Name: Chris McCormick aka Cromby
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: Cromby's Qué Sientes featuring vocalist Tee Amara is out on Phantasy Sound.
Technology recommendations: I’ll mention the Digitakt loads in the interview, so I’ll say the Novation Peak, it's such a great synth and features in all my music.
Secondly something a little less known, I’d say, the Enjoy Labs: Reminder. Its a multieffect audio processor which features a quadraphonic delay, reverb, lfo and filters. You can really get some interesting things going on with it, from rhythmic delays to proper special fx shit.
If you enjoyed this interview with Cromby and would like to find out more about his music, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud and Instagram.
What was your first studio like?
My first 'studio' I had was pretty humble. It was a setup in my kitchen in London, two Mackie monitors, a soundcard and a midi keyboard. I didn't have any money for synths or drum machines that I longed for at this point, so I had to make do.
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
The first reason that I wanted to expand and start buying outboard gear was because I felt I had hit a wall creatively. I was finding it hard to come up with fresh ideas with the mouse. I wanted to get more hands on.
Over a year or two I didn't make much music at all but saved up until I had a small setup. The first bits were a moog minitaur, and an MPC 2000xl. Both of which are integral parts of my studio today.
Currently, my favourite piece of gear that I’m using is the Elektron Digitakt. Every idea is evolving through it.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do go about you selecting it?
Yeah, there are a lot of great possibilities out there, endless as you say. I try not to delve too deep as it would mean I’d get nothing done.
With the digital side of things, I use a few plugins at the mixing stage, mostly things that have been recommended, EQs like Fab Filter eq3 for example is great with its dynamic feature. Thanks to Matthew Styles for the tip on that one! Find a few tools that work for you and learn them inside out.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
Definitely a full studio. I like to get hands on. Maybe not perhaps a full fledged multi room job, but somewhere in between. A few synths, a groovebox and a few FX units and I’m happy. I find it hard to pay attention with just the laptop, I need to be jamming.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces?
At the minute every track I begin is started as a sketch on the Digitakt, it's overtaken the MPC as a groovebox/jam starter for me, for now anyway. It's really intuitive if you want to go deep with it, but also relatively fast and easy to go from zero to a full sketch without needing any other devices. This is pretty essential for my workflow, I like to work fast.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
I think it's a balance between knowing the technology and experimentation creating happy accidents. An example would be running a stab or a melody through a delay unit and sI'mply playing around with the parameters randomly until you have one of those so-called happy accidents and find a nice groove.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
To answer this honestly, I don’t really have one. I don’t create much digitally, and I’m definitely not so organised. With my sketches, after 30 minutes or so if I'm not feeling it I usually bin it. If I do feel it, I try to finish the track roughly as fast as possible and bounce out a sample.
Otherwise I find it hard to go back and recapture that certain feeling. It would be lost in the abyss.
Despite the aforementioned near endless possibilities, many productions seem to follow conventional paths. How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
I like to record live takes of a few minutes of noodling on synths. These can then be chopped up or even sometimes layed over the structure of a track as they are. Always sounds more interesting that way and a bit less stale. Also, things like LFOs are your friend to keep things evolving and interesting.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
I can say that any time I've tried to recreate something when entering the studio, 90% of the time it has been a horrible failure. I like to just jam, keep an open mind and follow my Impulses when they happen.
How important is it for you that you personally create or participate in the creation of every element of a piece – from sound synthesis via rhythm programming to mixing?
I think in general it's more fun to make your own, no? I love programming grooves and trying to then program bass, synths and bloops round it in a rhythmic fashion.
When it comes to synthesis, I'm not so fussed. I’m still learning the ins and outs of it. If I find a nice sound whilst scrolling presets on a synth I'm happy to go with it, I'll always noodle about with filters and ADSR etc. So it's never quite the same anyway.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Profoundly? Hmm I guess the jump from Ableton to analog, the MPC was a massive thing for me in this process. But it was almost a backwards step in terms of technologies (laughs). I guess starting to use Elektron products has changed the way I make music more recently pretty profoundly. I’ve never really questioned it to be honest. Just go with the flow.
To some, the advent of AI and ‘intelligent’ composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Nah, without the human touch, music is stale. I've come across some mastering plugins that claim they can do some technical things, eqing etc via AI. Some do it better than others. In that field I can see a future. But creatively I just can’t see it.
I already feel like I've moved to the future going from MPC 2000xl to the Digitakt so that'll probably be me for the next 10 years (laughs).
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
That’s a really tough one, everything I can think of I've googled and they are already a thing.
I think the Ableton Push has been a big player in the last lot of years on this front. Being able to express yourself creatively without needing the know-how of musical theory is freeing. I don’t have one now but the time I spent using one in a shared studio definitely opened up some doors. Sorry I couldn't answer this better!