James Murray is a london-based electroacoustic sound artist, producer and multi-instrumentalist. his productions weave together elements of electronica, downtempo, jazz and dub in emotive explorations of how the organic and electronic interact.
All at once the city and the middle of nowhere, jm’s recursive themes draw hi-tech sound design, live instrumentation and lush pastoralism together in a sonic world where nothing is ever quite as it seems.
Previously released on em:t, psychonavigation and part2 records, he is currently finalising his debut album on ultimae records and working as a freelance composer, producer and sound designer.
Q: Who is the man behind James Murray the artist?
A: I was born in Camden in 1979, my family moved out small village in the Welsh borders when I was seven. I’m fascinated by the underlying structures of pretty much everything and a perfectionist by nature, especially when it comes to my productions. When I’m not making music I like to read, mend things in unlikely ways and spend time with my partner.
Q: Where are you currently based James?
A: Back in North London.
Q: What musical influences did you have growing up?
A: My father was a blues musician and there was always music in the house when I was young – mostly folk, jazz, reggae and dub, blues and classical.
Q: Was there a defining moment early on in your life James that made you think “Yes…I’m going to make music for people to enjoy”
A: Making music is the only thing I can remember ever wanting to do, but I don’t think I ever expected or even intended that anyone enjoy it! Everyone who’s creatively driven would say the same – you write because you do, everything else follows.
Q: When did you actually start creating music?
A: I first started playing instruments aged eleven – bass, guitar, keys, drums. I learnt by ear and experimentation, so exploring and creating always went hand in hand. The first fully formed pieces came a year or two later and I wrote for bands and put together a lot of solo material throughout my teens.
Q: When did the James Murray project begin?
A: Computer-based composition started for me around ‘99 and I approached the medium the same way as I would any other instrument. After a few years of exploring the possibilities, finding my style – and a lot of trial and error – the first pieces started to come through.
Q: When/Where was the first gig/event you played at-How did it go-How did you feel?
A: I’ve not played my solo project out. I may develop a set for next year but most tracks have well over fifty or sixty instrument channels, so it’s not a project that lends itself naturally to performance. The last thing I want to do is press play and sit at my laptop throwing the odd filter sweep and looking thoughtful. So when it does happen I’ll be sure to take people to a different place than where they’d go listening to a studio recording.
Q: What equipment do you use when playing live?
A: For my Slowcraft side-project (a collaboration with singer-songwriter Anne Garner) I use Ableton Live and a fairly standard laptop/ evolution controller set-up. If there’s a twist it’s that all the vocals are processed real-time, so half of what I’m doing is manipulating the input signal. I like that this helps keep things spontaneous.
Q: Musical bio from 1st production up until most recent?
A: ‘Nautilus’ is my first and last release – em:t records put it out in 2004 and Ultimae re-released it on the second Oxycanta compilation last year. I’ve had a couple of remixes out on Psychonavigation Records and released music online with Part2 Records.
Q: You have an album soon to be released.. Can you tell us more???
A: “Where Edges Meet” will be my first full album, it’s been five years in the making. Some of the tracks were conceived a while ago and have been through various incarnations, others are more recent compositions. I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between sound design/ synthesis and natural, acoustic or accidental resonances, so I’d call it electro-acoustic music in that sense. There’s as much live instrumentation on the record as there is programming, it’s just not always clear which is which. I think music, regardless of genre, has a responsibility to challenge on some level and that’s one of the things I’ve tried to do here. It’s a piece of work that rewards emotional investment, if that makes sense. Ultimae is a label I’ve been wanting to work with since I met Mahiane four or five years ago so it’s great to be putting my debut album out with them. Their reputation is well-deserved. We’re just putting the artwork together now, I think the whole things going to be a bit special.
Q: What kind of studio equipment do you use James?
A: My production approach is software-driven so the two greatest resources are my VST instrument/ effect collection and a large sample library. I use FL Studio for most of my composition and Wavelab and Audition for editing. Some more conventional or vocal-heavy projects get sequenced in Ableton Live. I’ve had an audio laptop custom-built and this has partly replaced the desktop, but besides a few other essentials the real hardware is my instrument collection which includes various percussion, flutes, thumb-pianos, arps, keys and seven guitars.
Q: Did it take a long time to build up your studio kit and how much have you spent over the years?
A: It’s a work in progress, it always will be. I don’t know how much I’ve spent but I’m sure it’ll happily soak up any expendable income for years to come.
Q: Any tips for someone just starting out with regards to building a home studio?
A: Spend as much as you can afford on your audio card, amp & monitor speakers. There’s no point having great outboard or expensive software if your reference equipment isn’t up to the job.
Q: Do you have a process that you like to stick to when working on new material in the studio?
A: Usually it starts with a simple sketch. A melody, a particular interval, progression or rhythm I want to explore, or just a mood that has a corresponding texture or instrumentation somewhere. So the earliest stages of composition can often be just the process of finding that corresponding sound and bringing it to life. I tend to have track titles early on so the concept is fundamental as each piece develops. Sometimes they come fully formed and then it’s more like transcription. But there can always be surprises along the way so I like to keep things fairly organic and loose, make space for some unexpected magic to pop up from leftfield.
Q: What genre would you say your music fits into James?
A: Electroacoustic, organic electronica, downtempo.. all reasonable signposts. I’m not sure how constructive genre distinctions are.
Q: What is the best way to listen to your soundtracks?
A: Preferably on headphones, ears wide open.
Q: Plans for the future/Upcoming releases/gigs/events???
A: The album will be out around October and I have a few tracks coming up on compilations from Ultimae and Spiral Trax. At the moment I’m doing some commercial work, developing a second solo album and producing Anne Garner’s music. I have a couple of other projects on the way, including a collaboration with singer-poet Valeska Jakobowicz, and there’s always plenty of Slowcraft material.
Q: Why is music important to you James…………… 🙂
A: Music can inspire euphoria and it can devastate. Its structures reflect the wider structures of everything we know and everything we are. Sound is for me the most fundamental artistic medium – it is frequency and wavelength, vibrations that touch the soul.
Q: What words can you give to new artists wanting to make music…….
A: Avoid genres, don’t try to sound like anyone else. Never use presets or anything out-of-the-box, it’ll be immediately obvious to anyone with ears and only slow your progress. Never assume there’s a “right” way to go about things. Study your art, it takes time to develop a style and there’s no rush. If a situation feels good then go for it with everything you have, but never be afraid of saying no – you’re better off on your own than surrounded by the wrong people. Be honest, be humble and take risks. Enjoy it.
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