Monday, January 7, 2013

Featured musician: Jose Macabra

Photo by Jorge Monedero

Jose Macabra is a genius of sound design that I encountered during my travels in Germany in the fall of 2012.  Born in Spain and currently residing in London (recently returning from a holiday in Goa, India), Jose shares his ever expanding global experience through aural experience, visiting all aspects of the emotional spectrum.  My attention will forever be arrested by the live setup of any electronic mission, especially if it involves hardware that doesn't require software integration (i.e. analog synths, samplers, grooveboxes, etc.).  After my set at Lumière Bleue in Leipzig, I ventured downstairs just in time to see Korg Electribes being plugged in by this fellow.  What followed was an onslaught of harsh beats in the realm of power electronics, rhythm noise, industrial, drone, and ambient.  I was immediately impressed.  While working on promotion for Drop Dead, I became aware of Jose's background including a formal education in sound design and digital media in London, live soundtrack work for stage, film, animation, and performance art throughout Europe.  His set at Drop Dead Festival was equally impressive, especially a segment towards the end that consisted of improv synthesis and sample manipulation where I heard sounds resembling living creatures, real or imagined.  Jose Macabra, while still on holiday in Goa, took the time to answer a few questions for Interdimensional Intergalactic about his craft.  Enjoy and happy new year!

Jose Macabra on Soundcloud

Jose Macabra's side project 'Brood'

How does your background in Digital Media and Sound Arts and Design factor into your music creation process?

Both subjects influence my work in different ways, or let's say that they influence different aspects of my work. I started studying digital media after realising that I was not going to graduate in psychology. The idea came up during a trip to Brazil, where I went to take a break from London's hectic life; to reorganise my life and to take control of my future. I did not want to study the human psyche and to spend my youth studying in libraries and undertaking theory exams. I wanted to do something more creative and to develop my perception of the world: to address some of my most significant questions and transform them into some kind of art form. Sound Art and Design provided the solution for me, being more comfortable working with sound than other mediums such as animation, photography, video or creative writing to name just a few that I explored during my studies. Digital Media has proven to be a successful vehicle through which to immerse myself in the digital world. Before studying the subject at University, I found myself experimenting with all sort of creative software, albeit without substantial output for the simple reason that I was merely casually exploring the tools with no specific objectives. It can be difficult to self-impose discipline: the brain has a tendency towards the familiar and can benefit from an external agent to activate and stimulate the creative process. Having purpose, outcome and feedback to ones work is invaluable. Having said that, a few grey hairs have appeared in recent years! Without some form of creative output, for example an audience or an arts commissioner of some kind, the creative process has limitations. As my chosen platform, Digital Media has allowed me to express the thoughts otherwise trapped in my head, through colour, movement, sound and texture. I prefer to express myself in this way, avoiding the often misinterpreted semantics of words, without obligation to justify myself or to correct misconstrued 'hidden' meanings. But for me, the greatest benefit of the art form is the diversity of its tools. Through Digital Media I have been able to experiment with a wide variety of methods of communication, finally settling with Sound Art and Design as my chosen specialism. The comparisons between music and sound are profound. The natural soundscape of the Amazon rainforest can be considered to be unorganised sound, or naturally occurring botanical music. This concept raises the question of when does sound become music. How do we define the boundary between unorganised sonic chaos and structured music. It was this concept that initially attracted me to studying Sound Art and Design; the concept of freeing my sonic thoughts to let them run free from definition, categorisation or censorship. The only judge is my tinnitus damaged ear and the only sentence is my audience. In summary, at the moment digital media factors in my work in every way that I could envisage it being included in a piece of my work and as a result I would like to work with other artists or composers. I believe I have learnt the language required to collaborate and to express myself. 'Musique concrete', multichannel installation, noise music and sound for film and performance are some of the areas that interest me and shape my work the most. Some of these approaches to sound were previously known to me only in vague form, so entering into their full condominium was an incredible journey that I will never regret.

Who are your major influences in electronic music, either from a technical or a style point of view?

A difficult question to answer, as my musical influences and personal taste covers the breadth of the sonic spectrum. Additionally, I have never aspired to sound like another artist or to fit within any particular genre. I have always consciously pursued my own original approach; the fundaments of which are based on the fusion of genres as a means of reflecting my personality and mentality. Another notable influence in my work is the day to day/night to night experience of living in a futuristic society. Where time is your enemy, stress your daily meal, schizophrenic behaviour is a common tool in 'getting away' with the game of life, human relationships are dysfunctional and where enjoyment or pleasure have been relegated to the bottom of our shopping lists. Looking for traces of optimism and hope have become a laughable pursuit whilst viewing the results of our civilisation in the highest contempt. Humour should always be present in the equation, yet the frequently humourless music of the industrial, post punk, goth, dark ambient, noise and musique concrete, not to mention the many variants of techno, genres have significant forces in my life over the past fifteen years. A list of artists whose work I enjoy would read similar to that by any listener of similar tastes, so I've decided to provide one name only. Throbbing Gristle. A band that apart from being an influence sonically, is fronted by Genesis P-Orridge, the artist whose philosophy of life most resembles that of my own. If I were to generalise, I would say that since an early age I have grown up within techno culture, moving between clubs, techno raves and the illegal warehouse party scene. Later, Once my body and brain could no longer cope with the 'stay up forever' lifestyle, I became more attracted to the worlds of industrial and noise. These days I try to combine everything in a more moderate and mature way...excuse me whilst I laugh at myself!

Photo by Taran Regil

How did you come about using Korg Electribes for production and performance? Have you had experience with any other drum machines or samplers in the capacity of performance? How does the software production experience compare to the hardware approach to electronic music?

Until the year 2000 I was using Logic, Cubase and Fruity Loops. Then I discovered a shop that used to be in Tottenham Court Road in London where I got to try out hardware. Somehow the fact that I was able to physically touch knobs (on the hardware) to create sounds in a more physical way, felt more like using an instrument. This physicality allowed me to connect dynamically to the waves; to interact with the sounds more intuitively. I was very excited by machines such as the Roland 909, the Korg MS20, Virus synths, Moogs and Akai MPCs. An excitement swiftly thwarted once I checked out the huge price tags! So I decided to save up to buy some equipment, starting with some kind of music production tool or groove box. When I came across a Roland MC505 for £350, I didn't think twice and grabbed it. My first impression was one of disappointment, having realised that I would have to read the instruction manual to be able to make my compositions. Reading the manual was almost impossible for me. Both my English and my technical knowledge failed me in understanding this pile of nonsense, so my next mission was to find a copy of the manual in Spanish in an attempt to absorb as much text as possible. But even the Spanish manual was not forthcoming in satisfying my impatient desire to make that thing work the way I wanted! My early aspirations were set far too high and my inexperience with hardware was painfully apparent. Unrelenting, I took a more primitive approach, pressing every button and turning every dial, slowly familiarising myself with the machine in my own way and using my mistakes as part of my creative process. It took me some years to master this piece of equipment but eventually I was able to handle in the way I had set out. I can't remember what I bought next; possibly a Yamaha RY-30 and some distortion and delay pedals which made the sounds dirtier, more repetitive, tighter and so on. I think it was around 2003/2004 when I came across the Korg Electribe ER1. I remember opening the box and feeling a little uncomfortable with its plasticky, rubbery, toy-like appearance. A feeling that soon ended once I powered up, saw the red lights of the step sequencer and heard sounds which I immediately fell in love with. It wasn't as powerful as the 909 that I had become so accustomed to, but combined with some external rack fx and into theectri computer, it was clear that this machine could be a killer that, used in combination with other hardware and software, would help me make my sounds just the way I wanted them. It was around 2005/2006 when I got the new Electribe MX, along with a Korg MS10, Jomox Airbase, Jomox Kick Drum Module, Jomox T Resonator, a Kaoss Pad and Kaossilator and a Roland 106. As well as an electric guitar, some wind instruments, a mini bass guitar and some sound generators from my big friend and Brood partner, Mothax. I can't offer a simple answer to the perpetual 'hardware versus software' question. I think they work well together in the creative process but if playing live I prefer to play with hardware, resonating my passion for the physicality of buttons, sliders and knobs as a pose to reading a MacBook Pro screen. At least the machines have flashing lights! And being so familiar with them, allows me to create more dynamic sets. As with all musical instruments, electronic or acoustic, the key is to know your equipment. Only then, can one overcome technical restrictions to the creative process and produce work the way one wants.

Photo by Aghia Sophie

Berlin seems to be your city of choice for performing. Do you feel that there is a better market for your project there?

If we're talking about the present, it's the place where I get to perform most often. It's not my choice, though. But in the past, London was the main place where I played, at places like Behind Bars and Antagony. Since early 2005, I've mainly been playing on the underground techno scene in London, and similar gigs throughout Europe. One of the high points of my career to date as a performer, has been my residency at Behind Bars, a queer collective based in London that provided me with a platform to develop my beats and noises and to feel what it's like to have an audience that fully appreciate what I do and give me the strength to work through my set with pride and honour. Behind Bars was full of great energy and at it's peak was attracting a huge crowd. It has always been an honour for me to close every single party with one of my sets, they became in a sense quite ritualistic. In September 2009, Prisce de Cockroach, Meerak Meinohg and myself launched Antagony. Our aim was to focus on the music and provide the crowd with an apocalyptical playground with a class noir attitude. We treated Antagony as our new baby, working hard to bring our audience a well thought out and tight line up that would leave them speechless. My rituals in "Teknoize", a term that I coined to my sound because the obvious mix in my material of techno and noise, we're getting more specialised and precise, giving me the confidence to play at any type of temple of electronic music. I remember very well the first time I played in Berlin, at a collaboration between Behind Bars and Sabotage. That must have been the summer of 2006. The reception was great and I gave them everything I could over in an hour and a half of madness. I really enjoyed that experience and from then on other promoters started to contact me to arrange shows. Sabbat was like my second home in Berlin. This ongoing project came from the hands of Petra Flurr, one of the best acts that Berlin can offer at the moment. Playing at Sabbat has always given me great feeling, mainly because the audience and artists have always made me feel home. Another Berlin home has been the Gegen, which has had me moving the dance floor of the Darkness Floor, Drop Dead, About Blank, Splatterkore and the Leipzig project Lumiere Bleue. At the moment my work is getting divided into two currents and two cities. London is the city were I am doing most of my sound design and soundtracks for film and performance and Berlin is the place where I am developing the Teknoize material and scaring dance floors; where I become the shaman of lost forever children that are still craving a dose of macabre electronica. At the end of the day I'd say that I enjoy playing everywhere and I like to bring my sounds to different audiences, scenes and countries. Even in places as far away as India, where I am at the moment taking a little holiday and investigating the market for a possible future techno happening.

Is there a certain piece of equipment, old or new, that you are dying to get your hands on that you haven't had the chance to try yet?

This is a difficult question to answer because I am a gadget addict. I would love to have so much equipment that I could not list here, but of course this is impossible at the moment because the huge amount of money required. So I am just going to list three machines that really need to be part of my studio soon. The Roland SPDS X sampling pad which in my opinion is a great tool. Its something that I have been waiting for a while to get, so if anyone wants to buy a present and make me happy you know what to do. An Ableton controller would be nice too, but I am still waiting for something to come the market that's a bit more developed than the ones that are available today. Maschine MK2 by Native Instruments is another piece of equipment that I am keen on, and I'd like to try out Feeltunes Rhizome.

Photo by Taran Regil

What bit of curiosity about sound design and electronic production are you looking to explore next?

When I get back home from Goa I would like to find a way to further my education. One of the options I'm considering is a doctorate in sound design, to deal with subjects such as the use of sound in performance and its interaction with neuroscience. Also, I would like to further explore multichannel installations and field recording; a subject that I'm into more and more lately. 

Many thanks to Jose Macabra for letting me pick his brain!  Thanks for reading, cheers!