Norm Chambers Does Not Play Guitar Solos

Something about the music Norm Chambers composes connects directly to my occipital lobe. I’ve been listening to his work for over ten years now and few artists’ work connects with me on as many levels. Chambers finds soft edges for angular music, using an array of machines to create lush soundworlds that are simultaneously futuristic and timeless. As he’s shifted away from the pop-laced zones of his Panabrite project and into a new, equally engaging space with work under his own name, that soft, inviting edge has remained. 

Now, over three albums (two of which have already been released, but hadn’t when we had this conversation), he’s changed up his approach again, creating sampler-based landscapes that sound new while still sliding seamlessly into his oeuvre. Chambers isn’t content to simply continue rehashing ideas that have served him well, but he is continually searching for something new. His two most recent albums are out now: Seaside Resonance on Hotham Sound and the self-released Fragments From a Personal Museum

Norm and I chatted back in August, initially for a Patreon episode of The Electric Rubicon about Jürgen Müller’s Science of the Sea, but I couldn’t help but ask him about his current work, too. 

You can find Norm on Bandcamp and Twitter.

I want to talk a little bit about this new stuff you have coming out because I really am digging this new approach unless you have some strong feelings about guitar solos and want to talk about that instead? [laughs]

Well, for many years, I hated guitar solos. guess it’s a punk attitude, but they don’t bother me that much anymore. And actually, I really love many guitar solos. So, Oh, there you go. That’s, maybe it’s an age thing. But it’s sort of like, in that in that context. The solo works great. You know, yeah, to be there. Not. But, you know, that helps sort of make me appreciate them more.

I was saying to somebody that I had this realization recently that I think my love of synth arpeggios stems from my love of finger tapping as a kid. They’re very similar.

Yeah, it’s just that fast succession of notes. I know what you mean. It is kind of a similar vibe, for sure.

Enough about guitar solos, let’s talk about these new albums you’ve got coming out soon. You were telling me you’ve been doing a lot more with samplers, so what drew you toward exploring that zone?

I’ve primarily been using a modular synth for eight or nine years now. It’s ever-changing, but that’s been the basis of everything. After a while I get a little bored with the whole thing, you know? I’ve always liked working with samples and playing with that sort of blurry line where you can’t tell if something’s a sample or if it’s being played. Then, when it’s all combined in some kind of weird context, it’s really fascinating. 

So I just started sampling records or my own field recordings so I had this big library of source material, and then I would just mess with it, play it live and tweak it around. It’s been really fun. It’s a different working method which, I think, is probably why it’s so appealing. Plus, I’ve been enjoying what’s been coming out of it. So I went kind of nuts and now I think I’m at a point where I have to dial it back and integrate everything more in a naturalistic way with my natural workflow. I might scale back that aspect of it and try to be more subtle about it.

Some of this stuff is new stuff is very loopy and repetitive and textural, which I think can be great if you combine things well. It’s been a lot of fun. Now I have some things coming out that I really, really like a lot. I’m proud of them. I just finished another new one, more or less, a third one, I guess you could say that I like the most. It’s a little more off-kilter than the others. 

So what’s your process with it been like? Are you playing and recording all this live, or are you doing parts and then overdubs? 

What’s cool is I actually have two samplers that are Eurorack samplers. So it’s all inside the box, so to speak. It makes it easy. That way, I just patch it up with the samples, sort of simultaneously, and then I tweak it on the go. I usually have some kind of percussive or bass element to round it out. Everything is synced up in some regard which pulls it together a little bit. 

I try to consider for a live environment how I would do it because it can be hard to dial in the perfect thing that works. You know how it goes, sometimes you dial in a loop that’s really crazy and just perfect. And then you just lose it. If you touch anything, it’s completely ruined. So that’s always a tricky part with this stuff.

Yeah! It’s like you’re playing with fire. So tell me about the releases that are coming up.

There’s one that’s called Seaside Resonance. It’s coming out on Hotham Sound, which is a Vancouver BC tape label. They have a really nice aesthetic, so I think it’s a great fit. The other one doesn’t have a home really [Editor’s Note: Norm released it on his Bandcamp HERE], but I was going to do both on a CD, probably. At some point later on, maybe wintertime or something. I think they are a good complement to one another. They’re a little different, but also similar I guess. 

Then this new one I just finished, or am almost finished with, I think I’ll do on a CD too a little bit later. So you know, I’m not really sure, but I don’t want to wait too long. I just got really productive for like, three months. I’ve got some good material that I’m pretty happy with, so I might just cool it for a while and plan what to do with all that stuff.

Do you find that your process works that way, where it comes in fits and starts and you have a really productive period and then it goes cold for a while? Or is it more intentional?

It’s hard for me to plan anything because if I do, I’ll probably be disappointed. I feel like things just happen completely at random. That’s the best stuff, I find, when I’m not trying. It’s weird, when I plan something, like a big event, it’s almost like it kind of ruins it because I’m not sure what to do. But when I’m sort of in the moment of an idea and I just try to capture it, that’s when good things happen. Those times can be pretty rare, but within that, there will be several days where I’ll feel really good about what I’m doing. Then, other days, it’ll be sort of a desolate kind of feeling if nothing’s working.

Oh yeah, I’m the same way. Sometimes in those cold periods, I’ll start to worry that I’ve lost it, or whatever, like I don’t have any more music left in me and I freak out a little. But then something random will inevitably happen and kick something off again.

Yeah, yeah, sometimes it’s some weird little thing that’ll start it and lead to something else. To me, that’s exciting. Plus, I think, I’m pickier about things now and don’t want to repeat too much, so that that’s another sort of filter. I don’t want to just fall back into habits, which I do sometimes, but I think with the new stuff, it’s changed the palette a lot. That’s been refreshing and I think that’s part of why I’ve been so productive with this workflow.

Definitely. When you sent those two new albums to me, I could still hear a connection to your other work, but I was surprised at how different it was. It really surprised me. Some of it even has this great lounge-y vibe.

I really like blending that sort of feeling and contrasting it with some noisy musique concrète thing or some kind of tape thing where it becomes this very odd pairing of sounds. That makes it more exciting. The loungey kind of thing, though that was kind of unexpected, it just sort of happened. [laughs]

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