, i learn the entire piece through uploading and disseminating it in the computer, laid out linear style. For this job only 3 pieces arrived in pro tools sessions ready for me to deal with, so i had to upload 7 of the compositions from adat’s or da88’s (some songs were 32 multi-tracks), and then bar and meter graph all 10 pieces, so the computer sequencer stayed in time with all of the music. Then i edit in small bits to toss to the sampler, or to RECYCLE to hack into even smaller bits to use in programs like REASON…So getting started with this job wasn’t an issue, i knew i couldn’t really get creative with it for a couple months, so i had to start with the technical end first. Very sterile, very boring…A lot of dvd watching while i work on the computer during those periods, and fortunately i have access to 2 macs in the studio, so i can often have one processing while i work on other things.

Can you describe how the software you used (I believe Reason/Recycle?) Played a big role in the project?

Mark Gage: I only used RECYCLE and REASON for 5 of the 10 pieces of music, mainly because i got very tired of the process through the mixing desk using OPCODE”S STUDIO VISION and rack gear and a mixing desk. A friend got REASON and the cogs started spinning cause i really needed a diversion with the job…Leaving the audio ‘in computer’ i hacked the songs in 1, 2 or 4 measure phrases by individual instrument, based on their phrasing and ACTUAL bar lines (which kept it easy to upload in REASON). If there were rests within those measures, i kept that info intact, and chopped the phrases up in RECYCLE first and created REX files. For example, with a lot of the masters, the engineers had mixed 2 track composite drum mixes from all the mic sources somewhere on the multi-tracked adats, so i would use those composite drum mixes to break apart, laying in markers in RECYCLE, making breaks out of TERRY BOZZIO’s drum lines. Since electronic music is about breaks, i would work with various phrases of the drum performance (not every measure, i would definitely repeat some of the original measures so i didn’t have to edit absolutely everything!) To recreate the song in REASON, uploading REX’s into REX players, which would give me the power of a synth/sampler for each phrase i uploaded, laid out in sequence form with a mixing board, effects and everything in ONE software package! I actually recreated my home studio within the computer for each piece, which helped with the boredom of the other way of working, and was quite exciting! So, i would edit small phrases this way with the guitars, and basses and keyboards, create REX’s and finish the pieces of music in their entirety on the mac. The challenge now for you is to figure out which 5 i used REASON on…

As you were working on the project, did you run into any unexpected limitations with the tools you were using?

Mark Gage: Never

Did you have a choice at all in terms of which songs would be included/remixed?

Mark Gage: Yes. MAGNA sent me current releases that were from their original artists/project roster ONLY, as per my request, and i picked what songs i wanted to work on, primarily based what i heard in them. I thought trying to remix anything from the tribute series of stuff was a mute point, since they were already cover songs (ie ANNIE HASLAM from RENAISSANCE doing a GENESIS cover on the GENESIS tribute cd)…While the thought of getting ANNIE HASLAM’s bare vocal track was cool, i thought it would stretch my imagination and creativity more to work with original pieces of music from current releases on the label, and everyone involved was well enough known, so sifting through those masters was also quite fun! Also i hoped this would give MAGNA a double edged sword and help them promote their original album releases.

Were any songs particularly difficult to remix? Did any turn out to be easier than you expected?

Mark Gage: Probably the vocal numbers were the most demanding, because coming from the techno perspective, the original thought is to just turn them off…Then you concede and throw in bits and pieces, mabye do a dub mix, so their tripped out. At that point i then decide to use ALL of them, whether it’s gonna bum someone out or not. A very non-techno approach, but if you’ve heard my meat puppets or chris + cosey remixes, i’m not ashamed of vocals. If some of the trance stuff i hear and UNDERWORLD can get away with vocals, i have no qualms with trying to present STEVE WALSH’s or DC COOPERS’s vocals in a tasteful manner.

What else is new? What projects are working on right now? Any new releases coming up soon?

Mark Gage: Sometime around march 2002 or so, i have an full length cd and 12″ ep coming out for my MIMI+BOYD project with detroit DJ PUNISHER, MICHELLE HERRMANN, co-owner of SEISMIC records. Both will be released on LA based PHTHALO label, owned and operated by my good friend and talent, DIMITRI FERGADIS. The cd ANGULAR ISLAND has 9 tracks (3 were released over 2 years ago on german label CONTACT.ED operated by superstition). The 12″ has 4 remixes of the track “HOVER+POUNCE” by SCUD, HELLFISH, VENETIAN SNARES, and VAPOURSPACE. MIMI+BOYD is the direct opposite of what i did for MAGNA CARTA, it’s a straight forward four on the floor kick techno thang…Very bangin and metallic.

Since “THEMES FROM VAPOURSPACE” and “THE MAGNETIC GRAVITY ARC SUITE” are currently out of print …. Is there any chance of re-issues in the near future?

Mark Gage: Probably will happen at some point…I’ve got some great ideas for a cool little box set from that period, with some live stuff too.

How has the Vapourspace website been working out for you?

Mark Gage: Probably will work much better when my next update happens over the next several weeks! I’m gonna simplify it and give people more info and images, scans of flyers from performances, mp3 downloads of dj and live shows…Love to use splashes of BEATNIK on it (i did a BEATNIK track for MTV’s website a couple of years ago using a telephone conversation i recorded with COLIN NEWMAN’s son ben (he must have been 8 then) called AS BIG AS GIANTS, drum and bass in style). We have the artwork and flash stuff ready for the update, i just gotta get all the info inputted. I do all the work myself, so unfortunately, it has to go at my pace!