Interview: Darren McClure

Darren McClure

1. Do you remember the day that you decided to devote yourself to music? Did you give any thought to your reasons for doing it and what you wanted to bring to this world?

I got pretty obsessive about music in my early teens:  buying records, tuning into John Peel’s radio show every evening, tape-trading with people all over the world and running my own tape label for a while.  I’d also played drums in a bunch of bands with friends and loved that, so once I started listening to electronic music I wanted to explore making it myself.  In 1998 I got an Atari ST, a copy of Cubase and my first synth, and started from there really, slowly building up a studio.  No other reason than to have fun creating sounds for myself, and maybe play them to friends.  It wasn’t until 2005 that I had my music released.

2. Your first release was the Zonal Sounds EP where your penchant for ambient and microsound was already pretty obvious. Could you tell us more about that work? And how much did time change your perception of music?

Actually my first release was Unmoored, which came out just before that, in the same year. Zonal Sounds was made entirely with software, lots of processing and resampling.  I had started using Reaktor around that time, and that featured prominently in the creation of those tracks.  At that time, I was listening to and being inspired by the output of labels like Mille Plateaux, Chain Reaction, 12k etc, so I was interested in exploring abstract, lowercase music.  The artwork was done by my friend, based on the product design of old Zonal reel to reel tapes.  That’s where the title came from too.  That was released in 2005, so 13 years ago, so I think my style/technique has developed a lot since then.  But I still enjoy the music and it represents where I was at that time.  Sounds are strong memory-triggers.  I find it quite nostalgic listening back to old recordings as they’re snapshots of a certain time and place.

3. What inspired you to leave your homeland of Northern Ireland and move to Japan? What impressed you the most in the Land of the Rising Sun?

In the summer of 2000 I came to Japan to teach English, with a plan to stay one year, then go back home.  But one year turned into two, and before I knew it I’d settled down here.  Japan is a fascinating place.  Some parts, like Tokyo, you feel like you’re in the future, then in others like Kyoto it feels like you’ve travelled back in time.  I like the fact that it’s a very seasonal country, all four seasons are so distinct and celebrated.

4. Does your environment influence your perception of sound? Have you noticed any difference between living in two different countries?

Oh for sure.  Japan I think has a respect for silence and quiet sounds/gestures in its cultural history.  When I first came here, the onkyo scene was at its height, with artists like Sachiko M, Taku Sugimoto and Toshimaru Nakamura making ultra-restrained music which employed silence as an aesthetic.  And the Off Site venue in Shinjuku was attracting international artists and regularly being written about in magazines like The Wire.  Also, artists like Minamo and their Cubic Music label were an influence on my music making as they embraced improvisation and quiet sounds too, music to really drift off to. When I attended shows here I was initially surprised by how respectful the audience were, seated and quiet with eyes closed, intently listening. 

So just that minimal, zen-like aesthetic applied to sound was very inspiring for me.  I’m sure if I had gone back home, my music would have been influenced by the UK environment.  Also, the American label 12k was a big influence on my early music-making, and that label has a strong connection with Japan.  If I wasn’t living here, i would never have been able to attend 12k shows and other shows of related artists, and this definitely gave my musical ideas a certain direction.

5. In your opinion, how important are the noises in the ambience that surrounds you? How often do you resort to field recordings?

My ears are always open, I enjoy environmental sounds and often use field recordings in my material.  And anyway, just getting out of the studio and going outside to find interesting sounds is a nice thing to do.  Sometimes these recordings will be heavily processed, as I try to find new textures in them.  Other times, I’ll use field recordings in their original state, and allow the location identity to play a part in the music.  I’ve released a few things that are purely field recordings.  I’ve worked with the Impulsive Habitat label on three releases.  One of those was a piece called Medsumoto that I did with Miguel Isaza, in which we used location recordings from our respective cities, Matsumoto in Japan and Medellin in Colombia.  We combined the sounds into a narrative that followed through both cities.  I love how sounds can transport the listener to the origin of their recording.

6. Your album called Primary Locations was devoted to the link between sound and light. Are you planning any original experiments of the same kind in the future?

That release is probably my favourite thing I’ve done.  It was very conceptual in nature, and I let the concept steer the direction of the music.  I’ve done other things like Object Trio for the Eter label, that imposed parameters on the approach to recordings, and it’s definitely something I’ll do again in the future.   Saying that, I still want the final product to sound good, and not let the process or concept take centre stage.  The concept should be the means to an interesting end.

7. What is your profession? What do you do for a living? 

I’m an English teacher.

8. You've done a great amount of collaboration albums with other musicians. How do these collaborations come about? Who is usually the initiator?

Thanks to social media, I’ve been lucky to make online friendships with artists whose work I admire, and then after some time we’ll have the idea to collaborate.  Sometimes I’ll make the suggestion, other times they ask me.  As these are people in other parts of the world, the projects usually follow a standard file exchange process.  When I made an album with Porya Hatami and Arovane, that was the first time to work in a bigger group, so we made a sound pool, adding sounds and making parts bit by bit, letting the tracks come together naturally. The last thing I released was a collaborative album called Future Harbour with Jose Soberanes, our second time to work together.  That came about very intuitively because I think we both understand each other’s approach now, and we communicate well.  Collaborating is always an interesting process, with results I would never have got by myself.

Darren McClure

9. What would your music project be like and what kind of music would you record if you had all the possible musical instruments, software and hardware in the world? 

Oh man, that’s a tough one.  I think I’d be overwhelmed if there were endless possibilities.  Having restrictions means you have to be creative with what you have. 

10. Name your top 5 favorite Ambient albums! 

11. Tell us about your exclusive live that you did for Data.Wave!
What was its message for the audience?

Well, it’s a long form piece comprised of three separate sessions in my studio.  Each session was largely improvised in real time, then later edited and arranged.  The three parts were mixed into a longer whole, and I hope there is an interesting flow and sense of narrative.  I felt it conjured images of transparency, with translucent  sounds flickering in and out of its horizon.  Its title, “Fata Morgana” is the name of a type of mirage that appears on stretched and inverted areas, stacking up unreal images.  I thought this reflected the nature of the piece for Data.Wave.

12. What would you suggest or advise to people who are going to listen to this record?

Headphones and a long walk, or speakers at medium volume and just zoning out!

Interview: Ilya Kudrin/Faith