Ambient Architect Max Corbacho Waxes On Art, Music, and the Monetary Side of Music.
June 08, 2017
Max Corbacho has been consistently releasing high-level ambient music for almost two decades now.
Being a multi-talented artist and musician (he also enjoys graphic design and photography), I was curious about his music as well as the magnificent covers that he uses for his albums.
As ambient music changes with the popularization of ASMR, I thought now would be the perfect time to get his perspective on these new developments and his cultural influences.
Prox: I’m a big fan of your cover art selection. How does the selection process usually work? Is there one particular artist that you enjoy working with for the covers?
Max: Most of my covers are pictures from me. Since I was very young, I have been fond of graphic design and photography. With the arrival of digital processing, an incredible world opened up. From that moment on I have spent many hours modifying basic images from my photographs often adding layers, filters, modifying colors, etc. It’s something that I’m passionate about.
So, for my second album, back in the year 2000, I began to create images and that was the first album to carry one of my creations. Even for the first, Vestiges (back in 1998), the rock that can be seen on the cover was taken from one of my photos with the background and labyrinth carved into the rock added later. There are some albums anyway, in which I am not the creator of the image.
For Nocturnal Emanations the image was found on the internet and retouched a little. In Ars Lucis I obtained the permission from a wonderful photographer named Michel Schweighoffer to use two of his photographs of the basilica of Saint Denis in France. For Splendid Labyrinths and Future Terrain I contacted designer Michael Rodriguez Pletz and the result was masterful.
For the rest of the albums the images were created by me, and then a designer is in charge of the layout. Each project is different, and basically, the decision is made based on what I look for at that moment. Sometimes the idea is so difficult to translate (for example, the mandala that is built of labyrinths for Splendid Labyrinths) that I can not do it. It is in those cases when I pass the work to the designer. But for me it is very beautiful to create images and then use them as album covers. The fan who buys that album is acquiring a more complete experience, since there is something more created by the artist, apart from the music.
Prox: Why did you choose ambient above so many other genres as your primary sound? How does producing this music bring you closer to your inner-self?
Max: I did not discover this musical genre until very late. Here in Spain (at least in the 80’s), when there was still no internet, it was more difficult to be aware of the new music. It was in the mid 90’s when I became interested in Ambient music.
I came from the world of Rock, I started playing in local bands as a guitar player. After a spell where I moved away from music, I came back again but this time I was already interested in synthesizers and sequencers. I marveled at the possibility of recording music in my own house, without having to rely on anyone else or go to a recording studio. It was a revelation. I, alone in the comfort of my home study, drinking tea or coffee and composing in the most absolute tranquility.
Little by little, in that stillness one discovers things inside of themselves and understands that the music that comes up is something revealing about who you are and what you do here in this world. I believe that at that moment a very profound internal change began. I do not know if that has to do with the musical genre or not. Maybe it would have come to that same self discovery if I had continued as a guitar player in rock bands. Surely the important thing is authenticity, being true to oneself and carrying to the final consequences that make you feel deep and makes you throb in life.
Prox: How does the culture and spiritual practices of Spain contribute to your music? Has Eastern thought had any impact on your productions?
Max: I am not particularly interested in any religion, I consider myself a Pantheist. What I did experience gradually is an approach to Eastern philosophies, and especially in the practice of staying in the now. I understand that for example Taoism or Buddhism, in its purest form, are not religions since there is no god or figure to pray to. It is more about living patterns, ancestral wisdom that can help us a lot in life, a wise and true philosophy that arises from self experimentation, not from blind faith.
Greek stoicism is also a great source of wisdom that can bring us much well-being. Of course, all this interest influenced my music, as it does in all facets of my life. I think it helped me a lot to understand and to be more faithful to myself. And of course, the musical creation itself, is a kind of deep meditation, a practice that installs you in the eternal present. When I became interested in all this I was surprised by the fact that many of these states of deep meditation or inner focus had already experienced them at the time of the creation of music. I was amazed to find that deep connection between those two practices.
Prox: A lot has changed in the ambient scene in recent years. Especially with the explosion of ASMR. How does one have a successful career in this genre and what are some expectations and realities of the financial side of things?
Max: Here I can only speak from my personal experience. It all depends on the goals of the artist. As you say in the question, we are going through a time of very profound changes at all levels. For the artist, the main problem is the banalization of musical creation, that is, the belief by the vast majority that music and art should be free. We continually attend heated debates about whether music should be free or not, whether it should be a common good for all the people. I agree with that, after all, what an artist wants is for his art to reach the people, to share with the largest possible audience as that message comes from the depths of his soul. The sad reality is that, while in the forums it is being debated, the artist increasingly receives less and less money for his creation, and like everyone else, the artist must eat, pay his bills and tend to his family.
Sometimes I hear the argument that one should forget to make money with music and make it as a hobby. Experience has shown me that only consistency, continuous practice of your craft, and complete dedication can foster creation at the highest level. For example, does anyone imagine that a doctor, a firefighter, should do his work for free in his spare time as a hobby? I think we will all agree that the quality of their work would not be optimal. In the case of music it is exactly the same.
Music creation requires maximum dedication. The result of that will be that in a few years there will be no professional musicians. The saddest thing of all is that perhaps people do not care, after all, the music that people hear is dictated by televisions, and here quality is not the goal, only commerciality. In the middle of all this scenario, if we talk about the future and the financial side of things, and what an independent musician can do, the main thing is to apply a basic rule: Follow your path as far as you can, regardless of everything around you or everything else that others tell you that you can or can not do. «Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking», said the writer Antonio Machado. That is my position. Obviously, I am absolutely aware of the difficulty of being an independent artist today.
Perhaps the question is how all this translates into the reality of each day, how an independent artist can make his way. I believe that we must take advantage of the opportunities offered by communication, the internet, and so on. And to make music at the highest level and rely on that handful of faithful followers, regularly deliver a good piece of music and enjoy the exchange of positive energy that occurs in that transaction. Work like a little ant each day, humbly accept any criticism, setback, or problem, and grow and learn from the mistakes made. It is a long way but the good things happens as you travel the path.
Prox: Tell us something about yourself that we may not know that influences your work.
Max: Well, I do not know if everything that influences me is known or not. Be it known or not, there are many things that produce in me the spark that moves my musical creation. For example, as it can not be otherwise, the contemplation of nature, whether on short walks or on long trips. I have always liked to experience nature in the simplest way, that is for example, sleeping in the open anywhere as far away from cities as possible. Such experiences leave an indelible mark on me. My new album series, the NOCTURNES trilogy, is inspired by those nights photographing and sleeping in the open.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
Max: I am also passionate about reading, especially science fiction and historical novel. The poetry of the great Federico García Lorca has also been an inexhaustible source of inspiration, as well as all the other artists of the surrealist movement. The magical realism of 20th century Hispanic American artists, especially Garcia Marquez and my new favorite, the novel Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo, a marvel, mysterious, evocative, surreal, a jewel.
Art in general and painting in particular are also my passions, especially the Flemish painting of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In music, specifically ambient, what has influenced me the most is the work of Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana, and Michael Stearns, as well as Robert Rich. Something that people do not know is that I listen to very little ambient music. What I listen to most is 70’s music, especially my favorites, Genesis, which is the band of my life. From them I extract many musical teachings, they are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for me. I think they are the summit of Rock music. And I’m also very interested in classical music, in all its ages. Especially the music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and most notably the organists of the French school of that time, Widor, Guillmant, and Louis Vierne.
Also, I am very interested in art installations from the contemporary period, although I confess that I do not have much time to go to exhibitions. It is a world in which you realize that artistic creation is infinite, there is always something new that surprises you.
Apart from everything said before, there are people who are a kind of light in my life, whom I admire, people like Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, and in general all people involved in the movement and activism in favor of peace, ecology, Climate change, fight for equality and help the most disadvantaged, etc.
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
Max: I think photography and music are my hobbies, an independent musician has very little time to develop more. Photography at a very amateur level, but i’ve been interested in it for many years. In fact, I think I bought my first camera at the age of seventeen. Listening to music is my usual hobby, especially going to buy records, be it vinyl or CD. I’m from the old-school, I prefer the experience of buying and enjoying a physical product, having it in my hands while I listen to the music, read the inner notes, enjoy the artwork and the packaging. It’s an experience that no streaming or digital download can match. I think if you really love an artist there is no better way to enjoy it. And of course, the sound is much better, this is the most important.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
Max: I think that as I said earlier, working as a little ant is the best strategy possible. Insistence, self-confidence and perseverance. Apart from this, something that I always answer when my musician followers ask me, is that they should not fall into the obsession to acquire equipment. I know a lot of people who have five times as many synthesizers as I do in their studio, and the problem with that is that they can not go deeper into editing. Normally the synthesizers have a factory preset configuration with a very standard sound. If you do not edit and program your sounds, you’ll sound like a TV commercial. It is much better to base your studio on a small number of equipment and to be able to deepen into programming. That way you can achieve unique results, much more real and authentic ones at that. This ties in with the strategy of perseverance.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Max: Well, I just published my new album Nocturnes, which is the first episode of a trilogy. The second part is almost finished, I just have to create a few more minutes of music and it will be finished. Also, some of the tracks of the third installment are already recorded. But before all this, there is a new album completely finished that I hope that now in June enters the process of mastering and graphic design. It’s a new album in my classic atmospheric line, just like The Ocean Inside or Splendid Labyrinths. I hope to release it in September if possible. Along with all this, I continue working every day and there are many more tracks already recorded that will be part of new albums in the short and medium term.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Max: I just want to deeply thank all my fans for their support. When I receive a message from one of them in which he tells me that he has enjoyed my new album, that is the best reward. Greetings to all.
Do not miss out on updates on Max’s upcoming trilogy by following his work on Bandcamp, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or his Website.