Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Electronic Music: An Interview with Rory McCormick

A couple of days ago, through a Twitter contact retweeting a link, I came across the electronic music of Rory McCormick. I was immediately drawn to the sound he had created for himself and (what seemed to me) the fearless way he went about doing what he had done. His album WAVE IX is a mixture of melancholic electronica and performance poetry (with sometimes near to the knuckle content). It was, at the very least, something that made me sit up and take notice. Having listened to that I went on and listened to his albums Colony and Edgespace which continued the musical theme but without the poetry. It seemed to me that here was an artist, someone who had ideas behind what he did and I determined to see if he would consent to an interview to be published here so that I could learn more about it and, also, publish the results to a wider audience. I'm happy that Rory agreed. Printed below are the questions I sent him and the answers he sent back.

1. How long have you been making music and what is your setup? (i.e. what do you use to make music?)

I've been making music since 2013. To begin with I worked as one half of a duo under the pseudonym '6&8', I was responsible for the music, and she wrote words/poetry to go with that music. We released a number of digital albums and EPs on a net label called Xylem Records (, and also one album that involved another collaborator, a music producer who works under the name 'Day Before Us', on Auditory Field Theory ( That all happened between May 2013 and March 2014, then later in the year 6&8 split up and I fell out of love with making music for a while. Plus various things going on in my life at the time seemed to take most of the focus away from my hobbyist attitude towards it. I started working on some bits I had begun but not finished in that period earlier this year, May-June time, and then wrote more in a similar vein and before I knew it I was hooked again and now don't want to stop. I think I must have needed to fill that gap of more than a year by releasing three things in one month – it takes the likes of Coldplay years to get one album together, I'm knocking out three a month, I think I know who's winning.

Due to financial and space restrictions, I don't have any outboard equipment or interesting boxes, I've always been drawn to hardware as a means for electronic music, it's the deliberately limited scope of possibilities (hardware depending of course, I'm thinking of analogue stuff here really) and the physical interactions that I feel would be more engaging when it comes to navigating the tumultuous creative process in search of inspiration. Anyway that said, I don't have those things, I mainly use a computer as a sound source, loaded with a selection of software instruments and environments. I guess the feeling is that software doesn't have any soul, but actually I don't think that's true at all. I like instruments/FX from U-he and Madrona Labs best, the Madrona stuff in-particular is really quite characterful. My main environment for sketching, composition and mixing is REAPER, but I have used Renoise in the past, and also Pure Data and SuperCollider, but I tend to steer away from coding now as I always feel so much further from the music due to the learning curve and program debugging that comes with that sort of environment. If I'm getting a syntax error I'm probably about 10 minutes away from going for a walk instead.

For my recent solo releases I have succumbed to my interest in the analogue approach and purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a Tandberg 3300X. I also have a Technics cassette deck, for when I want to keep some of the clarity of the digital domain, as the Tandberg really does smear frequencies all over the place. Anything that is fed into that is a glorious lo-fi mess on the way back out. There are other small portable cassette machines laying around, as well as a Tascam DR-100mk2 for field recordings as well as two AKG C1000S mics. For my next release I have picked up a small collection of acoustic instruments: zithers, guitar, bass, xylophone, melodica, flutes etc. Which I will use to create source material for digital manipulation at a later stage. That's a fair bit of stuff I suppose. Maybe I'll just fill the wall behind my bed with rack analogue modules after all.

2. What are you making music for? Is there anything behind it?

It's a form of expression, it's interpretation of the world around me and my experiences: feelings, moments, awareness. It's also more abstract though, for example I take a trip to London to look at the architecture of the Barbican estate, all those edges and blocks of raw concrete, what senses do they evoke? What might they sound like? How could I communicate this appreciation of form and style with the timbres within my grasp as a musician? I want to depict shape, space and form with rhythm, timbre and melody in a way only a human being could. I will practice this until I stop.

3. When you approach making a track what is important for you?

I find that a track will begin in one of two ways:

1) I will be led by a melody I have found on the guitar, and then transplant this into the digital domain and build and orchestrate on it with other instruments.

2) I will be led by technology, some aspect or functionality of a computer program will start an idea and I will follow it purely with the digital techniques at my disposal.

Of the two I find much more satisfying, and likely to result in a finished track that I am proud of, is music with its genesis in method 1. When I play something on a guitar I can almost 'hear the future' of that riff or melody straight away, a developed piece of music appears like an abstract concept and I have greater success in following those abstractions than if they materialise during a session solely exploring software. When using method 2 I find that moment to moment my creative abilities are muddied by the task of navigating the software itself: 'How do I pitch the sample down?' 'What is the best method to automate this or that?' 'Wait, where has that toolbar gone?' 'I didn't mean to delete that' etc. That's not to say that purely software techniques aren't responsible for amazing music, you've just got to get a grip of them as well as I have of my guitar over the last 20 odd years. The reality is that methods 1 and 2 will blend during a writing session, sometimes seamlessly, but sometimes the gears will grind to a halt. I guess what's important is being able to get what's inside my head, outside my head with flow and accuracy, making use of any surprises along the way.

4. Your three albums on Bandcamp, WAVE IX, Colony and Edgespace seem thematically and musically linked. What are you trying to express with them?

Yes they are linked, in fact Wave IX only exists because I didn't manage what I originally set out to do with the material on Edgespace and Colony. The music on those two should have been the back drop to the spoken word of Wave IX but when I put it all together much of the music just didn't gel well with the words and I was making compromises all over the place to try and make it work. So just decided to let Edgespace and Colony go without the words and put other bits together for Wave IX.

But once I decided that, it did feel good to have instrumental tracks that appeared to link with the spoken themes on Wave IX, e.g 'Survey Team' on Colony is the sonic description of the brave men and women that descended back into the mining network we hear about in 'Faces in the Strata' on Wave IX, the auxiliary team on the surface is referenced in the title and the spoken word. 'In the Betweens' is in fact a description of Edgespace, heard on the release of the same name. There are further connections but I'll leave them to be discovered. It all seemed to work well splitting the work across three releases like this, like it was meant to be.

The stories told on Wave IX are linked to some degree, the themes seem to be to transcend the human consciousness/form, (In the Betweens, The Exchange, Prayer for a Sunken Lime, The Configurations), I think 'Faces in the Strata' strays furthest from that theme, perhaps as the survey team strayed themselves from their own world.

5. If you had unlimited freedom to make whatever music you wanted to make what would you like to do that you can't do now?

Since I realised electronic music was the gin in my tonic (early 2000's, camping trip to Cornwall, The Richard D James album on repeat in the car) and I started to delve into the culture and technology, I've always felt that Heaven would be a room full of modular analogue equipment. I still do - perhaps to a slightly lesser extent now – maybe that's because I'm making the most of the resources available to me rather than desiring things I'll likely never have. The money and the impracticality involved does put me off enough for it to remain a fantasy. I have a desire to perform music in a live setting, and as a hobbyist/nobody, hauling a tonne of oscillators, sequencers and voltage dividers around just seems stupid now. Laptop, mixer, speakers, ears, done.

As for music I'd like to make with the resources I have to hand, but have yet to, algorithmic and generative music is high on the agenda. Beat oriented music that one could consider moving to.

I do have some musical ideas that currently seem hard to realise. I'd like to make detailed environment recordings of industrial locations such as processing plants, data centres, and manipulate them subtly with almost imperceptible glitches and additions. But in my mind that would depend on having good quality, detailed, multilevelled location recordings of areas and installations that I would likely not be permitted to enter.

Similar to this, is the desire to make mock recordings of occult events, to stage a séance or pseudo-ritual for example and mix multiple recording sources. Not music so much as an audio play, scripted with a cast of voice actors, but perhaps with musical elements, unexpected rhythmic repetition, or low frequencies added to unsettle.

The perceived scope of such projects (maybe just the knowledge that I would have to involve others) has meant it has not yet moved from being an abstract idea into an achievable goal.

6. What music and artists have influenced you? (Maybe your influences aren't musical, of course.)

Mike Patton, Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac, Helmet, Therapy?, pre-turn of the century Marilyn Manson, Stanley Kubrick, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, Clark, Dave Monolith, Laurel Halo, Grimes, Morbid Angel, Boards of Canada, Blade Runner, Yes, Vangelis, David Lynch, J.G Ballard, Brutalist architecture, Shane Carruth Giorgio de Chirico and Calvin Harris (not really).

7. What would you like to achieve musically in the next 12 months?

I have several album projects to work on, next is something vaguely related to Wave IX, but instrumental (there is no further spoken word on the horizon right now, but all it takes is a second of inspiration for that to change. Hey it may have changed by 3pm this afternoon). Also I have what I hope to be a series of releases employing algorithmic techniques that takes its inspiration from plant inflorescences (see the Wikipedia article on that topic and you'll probably already be in the same sonic ballpark as I am) that will likely be far more rhythmic than anything I've done before. I am fascinated by the way plant stems branch off from one another, like a network of decisions from root to bud. Also not too far off is a project that takes great influence from the novel High Rise by J.G Ballard. I have a copy of that book packed with my own annotations and highlights that elude somehow to the sense of hearing, or that collide in an aesthetically pleasing way with my own sense of what is awesome.

As for other achievements, I'd like to release work on net labels again and have my material played on various online radio shows, just get it out there in ways. I don't do this for fame or money obviously, but it's a form of expression, of communication, so nothing I make can be fully realised unless others hear it. A major milestone as momentous as the alignment of the planets would be to play or perform my music in a live setting of any description, that would be a real achievement for me. To collaborate again is possibly on the agenda too, but we'll see.

I'd like to thank Rory for taking the time to answer my questions. Personally speaking, I think its great to find such thoughtful electronic music that has ideas behind it.

You can hear the three albums referred to in this interview, WAVE IX, Colony and Edgespace at Rory's Bandcamp,

No comments:

Post a Comment