Mark Gage, also known as Vapour Space, is one of a growing number of electronic musicians who is going back to using predominantly old analog equipment Vapour Space's ambient chill-out sound is created from the sounds of classic Roland gear and other instruments that date back to the pre-MIDI days. While digital equipment simply set up to run loops and sequencers makes the performer slave to the machines, the older equipment allows for more human interaction. Gage recently went out on NASA's "See The Light Tour" and showed audiences how much more exciting electronic music can be without backing tapes or heavy reliance on MIDI by doing a 2 hour ambient set. Seated on the floor amidst his gear, Gage tweaked and twisted the controls of his machines to create seamless electronic sound scape as interested onlookers were able to see exactly how the music was being made.
The first Vapour Space release, an EP entitled "Gravitational Arch of 10" came out during the fall on +8 and is being followed by an LP, "Themes From Vapour Space" in early 1994. In addition, Gage has put out releases for the same label under the name Cusp. For Gage, signing to +8 meant that he could finally stop waiting tables, something he had been doing for over a decade while creating his music.
Gage's musical experience began in high school, where he was taking vocal training. It was at this time that he first got his hands on a synthesizer. When he want to college, Gage was exposed to lots of new styles of music and upon leaving after three semesters started getting involved in local projects in the Rochester area (including one called Down With People). In 1983, Gage began laying down tracks in his home studio. Back in the early 80's, he was mainly into dance music, but later got into "weirder experimental stuff"
But Gage was ahead of his time, as when he looked at what was going on with the current state of dance music, he realized that the music he was making all along fit right in.
"I didn't pay attention to a lot of what was happening until about 1991 or so and that's when I started hearing things in clubs that I was like 'Wow I was kind of doing this a couple of years ago'," explains Gage. "I could hear things that I was doing technically that were now kind of fashionable."
Four tracks recorded before 1988 are being included on the debut Vapour Space album. Ambient seems to be the most appropriate label of the music, but the use of samples is downplayed in favor of analog/acid sounds. But for Gage, putting the music into a category is not a priority.
"I have a real hard time differentiating, maybe because of my ignorance about all the different styles of dance music there are," he says. "I know so many people, you know who'll go 'this is progressive house,' 'this is tribal'. For me, I've been at this for a while so to me it's one thing. Granted there are styles within a style, but I don't know how to describe it. The album is really varied from track to track, I mean there's even elements of New Jack swing in one track. Obviously, it's electronic and that's the cop out route to take. Beyond that, sure there's ambient elements, and sure there are some house elements, I don't know."
Out of the 8 demos Gage sent out of his current music, +8 was the only label that responded. Ironically, Gage recently did a remix for one of those labels that ignored him initially. When +8 responded, they said that Gage's music didn't really fit on the label but that they liked his production style. So they sent him a bunch of their releases and told him to get a better feel of their label and keep in touch. Gage put together a new batch of songs and got signed.
Putting on an interesting live show is important to Gage, as his first two gigs were done with tapes and proved to be unsatisfactory to the performer. "From that point on I couldn't do it anymore," he says. "You're slave to this other thing and if something's not stimulating the crowd there's no way you can move on."
Beyond the music itself, Gage's set up allows him to manipulate and alter the actual sounds that are coming out. While the digital gear is pretty limiting, the older equipment has lots of knobs and faders that will alter the actual instrumental sounds. This is the back bone of acid house and rave music, and it comes from gear such as the Roland SH101 and 303 Bass.
"I think electronically synthesizers got to a point where they were really stagnant," says Gage. "To me that's a technical thing. Granted, Wavestations and things like that are really cool instruments but there's nothing like having control at the end of you fingertips with older gear. People are into the old gear because you can twist some knob and can make the machine have feelings, it's not where you're just setting up a looped pattern and letting it run."
The human element that the old gear provides goes beyond just making the live shows more interesting. Gage refuses to tell how long "Gravitational Arch of 10" took to make, as it was a result of a happy mistake in the way he had his equipment linked together. When working in his studio, Gage has the DAT rolling all the time so that when something interesting happens he can dump the recording to his computer's hard drive and edit it into a song.
Gage admits that he did succumb to the temptation of high tech digital gear, and actually sold some of his old stuff to pay for it. "I got into MIDI really heavily in the mid 80's and at that point I was selling all my old CV Gate stuff thinking that this stuff is crap and I'm going to buy this new MIDI device that can do all this stuff" he says. "So I purged my system of all this other stuff and have wound up since buying the majority of it back."