MAX CORBACHO: Bonded with Mystery
(AUDIO INTERVIEW + MUSIC MIX)
After many interviews with some of the best ambient artists from around the world, now is the moment for a conversation with our first guest coming from Spain. Max Corbacho needs no introduction to the audience of `Journeys to the Infinite`. His music played on our show since the late 90s when the debut album `Vestiges` was launched. Max's sonic mythology encompasses primordial and futuristic themes rooted in the territories first explored by Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, and Robert Rich. Although his style shares lots of similarities with the work of these American pioneers, it organically grew into more personal directions, integrating the influences and evolving toward a wider abstractisation. But better to listen to the artist himself speaking about his musical journey.
This is Max Corbacho's first audio interview in English. Both of us, Max and I, are native speakers of Romance languages (Spanish, Romanian), and we are aware that our pronunciation and fluency in English are limited. To avoid any unclarity, I inserted at the end of this article a transcript of our talk.
audio interview (25 min.) + music mix (73 min.)
MAX CORBACHO Site: https://maxcorbacho.com/
MAX CORBACHO Bandcamp: https://maxcorbacho.bandcamp.com/
Welcome to the show, Max!
Hi Marius, It is great to be here and answer your questions.
You are composing ambient-electronic albums for more than two decades, and this became your
full-time job for the last 10 years. Looking back, how do you see your career now compared with your initial intentions, when your musical journey started?
Well, actually my musical career began more years ago than I have been dedicated to this musical genre. It started when I was a teenager, 14 or 15 years old, as a guitar player in a rock band. For a time that was my idea of a musical career. Different changes in my life made my interest gradually drift into electronic instruments and become interested in the electronic genre. Really my first intention when entering the electronic genre was that of sound creation. Sculpting a sound from nothing that did not exist before was something that deeply attracted me, the possibility of exploring sound worlds unexplored until then. That was the possibility that I discovered in synthesizers, samplers, and other gear. One step further was the discovery of sequencers. I bought an Atari 1040 ST computer and an early version of the software sequencer Cubase. It was a discovery for me, it was like having a full band or an orchestra, playing multiple instruments, in the comfort of my home studio. That first passion for sound exploration was my first goal. Over time, this whole idea
was what filled all the moments that my day job left me free. It was like this for many years, and in them, I was creating my first albums. Today I have the possibility to dedicate myself to it full time, and in addition to my passion, it has also become my job.
Are you aware of your first sonic memories? Did you got exposed to music in your childhood?
Yes, of course, music is an important part of almost all families here in Spain, in mine too, but always at a very basic level and reduced to the more commercial side of music. You know, flamenco, disco, etc. All that you could hear on the radio and mainstream TV. In the early 80's I was a teenager and it was at that time that by chance both my friends and I started listening to radio stations broadcasting music that was totally different, something that was not like what you would normally listen to. I remember the first time I heard The Wall by Pink Floyd or Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, they were moments of profound revelation, which marked me deeply. It was something very different from the popular Spanish music that was usually heard, or from disco music. This was very deep and powerful. It was shocking to hear songs that lasted half an hour, even longer, full of different sections, atmospheres, harmonies that sounded totally new to me, something that was a radical change from what I had heard before.
How and when did your interest in electronic music begin?
I started listening to electronic music in the mid-90s. It was a time when, also by pure chance, I listened to radio programs here in Spain dedicated to the nascent New Age music. In the beginning, people like Richard Burmer, Enya, Karl Jenkins, Kitaro were broadcast a lot here in Spain. Really, unlike many people of my generation, I entered electronic music through the New Age. It was around this time that, at a dinner at the house of some friends, I discovered a CD with a beautiful photograph of the American Southwest on the cover. My friend told me that it was very soft music, almost without melody and interest. I think he didn't like that CD very much. Intrigued, I decided to put it on the CD player. Instantly I recognized in that music what I had been looking for for a long time.
It was the Desert Solitaire album by Steve Roach, Kevin Braheny, and Michael Stearns. I was captivated by that. That's where my real interest in electronic music began.
What composers and artists you enjoy listening to, from all the genres?
My tastes are basically the Rock music of the 70s, a lot of classical music, and the ambient of Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, Robert Rich, and Michael Stearns. In Rock music I am a lifelong fan of the great prog-rock bands of the 70s: My beloved Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Emerson Lake and Palmer, etc. When I listen to music on my stereo I almost always listen to these artists. Also a lot of Hard Rock from the 70s and some Heavy Metal from the 80s. In classical music, I like everything, from old music, especially Bach who is my favorite composer, to the French organists of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, like Widor, Louis Vierne, and Messiaen. It's basically the music that I listen to normally when I'm not in the studio.
Stylistically, your music is very much connected to the California School of Electronic Music. What aspects of this American music tradition impacted you the most?
Yes, it is certainly the genre that I feel connected to. There are many ambient currents here in Europe but I don't feel a connection to them. What attracted me to the Californian school of electronic music from the beginning and I cannot find in the European one is the depth, the connection with the mysteries of existence, the mind, nature, the mystical side, the transcendence, the connection also with the eastern philosophical traditions, and in essence, the mystery. I have to feel that mystery in music. Both when listening to it and when creating music. It is the engine that moves everything for me. And that is what attracted me to this musical genre and that is what I try to convey in my works.
Your first albums, especially Vestiges and Moontribe, have a tribal-ambient approach similar to Steve Roach's style. Gradually, you ceased to use primal rhythms in favor of deep ambient excursions and drones. Is there any reason for abandoning the tribal elements?
Yes, after Moontribe I started dedicating myself almost exclusively to creating atmospheric soundscapes. It was a gradual thing that happened naturally, without any premeditation on my part. The truth is that I felt at some point that what filled me the most was the creation of those long atmospheric oceans of sound, and I can't say why. There is really no reason for it, only that slowly my interest was focusing on the infinite depth of these compositions, without any apparent form, only the sound, the long chords, almost without apparent synchrony, like sound currents slowly evolving to infinite.
This year you ended the trilogy Nocturnes. It's your first and only trilogy. Tell us about the theme and concept of these albums.
Well, all my life I have been a lover of the great natural spaces, and I have dedicated myself to escaping to them whenever I have been able. Here in Spain we, fortunately, enjoy many places where you can still feel the mystery of nature, be there alone and be overwhelmed by its beauty and magnificence. Many of those stays have been at night. I have been an amateur photographer for a long time and started taking night photos of some of those places. The result inspired me to create an album based on those photographs. As I had several of them and I found a subtle connection with some of the tracks I was producing at the time, the idea of creating an album trilogy based on it came up. Really all my music is inspired by these places and by what they transmit, the powerful and deep connection we have with them and with our mother earth. Some of the tracks that make up the trilogy had already been created for years, but that connection was already there, and the fit was perfect.
You started to re-release some of your albums. Did you bring any changes to these new editions?
Normally I do not make any modifications to the audio if I am satisfied with the original. That was the case for example with Ars Lucis. The original files have a sound that I still like today, and I know that you can always tweak it, and take advantage of it to sell a Remaster, which is a commercial strategy that works very well, but I didn't think it was necessary to do so. As I say, I am satisfied with the original version and that is the one that can be heard on the reissue. In future reissues, I will evaluate whether or not it is necessary to remaster the sound and that will be the reason to do it or not.
Except for Bruno Sanfilippo, with whom you recorded the albums Indalo and Bioma, it seems that you prefer working alone rather than collaborating? Do you have any new collaborations in the plan?
It is difficult to explain. I get many offers often to collaborate and appreciate each and every one of them. But the truth is that I have a need to release all the music that I have in my mind, something that occupies me all the time. I have collaborated in the past and it is an experience that I love but I feel that now I owe myself to creating alone to continue exploring and showing everything that is still there waiting for its moment. Every day I love to go into the studio and continue sculpting, excavating so many sounds and so much music that it lies waiting for its moment to be brought to light. There is also the question of my way of releasing. I am an independent artist and I myself have to take on multiple tasks when publishing my music. That takes me a long time, but it is something that I assume and that is the price I pay for my independence and not depending on anyone. In summary, at this moment I prefer to continue with my solo sound exploration but it does not mean that it is final, at some point I will begin to collaborate with other artists after this stage,
Most of your album covers are created by yourself. How do you make use of your skills in Graphic Design and Photography and What's the process of creating and choosing the artwork for a new release?
Since I was a child I have liked painting and photography. I started photographing at a very young age, and when I started my music career, it was natural to include some of my photos on the covers of my albums. Since the first of them, Vestiges from 1998, the rock formation that can be seen belongs to one of my photographs. Then, with the advent of personal computers, I also got into image and photo manipulation, something that I have always been passionate about. Some of the results of those sessions have been the covers of some of my albums. Lately, I have also had external help, for example from my good friend Michael Pletz, and with him, we have chosen some images of his creation or of other artists. Normally that process begins when everything else, recording, mixing and mastering has finished. It is a part that I really like, the union of image and music is something magical and I try to pay maximum attention and dedication to this stage.
We can't talk about electronic music without technology. You seem loyal to hardware synthesizers. Are you not satisfied with today's virtual instruments?
Yes, virtual instruments today are incredible, there are many and of all possible types. It is exciting. However, from the beginning, I got used to hardware instruments and the interaction with them, so subtle, tactile, direct, is difficult to replace in the virtual world. Also, I love the sound of hardware instruments. Of course, they cannot compete in sound cleaning with virtual ones for example. There are cables that may fail, there is background noise, etc. But I still prefer the hardware studio experience, the sound is very deep, the nuances, something that cannot be expressed in words, that silky quality to the sound that I love and, the feeling that these instruments are something alive. In the past, I have tried to work with virtual instruments but have not gotten deep interaction with them. I use the computer but always in the final stage of the album creation and the last stage of production, in the mastering. Normally my tracks already arrive at the computer in their final state, since I sequence the whole song in the sequencer and hardware synthesizers through my mixing console. Later in the audio sequencer on the computer, I give a few touches to the tracks sometimes, very few times, and I create the final structure of the album by adding the different songs already recorded.
I know that you are interested in yoga and meditation for many years. How this spiritual practice influence your music?
Since I started creating music I realized that when I am in that moment of creation, in the studio, something happens at a very deep level in my mind, in my body. It is a flow with the present, a feeling of deep well-being and mental focus. These experiences led me to become interested in these ancient practices since there is an obvious connection. Also at the same time, I have sought answers to the problems, chaos, and general deterioration that we can observe in societies around the world. That led me to the vision that Eastern currents of thought have of all this, and above all the idea that to change the world we must first change ourselves. These practices help us to do this, and above all to maintain a more serene vision in the face of the events that unfold around us. Whenever I can, I use them to return to that flow with life, with the present moment. I try at least once a day to be with myself for a while, in silence, attending to this flow with the present moment. This experience is intimately connected with musical creation, with any type of artistic creation in fact.
Can you comment about your plans for the immediate future?
I am preparing the second part of my album Lost Links, but in double format, with a disc with new rare, unreleased, and lost tracks, and also with a second disc containing the tracks from the first volume, which never really had a physical release. Only a few CDs were made by the Relaxed Machinery label on a very limited basis. On the album with the new tracks, there are songs that many followers have asked me to rescue and this is one of the reasons for this release. Also, I am working on two new albums in parallel, one is already finished and awaiting the next stages of mastering and graphic design, and another that is slowly developing in the studio. At the same time, I am working on more new tracks in a continuous creation state that will serve to form the songs for
future new albums.
Your music has always been well received on the `Journeys to the Infinite` show. Thank you Max for this interview!
Thanks to you Marius for including me in your interviews and for your continuous support of the artists of our musical genre. Greetings to all, thank you!