Jherek Bischoff’s Dispatches from the Cistern

The composer tells us about recording his new album in an army base, being broadcast in Times Square, and how he’s ready for a horror film.

Jherek Bischoff’s Dispatches from the Cistern

We often talk about artist’s evolution and growth, but Cistern truly feels (and sounds) like an artist culminating all of his past influences, experiences, and endeavours into something new and wonderful. Much will be made of Cistern actually having been recorded in a gigantic cistern (Jherek explains below), and this does lend the album otherworldly textures that you won’t hear elsewhere. But recording process for me seems most indicative of the daring and experimental nature which spans the entirety of his work.

As I point out below, the album also evokes the sounds of fluids, which have a special connection to Jherek’s formative years spent on a boat. Cistern is meditative in a way that’s is too deep to be confined to the atmospheric; meditative in the true sense of becoming present rather than fading into the background.

A neo-classical artist without classical training, Jherek started out playing with bands like Parenthetical Girls and Degenerate Art Ensemble before going solo with Composed and it’s companion Scores. While Scores is in many ways related to Cistern, the new album is very much its own thing. Read on to learn why.

I understand that you were actually at the bottom of a cistern when the album Cistern was created. What was that experience like for you, and how did you come to gain access to such a large cistern?
I was granted a residency at Fort Worden State Park, which is an old army base that was turned into housing for artists and events. I had heard about this cistern for years and years and has also heard numerous recordings that had taken place there. This cistern was the army base’s old water tank and reserve for if there were a fire, etc. and is now a 2 million gallon completely empty cement space underground that has a magnificent 45 second reverb decay. I was in residency finishing mixes on my last record Composed and decided to go down into the cistern to just improvise and experience it for myself. To get into it, you had to get a park ranger to bring a tractor up a long dirt road and lift a giant stone off the top of a manhole (the only entrance into the cistern). That keeps the kids from doing “satanic rituals” down there. I figured it would be a good idea to capture these improvisations just in case there was anything interesting happening, so I got a car battery and figured out a way to plug my computer into it, set up a few microphones, and brought down all of the instruments I could fit through the manhole.
I pressed record and happened to have an acoustic guitar on me and the very first thing that came out of me was the motif of the piece “Cistern”. As soon I started playing that pattern in that incredible otherworldly space, I knew that I was on a new path and this would be the sound of my next record.
I couldn’t actually record an orchestra in the cistern itself because of air issues and other safety problems, so I decided to write pieces that were inspired by the way that you had to play in that space, and instead record it in a church with a large ensemble and add a bunch of reverb in post.

Water seems to be a factor in your upbringing, and in addition to being made in a cistern, the sound of Cistern also seems to evoke the motion of fluids. Is this a coincidence or is water something you set out to explore?
It was actually a coincidence at first. It wasn’t until hearing the piece “The Sea’s Son” played back to me with a live orchestra, that I was transported to specific times I spent crossing the Pacific ocean. I then realized that there was a very deep connection happening here. The epic reverb evoked the feeling of great distance. With that epic reverb, it makes you slow all of your music down considerably so that everything could have a chance to speak. That really connected with the time I spent traveling in my sailboat. The fastest you could ever really go was 7 knots which is really slow! So, it took me back to those days of considerable patience! That being underground, surrounded by cement took me back so vividly to my teens traveling out on the open ocean was such a pleasant, strange and beautiful experience.

Ravelin Magazine
Ravelin Magazine

Can you tell us a little about your involvement with The Times Square Midnight Moment?
Oh man… Yeah! So I am taking over screens in Times Square for the entire month of August from11:57pm-12am, every night. The screens will broadcast a video that I made all over the world. Actually, it is a composite of eight videos that I have made! I have videos for eight of the songs on Cistern, clips of which will make up the video for the track “Cistern”. The video for Midnight Moment will actually be a shorter version of the video for the title-track. I worked with a team helmed by the supremely talented Jim Batt, and we shot all over Australia and the West Coast of the US. I was buried, submerged three times, sunburned, wind burned, frozen, soaked in rain, and spray painted in lots of gold paint. It was a beast. Very proud of this.
I will also be performing on August 21 & 22 with a live orchestra in Times Square. Hilariously, you can’t make noise in Times Square after 11pm, so to get around the noise curfew, we are performing with all electronic orchestral instruments. Electric violins, cellos, basses, horns, percussion etc. All of this will be fed into a mixer and sent out to 400 sets of headphones, so people listening in will get a full on performance of Cistern, and passersby will not hear a thing! Going to be super cool.

Your list of collaborators is as long as it is impressive. How do you approach collaboration, and are there any collaborations you can describe that stand out as exemplary of that approach?
I typically get pretty deep with all of my collaborators! I am never attracted to a collaborator for their profile or recognition. I always just try to collaborate with people who excite me. If it is something I am working on and I am looking for someone to fill a role, I usually hear a very specific person in my head that I know would be absolutely incredible performing that part. I have been very lucky with being able to get access to the people I have heard in my head. It is a direct result of having played in bands and toured super hard for many years, just making connections here and there. After so many years of doing that, the music world gets extremely small!

Do you think Neoclassical is an accurate genre description for Cistern?
Sure, I would say that is fine. It would be nice to be put into a box for once! Haha! I typically make music that doesn’t fit into a box clearly and I typically enjoy music that doesn’t fit into a box… But if you think it fits into that box, let’s roll with it!

Do you have an interest in feature film scoring?
YES! I have been waiting for the call… After every show, people come up to me and say, “why aren’t you making movie scores” and I just keep telling them I am ready! I have been helping my friend Craig Wedren with some TV scores. We work on a show called Blunt Talk together, and I also got to help him a little bit with the extremely fun Wet Hot American Summer score. I am just waiting for that intense drama or even better, a horror film!

Is there an ideal context in which you would like the album to be listened to?
Certainly in the middle of the Pacific or at the bottom of an immense water tank.

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