Name: CC Sorensen
Occupation: Composer, improviser
Current release: CC Sorensen's Field Patterns, a duo release with Gretchen Korsmo, is out now via Full Spectrum. [Read our Gretchen Korsmo interview]
Recommendations: Affirm Your Joy 31 Day Gratitude Journal by Cydnee Prince; Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
If you enjoyed this interview with CC Sorensen, you can find more information, updates and music on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and bandcamp.
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?
In 2009, I was fifteen. I started making songs on my older brother’s laptop. I heard Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock for the first time in fourth grade. It instantaneously became something I was really excited by and wanted to hear more of. My siblings are also really big influences on me creatively, I’m truly blessed to have three siblings who are all artists too. Being near that creative energy my whole life has definitely influenced much of my own creative output.
Music and sound has always been this big mysterious thing that I still am constantly perplexed by. So much is still a mystery. One of the earliest songs I can ever remember hearing is Del Shannon’s “Runaway”. I remember feeling sucked into a totally different world and being so rattled but happy with what was happening. I still really love that song.
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 think I landed in a weird place when I started to learn how to make music in the sense that those earliest days felt truly the most experimental. I was primarily using garageband and was recording a lot of guitars, percussion and vocals then looping, stacking and arranging them into songs. I had definitely learned some Beatles songs and some other classic rock songs on guitar but they honestly usually stressed me out to play more than they made me feel happy or satisfied. I really wanted to make jazz right away but was so intimidated and felt too young, unskilled and disconnected from that world to actually make an honorable and worthwhile attempt.
I kind of abandoned learning songs or the fundamentals pretty early into my musical life. I moved to the town my brothers were both living in when I was twenty-one and fell into the improvising band Rumpilots that they were a part of. Playing with that group and finding out the freedom that can exist with sound and music through free improvisation was really what flipped the switch for me and opened a door for how expansive and limitless music and sound is. Playing with Rumpilots is one of the most important things that has happened for me in regards to finding my own musical voice and also learning to better listen and respond to the world and others.
Joining up with the Llano Estacado Monad Band has just increased those kinds of feelings. I have been so grateful to have recorded a dense amount of music with them over the last few years.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
This is a difficult one to answer. My ability to create and play music has helped immensely in my life to understand my own queerness which is reflected back into my music.
So almost the reverse, my creativity and those I create with have helped me understand my own identity more clearly.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main issues in the beginning and challenges that I still struggle with is always feeling like a composition isn’t full enough or that it needs twelve other things going on. It can then be easy for me to inundate a piece I’m working on with too much sound and get caught thinking it’s overdone.
I’m getting a lot better at pulling back and not over thinking and just creating for the sake of creating.
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 instrument was a flea market beat up acoustic guitar that was basically unplayable. It was the first instrument I had felt like I made my own music with and knew I was heading in some right direction. Watching my brother use garageband on his laptop really piqued my interest. Getting to use his computer is really where things fell into place. Having the ability to arrange things in a way that makes way more sense to me was a huge deal.
I was eighteen when I got a laptop and midi keyboard. My setup hasn’t changed much and I like to keep it minimal and as affordable as possible. I’ve moved around a decent amount the last several years and I hate moving lots of things so keeping my gear and objects minimized helps everything go smoother and still gives me results that are currently pretty great for me.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Absolutely, I’m really thankful to be at this crossroad of technology. To have access to the laptop I use to make music is truly a blessing. So many people have been able to put out so much incredible work in the last 20+ years because of technology like DAWs and the ability to produce full songs in our personal spaces on a device that does twenty other things. It still really blows me away.
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 probably the most important aspect of music for me currently. Collaborating is such a beautiful way to connect with others. It always overflows me with joy to get to work with others. I can’t place what the feeling is or what role it plays in my approach but when I’m collaborating I’m growing and learning and understanding. The bond created feels infinite, fierce and important.
For group collaborations and improvisations I typically prefer all being together in person and just vibing out and taking long recordings of everything. With one on one collabs or small groups I’m really split, I like file sharing a lot and having time and consideration with the work is really nice.
There’s still something supreme about being in a room with another. It's such a powerful thing and sound always comes much more alive in togetherness.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
Whew, my life is so all over the place. My morning routine is simple and slow unless I’m at my job. I'm a barista at a bodega / café. I don’t really have a schedule outside of my job schedule and that’s not even fixed currently.
I’m a night person and most of my creative work happens late into the night and into early morning hours often. Music is pretty inseparable from the other aspects of my life.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of my favorite and important performances I’ve done was with the Rumpilots in a 100 meter long tunnel in Boulder, Colorado, USA. The performance was streamed live to a gallery event in Paris, France in 2018.
The audio recording utilized three long range condenser microphones situated at the opposite end of the tunnel from where we played. It was so moving to be in that tunnel space with that crew and to sound out. I have never left the US so it was a special feeling to transmit our performance real time overseas.
The performance came together through our friends Tomoko Sauvage and Jenna Maurice. Although we never discussed the details of the performance beforehand as a group, I’ve always really liked how that performance dealt with distance and the space between us. Ricocheting horns and drums off of walls and down towards the microphones and camera and then bouncing that thousands of kilometers across the globe was really fascinating. I felt like I was performing from the past in the present.
This was pre-covid times so it felt rad and intentional to be doing a remote / streamed performance like this and not forced or expected.
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 have a hard time separating an ideal state of mind for creation from my normal conscious state. I'm almost always thinking about sound and making sound. Although, I regularly feel creative blocks and getting through them and into a better state for creation can take a lot of mental maneuvering.
Easy things that tend to help me are rearranging my gear and workspace and doing some simple breathing exercises. I’ve had a difficult time creatively since moving to a new city right before covid hit but have also made work that feels the most in tune with myself. I think a silent and organized space is the best way for me to get in the zone.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Sound worlds are so crucial to keep us put together and functioning. I’ve been on both sides of music healing and truly hurting. It’s mostly healing even when it’s tragic. Particularly improvising music with others is an incredibly crucial activity for me. Collaborative improvising specifically
really brings out blissed out, stress free moments that feel frozen in time and infinite. The connection and intimacy shared with other players is so special and at times becomes more important than the sound itself.
I’m really convinced that everyone is a musician. I think we’re all a lot more capable than we know.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
We’re at such a globally connected point in history but primarily due to colonialism. It’s important to remember where we come from and what we perpetuate. Many of us are living antennas picking up frequencies from all around and responding through some sort of replication. It’s hard not to be affected and inspired by everything.
Giving credit where credit is due and not profiting off of someone else’s identity or work is necessary. We can honor others' work and keep those things alive by boosting their works that already exist. Doing the most to bring our own unique voice that is more in line with our own backgrounds or a background we actively support and are engaged in seems to be the way.
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?
I think going back to that Rumpilots performance in the tunnel. There was such a multitude of things going on. Setting up recording equipment in fifteen or so centimeters of moving water, placing drums throughout the tunnel and convincing everyone it was probably safe to be walking around in mystery sewer tunnel water was already such a weird sensory experience.
The performance itself got even deeper, the sound of the water and the smells of moisture seemed to amplify and crossover as we started to play. The way the sound was moving with the tunnel and the air became very apparent, alive and one. It was really such a special time.
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 really feel like a scientist that didn’t pay attention in school but got an internship because they’re white. A lot of what I do I feel like is just tinkering but with a lot of emotion.
I feel really lucky to be able to make music because I really don’t know how most of it occurs. It’s like alchemy. I create through my emotions and have the easiest time getting to work when emotions rise in one area or another. I can’t imagine existing any other way.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
The elements of music work together to create such moving emotional overtones. Words can only describe so much. Music holds feeling and spirit. Music is everlasting.