“For even as love crowns you, so shall she crucify you. Even as she is for your growth, so is she for your pruning. Even as she ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall she descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.”
So reads the slightly-altered quote from Khalil Gibran that adorns the inside of Crown of Cerberus’ With Arms Extended To The Heavens
M. Chami is the man behind ambient electronic project Crown of Cerberus. It’s a project that’s a step away from the harsh noise and power electronics scene that he’s also involved in with names like Koufar and Disgust. Fascinated by themes of femininity and female strength, Crown of Cerberus has taken on its own life form, both sonically and thematically. Having moved from Chicago to Oakland and released the stunning new album With Arms Extended to the Heavens earlier this year, M. Chami awakes early one Monday to answer a phone call from CVLT Nation to discuss the aura of Crown of Cerberus in a little more detail.
Crown of Cerberus explores themes relating to femininity, beauty, and strong female characters. This is seen across your various cassette releases in the song titles and accompanying artwork as well as the heavy use of female vocal samples and manipulations. Could you explain your interest in these themes and why it became the focal point for Crown of Cerberus?
It all kind of stems back from my time in Chicago. The project started around 2012 but I didn’t really get to fully realise them until 2013 and it was just during a very lonely period in my life. I had just come out of a very long relationship of about five years and, I don’t know, I felt like I had explored a lot of different venues for harsh or overly aggressive and I wanted to do something [else]; I figured once I get the sounds down, and feminine worship I guess you could say kind of came naturally with that. I felt that would be appealing because I wanted to do something that was pretty powerful but at the same time appeal to people that do power electronics or harsh noise or are into heavier music in general.
You have a few releases under your belt at this stage. The most recent is With Arms Extended to the Heavens while you released Her Strength last year. What is the meaning behind these titles and what can you tell us of the source material?
I’ll tell you a little bit about the source material. Her Strength is just a continuation of the first tape, which was aptly titled Strength, which was modelled after the tarot card. I just figured it would be a fitting route to further emphasise feminine strength. There’s not really too much to that one. As for With Arms Extended to the Heavens, I played that one off the title to the A side [‘Exalting Her Majesty’s Beauty From Every Depth of the Ocean, and From Every Mountain Top’]. It would be fitting because if you’re going to be exalting someone you usually have your arms extended outwards. As for the source material, for the A side of With Arms of Extended… and the whole of Her Strength, comes from a fairly well-known pop artist. I’m not going to say, some people have figured it out, I don’t want to give away all my secrets but it works well being able to manipulate her voice. Then the B side for With Arms Extended…, I got it from classical music. I remember using a trumpet loop for sure.
When you open the case of With Arms Extended…, you’re greeted by the above quote from Lebanese poet, author and artist Khalil Gibran. Why did you choose this quote and what is its significance to Crown of Cerberus?
He’s a big influence on my work; period. His work is very secular in a lot of ways even though it will allude to god. I feel like he speaks a lot of truth. That little section comes from his book called The Prophet, which is more or less this book about a Jesus-like figure talking about various things in life. Like he talks on marriage, on children, on happiness, on sorrow, and that [quote] comes from his chapter On Love and I changed it around a little bit so I could find it more suiting and fitting for me personally because for every time it says “she”, he is actually saying “he” so I changed “he” to “she” to fit the project better. I feel like that whole section right there from that chapter is extremely moving and true in a lot of ways, very true.
What other themes and topics have found their way into your music?
I’m interested in alchemy, I’m very curious about [it]. I did a three cassette box set release about a year ago where you’re supposed to make your own release. It’s like alchemy in a lot of ways, just mixing and matching various tape sides. My friend from Plague Mother told me that there’s 60-something different ways to listen to the release. I’m also big into mythology, of course mainly focusing around stronger women. The image on the back of With Arms Extended… is The Birth of Heracles. I thought that would be a fitting photo. I’ve actually done a couple of other dark recordings. They haven’t seen the light of day yet. My roommate, who does Nefarious Activities, is supposed to be releasing one of the more morose sounding ones aptly titled Her Funeral and I’ll be doing a future release too all based around Middle Eastern divas too and of course biblical characters too.
You’ve worked with labels like Depravity and Cult of Craft as well as having your own label, Crown Tapes. All your releases have been on cassette. What is your particular affinity for cassette over other formats?
That was the first format that I ever got released on back in 2008, I believe. I’ve done one CD, I’d like to do other formats. I’ve just never been presented with one or had the opportunity to do another one. I’m already finished the Strength trilogy, if you will, I finished Her Everlasting Strength, which is going to be the final one in that series and then I’m looking to record another and I can hopefully submit that as the first CD release [for CoC]; hopefully sometime next year.
Any plans for vinyl?
I would love to. With Arms Extended… was supposed to be on vinyl originally. I had some slight financial issues with the label. No beef, no issues with Omar at all, I love that guy a whole bunch. When I get the opportunity I would gladly seize it.
Could you explain a little bit about how you approach your compositions and how you record? Do you have set plans laid out or are things a little more spontaneous?
It varies. Some tracks I’ve done come out of the blue. Usually with preparation, it’s just preparing source material and sitting down and seeing how the takes go. Sometimes if the first take goes well and I’m into it, sometimes I’ll do five or six takes of multiple sources just to get it sounding it right.
How long do you spend working on a release?
Going back to what I said a while ago, I managed to finish like a tape in a day, if the takes go well. Her Strength took me like two months to get down, to get it really good sounding, to where I wanted it. I remember doing the Salome tape which I released on my label [Crown Tapes], I did that one in a day. Of course, I didn’t have it released for like three months because I couldn’t get the tape material quick enough.
You are working on a collaboration with Aaron Vilk, more commonly known under the pseudonym of harsh noise entity Nyodene D. What can you tell us about that?
Aaron Vilk is an awesome friend. I think I met him first in 2009, we hit it off and have been great friends ever since. I’ve been a huge fan of his project in general. A lot of people probably might assume that it’ll be more power electronics-driven but Vilk likes to do a lot of dark synth work and so it’s going to be a matching of the two. The title of the tape is Gardens of Nocturne.
That was another release that took me four or five months to put together. I sent him a mishmash of some delayed out classical music as well as various field recordings out in nature. I figured that would set the tone nice. It’s got a lot of rain. He texted me like three days ago that he had three of the tracks completed so he’s almost finished with it actually.
The music of Nyodene D is often extremely harsh and unforgiving where Crown of Cerberus is like the opposite of that. Where will the style of this collaboration lie?
It’s going to be a nice even balance. I don’t think he’s going to be too intense with it. I think he’s going to be on the more reserved side. He did one release that’s just all his synth work called The Hooks That Ensnare The Wolf on Live Bait Foundation about two years ago. So I think it’s going to be an even match, me doing the prettier, lighter side of things and him doing the darker side, which I appreciate. I really enjoy stuff like that, like a lot of mid era Pedestrian Deposit with a little bit more polish, if you will.
Seeing as this isn’t a project that is solely yours, can we expect the themes and subject matter for Gardens of Nocturne to be a little different?
As for the subject matter, for the most part I’m leaving it in the hand of Vilk. He hasn’t explained too much of it for me. I only have the titles to go off so I did my best to live up to that. He seems pretty happy with it. I wish I could answer that question better, he would probably be able to explain it better than I could.
Note – Aaron Vilk: “The themes are the awesome heathen majesty of nature made flesh and personified as a female archetype.”
Nyodene D performs live numerous times. Have you had the chance to perform Crown of Cerberus live?
I’ve gotten the chance to perform the project live quite a few times already. I’ve actually done a west coast tour. I’m always up for playing live whenever I can, I really enjoy it. I try to make it as engaging as possible. There is one Crown of Cerberus live video on YouTube right now from when I played in Portland, Oregon. I’m pretty happy with how that went. If anything, out of all my projects, it’s one of the easier ones to do live. My set-up is super minimal, it’s just tape players, delay pedal and a mixer.
Do you have any more live shows on the horizon?
As of right now, no. The scene out here has not been exactly the most open to what I’ve been doing actually. I got denied from the NorCal NoiseFest, that just took place this past weekend [October 3rd-6th]. The curator felt that my work was not noisy enough or doesn’t qualify as noise or whatever. I’m not impressed, quite frankly, from it all [laughs]. Trying to play shows out here in general has not been the easiest but I’ve a good friend, Youssef, who’s booked me a couple of times since I moved out here. I’m slowly but surely working my way up. It’s reminding me very much of how I started out in Chicago, when I first started it was super difficult for me to try and play anywhere. My first show, that I felt was a legit one, I had to go all the way up to Minneapolis, Minnesota to play. I’m doing what I can, hopefully something will come up sooner rather than later.
You touched on what you’re currently working on. Are there any other projects and releases in the pipeline?
I feel like I’ve been working on it forever, I am doing a new Koufar follow-up finally. Also another thing in the works is a Disgust discography, which is going to include everything released and then there was a 7” that was supposed to come out on Narcolepsia and that fell through. Those two tracks will be showing up on there as well and there’s a separate track that my roommate Mike of Nefarious Activities and Striations… that we recorded together in his house in Concord. That will be on this tape as well. Then there is going to be that Arab diva themed Crown of Cerberus tape. That’s going to out on SiClark. He does a lot of drawings for power electronics releases. That’s going to be a double cassette and then there will be a split tape that I’m doing under Crown of Cerberus with this project Black Thread. That should be coming out in the next month or so. That’s actually going to feature a live set from my half. As of right now that’s about it.