Wychazel in conversation with Morgana about his 2014 albums Reiki Masterclass and Spirit Flute.
On the first day there was Chris Green, one half of Runestone. On the second day there was Wychazel
. . . and lots of tea, a nap and more tea and then a new website, plus two outstanding new releases. This seemed like a good time to venture into Wychazel’s world to talk about all things Wychazel.
(Morgana) - A good starting point would be why the name “Wychazel”?
(Chris) – (laughs) - A lot of people ask me that. My own name looks pretty ordinary on a CD cover so I don’t like to use it. Wychazel seemed like a nice choice for an alias because it has a nice arcane look and sound to it and conjours up all kinds of New Age images which seem appropriate for my style music . . . are you still awake?
(Morgana) - Why the new website, which is quite striking I must say?
(Chris) – It started off with a phone call from Med. He was very enthusiastic about some new website software he was playing around with. Phone calls from Med can be financially damaging because they usually mean he has stumbled across some expensive new synth package. Enthusiasm can be dangerously infectious and I nearly always end up buying after a couple of sleepless nights trying to think of reasons why I shouldn’t. Anyway, he was right again, the new website formats looked fantastic compared to my current website and I could feel myself getting hooked. After setting up his own solo website (see tab at the top of this page) Med offered to set one up for me and you don’t turn away offers like that. Mind you, he did owe me a big favour since my last visit to Cornwall when I bought him an ice cream and a large portion of chips . . . and I left his studio without stealing anything.
(Morgana) - Will the new website offer fans anything new you’ve not not really had before. I noticed it has a blog, and newsletter, movies page, and has a lot more interesting pages than your previous site.
(Chris) – Where to start? Apart from ease of use, fewer screens to navigate and improved shopping links, there are a couple of nice features that were not available in my previous website. There is a Newsletter facility (which people have already started signing up for) and a Blog page, both of which I can use in place of the bi-monthly Newspage that used to be a feature of my old website. Also the artwork looks just great – big thanks to Med for this.
(Morgana) - Previous to Wychazel you were one half of Runestone, which had a totally different style and sound, far more pagan, medieval, Celtic, darker, more abstract. Was re-launching yourself as Wychazel a breath of fresh air and the opportunity to do more, other things, projects you’d always wanted to get to?
(Chris) – It was quite daunting really. The decision to go solo was made for me when Robert decided to quit Runestone in 2011 after finishing the Pendragon album. It is very difficult for any new recording artist to become established in the current economic climate and yet the demise of Runestone turned out to be a big opportunity for me. I was suddenly able to upgrade elements of my own studio without having to worry about technical compatibility issues between my studio and Robert’s and this was a breath of fresh air. An unexpected bonus came with the release of my Shaman album – which went straight to No.1 in the MG listing where it stayed for 9 months and picked up an outstanding sales award. It was also picked up for film presentation work by one of the US Native American organizations, which was a great endorsement. Since then, the Wychazel name has become well established and is associated with unusual sounds and authentic instruments where the synths don’t necessarily take centre stage.
(Morgana) - Do you have ideas for future projects or ambitions you would like to share with us.
(Chris) – I am thinking about producing a sequel to my 2010 Tibetan Bowls album sometime next year. No prizes for guessing the title:-) The album has been consistently popular, hopping in and out of the MG top 10 ever since its release, so there is a clear demand and appreciation for the unique sound of these sacred instruments. Since recording the original album, my collection of bowls has grown and my studio facilities have improved so this feels like an ideal time to expand the original idea and produce a follow-up.
(Morgana) - You have created a Reiki album for the first time, which is very good news for Reiki enthusiasts. Would you like to tell us how this came about and what your approach was in producing it?
(Chris) – I have been a big fan of complementary therapies ever since I was diagnosed with ME back in 1994. At the time, music opened all kinds of doors for me and introduced me to some very special people who have helped me cope with and manage the condition. Historical and current ways in which sound has been and can be used in the therapy room, as well as to support healing practices generally is a neglected topic that deserves more research and publicity. The idea of creating an album especially for Reiki started with research and I have to thank a good friend of mine, Victoria Gosher, for advice and validation throughout the project. Victoria runs the highly respected “Your Hands Can Heal School of Reiki” and was able to provide the perfect environment in which to try and test its use in the treatment room. Victoria's website can be found at www.yourhandscanhealschoolofreiki.co.uk
(Morgana) - I was delighted to hear you have produced an unofficial sequel to White Wolf Spirit, one of my personal favourites. Does Native American culture inspire you?
(Chris) – Thanks Morgana. The short answer is yes – very much so. I’ve been hooked since attending a drumming circle a few years ago, where I also came across the Native American flute for the first time. Sadly, the culture has suffered terribly for reasons all too well known – an injustice that continues to this day. Despite this, much of the culture remains and people are possibly better informed than ever thanks to the Internet and huge amount of literature. The music is a big part of this and continues to strike empathy with a great many people and will always be evocative of a natural, non-wasteful way of life that we can only now imagine.
(Morgana) - What is different in this new Native American title: “Spirit Flute”?
(Chris) – Spirit Flute is different to the Shaman series and White Wolf because the emphasis is very much on the Native American Flute. The album explores the expressive possibilities of this hauntingly beautiful instrument. The album has a similar feel to White Wolf Spirit and I am hoping that it will be as well received.
Wychazel – White Wolf Spirit
Wychazel in conversation with Morgana, about his 2013 album – White Wolf Spirit
(Morgana) What attracted you to Wolves as a subject?
(Wychazel) It’s mostly about their high-standing in Native American mythology. The white wolf is especially enigmatic because of its legendary ability to roam freely between the physical world and the spiritual planes of existence. It is said to walk with us during times of need in the role of protective spirit, teacher and friend. Aside from such cultural traditions, the wolf is a creature who understands the need for mutual support in order to survive and never takes more from the environment than it needs. There are clear lessons for humankind here – at least for anyone who wants to listen. From a recording standpoint, the sound of the wolf is a true gift; one of those rare sounds that can add the kind of primal atmosphere to a track that can’t be achieved any other way. The howl of the wolf, either solitary or in a pack, is immediately recognizable and so beautifully expressive when you hear it. All kinds of environmental images and atmospheres are conjured up in the imagination that you simply don’t find in musical genres other than New Age.
(Morgana) With your success producing the SHAMAN trilogy, was the approach to making White Wolf Spirit different?
(Wychazel) Shaman was all about authentic drumming within some pretty strict rules. There were no synths except to provide some environmental elements to enhance the idea of Vision Quest. Shaman was aimed more at the purists. White Wolf Spirit retains the Native American feel but is aimed at a broader musical appreciation: more Native American flutes and nebulous synths to provide a relaxing musical backdrop. The drums take a far lesser role, just there to provide a hypnotic pulse really – a heartbeat. Atmospherics feature more prominently too – all intended to enhance the imagery, a sense of what it might be like to take a Shamnic journey through the realm of the white wolf.
(Morgana) What does the WILD series mean to you is it something you relate to in your own life?
(Wychazel) I’m looking forward to the WILD series because it is a great opportunity to re-visit some of the original sentiments that established the New Age music genre in the first place. New Age music started out as an alternative lifestyle thing – being all about atmospheres and environments. One of the strengths of the series is that it will involve most of the artists on the label, all giving our individual takes along a common set of themes. It will interesting to hear how it all comes together.
(Morgana) Is it difficult to record and perform on such authentic and ancient instruments such as Native American flutes and drums?
(Wychazel) It presents different challenges than those you come across with synth recording because you have to mess about with microphones. The trial and error that goes into deciding which mics to use and where best to place them in relation to the instruments can take a while. Most instruments have an acoustic "sweetspot" where you site the mic for the sound you want but it can take a while to find.
(Morgana) What are your top 2 favorite Wychazel CD’s so far and why?
(Wychazel) Tricky question – you’ll have to forgive me for cheating here (laughs) because one choice has to be Shaman, and there are 3 albums in the trilogy. A lot of research and recording challenges went into Shaman and it turned out to be my most popular work so far, even receiving validation from the Native American fraternity. This album has been key in establishing my Wychazel name (not to mention the award) so it has a special place in my heart. Less successful but my first choice for musical and atmospheric reasons is Walkabout.
(Morgana) What else do you plan or hope to produce soon?
(Wychazel) I am currently working on another album for the WILD series: "Ocean Life". No percussion in this one – lots of slow synths with environmental atmospherics such as ocean waves (above and below) dolphins, whalesong and gulls. It sounds very wet and immersive so far.
(Morgana) Do you think the WILD series will raise some awareness and attention to endagered species and environments?
(Wychazel) It is a nice thought isn’t it – if only! There has been an increasing awareness and media comment during the last year or so about our fundamental need to reconnect with nature and I hope the WILD series helps the cause. At the very least, I hope people will find our brand of music offers some welcome respite from the hectic pace and issues of modern life, taking the listener to the kind of peaceful places and natural settings where they’d most like to be.
Wychazel – Shaman 3
Medwyn Goodall in conversation with Wychazel about his 2012 album SHAMAN 3.
(Medwyn) SO….(pause for effect)…..Chris..how long have you been under the illusion that you were actually called Wychazel?
(Chris) (laughs) My own name looks pretty ordinary on a CD cover so I don’t like to use it. Wychazel seemed like a nice choice for an alias because it conjours up all kinds of New Age images which are appropriate for my style music. I could go on and on about this but . . . are you still awake?
(Medwyn) How would you define Wychazel as an artist, or style? Wychazel has brought to the audience a very unique brand of music that is both a mixture of authentic workshops with Tibetan bowls and shamanic drums and the meditational, exotic soundscapes of titles like Mystique and Walkabout.
(Chris) Wychazel is all about meditational soundscapes and unusual authentic sounds. With so many good musicians out there writing music using the same software packages, the challenge is to come up with something different. I have always liked uncomplicated arrangements, the kind of nebulous music you can drift off to sleep to where sounds and textures take precedence over melody lines and complicated arrangements. I also have an interest in how psychoacoustics can be used to enhance the visualization and relaxational qualities of sound and like to incorporate some of these techniques in my work.
(Medwyn) Are you pleased and feel you accomplished what you wanted with this trilogy?
(Chris) I think it is fair to say nobody expected it to do as well as it has and I’ve been delighted with the response – and with my award A big thank-you to everybody out there who has been buying it.
(Medwyn) The trilogy is very obviously a hands on series, very authentic. How did you go about recording and creating this trilogy?
(Chris) I wasn’t completely new to the spiritual beliefs and ideas behind Shamanic drumming, having attended various drumming circles and Shamanic events (I have some strange friends). During my background research, I was intrigued to find links between Shamanic drumming and psychoacoustic theory. It was a case of modern thinking reinforcing old beliefs. Much of this is arguable although the low binaural sound frequencies produced by the drums coupled with their fast and steady drumming tempo does fall within the same bandwidth as Theta wave cycles in the brain. Theta waves are associated with visualization, trance and some sleep states.
(Medwyn) What future projects are you looking forward to creating and please answer in 4 words or less.
(Chris) . . . tea would be nice:-)
(Medwyn) Is there anything that separates the three SHAMAN titles from each other or was it your intention for the trilogy to be more a continuation of the whole? Maybe you could take us briefly through all three (looks at his watch and remembers the cheesecake shop down the road)
(Chris) (… sees Medwyn glance at his watch and suspects he’s thinking about the cheesecake shop down the road) Shamanic drum rhythms don’t have the same rhythmic diversity or complexity as, say, African, Arab or Indian styles so it is fair to say that all three albums are similar as regards tempo and drumming technique. The albums don’t try to break any of the established rules in this regard. The first Shaman album in the series is best thought of as an introduction and is the most basic of the three. Shaman 2 is different to Shaman 1 in that there are a couple more drums involved and the drumming builds up to more intense levels. There is also less emphasis on the Native American flute in Shaman 2. The third album revisits two of the rhythms that have attracted the most comment from listeners: Heartbeat II and another vision quest track incorporating the evocative sounds of wolves. Also on the third album is a straight Theta-Beat track. This kind of track could almost be described as "standard" because it is the simplest and most common rhythm you will find on many other albums and clips on YouTube etc. This track wouldn’t win any prizes for varied arrangement but has been included to complete the series and is quite possibly the track which displays the most psychoacoustic qualities in the whole collection – the essence of Shamanic drumming.
(Medwyn) For the more technically minded of us was there a recording process to the trilogy. I ask because SHAMAN is 100% hands on authentic drums and drumming, and from personal experience anything real and acoustic is difficult to record well. It’s not just about performance it is about the ability to capture the performance well.
(Chris) Microphone placement is the big consideration. Too close, the drum sound lacks attack and is too sustained and boomy, too far away sounds like someone hitting a cardboard box. The angle of the microphone to the skin makes a big difference too so trial and error is key. Natural-skin drums are susceptable to changes in temperature and humidity and will sound subtley different from day to day. All this works to advantage though because it enables one drum to sound like several different drums when recorded over a few days. Each album track represents a mix of anything between 12 to 20+ separate drumming tracks and the result is a very full sound that is only normally heard in a live drumming circle. I did allow myself a few cheats, namely a few atmospheric effects to enhance the idea of vision quest (avoiding any sounds you wouldn’t associate with the Shamanic concept) and a "deep boom" drum sound from Omnisphere to enhance the bass.
For any teckies out there, my choice of microphone was the SE Z3300A. This is a condensor mic that gives a nice thin sound – ideal for drums of this type because it yields clear high-end frequencies to play around with in the mix. Generally you can add all the bass you wish but higher frequencies are not so easy to bring out unless they are present in the original recording. Oh, and the whole recording process started off with a click track to set the right tempo.
(Medwyn) What is your next release about? and more importantly will it prevent my release from reaching number one again? (momentarily considers the dark side, death grip, black helmet, and the cool mini spacecraft that comes with the job)
(Chris) (laughs nervously, glances towards nearest exit and checks inside-pocket for tazer just in case) Following my visit to your wonderful studio during the summer, I came away infected with some kind of enthusiasm virus which has been compelling me to buy a few more bits of recording kit. It’s all your fault really that I have two new works in the pipeline. The first project "Temptation" is a laid-back rhythmic album with an eastern feel. The second is a Native American theme which picks up where Shaman left off – atmospheric backgrounds for vizualization with minimal Shamanic drum beats, nebulous synths, Native American flutes and environmental effects. But for now I’m keeping my fingers well crossed for the success of Shaman 3.