Name: Adrian Corker
Current release: Adrian Corker's Liverpool OST is out now on Constructive
Any painting by Dilllwyn Smith
Solstices by Georg Friedrich Haas performed by The Riot Ensemble.
If you enjoyed this interview with Adrian Corker and would like to find out more about him, check out his excellent, informative website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
It started off with learning the piano(badly), then progressed through different instruments such as classical guitar and flute. I was a dabbler and always impatient to play and make music rather than learn the techniques. Now techniques and processes are central to the music I make.
In the 80s coming from Sheffield electronic sound was in the ether and I gravitated toward synths and basic drum machines as a teenager. I aways had a strong sense of sound and its materiality. I remember my grandma's large cupboard containing a record player(gramophone) with speakers built in and a radio with dials on the front that you could stack up old 78s on to be cued up to play. Tape recorders were important, too. Recording sound from the tv or radio using cheap microphones. That portable tape recorder, like for a lot of people my age, definitely opened up something in my head.
I really dont know what drew me to sound but maybe my dad who loved music and was always whistling or singing and loved jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald. He was the one who brought the piano into the house.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Well when I started making music with other people we used Atari games computers and Akai samplers so sampling or taking from other sources was integral to how we heard music and discovered what was out there. It also opened up ideas of non-conventional tunings since you had to pitch material against other material with no reference except your own ears.
It was the era of early dance music and we were in Manchester. It was also the era of crate digging for strange samples and then the fetishisation of rare vinyl - something I wasnt really into. We never stopped playing instruments but over time we played more and more and the production become more centred on ‘in the box’ computer production. We also had started writing for film and had collaborated with a wide range of musicians including recording in Brazil and starting to work with soloists and orchestras.These were very educational experiences. When I stopped writing with my old bandmate, I took time off from music and was lecturing at at University for a while.
After I started on my own about 10 years ago, my brain was hardwired differently for various reasons. It felt a totally new thing and the music I wrote had changed. Copying shows an attempt to assimilate someone else’s idea you like into your work. I find the fact you can’t do it exactly the same is what makes for the interesting outcome. Stealing an idea to me suggests maybe the ideas have been better understood and executed in your own work.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
For a long time I wrote in partnership with other people where there can be challenges. At the beginning ignorance meant everything was kind of easy because we didn’t know better. Also making music meant physical interaction with a space, people or sound generating instrument. Over time the people I worked with disappeared more into the computer and programming whereas I preferred the physicality of music making, something that still matters to me now I write on my own.
I love technology but don’t always want it to set all the parameters for what I do. Having said that any recorded music is electronic music. Now I use as many techniques I can from notation, improvisation, programming, editing, analog and digital processing as well as acoustic processes.
What was your first studio like? 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?
My first music making equipment was a Moog Rogue and Boss Dr Rhythm Dr 55. Then I have had different spaces, mostly at home, but some bespoke spaces. The piece of gear I had that I wished I hadn’t sold was an EMS VCS 3 with a keyboard. Found it in a school cupboard in Sheffield in 1995.
Generally I am not into equipment and use something because It is there and am interested in an idea I can express with it rather than anything else. I haven’t had keyboards in any form for a while for writing music even though occasionally I play piano if needed on some of my music to picture. I quite like what the Soma people from Russia are doing with electronics. When I was living in Warsaw I wanted to find a Polish synth and found Soma which is Russian with Polish parts instead.
In the last TV music project Tin Star Liverpool I used an electro-magnetic receiver as an instrument to play striplights in the basement of a building in Liverpool. Chris Watson recorded it all with his 360 degree mic array.If there was a fire I would probably take my shakuhachi, which I started learning a few years ago.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
During lockdown when I had to finish a project I was using it a lot for file sharing since I was recording players all over the place piecemeal and then editing/composing pieces from this material. Like most people I use a computer for recording and editing but I try and only use about 10% of what it its capable of. I don't really use the grids for timing that computers encourage which can be tricky when natural fluid timing has to sit with something more programmed.
I think technology distorts time in a way that I don’t like. I do love tight electronic music however, I was just listening to some old Juan Atkins. But it isn’t what is central to my music at the moment. This is a big question but simplistically machines excel at accuracy and speed humans excel at gesture and individual imperfection, even though some musicians I have worked with have almost the speed and accuracy of machines and the gestural touch of human individual imperfection.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Every time I get a new plug-in or piece of gear I think very hard before doing it. It always feels an event. I don’t like too much choice (that old chestnut) and prefer simple interfaces that can produce a lot of complexity. A violin is a good example of that as is a shakuhachi but there are digital and analog tools that give the same creative borders. I am quite pragmatic with technology and often use what is available.
A friend has a cutting lathe in his living room so I started experimenting with putting sounds onto acetate and then processing and cutting locked grooves that would then be played back into the computer from a turntable causing the acetate to quickly erode. I then edited these sounds whilst working with Aisha Orazbayeva (violin) and Sam Wilson (percussion) to develop into full pieces.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration is important. I like being in rooms with people and getting to know players but that isnt possible at the moment. For acoustic instruments the sound of players together can’t be replicated by the same instruments recording separately and then being pieced together again. The sound of that togetherness and the partials and overtones that are produced are one of the things I love in acoustic music.
I got a commission to write a piece for the Ligeti Quartet for Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2022 so hopefully I can get back in a room with them sometime later this year. Even though I do a lot of talking I find most musicians I work with want clear, concise instruction.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My studio and living space for the past 5 years are together in the centre of London so there has been very little separation. When I work there is no routine at the moment. I seem to work intensively or do nothing and lie fallow for a while. I tend to be a morning rather than night worker but when you have a deadline it is weekends,evenings and whatever time is needed to get it done.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
For the music for Tin Star Liverpool that has just been released on an album, the music started with me writing basic notations for a 12 piece string ensemble with a brass trio and percussion. I then took these recordings to locations in Liverpool from the script and replayed them in different spaces. Chris Watson rerecorded them with the new space on the original recordings. I came back in the studio and notated more around some of these parts, went back and recorded with more players. I then took some of these parts and transferred them to analog tape where they were vari-speeded at different IPS and rerecorded again.
This all ended up in the computer eventually and with more field recordings and a few more stages became the finished music.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I used to be able to spin lots of plates at the same time whilst writing music but more and more I have to try and separate blocks of time out to concentrate solely on music and do nothing else.
I've found during lockdown that it is so quiet that my music feels very loud when I start working on it and I start feeling like it isn’t what people need to hear coming through floors/walls. I run a label which i enjoy as well but this recently has taken up a lot of time. I can’t think of how VAT changes because of Brexit will affect the label whilst writing music. I wished someone else would do it but for the moment it has to be me.
One strategy for focus like for most of out modern lives is to move my phone out of the room and turn off the Internet and drink lots of tea.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I perform for audiences rarely. I do enjoy it when I do. I had an improvising duo with Jack Wyllie form Portico Quartet a few years ago where I improvised on old oscillators built in biscuit boxes. Some of these improvisations became a self released album. I also did something similar with cellist Lucy Railton for a few concerts.
For my studio music or film/tv music, I have been lucky with budgets recently to be able to write for musicians who play the music but I also play instruments myself in the studio and improvise with musicians on pieces, too. Whether improving live or writing music, it is just different sides of the same thing. I always find the point where you hear an orchestra playing some of your music with no rehearsal time the most scary and the most exhilarating.
As for the relationship between improvisation and composition it can be blurred even with notated scores. The differences seem to be more about traditional ideas of copyright than anything else.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Once you move away from the tuning system of pianos there are oceans of possibilities as to what can be created. If I was a better pianist maybe there would still be. So much music now is organising sound rather than a traditional sense of composition, but at its best I dont see that much difference. A lot of the sound I write is generated in a space or at the point of its creation, even if there are sometimes chains of these processes going into a finished pieces, so it is quite traditional in some ways.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Even though I write to picture a lot, I don't have any synesthesic compositional processes. When writing to picture, I watch it and get a sense of it, then write away from picture as intuitively as possible. I do write closely to picture as well but my most successful pieces are those that work away from the picture.
At its outermost borders where sound becomes imperceptible it maybe can still be felt. Having said that above 15 kHz I don't know if can hear or feel it these days.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I had the opportunity of writing film music because of a director called Antonia Bird. Politics was a large and, at that time very unfashionable, part of her work. But more importantly I saw how it influenced her interactions with people she worked with. She supported and nurtured different people and believed in real stories and people when others wouldn’t. Many of her films were about this.
I think a worthwhile purpose is to create self-sustaining communities that enable imaginative and well payed work for others and ourselves.It looks like we don’t have a choice in this unless we want to work on monopoly platforms for little money.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I hope more community and imagination can flourish. It feels like both have been discouraged in this current centralised distribution network where social media is pushing people to compete harder and harder against each other to be noticed while the economic system is all the time reducing the value for the work. It is a no win game so I hope it can be changed into something more sustaining for everyone.