Compared to the average LWE podcast contributor, New York resident Daniel Martin-McCormick may appear as a bit of an outsider. He’s had an extensive career as a member of Black Eyes and Mi Ami; perhaps best pigeonholed as noise-rock acts, both nevertheless have shown an awareness of electronics and avant-garde arrangements. In the last year, Mi Ami, now down to two members, has become increasingly electronic. This shift has been coupled with a wave of solo activity from Martin-McCormick — two releases of smudgy, isolationist dub-pop as Sex Worker, and three of uncompromising, visceral dance music as Ital. We spoke with him about the process behind Ital, and his answers, appropriate for someone with such a breadth of interests, were both hyper-specific and not — in the end, it’s all just music. Ital is informed by twentieth century avant-garde composition as much as Omar-S or Hieroglyphic Being, and LWE’s 97th exclusive podcast makes this eclectic approach explicitly clear.
LWE Podcast 97: Ital (47:48)
01. Morton Feldman, “Christian Wolff in Cambridge” [CBS Disques]
02. Iannis Xenakis, “Tetora” [Montaigne]
03. Pauline Oliveros, “Bye Bye Butterfly” [1750 Arch Records]
04. Arthur Russell, “Instrumentals Volume 2 – Track 2″ [Audika]
05. Robert Ashley, “Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon” [Mainstream Records]
06. Julius Eastman, “Evil Nigger” [New World Records]
07. Laurie Spiegel, “A Myth” [Electronic Music Foundation]
08. Giacinto Scelsi, “Streichquartett Nr. 4″ [Kairos]
09. Steve Reich, “Tehillim – 1. Psalms 19:2-5″ [ECM Records]
In your interview with FACT, you talked about buying 12″s, but I know you come from kind of a noise background. Do you hear your tracks in the context of a club setting, at all? Or would you want to? Or do you see yourself as kind of removed from that?
Do I make tracks in terms of trying to have them be “club-ready,” or whatever?
Yes and no. I mean I would love for somebody to DJ one of my tracks — I think that’s awesome. I do DJ, and I love going out to see DJs and stuff, but I feel that thinking about things in terms of trying to anticipate this really specific type of “practical” application is a little bit creatively stifling for me. I don’t know, I would rather make something that is in the realm of techno. Just make music, essentially, actually. And if somebody wants to DJ it, then they can. I certainly wouldn’t do to actively prevent somebody from DJing it, you know. I bought Hieroglyphic being records where there’s literally no bass, and it sounds like it was recorded on an answering machine, and it’s this totally sweet track. Actually one of them’s on my FACT mix, but it’s pretty un-viable. [laughs] Anything except for just one-time home listening, but I have spent a lot of time at home listening to techno, and I think it’s pretty awesome. Before I started DJing a lot, I had all these 12″s and was like, ‘Oh, if I ever DJed, this would be sick,’ but it was also good home listening, but I also kind of felt unfulfilled in that regard. So yeah, I want to DJ it, and not just to listen to it on the Internet. But yeah, I don’t know. I just want to mainly make make music that I think is interesting in and of itself. And I also find it distasteful to think about success in terms of a certain acceptance from a larger community. Especially one like, I don’t know, out in Detroit clubs or London clubs. I like dancing a lot, for sure, but I’m not this sort of club kid or a raver or a techno dude from Detroit. I don’t want to feel like, ‘Oh yeah, I need to have Theo [Parrish] DJ my cuts for it to mean that I’ve succeeded.’ I have respect and love for that shit, but I’m just doing my own thing.
I guess I was just wondering because you talked about buying 12″s, but there was no part where you talked about going out and dancing to stuff. But you could just be sitting home listening to these things, and I think there’s a different appreciation you get from whenever you go out too.
I guess the flip side of that is, I like dancing to weird techno. [laughs] I like Omar-S, I like the Chain Reaction stuff, and I like, Anthony “Shake” Shakir. I feel like they make — not the best electronic music, but some of the best dance music. It’s really enjoyable music to dance to. I feel like I’m engaging with music that I inherently feel some kind of body relation to. The whole club thing is so that — it’s kind of like being like, you write a rock song and think, ‘Well, do you think people will play this on the radio?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, maybe.’ [laughs] You know, what radio are you even talking about?
Have you played live yet? Or do you plan to?
Mmhm. Oh yeah, I’ve played live. Yeah, both. I’ve played live a couple times as Ital. I mean I’ve played live a lot of times in my life.
Yeah, but apart from Mi Ami and other stuff. But as Ital?
Yeah, I’ve played four shows; my fifth one is tomorrow.
How does that work because the painstaking audacity production seems, like, less conducive –
It’s a little bit different — I use the computer and this pretty bootleg setup I’ve got worked out in Logic. And then I play live keyboards, and there’s a lot of live processing I kind of do. So it’s pretty interactive. I need to get either a MIDI controller or an Electribe or something like that to kind of give myself some more knob control, because right now it’s pretty mouse focused, which is a little bit annoying. But it’s not like I’m playing along with an iPod track and have one keyboard part or something like that. It’s pretty interactive and live, you know? But it’s different. In one sense I guess it’s a little bit broader and more energy focused. Because I can’t do the same amount of micro-edits and stuff like that, but I can focus more on the longer builds and broader show. If you like one you’ll probably like the other one.
Yeah, because, I was really surprised to hear that you took all of this time — because your music sounds really… live. So it was really interesting to read about how painstaking your production technique is. Are you starting to incorporate more live stuff in the production as well? Because the synth on “Only For Tonight” kind of sounds really jammed out. Was that also using your technique?
Yeah, the only thing I did live for that one is I recorded the bass line alone as a loop, up to the cutoff and resonance. And I used a live take of it just going and going and going, but as a processed thing. But then the rest of it’s still edited together the same way. I’ve been kind of starting to incorporate more of that — where I’ll have one or two things where I’ll have the loop going, and I’ll run it through some pedals and fuck with the parameters. I’ll think it all up again afterwards and have have one or two or three shifting things, and then I’ll start to be like, “OK, what do I want out of that?” That song “Culture Clubs” is all audio loops, and I don’t fuck with any– the bass line is an exported bass loop from Logic. And at no point is any component of it altered in terms of cutoff or attack or decay. I like getting in the synth programming mix when I can because I think it’s more engaging to have the texture of — whether it’s time stretching something or filtering something or fucking with the synth parameters — having a malleable interaction with a sound.
Your background is in noise, and I remember there’s this Mi Ami interview where you talk about “Frankie Teardrop” by Suicide and Alan Vega’s scream. And I’m kind of hearing that in “One Hit,” for instance. There’s a similar dynamic with really high highs. Or like having Jamal Moss do a remix, and he works a lot with that sort of thing. Is that jarring-ness a priority for you or does it just sort of happen naturally?
I like things that are sort of– I mean, I look at it turned around. It would be strange if you were like, ‘Do you want to make music that does not surprise?’ [laughs] Yes, I do not want to make music that of washes over you in an indistinct, [laughs], perfectly quantized, grid-like correctness. I feel like working electronically, one thing that became apparent to me as soon as I started seriously working on tracks was, you have to fuck shit up somehow. Because if you just go with what’s given to you, what some program designer or synth engineer provides you with, you’re working within some pre-prescribed conception of what sound or music is. And the whole point of music is you come to it to feel free and to feel alive, to engage with the abstract nature of your existence. I feel like working with a computer, it’s really, really, really easy for things to become very clean and safe and boring and not powerfulf. So it’s important to fuck with it somehow. And I don’t think everybody should be pitch bending and stuff all the time, and I don’t think everybody should be time stretching stuff or making it sound jarring. That’s my way of kind of trying to engage with the system and also transcend it and not have it boss me around.
Well, I think it’s definitely successful.
Are you actively producing stuff? What’s your work rate like? Do you have piles of stuff sitting around, or when you work on a 12″ do you set certain tracks aside for it, and say like, ‘I’m working on this 12″‘? How do you go about putting a record together?
Yeah, I guess each one I’ve made to kind of be its thing. The first 100% Silk record I did I had put together seven tracks, and I sent three to Amanda [Brown, of 100% Silk and Not Not Fun], and then the next one I did, “Culture Clubs,” I made myself. After was like, “I need to make a B-side for this.” I got the remix from Jamal, and then “Only For Tonight,” obviously those two are a pair. I just finished a record for Planet Mu. It’s five songs I made all together as a piece. I don’t really much identify with the vibe of, ‘Oh, I’ve got all these tracks lying around, hmm,’ you know. I
I think it ruins a lot of people’s albums, or “albums.” Because they always end up sounding like compilations, and there’s no form.
I mean, sometimes you just make something and you’re just making it to make it, and then it becomes something else. But generally, I feel interested in working towards something or having — and I don’t have a lot of rules, but — premises. I’m not like, ‘Ooh, this is going to be the dark one. And this one’s going to be trance-y.’ But I do feel like it’s sort of interesting to be like, ‘Alright, I made this track and it fulfills a certain need, and I need something that’s going to either balance that out or go with it or play against it. Instead of just making a million tracks and then arbitrarily or semi-arbitrarily compiling them.
You just did a video for “Only For Tonight.” Is having a visual side of things important to you? Because I think some people in dance music want to be all about, this is the anonymous 12″. You can’t see my face. There are no visuals.
Yeah. I don’t know. I mean that’s always a weird — that’s cool sometimes, but I just — I’ve never been an anonymous producer of music. So it seems kind of weird to start doing it now.
Or even just not worrying about the visual side of things. Just DJing and not having a projection.
I’m not sweating trying to make videos all the time. I don’t feel like Ital is this — I mean it’s obviously not performative in this one key sense. I do perform live, and I like it, but its impetus is studio based. But I had the idea for the video, one I really wanted to make. Visual or not visual, I’d rather have some visual component, but if a non-visual thing holds little appeal and I have a very intense audio-visual thing, that’s this whole completed project. It’s basically music and then video came along with it.
Not very aesthetic. [laughs]
Are you going to sing on any future Ital?
I haven’t done it yet. I don’t know. I really like singing a lot, but I don’t see my voice working with anything I’ve done yet. I have plans to work on more Mi Ami stuff and more Sex Worker stuff. So probably for now that’s where the vocals will find themselves ending up at. Honestly, probably not. I don’t feel like I have the voice for a track. All my favorite vocals that find their way into tracks are, like, either diva vocals or gospel vocals or whatever. Something like that.
OK. I was going to ask about Sex Worker, whether there’s going to be new Sex Worker still?
Yeah, in time. There’s only so many hours in a day. The Ital stuff has been pretty exciting to be exploring right now. So I would like to get back into it, but it’s just got to be one of those things that it’s in time.
So what’s coming up from you? A thing on Planet Mu?
Yeah, they’ve got that coming out, and then some remixes coming up — I did LA Vampires and Maria Minerva’s got some stuff coming out I remixed, and there’s a Peaking Lights remix album with a track of mine on it. Stuff like that. I think that’s the big ones for now.
Are those on 100% Silk? Are those two on 12″?
I’m not actually sure if it’s Silk or Not Not Fun. But I think it’s an EP. I haven’t heard the whole thing, though, so I can’t say for sure.
Tell us about the mix you made for LWE.
The end of WWII brought about a revolution in the international music/art scene from which we are still in many ways reeling today. As serialism took (strangle)hold across Europe and in the academy (a panicked attempt to restore order after a period of chaos and horror?), outliers in America established themselves as the radical dissidents and creative mavericks. In the compositional milieu, bizarros like John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Earl Brown, Terry Riley, Lamonte Young, David Behram, Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, Morton Subotnik and Meredith Monk, as well as the artists featured on this mix, were all fucking shit up in ways their stogy, order-obsessed counterparts dared not imagine (Berio, I’m looking at you). Blurring the lines between heady 60′s psychedelia and conservatory-level precision, this extended family happily gave us the foundations for noise, new age, techno, krautrock, drone and (ahem) performance art, as well as a bunch of fuckin’ crazy tracks that no one really knows what to do with to this very day.
This mix does a brief spin ’round the perimeter and through the city center or this golden era, not even close to complete but what the hell, you get the idea. I’ve arranged it in a palindrome of sorts: We open with a vocal-centered acoustic work by a fav mang from this world, then move to a string quartet by a Euro weirdo (gotta rep Scelsi and Xenakis, what’chu think this is?), then on to an electronic piece by a woman, then straight into an ensemble piece by a gay NYC downtown dude from the 80′s. Finally, we land on a vocal-centered electronic work and then start to work our way back. The gender/sexuality distinctions are only biographic curios, make of them what you will if anything at all. I love all these cuts deeply, but the first and the last have the deepest resonance. Feldman is a personal hero, to the point where I even got a tattoo, and I’ve spend a couple years of my life listening to Reich (often just this movement) every single day.
How do you think the sounds on your mix inform Ital?
I feel hugely influenced in some sense of style by a lot of those guys. I figured in terms of some of the technical processes they used are — the overall adventurousness of sound, where the kind of rigor or — especially with Morton Feldman, who was a huge influence because he was composing at a time when there was a lot of pressure from the academy to conform to a lot of rigorous serialist systems. And he was criticized a lot for essentially making music that didn’t operate within a theoretical system. I think that’s really beautiful, that his music was so personal that you can analyze it but not within a system. You just have to listen to it and engage with it on its own rules. And also he was really influenced by the abstract expressionist painters to try to create music that is about the physical properties of sound. But the way he did that by making the sounds as quiet as possible instead of as loud as possible. People want to talk about the physical properties of sound, and immediately I think of some drone metal band making the glass shake off the table or something like that with their bass. But he was talking about making a sound that’s almost silent. You have to reach out and hear it as its own presence in a room.