THE CORTEX SHIFT: Mish-Mash of Musical Concepts

Kyle Opie

Australian jazz-meets-prog-rock quintet The Cortex Shift have recently launched an EP titled ‘Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System‘ (review here). The band was recently featured on the Progotronics 38 compilation, and guitarist and songwriter Kyle Opie spoke for Prog Sphere about the release and more.

Describe the musical frameworks your new album “Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System” explores.

Our releases have always been somewhat eclectic and this one is definitely no exception. We often describe ourselves as a jazz-rock band, but some of our tracks lean much more heavily into one style than another, this EP is a good example of that. Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System explores jazz harmony and improvisation, odd time signatures and polyrhythms, heavy riffs and tremolo-picked post-rock guitar lines and even a fairly simple instrumental rock piece just for a bit of fun.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and lessons learned during the creative process for “Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System”?

During the composition process of multi-sectioned pieces I often find that connecting one musical idea to another is something that I procrastinate over. I might stumble across a few ideas that I want to string together, but they happen to be in different keys or have totally different rhythms, and finding a suitable transition that makes the piece cohesive can seem an overwhelming task. If anything I have learned to keep it simple and make use of what I know will work; a drum fill break, the V chord of the next key or some foreshadowing of the upcoming melody or riff.

Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System

Although it’s an instrumental release, is there a message you try to convey with the album?

There is a spiel about this on the Bandcamp page for the release, I’ll do my best to summarise it here, but would encourage anyone particularly interested to check out the Bandcamp page.

I know of some people who create instrumental music who find and evoke deep seeded connections between their music, their track titles and its intended meaning, but that has never been a goal for me personally. I like to think listeners will find their own meaning and emotive responses to our music. As a result I take great freedom in track and album titles, usually latching onto something completely absurd or silly just for fun. This EP retains that mentality, but with a bit more of a serious and socially conscious element thrown in too. While the music can represent to people whatever they find in it, the concept of ‘…Subverts the System’ is intended to represent a rebelling against systems of oppression and destruction in our world.

To someone who hasn’t heard “Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System,” what can they expect from it?

On a broad scale; it’s some combination of jazz and prog rock and it has lots of reverbs and delays for atmosphere too. This is a tricky question to answer in detail though. I find that people interpret music within their own framework of experience, what kinds of music, styles and even music theory they are personally familiar with will obviously define how they interpret it, describe it and what they compare it to. Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System is a mish-mash of musical concepts that were new and exciting for us to explore.

How has your perspective on the possibilities of song arrangement expanded over the years?

I think that the arrangements of our music have become more complex over time. We have migrated from focussing on more simplistic jazz based forms to including pieces with many more defined sections alongside those jazz based forms. Both types of expression have their challenges and benefits. Creating engaging dynamics and melodic variety happens in a very different way in each kind of format. In a jazz based form it is up to the soloist and the reactions of the rest of the band to embrace what’s possible under the freedom of a solo section. In a multi-section prog piece it’s up to the integrity of the composed music to hold its own. I like to think that over time we have embraced and combined these two different arrangement possibilities.

The Cortex Shift

What types of change do you feel this music can initiate?

Well it’s just some music after all, it’s probably not going to change anything much. In the least perhaps it has the potential to encourage those around me whose experience of music might not be as broad as mine to try new things and to be open-minded about different musical ideas and the experiences they can offer.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?

I tend to start a composition with chords and work the piece around those chords. Melodies and riffs usually come later. I am most often inspired to write when I stumble across a chord voicing on guitar that I haven’t used before that I like the sound of. The more of these I discover the more I can combine them all together and re-use some of my favourites. There is a finite number of chords that exist, but that number explodes when you think of all of the different ways of structuring those chords, the relationships between the intervals within those chords. All of those different voicings have different sounds and feelings that might inspire further chords or melodies to follow.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

I don’t think that there are many non-musical entities that influence my music directly. It is easy enough to say that some music represents something else after the fact, to make an analogy or allegory, or to say that it’s a vehicle for my personal politics or views on issues in the world, and on our bandcamp page I have done that to some degree, but really the crux of it is that I just try to find new sounds that I like. That appeal usually comes from a feeling I suppose, some sort of emotional response to the sounds. I hope that at the end of the day other people can enjoy our music in the same way, that it’s not just a technical exercise or record of theoretical concepts that are new to me, but rather that our music is emotive merely as a result of the theoretical choices of harmony, melody and rhythm.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Steal from those who inspire you. Find and work with musicians who are better than you, musicians who you can learn from. Don’t feel as though you have to do everything yourself; it’s tempting in this day and age to write, perform, record and mix everything yourself, but I have personally gained from including others in this process who I admire and have skills and perspectives that are greater than my own.

Magic Bearded Chicken Subverts the System is out now. Order it from Bandcamp.

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