Behind The Mask

13 June 2012 | 11:25 am | Doug Wallen

Chris Madak of fringe US synth project Bee Mask reveals the inner workings to Doug Wallen.

In a sense, Chris Madak is scarily prolific, with dozens of releases since emerging as Bee Mask around the middle of last decade. Then again, his first few CDRs were limited to runs of literally six copies. With time, though, the Cleveland native has stepped up the reach of his output both for other labels and for his own Deception Island imprint. Last year's Elegy For Beach Friday double-LP saw a more proper release, and now the longtime home-recorder is considering stepping into an actual studio to mix his future work. In the meantime, he's growing his cult fame ever so slightly by doing a low-key Australian tour.

A purveyor of instrumental synth and drone oddities, Madak has been associated in the past with making his own instruments. Those include synths and oscillators, including the guts of a 75 percent-finished “monosynth” currently strewn about his makeshift home studio. But unlike many of his peers in the DIY realm of handmade electronics, for him it's always been a means to an end. “I build things and try to understand the process because I want to understand my material better to make better records,” he explains.

“I took some time off from it because I felt like the overhead in terms of time and money was taking away from me being as productive as I wanted to be with recording, mixing and editing.” That said, he adds, “It was a thing that people really expected [at gigs].”

Like most underground experimental acts, Bee Mask's music can tend towards the esoteric. But amid all the hypnotic drift and synth-supplied gravitational pull of his creations, there's a reliable ripple of melody that makes it more accessible than you'd expect. Besides, he didn't start with those small runs just to keep more people from hearing his music. His early releases on his label – both from Bee Mask and his friends' projects – were limited for a reason. “You make 20 of something because you can think of 15 people personally who might want to hear it,” Madak says, “and the other five go out in the ether.”

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He was also inspired by working as part of a collective in an art gallery that did a lot of edition work. But now he's aiming to do fewer releases and more runs, rather than the other way around. That means recording and stockpiling material for the better part of a year, with the goal of “having all that to draw on at the end and putting out one much stronger record,” as he did with Elegy For Beach Friday.

Bee Mask's next album, Vaporware/Sacanops, will come out on Brisbane label Room40, even if it won't be ready for his tour due to an extra month of mixing. But that's okay with Madak, who's used to the vagaries of small releases. After all, he's juggled tape and CDR artefacts on Deception Island. He's also towed the label with him from his uni town of Northampton, Massachusetts, through stints in New York, Chicago and his native Cleveland before ending up in Philly, where his longtime girlfriend's job took him. Since the label revolves around a tight circle of projects, real-life commitments on all sides have slowed the output.

Madak began the label as just a name to put on releases to trade at his gigs, so it makes sense that his live show incorporates the entire Bee Mask continuum. That's because, in addition to playing synth, he re-sequences and manipulates diced particles from his tracks old and new. He now has an archive of Bee Mask sounds including fourth- and fifth-generation derivatives of the original sources.

So instead of trying to replicate his records when he tours, he re-imagines them entirely. That keeps his recording process blissfully open. “I use the proverbial kitchen sink to make records,” he says, “and then it's on me to translate them.”