Name: Alexander Tucker
Occupation: Musician/visual artist
Current Release: Xmit as Microcorps on Alter
Recommendations: The graphic novel Providence by Alan Moore / A Portrait, the 1991 Arena documentary about Derek Jarman.
Alexander has a variety of online presences for his music and visual arts, including Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp and Twitter, you can find them all here.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first band was called Suction, I sang and screamed, we were a hardcore punk band, but before this I’d been messing around with guitar feedback and looping noise through my amp and delay pedal. I would record onto a tape deck and later on, I got hold of these TDK loop tapes which I’d make collages onto, this was my first attempt at recording but I didn’t get a multi-tracking machine until many years after this. Writing words and singing in Suction helped me to begin constructing songs and also helped to develop a persona on stage and a love of extreme performance. We were all massive Fugazi and Swans fans so the physicality of the stage performance was really important to us. I was (and still am) a huge a Cardiacs fan and lived and breathed that music in my early to late teens. My art teacher at school was a fan and made me tapes of them, Devo and The Residents. I feel like I was really spoilt early on being introduced to this incredibly rich music and probably turned me into a massive snob. Like many teenagers, I went through loads of different music phases: goth, metal, punk, hardcore. But at some point, I became less tribal. It was probably the mid 90s post-rock days which introduced me to the idea of cross pollination of ideas, styles and genres. It’s funny that post-rock seems to be a bit of dirty word these days, and I kind of understand why - a lot of quite dull music was made under that banner - but it was a great time for these worlds to start colliding. I was making visual art and music simultaneously from an early age, both were a fluid way of getting ideas down, but music was the more fluid of the two - especially if you didn’t want to adhere to musical norms or structured ways of playing. Also, writing words which could turn into lyrics was an immediate way of fast tracking ideas and feelings into concrete forms.
For most artists, originality is 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?
I was too impatient, insecure and stubborn to properly learn how to play instruments or to learn anything, really. I hid behind a dyslexia diagnosis and daydreamed my way through most of school. But I had loads of ideas for paintings, collage, sculpture and music, so I was always making things and messing around in my bedroom with broken guitars and analogue synths. I had knowledge of techniques for making visual work, mostly from my Dad helping me out - he’d studied at art college and was a graphic designer. We always had loads of art materials in the house as Dad had a seemingly inexhaustible store cupboard at work, so he’d bring home paper, spray glue, cutting matts and steel rulers. We always made a lot of collages. But because I didn’t want to properly learn how to make music, I didn’t really have any idea of where to start so using feedback felt the same as mark-making, it took you on a journey. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was teaching myself how to improvise. Dad did teach me a few guitar chords and a friend who I used to improvise with taught me some power chords. So in a sense this stubbornness and insecurity helped me to come at sound from a different direction, it taught me to manipulate sound and to let the sound lead you rather than the other way around. Later on, I did learn to play but only through open tunings, I still dislike the sound of a standard tuned instrument, playing only becomes interesting to me when it’s going through some process of manipulation and transformation.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Probably, like a lot of experimental musicians, I’m pushing against the banality of the everyday. Initially there was a sense of a misanthropic distrust in mainstream society which makes sense coming from the punk hardcore scene, but that’s quite an adolescent way of looking at the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to make worlds outside of myself which probably says more about my escapist tendencies than about my personal identity. Maybe that why I’m so obsessed with creating alternate entities, all my projects - even my Alexander Tucker work - is a character to a certain extent. It’s strange, I feel quite blank when thinking about my identity and my creativity, it’s like I need to fill myself with something that feels like it’s outside of my body and mind to then transmit ideas through. Maybe that’s why my work often comes across as oblique, neither here nor there, stuck in the grey zone. My lyrics often come from personal events in my life but I always veil everything in abstract imagery. I move between this and glimmers of the everyday. With MICROCORPS I’ve removed almost all recognisable words, in heavily processing the voice to become unrecognisable there’s a certain freedom. I’ve been enjoying moving away from the voice as an emotional transmitter into something that can be stretched and manipulated, bringing it into line with the other elements of the track rather than the central element or narrative content of the piece.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
With music I’d say my main creative challenges were technical ability and insecurity around technology. As I’ve said above, my technical ability was self-enforced but if you leave something so long it becomes an issue, it gets harder then to sort out. The same goes for technology and this goes hand in hand with financial constraints. I didn’t grow up with computers in the house or even video game consoles, so using software has come to me much later in life. I’ve always taken a small bit of information and stretched it out to work for me, like using open tunings and a couple of picking patterns on guitar has generated a lot of songs for me. I’ve never been someone who owns a lot of gear, I used the same loop pedals and FX units for years and they took me a long way. I have more equipment than I ever owned these days but that’s probably says more about my age.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first piece of equipment was a second hand amp and a succession of cheap guitars, the best guitar I ever owned was a Kay guitar I bought in Brighton at an outside market. It was covered in rain and one of the pick-ups didn’t really work, but you got this rushing sound when you used it, like an effects pedal. My first pedal was an Ibanez Tank Delay unit, I loved that thing. It was my first foray into introducing another space to laminate sound with. I also got a JEN synth for 20 quid when I was 18 from a garage sale, it’s the only keyboard I’ve ever own and sounds like a jet engine. I was very slow with my recording capabilities, because I was singing in bands initially I didn’t really need a home recording set up, we always used studios. But I used to buy these TDK loop cassettes and make collages with those, it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I got a tape dictaphone and a Mini-Disc recorder to document my noise guitar performances, I also used to do gigs with the Mini-disc player too, running field recordings through effects units and loopers. After that, I got a second hand digital 8 track, which I recorded on all the way through the 00s, until I replaced that with a Zoom 8 track. I would often record with those and then take them to studios to add more layers and produce the final tracks. About 3 or 4 years ago I got my first Mac and DAW which coincided with my building up a modular set up which I’ve been recording MICROCORPS and other new projects with.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Everything I’ve ever used has changed the nature of the work. Although you are the thing that’s propelling the work, it’s a meeting in the middle between you and your chosen weapon. Working with loops from cassettes tapes to granular processors has always opened up new possibilities, the immediacy of real time sampling and then manipulating that sound has always fascinated me. Most recently for me it’s been combining a modular set up with my other electronics. I’ve been composing pieces inside the system and also running outside sources through the system, which I then combine. I’ve been processing my cello and creating these collapsing and malfunctioning drone orchestras, I love all forms of drone composition but there’s so many amazing examples out there, I want to disrupt the constant flow into pulses and bursts, to give the pieces movement. This way of working introduces seemly random elements which are simultaneously in and out of your control, that’s not to say the system is just doing what it wants, but the quality of surprise is present and that’s exciting. I’m able to combine improvisation with composition within the same pieces and then compose further through editing and post production.
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?
Collaborations are like incredible gifts between yourself and the other player, if you are in the room together there is hopefully a shared symbiosis or tension that you are all feeding from, individually lost in your own world whilst sharing that with other people. Whenever I get stems from a collaborator, they feel precious and take on a sculptural aspect, I love the anticipation of what another player will send and the joy of working with material from someone whose playing you love and admire. When Daniel O’Sullivan and I play shows with Charlemagne Palestine we often get the concerts recorded to later work on in the studio, these live documents always feel particularly precious to capture, like salvaging a moment in time that often gets lost with the live experience.