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DJ Mick writesThe CHIRP Radio Interview: Timothy Corpus

by CHIRP Radio DJ and Features Co-Director Mick R (Listen to his most recent shows here / Read his blog here)

Timothy Corpus is a Chicago local composer and sound designer who has a new album out this year that he's titled MMXX.

The album is a reflection on the tumultuous year that changed all of our lives but in different and, at times, imperceivable ways. How did your life change this past year and a half? Who were you before? Who are you now? Have you taken stock of these changes and transitions? Each of us has gone through them, but I think very few of us have dug as deep into these questions as Timothy has on MMXX. The album is a contemplative space in which to explore these investigations into ourselves and the passage of time. The album is self-released by Tim himself, and you can check it out here

Read an exclusive interview with Timothy about the making of his album below:

Tell our listeners a little about yourself- what is your background? what part of the city are you local to? favorite food? etc...

I'm Tim Corpus, composer | sound designer | arts manager based in Chicago. I live down near Printer's Row, but I also studied music performance at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts.

Best burger in the city? DMK.
Best Chicago tavern-style pizza? Flo & Santos.
Best coffee shop? Robust Coffee at 63rd & Woodlawn.

You've stayed fairly busy during the pandemic despite the lockdown, can you give our listeners an overview of all the projects you've been working on since March of last year?

Ya I've been working hard to stay busy, despite a lot of work drying up. I think that's part of trying to keep myself sane during the lockdown.

I helped launch the Opera Festival of Chicago's inaugural festival last month, did a lot of arts consulting for groups around the country, then I composed for a lot of short films, video games, and music for live performance.

I also did a lot of concert broadcasts for performers. It has been the only way performers could keep doing what they were doing, so I've spent a lot of time doing video editing.

How did your approach to writing and recording MMXX differ from your other projects of this past year?

In the spring of 2020 I knew I wanted to write an album and I had a vague idea of style and content. In July 2020 I was really experiencing cabin fever from the pandemic, so I took a long road trip, just me and my dog, across the country from Chicago to the deserts of Utah. It was an opportunity to just experience nature, have a change of scenery, and really try to listen internally.

It was a really great experience to see the great plains, see mountains, and camp under the stars. After being cooped up in my apartment during the pandemic and experiencing these drastic life changes, it was like pushing the reset button for me. The change of pace cleared my head and when I returned I was writing right away.

With this project I also decided to be the recording/mixing engineer and producer. It was certainly a learning experience, but engineering, producing, and self-releasing the album gave me the freedom to take the music anywhere I wanted to.

How did the events of this past year impact the themes and sounds of MMXX?

For me personally, I think it really made me consider the fragility of life. The album really starts with nostalgia. The opening track, "Grandma's Piano", is all about setting the scene of the "before times". Now we look at those memories through rose colored glasses.

The second track starts kind of shockingly, just like the pandemic did. It's called "Is This Science Fiction" and I wanted to bring everyone into this fast paced electronic sound that really continues throughout the album. The music/story flows somewhat linearly throughout the album. We kind of move from day-to-day through the pandemic.

The third track ("Is Today Tuesday, Friday, or Sunday?") is just this anxious feeling song with a lot of dissonance, very ambient feeling. I wanted the listener to feel kind of disconnected and confused.

Then we get to "See the Sun," which for me reflects on the first warm weather after the pandemic started. Remember how we were all taking walks to just breathe again? The sun brought so much life back into our lives.

I think the most important track off the album is "This is What Democracy Looks Like." The events surrounding the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor impacted us all and witnessing so many people together marching for one cause was really moving.

What I witnessed was thousands of people marching together as a community demanding real change and I wanted to highlight that. Chris Davis is an incredible Chicago-based trumpet player and he really made the solo come alive. The trumpet almost acts as the listeners emotional tour guide through the track.

The 7th track immediately following the protests is "Elegy for Justice". When you listen to it you'll hear a lot of static cutting in and out - that's actually Morse code for "S.O.S.". I wrote this music the day Justice Ginsberg passed away, so there's a bit of a double meaning behind the title "Elegy for Justice". It's an elegy for Justice Ginsberg, and also for the idea of justice.

How did events in your personal life influence and shape the making of MMXX?

I titled the album MMXX (Roman numerals for 2020) because personally it was a wild and transformative year. In the span of about 3 months I got laid off from my job as the company went out of business, got divorced from my wife of nearly a decade, oh and then the pandemic hit. There was so much swirling around in my head and I think the best way for me to process it all was through music.

Like I mentioned before, I was trying to give a soundtrack to a lot of significant moments from 2020. The final two tracks are really personal though. "Saying Goodbye" is really about the idea of letting go - saying goodbye to the ideas we've hoped for but also what we've lost.

The final song, "Together Again", is all about hope. It's the only track where all the instruments perform together and for the close listeners, they'll hear that the album has an epilogue. The album ends with the nostalgic theme that started us off, this time a little more optimistic.

How did you go about selecting collaborators for MMXX, and how did each of their contributions influence the final recordings?

Often as a composer on a project I'm writing alone and when the music is done, I turn it over to the performer or the conductor and then I don't get to be involved again until right before the show. It's pretty typical, but with this project I wanted to collaborate more.

From the beginning when I was first writing, I'd send samples and notes over to the soloist and get their feedback. That helped me as a writer, but also the soloists made the music their own. They each added their personality to the music.

I brought in three old friends who studied music with me at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts. I've known these folks for 15 years, so it was a lot of fun to get everyone back together again.

The toughest part was that due to the pandemic, they all had to record separately. Alyssa Arrigo, my co-producer, is one of my closest friends and had a great understanding of the album's concept. She was the person who would push back when I was straying a bit, or encourage me when I needed it. She played the most of the piano parts and was always a supportive ear for me.

Lastly, I worked with Margaret Luthar from Welcome to 1979 to master the album. The album features so many different styles of music, so it wasn't an easy process to make the album feel cohesive. She was great at bringing it all together.

What's the best way to enjoy this album in your opinion?

I think this album is best experienced in one sitting. I know that's a lot to ask of people, but I'd say, "grab yourself a cocktail or a glass of wine, just sit back and listen".

Active listening is kind of like a lost art these days because we're always on the go. I hope, however, that people take some time to consider everything we lost and everything we've gained throughout the last two years. It's a cinematic journey, and I encourage daydreaming.

Anything else you want our listeners to know?

I really want to thank everyone for listening to this. We also made some mini music videos and posted them on my website www.timcorpus.net because I know everyone listens with their eyes. 😉 haha.

But as much as this album is a personal journey, I think it's also a reflection of what a lot of people experienced in some way over the last 18 months.

The album will be available for purchase and streaming on September 10th. You can pre-order and and hear a few of the tracks now at timcorpus.bandcamp.com.

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