Culture magazine LONDON HARDCORE recently interviewed 2nd year music Computing student James MacPherson – better know as AG C00P3R. We reprint the article here.
Anarcho-electronic experimentalism and broken techno collide in this improvised live set from AG C00P3R.
Where are you from and where are you based now?
I was born in London but spent the majority of my life split between Anglesey, West Sussex and for the longest span of time, Suffolk. It only made sense then that I picked a university in London as I have always taken every opportunity to visit the city. London for me is very separate to the rest of Britain, a hub of people from all walks of life. Musically it’s the bridge between America and Europe. As a result it’s a constantly evolving community within community, anything and everything is happening in London. It’s a place for me to broaden my understanding of art, politics and culture.
After a successful few years doing Music Technology at Suffolk New College, I’m currently in my second year at Goldsmiths doing Music Computing; essentially the course teaches computer programming but with a focus on music. I can’t live without exercising the creative and technical part of my brain so it’s a perfect niche.
The end goal is to create my own audio software/hardware to aid my music creation, I’m unhealthily fussy about music gear/software, so it makes sense to learn how to make your own. Music combined with technology is something I’ve been pursuing since I started playing around with music software (that came free with a packet of cereal) at the age of 7; I don’t see myself ever stopping that pursuit.
Recently I made some music for a dance duo (Catherine Taylor and Kathleen Pearlson). We are big Twin Peaks fans and previously they had been practising their routine to Haxan Cloak so I had to produce something which combined all of those elements. Making several tracks within a track was a fun challenge and gave me a chance to try and convey narrative through music. This inspired me to work with a lot of the amplifier based distortion techniques I use to add texture to my current projects.
There is also a gentler side to my musical output. I contributed a sound design experiment to Natalia Szcz’s soundscape for Matilda Skelton Mace‘s exhibition piece at Clinic //2 in the Bargehouse, London. Matildas work involved these mesmerising glowing clouds in front of a huge structure with nature landscapes used as animated textures via projector mapping.
Sonically, I experimented with creating tape style loops in the digital domain that don’t just travel repeatedly in the time domain but also scan through the frequency domain via FFT; the end result is a morphing swarm of textures slipping and sliding over each other. It combined with the visuals really well, providing this alluring and meditative audio-visual experience. Although it was a bit bizarre for me seeing the piece in this environment as it had previously been used for their fantastic Universe Of Tang parties; I do like the idea that something that has originated in a club/party environment can be presented in a traditional art context.
Currently, I’m part of a collective called EDITED; our aim is to organise events and spaces that encourage cooperation between individuals and experimental art forms. Last week we put on a night, under the name of ‘108 KICKS’ that presented experimental music in a dancefloor/club environment. The results were a merging of abrasive soundscapes with flurries of distorted kicks! One of my favourite events we put on was in an abandoned police station in Deptford. Some friends and I were performing our music whilst artists had set up multimedia art installations in the jail cells, in fact, some of the artists were inside the cells, quite unreal but great fun.
What would be the one track that currently characterises your sound?
Untold – Sing A Love Song.
This track incorporates elements of Musique concrète with dance music in such a fantastic in your face way! The main vocal loop reminds me of Steve Reich – It’s Gonna Rain; the vocals shift in phase creates rhythmic syncopation and changes the focus of frequency due to constructive and deconstructive interference of the phase. It marvels me how the brain latches onto non-musical sounds and makes them seem musical.
A huge inspiration from this track is how the distortion acts as a form of glue, each element of the track dynamically affects each other by squishing the other sound sources in a fight to stay in the limelight. This is further enforced by the jittery kicks that push and pull with the music’s rhythm and dominates what little room there is in the sonic space. This is in opposition to when the piano loop drops in, it is in such contrast to the wearing barrage of sounds prior that it is genuinely shocking.
The production approach Untold took is something I greatly admire, to the best of my knowledge the album was produced in a week. This has resulted in a level of sonic spontaneity between all the tracks that makes sense in the context of the album. The rawness of this album makes it feel very genuine almost like a snapshot of where Untold was physically and emotionally at the time of producing the album. This is the workflow that I now prefer, making music in a 24 hour timeframe keeps the music focused on the vision and the raw intent that gave birth to it. Whilst I can spend days polishing a track, the extra layers of polish pull away the elements of my own personality from the track, it starts to feel less genuine, less me.
I would love to see how people react to this track in a club, a moment of utter confusion, raw chaos at 128 bpm.
Untold (RBMA Tokyo 2014 Lecture)
How did you make this mix?
This improvised mix was made entirely in the box using Ableton. Max For Live was extensively used for sequencing; a bank of preset dance rhythms are cycled through and mixed and matched to form the backbone of the mix via the control of 606 drum machine samples. A group of more abstract drum sounds are controlled by a morphing pattern generator. I can change how fast this pattern starts to change and how it should be filled, lot’s of long rests or fast percussive rolls. This in combination with the loop length allows me to layer some more distinct polyrhythmic elements that are filled with small fills and rolls. The final track is Native Instruments Massive, not the ‘sound of dubstep’ wavetable powerhouse synth, but an old Reaktor ensemble. It’s a sequencer that can morph through a collection of samples and settings; I randomise this to create clanky abstract loops to layer on top of the mix. Processing wise most elements in the mix are sent through a helpful smothering of amp distortion and tape saturation which gives that coat of grimy texture on all the sounds. The mix is deliberately dynamically squished, it’s meant to be loud and wearing to the human ear, this sonic assault is what I feel links my music to Hardcore.
As I’m using the computer just as it is I couldn’t simultaneous tweak a lot of things at once. I had to take a more microscopic approach by changing one parameter at a time. That way things didn’t get too boring and loop forever whilst I was tweaking away. The computer was doing its own thing independently, thus I see it almost as a band member. The computer and the human both improvising! The danger was that the computer wanted to go in its own direction and I wanted to go elsewhere. This created a dynamic struggle, a level of frustration but also danger. Danger that everything can go wrong! This is what makes live performance exciting to me, the live in the moment decision making and unpredictability is a thrill. I think this energy also engages the audience, you’re all on the same ride together, no one knows what’s around the corner. For me, it’s important that no two performances are the same and this method helps fulfil that goal.
Due my location at the time, I couldn’t stand up and dance when making this mix. If you have ever seen me live you know that I dance uncontrollably. I love dancing. This frustration of dancing in the confines of my seat combined with the over-compression and lack of physical hands-on control of parameters (just using a mouse to frantically click around) lead to the music coming out more sporadic and panicky than it usually does. That level of frustration from the computer vs human interaction I think added a manic crazy quality to the mix. Music gear doesn’t make you a good or bad producer but definitely affects your music output; in this case, it’s affected by a lack of control through awkwardly interfacing with music via the laptop keyboard and mouse.
That being said the future of my performances does contain a box of buttons and knobs now via Native Instruments Maschine, yet the philosophy is still very computer focused. My current experiment is using Maschine in Ableton to feedback midi from between both pieces of software. Through Midi processing via Max For Live every action creates a knock on effect that causes the music to evolve and create variations based on what is already existing and what is about to exist in the sequence. The next level in my computer call and response approach.
What is the message?
I make music under the aliases of AG C00P3R, the name is partly a reference to my favourite TV series, Twin Peaks. The cheesy use of the numbered letters points to how most of my music is ‘computer’ based in some form and feels very much like something you would encounter in an internet forum rather than on a record.
As someone who is from the internet era, it feels like a good form of personality representation. The music from this aliases is designed to create new experiences for the dancefloor, It’s my attempt to deconstruct the Techno that I normally make and present fresh interpretations of dancefloor conventions.
I love to confuse and challenge people but I also want them to dance and have a good time, this means learning to strike a balance between established dance music conventions and experimental sonic practices. This can be from how I design sounds and generate composition to how I perform music in a live situation. This way, much like the chaotic nature of the internet, I’m forced to organically evolve my sound and to experiment to keep things new and exciting.
Thanks to LONDON HARDCORE for writing this great piece.