Talks with James Murray
Where Edges Meet
Where Edges Meet:
AV: Stories always have a beginning so let's head back to your beginnings. When was it that you took notice of music and began to take an active role in what you listened to?
JM: I remember loving to mimic sounds as a child Ė birdsong, adult voices, cars going through the gears outside my window. I was forever humming tunes, tapping out rhythms. I think Iíve always taken notice of music in that wider sense. There wasnít a discrete moment or epiphany, itís held a fascination for me for as long as I can remember.
AV: Is there any particular instrument that you felt drawn to more than any other? Why?
JM: The electric bass was the first instrument I picked up aged eleven. I went on to work with guitar, drums, keys Ė whatever I could get my hands on really. Finally the computer, which is to my mind an extremely versatile, flexible instrument. The bass remains my primary Ďrealí instrument for most live or studio contexts. I find its combination of rhythmic and melodic qualities deeply appealing but it could just be that itís my first love.
AV: Did you have formal music lessons of any kind growing up? How necessary/unnecessary is something like that in terms of how far you will go as a musician?
JM: I learned the flute for a while and had a few singing lessons but the structured approach wasnít for me. Iíve always preferred to discover for myself, itís a path that keeps things fresh, exciting, and leaves room for happy accidents. I think so long as you grasp the fundamental principles of music theory Ė intuitively, at least Ė formal training is by no means essential to musicianship. It can sometimes be an obstacle, particularly in more intuitive areas such as composition and improvisation.
AV: Was there a point in your life that you decided that you were going to share your music with the world in terms of recording and releasing albums? What is it that motivates you ( or any artist really) to take that step from simply creating music to wanting to share it and what needs do you think are met for the artist in this process?
JM: Interesting question. Perhaps itís different for different artists, but I canít separate the creation of art from its appreciation. Theyíre two facets of the same thing. I compose primarily for myself but until someone else participates in that music itís a melody in my mind or an idea on my hard drive, nothing more. Since I can never hear my music as others do, I need that listener Ė and it need only be one listener Ė to provide the required symmetry.
AV: What was your first official release and how pleased were you with your efforts at the time? What are your thoughts about that release looking back from where you are now?
JM: It was ďNautilusĒ on the em:t0004 compilation. Iím very pleased with the track still. It was sequenced on a Pentium I PC with a 100Mhz processor, I remember towards the end just opening the track would crash the machine. I could only work on a single channel at a time and was constantly having to find work-arounds. I like to think you can hear that love and attention in the piece. As my first official release and my first music computerís swan-song, it will always have a special status for me. The em:t records compilation is hard to find now, but the track was more recently re-released on Mahianeís [Oxycanta Ė Winter Blooms] compilation.
AV: How would you describe your music in general in regards to what it is instead of trying to find a genre to shove it into? How have you found yourself evolving since that first release came out and was it always in directions that you had planned on going?
JM: Itís emotional music, first and foremost. If I feel that all Iíve achieved with a piece is a nice sonic palette and a few interesting musical ideas then Iíve failed. I have a hard drive full of failures. Itís refreshing to be asked about my music in such a decidedly non-genre specific way. Iíve always found self-classification awkward at best. I donít imagine Iím alone in that but I genuinely donít recognise some of even the widest genre observations about my music, and frequently find them alien to my intentions. The fundamental thing is that thereís emotional content Ė soul, if you like Ė in the music.
AV: How much has computer technology and software aided you in bringing the music in your head into the real world? How important would you say these technology developments that allow an artist to create and record music in their homes been to you personally and to the genre at large in terms of making it possible to create music on a budget?
JM: It would be virtually impossible to create the music I do without this technology, though the attempt might be an interesting exercise in itself. For me the move to computer based production was a massive leap forward. Before that I was working with 4-track tape, which isnít without its charms but requires a certain kind of discipline to get results. It also takes a long time to translate ideas into reality Ė by the time the technological obstacles have been overcome thereís a reasonable chance that the original spark has gone, or at least dimmed. With how I work now thereís very little between my ideas and their realisation Ė in fact, the new danger is becoming distracted by the sheer range of unforeseen possibilities the process itself throws up. Thatís why itís crucial to see this technology as a facilitator and not as an end in itself. The technique needs to be in service to the idea, not the other way round. Since thereís very little music that doesnít rely to some extent on technology for its creation nowadays, this applies right across the genres.
AV: Your latest album effort is called Where Edges Meet on Ultimae Records. First off where did the title come from and what relation does it have to the music on this CD?
JM: The title has a number of meanings for me. An edge is an interface, the absolute limit of one body before it becomes another. Itís the way in which these delineations can be blurred that interests me. One thing I wanted to explore with this record was how organic and synthetic sound sources interact, the way they feed into one another and the ways in which they can be ďcon-fusedĒ. To that end I consciously used electronic techniques to mimic acoustic characteristics and vice versa, such that the origin of a given sonic texture becomes unclear. Itís then up to the listener whether they want to peel these textures apart and form judgements as to their provenance, or simply surrender to this necessary ambiguity and let the experience wash through them.
AV: How long did it take you from beginning to end to create a project like Where Edges Meet? Is there such a thing as a typical time frame for creating/composing the music for a project and how is it that you know it is done and the tweaking is over?
JM: One of the hardest aspects of any project is knowing when itís complete, when to stop tweaking. [ Where Edges Meet ] took 5 years. I do tend to take a long time ensuring every detail, but thatís far from a typical time frame Ė it was quite a protracted project for various reasons. Letís just say I intend to finish the next record a little sooner!
AV: Tell me about how you and Ultimae Records hooked up and how the relationship has worked out for the both you so far.
JM: I met Sun, aka Mahiane, at a party in 2004. We were aware of each otherís work and clicked immediately. When em:t records went under I was looking for a label and Ultimae was the natural choice. I have enormous respect for the way they conduct their business Ė professional yet personal, a rare balance beautifully struck. Sun and Vince are both artists themselves which I believe informs their understanding of how best to develop their roster without ever dictating artistic direction. I look forward to continuing this collaboration for as long as it benefits all involved.
AV: As a composer how is it that you blend elements of space and ambient music into the more rhythmic aspects of your music? Is it difficult to do so that neither one of them overwhelms the other?
JM: Iíve never really made beat-driven nor beatless music, more a synthesis of the two. The rhythmic and melodic elements in my music are interdependent. Although finding their balance can be critical to achieving stylistic harmony, I think of them as complementary not competing elements. I also like to borrow a little from each at times. ďEmpty SpacesĒ, for example, contains pad-like sounds constructed entirely from timestretched percussive recordings, while many of the rhythmic elements of ďOutside Context SolutionĒ are derived from treated guitar, industrial field recordings and the processed human voice.
AV: Without the internet I would never have found your music. What is your take on the social sites such as MySpace or Facebook and the Internet in general in relation to how you as an artist promotes their music these days? Do you enjoy the ability to communicate with fans and hear what they are thinking about your music in such an immediate way?
JM: Iíve found Myspace invaluable. As a toolset itís well suited to independent music promotion, though you do obviously only get out what you put in. The immediacy of being so connected to your audience is a privilege and
AV: Are you always in creation mode or do you take time off when you complete a project such as Where Edges Meet?
JM: When Iím not working on my music I produce other artists, primarily in more acoustic genres. I like to get involved in the whole process, from the early stages of composition right through to final mix, so I spend most of my time in some sort of creative mode. It is crucial to take time out though, often the reflection that comes from putting some space between yourself and the music is essential for discovering just what it is the project might need.
AV: What would you like to try as an artist in the coming years? More of the same or is there something you are itching to work on?
JM: Iíve started work on a second album which will have a greater emphasis on more traditional instrumentation. There will always be a strong electronic bias, but I feel my focus shifting now towards a more minimal, acoustic approach. With [ Where Edges Meet ] I set out to achieve particular moods and environments by collaging layers upon layers of sound. This time I hope to achieve a greater emotional intensity with far fewer elements. Beyond that, more remixing, live performance, sound installations, film scoring and compilation are all areas of interest to me and are at various stages of realisation.
AV: Are there others involved in bringing your music to the listeners or do you pretty much work alone? Why or why not?
JM: I work entirely alone. I enjoy the self-sufficiency if Iím honest. While thereís no substitute for the musical connection that comes from playing or composing with others, as a solo studio producer I have complete control.
AV: Any final thoughts on your music, ambient music in general or perhaps a commentary on the state of the world?
JM: What a question to finish with! I suppose my music is a work in progress just as I am. The same goes for art in all its various forms Ė itís forever evolving and we should acknowledge that, embrace it, and evolve with it.
AV: Thanks James for taking time to talk to AV and I hope that you can continue to make great music in the years to come. Take care.