From library music to beat music, Charif Megarbane establishes the major focus of a verbose work with the Cosmic Analog Ensemble. Between the simple themes and heady tunes, there is a more human, travelling pop sensibility and a sense of DIY, which owes a lot to the sound of the 70s.
The Cosmic Analog Ensemble is an enigma to be solved as soon as you look at it. It’s the work of a single man who isn’t settled anywhere. As such, the so-called group in love with the happy nostalgia of 1970s European cinema becomes an object of instant curiosity. For library music — music composed and recorded on spec for later use in films, advertising, and television shows — composers have been known to sign with various names, not always proud to link themselves to this work, done to pay the bills, but nevertheless considered a bit of a playground. Charif Megarbane, the bard of the psychedelic one-man band steeped in funk, Afrobeat, and oriental groove that is the Cosmic Analog Ensemble, has embraced this culture of quasi-anonymity. Behind his thirty aliases, each project he publishes explores its own history. And, each time, they serve brilliantly as an exercise in style.
Inevitably, the character is intriguing because he is so different from the typical career musicians of today. Charif Megarbane has his small portable studio built through time, money and available space: a simple drum set, a few keyboards, guitars, and MIDI equipment to extend the sound possibilities and create loops. He never goes anywhere without his toys. From Lebanon to Montreal, from Kenya to Portugal, he devotes himself to his passion with the same fervor that has occupied him since childhood: every evening, fiddling, recording, and playing God by creating his universe. “It’s really great, because you don’t need anyone else. It’s a form of meditation; you don’t need to talk.”
A real geek once in his play room, the Lebanon native is able to record an entire album with his computer’s microphone (quote from the album). Perfectionism has to fall by the wayside, when creating becomes a necessity for the demiurge. His body of work is formed by seventy to ninety albums that range from the library music of the 70s to the beat music of the 2000s (whose collage aspect he finds interesting). And yet, the musician swears that he is selective in what he shares with the world. “For Une Vie Cent détours, I sent at least 100 songs to Orlando from the My Bags label and then we chose. And it wasn’t a question of taking the best, it was about taking the ones that went well together!”
It’s DIY to the very end for him, a self-taught artist molded over many hours practicing – Charif Megarbane is the only master on board his ship. And he only wants one thing when he’s finished: to immerse himself in the next album. To define his fastest projects, the demiurge uses the metaphor of a microwave, suggesting nevertheless that his albums do not have the blandness of a reheated dish, but rather the flavor of a daily wholesome meal. They are the result of a music lover’s hobby. “Sometimes it’s like doing crossword puzzles, you start with one thing and then you find another. I started at 8 or 10 years old. I had brought back a compact cassette recorder, very easy to use, from a summer camp in England. We could use two cassettes, so we could record 4 layers! Since then I was music every night, rather than skateboarding.”
Grooves from another time
In the music we can find a practical mastery, good intuition, and the ability to tell stories, as well as the idea that an album forms a closed universe. Quoting Francois de Roubaix, Vladimir Cosma, Madlib, J Dilla, or David Axelrod, Charif Megarbane has, partly unconsciously, created a field of play in which he has been advancing for a long time with visibly clear ideas on what best fits his explorations. Like being the sole master on board a ship as well as occupying every position: “Jacques Thollot [French drummer and multi-instrumentalist] is my idol! He recorded Quand le son devient aigu la girafe all alone! There’s the song in tribute to Don Cherry. And there is no metronome or anything there. The guy didn’t have a computer, just 5 or 6 tracks. You listen to it and after 20 times you still don’t understand what he started with. And he didn’t have a copy and paste grid. You hear squeaks, little false notes. It’s unbelievable.”
Built either by “one emotion, a narrative framework where everything moves around the same orchestration, instruments or theme” or “on the contrary, a mosaic of different atmospheres, where you move from one room to another, from one scene to another, resembling ‘film editing,’” the Cosmic Analogue Ensemble’s works take the listener on an engaging journey where the changes in atmosphere follow one another like fragmented occurrences in life.
Cosmic Analog Ensemble, Une vie cent détours (My Bags)