As the UK attempts a return to normality, the Music in a time of Global Crisis will be coming to an end. Contributing to one of the final features, Stroud-based cellist and sound artist Simon McCorry weighs in on the conversation. Simon’s work explores a wide variety of sounds, influences, and multi-instrumental approaches, with his music appearing on labels such as Naviar Records, Herhalen, Disco Gecko Recordings, Woodford Halse, and close recordings, in addition to an extensive catalogue of self-releases. Simon is also a regular collaborating with RTR alumni Andrew Heath.
Simon has provided a lot for this feature, discussing the impact of lockdown on his music making, self-reflection and re-education, recent listening habits, optimism for the music industry following Covid-19, and creating positivity through the practices involved in art making.
How have the widespread lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 crisis affected your music making?
In many ways. The first thing it has done is given me space without worrying too much about releasing new material or performing. So, I’m back to exploring. Most of my solo output has been cello orientated in recent years. I’ve felt it important for my music to be performable as well as performative without staring at a laptop or twiddling dials and faders. Without the possibility of gigs in front of an audience that seems of little importance now. I’ve been experimenting with a couple of semi-modular synths and recently picked up the electric guitar to see where I can go with that. It has also given me time to stand back and reassess where I’m at and what my priorities are concerning my artistic practise. No conclusions but I’m sure the process is positive even if painful. Not that I haven’t put new work out there. During this time I’ve released one single Pieces of Mind and an EP ‘The Light Only Blinds’ a few weeks ago on Herhalen. Also, there will be a release of cello material of 20 second pieces for the 20×20 Project on the 18th July. I’ve also started working on a new album collaboration with Phonsonic & Andrew Heath where we choose three keys, each create three clips from one sound source for each key, and each make a track just using the three clips as material.
In this time, forces within my ancestry have come to a head. Though Black Lives Matter has brought about a lot of self-reflection this has been brewing for me since the autumn after getting results from a DNA test. I’m about 20% Indian. My dad was born in India (West Bengal) and was ‘Anglo Indian’ a term I feel uncomfortable with and a term often misunderstood. He was from a family of mixed-race parents as they were themselves in turn. This means we cannot point to a single ‘fully’ Indian ancestor and by consequence neither a fully white ancestor. I knew all this before the DNA test so in one sense there were no surprises, just confirmations. The fallout has been the start of a long journey that I must undertake to understand who I am and why I am. I have carried a lot of anger since being a teenager along with a sense of being of no value. And these forces battle against each other continuously. I thought it was just the way I was.
Slowly it has been dawning on me this is an ancestral wound that has never been addressed. Colonialism is tattooed deeply into my being at a molecular level and I can’t escape it. I’ve been mis-placed throughout my life. Anywhere around the Mediterranean – Spain, Italy, Greece (though when I am in these countries then it is Morocco, Tunisia or Libya) Israel, Palestine – South America (when I was at university, I was told I was like someone who had learnt English very well) and naturally India. Sometimes I pass for white, until I really get seen then the comes the ‘where have you been on holiday?’. Context matters. That happens often in my work as a composer & sound designer in theatre. There are woefully few BAME individuals working as creatives in theatre, so it often then assumed that I am white, just a bit darker and not British and I don’t really know what I’m doing. I get patronised a lot by technicians. I used to be angry with my dad for not giving me a manual to deal with all this; insults, physical threats, run ins with the police, being overlooked. I now understand he was ill equipped himself. The default position being trying to be white in a white world, an unsuccessful chameleon. Now the tensions are too great within me to ignore, so I need to educate myself. Re-educate myself.
So, what has this to do with music? I guess everything. Like myself the music I create has, from others, had its influences placed from disparately different continents. For many years this was not conscious on my part. More recently I’ve taken this on board and have purposively made culturally ambiguous music. First with ‘Song Lines’ put out by Naviar Records, and with my self-released album of last year, ‘Border Land’. I think the process as I ‘decolonialise’ myself will have a profound effect on my artistic output.
What music, new or old, have you been listening to lately, and have your listening habits changed as a result of the current situation?
As my full-time work has been sound design and composition, a lot of my time before lockdown was spent creating audio. This meant listening to music was the last thing I wanted to do in the evening, preferring to be surrounded by silence. Silence has become more and more important to me. Not just as means of giving my ears a rest but also a way of tuning into to the world around me.
During lockdown I’ve had more time and my ears have had plenty of rest. Which is very good. It means I’ve been able to enjoy listening and exploring music in a way I have not for a very long time. After being invited to do a couple of livestream performances for a local internet radio station – deepbedradio.org – I’ve started doing a weekly slot putting together a fairly eclectic radio mix of post classical, ambient, experimental and other music I like. I really enjoy putting this together and it has led me to a whole new universe of musical discoveries. Past episodes are up on my Mixcloud page. A few of the labels I’ve been enjoying music from are Courier, Past Inside The Present, Injazero Records, Fallen Moon Recordings amongst others. Discovering artists such as Eleh, Hildegard Westerkamp, Pamela Z has been a source of inspiration. The need to explore non-white practitioners working in the realm of experimental, ambient & drone has also been important. Syrphe, curated by C-drík (Cedrik Fermont), is a great label to explore.
Consequence of Sound reported the worst week of album sales since the 1960s (28th March 2020). Do you think the coronavirus outbreak will have a lasting negative effect on the music industry?
The effect on many venues and the threat of their closure and the lack of will the UK’s government have to do anything about it really is worrying? This, along with the devaluing of recorded music through digital media, will have a profound effect. Though artists can’t help but make things. It is in our nature and I only think death can stop that urge. So, music will be around as long as there are humans and probably longer, as long as the life of the Earth.
With more musicians live streaming from their homes than ever before, do you think this trend will continue once things improve?
I think there has been a self-pressure for musicians to fill the gap of cancelled gigs. I think that has slowly died down as time has gone along and the panic of finding something to do has worn off. Though I do think live streaming performances will stay and evolve. There is something really cool about sitting in your living room playing for someone who could be sitting watching and listening from the other side of the world. That’s pretty magic.
What do you think we as music makers can be doing to create positivity right now?
One of the things I’ve been musing on recently is my own practice. Quite often, I create material and then collage it together. I find as I’ve gained experience over the years, I’ve become more sensitive to what that material wants to be in itself and have learnt not to consciously or intellectually impose myself. It’s like there is something in there that wants to come to life and it’s my job to help it along the way. It’s a certain kind of ‘listening’. I think this is what artists in general do; respond to the material of their medium. I’ve been wondering how I can move that practice of patience, ‘listening’ and sensitivity out to the rest of my day and into the world around me. I think that would be the most positive thing. So, I think the practise of art is in itself positive and that positivity effects the wider community.