Name: Daniel Martin-McCormick
Current Release: Coconut Grove on Avenue 66
Recommendations: In advance of the concert I’m hoping to make, I’ve been revisiting Meredith Monk’s “Turtle Dreams.” It’s amazing and quite haunting. Also Tony Conrad “Four Violins” in honor of his recent book release.
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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?
My entry into music was very sudden and unexpected. As a kid it never occurred to me that music was something you could do - I assumed musicians were special people and everyone just listened, or at best learned how to strum a few songs on an acoustic guitar. Then in 1998, I stumbled upon Henry Rollins’ tour diaries from his years in Black Flag in the Tower Records down the street from my school. I sat there for hours reading their display copy mesmerized by these stories of the band travelling around in a van, sleeping on floors, running their own record label, dodging the cops, getting cups of piss thrown on them by punks in England, etc etc. That night I announced I was going to be a musician. I was 14 years old.
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 relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
For better or worse, I tend to do everything backwards. I generally make a big mess and then go back and belatedly compare notes against my forebears. I’m so stubborn, I seem to only ask for help when I hit a brick wall. I remember when I got my first cassette 8 track Tascam Portastudio in 1999 … I turned all the knobs all the way up and plugged my guitar straight in. It sounded insane, but cool too. Then I got lucky and the first knob I adjusted was the midrange frequency - so basically everything was boosted but this one knob swept the focus of the boost across the spectrum, making a huge swooshing sound. I spent a while exploring that trick (I still use it quite a lot today). My feeling was if you didn’t turn the knobs all the way up, it’s because you were a square. (Much) later I began to understand the power of gradations, restraint, and dynamics. But it took a while, and there’s a part of me that really needs to let it rip.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning I found writing music to be incredibly intuitive. I think the biggest challenge is, as you go, that initial intuition can get muddied by self awareness, doubt, and other spasms of the ego. You write something with no expectations, and it has this effortlessness. Then you’re impressed with yourself, and you want to do it again and again. But the trick isn’t to do what you did before, but rather to keep cultivating that space of openness. I used to secretly yearn to go back to that earlier time, but no more. I respect that time for what it was, but I don’t glorify it.
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 studio was amazing … It was my parent’s basement, when I was in high school. I was friends with some older musicians and my parents let us practice there (thanks). So all of a sudden there were drums, amps, pedals, a bass guitar, etc … And then one of my collaborators left for a year of grad school and loaned me some mics, a 16 channel Mackie mixer and his open reel 8 track. It was wonderful.
My first studio as an electronic artist came very late. I started making tracks on Audacity in the mid-2000’s, partially because I couldn’t afford drum machines and sequencers and synths, but also because I (typically) wanted to go my own way and didn’t want to learn some complicated DAW or MIDI system. I just wanted to start, now. Over the years I slowly assembled pieces of gear … One of the most important is the Delta Labs Effectron II, a delay unit that’s been with me for a decade.
Otherwise, I have a couple synths & sequencers I’ve worked with for about five years … but what they are is less important than the fact that I’ve really developed a relationship with them. You can do that with anything.
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?
Like all feedback loops, the one between music and the tools it’s made with is so much richer when it’s not a closed loop. Musicians influence instruments and instruments influence musicians. But the new development is that, whereas in the past instruments were developed quite slowly and had fairly straight ahead interfaces, now we have a deluge of gadgets that mostly do the same thing in variously complex, often unmusical ways. The siren song of gear is to learn how to use the gear so that you can use the gear to make music that sounds like gear music - essentially making the producer the employee of their gear.
Humans excel communicating our innermost experiences to each other. We do this through the poetics of our art. I’ll never forget seeing Paranoid London live in 2015. The way they worked the cutoff filter - such a basic function - on their 303 just oozed lurid sexuality, and the crowd was going insane. People talk about them being a “hardware” group or affiliates of acid house. No. They were communicating something much more primal, and using the gear masterfully.
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?
There’s a sound I’m looking for, and it comes through electronics but it’s not the proprietary sound of a Roland or a Moog or a Linn. There’s something so expressive in the artificiality of synths and effects. I couldn’t name it, but it’s there. I go looking for a sound that feels alive, but alive in a way which is mysterious to me. When you start plugging things into each other, or layering in certain ways, it can feel less like arranging or mixing and more like watching an ecosystem come to life.
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?
You have to choose your collaborators carefully, because they can really get into your head. Powerful collaborations leave all parties changed, hopefully for the better. But when you find the right people, it’s true what they say: two heads are better than one.
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?
Music is my life. I make music, I study music, I organize raves, I run a record label, I work in live audio, I write about music … My schedule right now is a pile up of deadlines. This week I have some studio sessions planned, a show to play, a podcast to work on, a piece I need to submit to one of my professors and a midterm I’m studying for, a record cover I should start designing, a couple mixing jobs I’m doing and an article about Ryuichi Sakamoto I’m quite late on. I’m hoping to go see Simo Cell on Friday and Meredith Monk on Saturday but I’m not sure I’ll have the time.