Name: Lee Norris / Metamatics
Current Release: Metamatics' classic ‘Midnight Sun Pig’ has been re-released on double vinyl by Hydrogen Dukebox.
Book-Charles Bukowski-Hot Water Music
If you enjoyed this interview with Metamatics, visit his bandcamp page, facebook account or soundcloud profile for more information and music.
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?
From about 19 I started messing about with tapes and feeding loops from a Casio cz1000 into analogue delay pedals. I bought a Commodore Amiga computer running OctaMED when I was 21 which was very difficult to program. I would spend all my earth hours programming that.
I have hours and hours of stuff I recorded when I was a young man. A lot of the material I recorded then are sketches and ideas I had in my head that I would later use on compositions when I managed to buy some decent equipment. The sounds I was interested in at the time were Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. I had a very healthy record collection that was mainly driven by Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and early Gary Numan.
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?
I really wanted to make cold dystopian music. Music that was cold and mysterious. The sounds of Tangerine Dream and Cluster. It was very difficult to emulate that because I didn’t have banks of analogue synths and was stuck right in the middle of the house and techno explosion and then came The Orb, FSOL, Caustic Window and the whole UK ambient techno scene sucked me in.
My first recordings influenced by this music were poor to say the least. I kind of stumbled on my sound by infusing funk and slippery programmed beats into layers of melancholic string based compositions. I never bought a funk or jazz record in my life apart from the funk Numan would use later on and Mick Karn’s bass on the Japan albums so I have no idea where that came from. I must be a natural born funkadelic!!!
I did read on Fact mag that I invented garage rhythms. Looking back on it I might have done - but I was never influenced by dance music or house although I’m very much into Detroit techno with Gerald Donald and Model 500 being my go to records when I listen to that genre.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I always had it in my head that the music had to be well recorded. I started recording everything to cassette back in the early days. Most of my early unreleased work went straight onto metal tape. Around 1998 I bought a Sony DAT recorder and the transformation was incredible. I did however start recording the digital source back onto cassette just to get the warmth and flutter from cassette and then back onto DAT by shaking a Sony Walkman into the digital conversion.
Over time I’ve become less fussy about recordings although I would rather record onto tape. I use a Korg 1bit recorder now and it’s perfect. Anything rendered down in Ableton or logic does not do it for me.
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?
At the time I did my first record for Clear records back in 1998 I had an Akai S1000 and an Atari running Cubase. Some cheap outboard FX units and decent compressors I borrowed from Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. He was my mate’s uncle and he borrowed us some gear for a bit. We had to give it back though. I remember him phoning up and asking if I had finished with it!!
Favourite pieces of gear back then would be the sampler and the Roland Sh101. I was especially in love with my Casio CZ1000. I used to stay up for days programming that. I remember I had that doing choral voices after 2 days solid on it ... although I was very stoned at the time I might have imagined it.
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?
I’m not interested in humans much to be honest. They seem to fuck everything up they touch and my life and location here has basically got me not interacting much with people. With the current c19 situation it’s almost made it more bearable for me.
Machines are made by humans so that’s one positive but machines are so clinical. You interact, program, type, edit and at the end of the day you can turn it off. It does not argue with you or have an opinion and if it did then it’s only what a human programmed into it.
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?
I’m very much a hardware musician and I enjoy the hands on approach of hardware analogue synthesizers. When I lived in Italy I made some albums using only software I specifically wrote and coded myself with the help of Mario Perosino from Schifotronic software labs based in Turin. This change was brought on because I didn’t take my hardware studio to Italy at the time. The change for me to just these tools inside one box was challenging because the mixdown and recording was all done in the box. Something Kraftwerk had been telling us years before.
I had some interesting conversations with Italian electronic artists based in Cuneo in Northern Italy about certain sound engines inside contemporary Digital audio interfaces and how those engines correspond with external quality audio interfaces. I'm fascinated with UAD. I think they do some really interesting audio interfaces for the money.
I am more relaxed in an environment where I have synthesizers and a mixing desk. Most of my music presently is made just on hardware sequencers, Cirklon and Oberkorn being my favourites.