Few South Americans have cut the mustard when it comes to purveying minimalist, sample-based electronica.
Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Fernando Corona is one such man Ė a modern sound designer creating dark ambient soundtracks to die for.
When Corona is not sampling orchestral strings from favoured modern neo-classical composers such as Arvo Pšrt, heís playing his own acoustic instruments then processing them into a melodic tapestry of shadowy, micro-programmed sound.
Under the pseudonym ĎMurcofí, Fernando Corona is now on his fourth studio album Ė Cosmos; arguably the best in a series of progressively dark instrumental albums dating back 5 years.
Having been born in Mexico, what access did you get to electronic music in your youth and what led you to that interest? I grew up very close to the border in Tijuana, so in Mexico it was non-existent. I had to cross the border to purchase music and magazines and to be informed about this type of music. I think one of the records that really got me into electronic music was Jean-Michel Jarreís Oxygene. Back in the days I was 10 or 11 years old and a friend of my fathers gave me the record. After that I was wondering what other musicians were doing something like this.
Is the country producing an increasing amount of artists interested in this area of music? Yes, definitely, especially in Mexico City. There is something like 20 million people here, so there are great possibilities for people into electronic music. Nowadays, you can just get a computer and download software, thatís the beauty of it. So for countries like Mexico, and other countries that maybe donít have the infrastructure or people with the purchasing power to get equipment, the software and music-making tools have come to save the day. It can be a good thing and a bad thing, a bad thing because thereís a lot musicians that want to make music from one day to the other - but they get discarded.
What was your first introduction to electronic music from a technical perspective? Well my father was a musician, so I grew up surrounded by rehearsals and listening sessions and a whole bunch of his instruments were in the house - so before I decided to do electronic I tried other instruments. I remember he bought us an old, very cheap organ and my sister got more into it than myself (laughs), but later on I began to wonder how these people make the sounds. This was the main thing that interested me, the sound design Ė where do these sounds come from? It wasnít until 1985, that I purchased my first instrument, which was a very cheap, basic Casio keyboard Ė with mini-keys, about two octaves and couple of seconds of sampling. But it was very exciting for me to begin sampling stuff from the world and pitching it up and down. My first real pro-keyboard was the Kawai K1, which really blew me away because now I was able to design sounds and get into the waveforms. But I also did something with a Commodore 64, and also began to programme sounds on that one, and other friends of mine were getting interested in electronic music so each one brought their equipment and we just sat together and began to mess around.
You were initially a member of a Mexican group called Terrestre, what role did you play in the collective? It was only me actually; it was an alias I invented around 1997. I did some compilations for a label here in Tijuana, which was more focused on post-rock but also beginning to flirt with electronic music. I used to play in a band from 1991-1997 and we released an album, so my first pro-work was within an ensemble of musicians. It wasnít until 2004 that I put out a Terrestre album.
Having listened to your albums, one gets the impression that your influences would be mostly ambient artists, is that the case? Yes, but Iíve listened to a whole bunch of things. I remember in the eighties I was really into the Industrial scene, the Wax Trax and Play It Again Sam labels. Also Skinny Puppy from the Nettwerk label, Front 242, Front Line Assembly, KMFDM, and In The Nursery. But at the same time I was listening to classical music as well, my father had some classical records in the house and he was a big fan of Bach. He had one record that was really, really good called Jon Santo Plays Bach, which was similar to Wendy Carlos; classical music interpreted back with electronic instruments. So then I began to investigate new classical and contemporary music, stumbling from Stravinsky to Arvo Pšrt.
Your new album Cosmos elicits all these elements; would you consider it a dramatic departure from your previous albums? Of course there are physical boundaries between one album and another in the form of a record, but for me I donít see it that way because itís a natural progression. You have to put a limit on your music and release it as an album, so people think of your music as separate phases, but it has just been a journey for me from Martes to Cosmos. Iíve done this, now I want to do something a little bit different, but from one album to another there are already hints of how new work might sound.
It seems very much like a concept album, whereas your others albums were a little more abstract perhaps? Does the music relate to anything specific in its depiction of the cosmos? What Iím trying to say is right there in the album really Ė I have a hard time putting it into words. It comes from the fascination from seeing a beautiful starry sky in the night and just letting your mind go off and wonder and question all the basic things that we sometimes forget to ask ourselves. Thatís really what drove Cosmos, amongst many other things.
The melodic element is also pushed to the forefront, perhaps more than usual for this genre. In that respect is Cosmos an attempt to be slightly more accessible? I donít mean to sound rude but I really donít take into consideration the audience when I make the music or the decision of going one way or the other. I try to offer an honest work, thatís what I enjoy when I listen to other musiciansí music Ė I want to hear music that doesnít want to please me rather than whatís the story of the musician, whatís he trying to tell?
Cosmos sounds a wholly electronic album, but I understand that much of it is very much made up of classical acoustic instruments? Yes, there are a lot of acoustic instruments in there, processed to infinity. Thereís stuff Iíve used from Martes actually, and recording sessions from previous albums that I did not use. I also have some stuff that I recorded myself with my cello and some pianos as well recorded in Tijuana before I moved to Spain. I also used a pipe organ library, a demo library actually Ė but the melody is played by myself. So 90% is original stuff, either played by myself or some other musician I invited, and then I processed the same sounds to make more layers and create this cloud of sound.
How would you begin building up the tracks in the studio? Did you have a clear idea from the very start? I kind of sense when it is a good moment to make a track or make something interesting. I donít have the whole structure of the song in my head, maybe just the first couple of seconds Ė and Iím sure itís going to take me to where I want to go. So, yes itís very difficult for me to plan a whole track, let alone an album.
"I try to offer an honest work, thatís what I enjoy when I listen to other musiciansí music Ė I want to hear music that doesnít want to please me rather than whatís the story of the musician, whatís he trying to tell?"
Can I ask what instruments and tools you used in the studio to create the album? I use a PC, with mainly Cubase as my multi-tracker and an infinite number of plug-ins of course, from retail to freeware. A few instruments, not many instruments Ė when I moved from Tijuana to Barcelona I sold all my hardware; a few synths Ė I had a Roland Juno-106, Moog Prodigy and some other outboard equipment. I arrived in Barcelona with only a couple of hard drives and I built a desktop, so nowadays I mostly use software. But yeah I do miss the hardware Ė the immediacy of it, just getting your hands on it and getting ideas running.
Because the tracks are quite lengthy, between 8 and 12 minutes, is it easier to focus on one track before switching to another? Iím usually working on several tracks at the same time, but if one track is going really good then I focus until I think I cannot advance any more. Then a couple of weeks later I go back to the track and re-evaluate it. I might change it completely or continue from where I stopped the time before, it depends on many things. I really like to leave the tracks to rest for a while, to see what happens when I donít listen to them for a few weeks. Having made Cosmos, is soundtrack work something you would be keen to explore? Soundtracks? Yes, I have a done couple of soundtracks here in Mexico. The last one I did was for a film called La Sangre Illuminade, which means íEnlightened Bloodí Ė it will come out early next year. Itís kind of surreal, about this nomad soul that travels from body to body collecting experiences, kind of like a metaphysical drama. It depends also on which kind of film, but itís very exciting for me, especially if the film really communicates to me.
I noticed from looking into your back catalogue that your song titles all begin with a letter taken from the word Murcof, or is that just coincidence? At first it was a coincidence. When I started working on my first Murcof tracks I noticed that I named the first three ones with ĎMí, so I thought, maybe itís a good idea to just continue naming them with each letter of Murcof Ė it makes it easier to name the tracks on the albums, just focus on one letter and go from there.
I understand you are playing some shows in London in October, one in particular at the newly opened planetarium in Greenwich? Well, I feel very comfortable playing in planetariums. Especially for this album, itís intimately related to the concept. So the space is really intimate for people and myself, so I think the experience can be enhanced by being there - where people are really predisposed to just sit down, listen and trip out. I think it is the perfect context for this album. Weíre going to basically use the star projecting systems of the planetarium.
I understand you are interested in video processing too, have you considered perhaps creating an audio-visual DVD for Cosmos? Yeah, weíve been thinking about DVD video surround sound music for some time now, but Iím still waiting for something, although Iím not sure what.
You have received fantastic reviews for your albums so far, is it important to you to get such validation of your work? Itís good for the sales of course (laughs). But you know, reviews are kind of misleading, because itís based on the personal tastes of the people who are reviewing. Maybe you have to read between the lines many times; I bought some records and found them beautiful and I read lousy reviews for it, so itís very personal and I believe music is more like telling your story, and of course personal stories are not up for review, they are what they are. I donít get too frustrated when I see bad or good reviews; I try not to be affected.
Do you listen to other forms of electronic music often? If not, what sort of music would you typically listen and relax to? I have been enjoying Biosphere for some time and Deathprod as well; I really, really love Supersilent Ė an improvised jazz band from Norway that includes a lot of electronic elements in the mix. When Iíve finished working I try to catch up with whatís going on and explore what new ideas are coming out. I like Oren Ambarchi as well.
What can we expect next from Murcof, do you have any long-term plans for the project or perhaps other projects? There are a few commissions on the horizon, to work with acoustic instruments and stuff like that. So, Iím sure those will take me into new territories. I cannot say exactly what, but I like to think that I have many things to say still.
Murcof interview, Barcode 2008 ©
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