Moving, traveling, performing, coming back home, leaving again. There’s no final destination. Crowds, strobes, airports, smoke, woods, hotel rooms, hard beats, glitches of music, light, and memories. Change is the only permanence. Suddenly it all stops and becomes one endless day and night, when nature feels one with time, space, with your experience in real and digital space, and your fractured memory. The liquid state of time and matter becomes your constant obsession. Your head is messed up.
The Scottish electronic producer and visual artist Calum MacRae is well known for his passion for strobe shock therapy and the sharp sound synthesis that melts into melodic arrangements mixed with rustling childlike voices. After releasing his second EP Corra Linn on Numbers in 2019 and performing around the world for a while, Calum finds himself at one familiar place in 2020. Surrounded by the magnificent nature of the South Lanarkshire in Scotland, his home, and the birthplace of the powerful Falls of Clyde and rare precious mineral form Lanarkite, Calum reflects on his ruptured impactful experience of the past few years.
MB: Your latest EP Corra Linn was released in October 2019 on Numbers. The name, Corra Linn, is also the name of the highest waterfall of the Falls of Clyde in your native South Lanarkshire in Scotland. The album consists of only three tracks, and it was created within one and a half years, during the period of your intense touring. So was the album kind of an act of coming back home?
LA: I wrote the music itself quite quickly, but in bits. I kind of wrote half of each track six months apart — it was weird because 2018 was really busy and I was on tour a lot. It was a period of time that was very weird for me, just because I’d never really played live before and never been that far outside of Scotland before. Writing music while I was touring was difficult, just a different way of doing things. So I wrote that music in fits and starts, and bits and pieces while working on other things. I went through a weird sort of mind blitz, where a lot of things started to feel very abstract. It particularly had to do with time and space, and matter and the world. Everything had been kind of ripped apart a bit for me in my mind. Everything started to happen very quickly.
When you travel very often and you’re on the road for weeks, you never get back to a sense of ‘normal’. It’s a massive mindfuck. I’d get on a plane and two hours later I’d be somewhere I’ve never been before with people I’ve never met before. And then to play amidst all that was really trippy. When it came to thinking about what music I was going to do next, I started [looking into] what was happening to my brain. I’d written something that was really fast and crazy and full of all these samples that sound very technological. Though to me they sound very much like nature sounds. It made me feel like I was rushing down a massive wormhole flexing [in my] mind. The whole concept of the waterfall didn’t really come until after that.
MB: As we speak, I’m looking at your website. It’s dedicated to Corra Linn and features encrypted fragmented references from nature and poetry. You say that you felt like your mind has been fragmented, and this is how the information is communicated on the website. There are many geographical and mental references of your home place. Moving through the website, feels like trying to find an anchor.
LA: I think that was the intention, I definitely wanted that feeling. I got very involved in the visual stuff and the website, and wanted to figure out a new way of feeling. When you travel a lot you kind of fuck your head up. You come home and you think you can be home and recover. But I actually found that when I was home it was worse, because suddenly the whole thing felt fucked up, and it felt like I was in two places at once, or more like fifteen places at once. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling, it’s just a feeling that was really weird and new. It was particularly weird when I would go out. There are lots of places to go where I live, and in Scotland in general there’s lots of really incredible nature. The trippiest thing was being out in nature, which is seemingly the typical place that people find quiet and a sense of sameness or consistency or deep time or whatever. But instead, I actually started to feel like even in nature everything was all fucked up. I would look at a tree, and I’d feel that I wasn’t really looking at nature, but I was kind of projecting these digital things onto it in the sense of time and space being all ripped apart and warped and weird.
I read a good phrase a while ago about energy being like uncontained liquid now, in the modern world we live in. That’s how it feels now for me. I don’t really have any strong sense of anything, particularly to do with time and matter. From around 2018 onwards, that’s been my key obsession. I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to do with it, it’s just kind of fucked my head up.
MB: You mean time and space?
LA: Yeah, being able to feel this strange liquid thing… it’s particularly obvious to me now, because of the virus and what’s happening. For everyone there’s been this tremendous fragmentation of existence. Everything is different, and everybody is very acutely aware of it. All I hear from people is about how time feels like it’s different, and people’s body clocks are getting really messed up, and people don’t know what to do with themselves, and you can’t even get an escape from it. If you’re inside you’re claustrophobic, but now even outside is becoming more and more claustrophobic because we live under this borderline surveillance state. At least that’s how it’s starting to feel where I am [Scotland]. I think for a long time I definitely felt this sense of things being pulled apart. I was kind of waiting for this moment, personally or even generally, where everything started to just come away from itself. So I don’t know if this is good or bad or exciting or fucking horrible, but it’s very weird. Anyway, with this record, it was primarily about nature and technology being fused together, which is the sort of thing I’ve done in the past with my installation [The Absent Material Gateway, 2017].
MB: The website is also artwork on its own and is connected to the tracks. The way you navigate through it and grab a fragment of a picture and ‘draw’ and interact with it. It’s a collection of drawings, photographs, maps, sketches and internet links. It’s similar to the sound structure of the music: it’s a collection of crisp sound design, piano samples, and nostalgic voice patterns that break and crush and smash, speed up and slow down, and flow back into an untuned sentiment. This is how you visually relate to your memories in relation between space and time. Right?
LA: Yeah, exactly. When we talked about making the website, it was exactly that idea. While I’m making music, I tend to collect lots of pictures and take photos when I’m on tour. A lot of the photos on the website were taken quite a while ago. I wanted to see what I could build on the website that would have that same feeling. In particular it had to do with the twinning of the images with the text. The text on the website seems like garbled nonsense, but it’s a collection of lots of different things that I put together and then ran through this generative text script that compiles all the different bits. It does it in a very specific way — it’s not just a random fusing of individual letters. It analyzes the text that comes in and you can set parameters, as for example, parse the text in a way that will produce new words of a specific length or kind of character.
At the end this script produced a text that was perfect for me. I wanted the text and images together to have this general feeling of familiarness and these different textures that feel organic, but also digital. Or have this sense of time being backwards and forwards, but not being glitched or random or digital. Not just this cliched idea of the future or digital fragmentation. I wanted to feel very organic and very material. Some of the text ended up as track titles for tracks (the second and the third text: Moo Orphaned Drift, Ferthenheap). It’s weird because these places in the pictures are very familiar to me. Now they feel very different to the way they used to feel when I was a kid or even a few years ago. They feel as if there’s electricity running through the rocks or something. It’s a weird feeling.
MB: You have a feeling that many producers have to put out new music all the time. And you obviously don’t go down that path. Like your last EP has only three tracks. Is that also something that has a specific meaning for you?
LA: Kind of. I’m very protective over what I want to release. Other artists release a lot of music. They’re just different from me maybe. But sometimes I listen to an album and wonder why it needed to be eleven tracks long. I guess this is just what I’m comfortable with. I don’t really share music with people. The part of making music that I like the most is that short period you get when you’re working on it and it’s still only you that’s heard it, and it’s exciting for you. When I finish something and send it to somebody or it’s going to be released, it takes on a life of its own, and it kills something about it for me. I actually hate that feeling, and I get quite stressed out about releasing music just because of that. I just want to make sure that I am very protective over the music that I make. And a lot of it, I guess, doesn’t make it out there.
Shortly after the last release I put out a live show recording, and that had a lot of new music in it. I felt very strange about that, because there was a lot of music that existed only as a live show. But then when I let go, it was actually a nice feeling because it wasn’t really a proper full release but something that will sit there and if people care they can go listen to it.
I also copied and pasted loads of web pages with information relating to the hydroelectric station [located on the Corra Linn waterfall ]. If you click through the links you’ll eventually discover little parts and bits about the waterfall and Lanark. The artwork for the release is this lanarkite image [lanarkite is a mineral originally found in the Scottish county of Lanarkshire]. I took loads of data from lanarkite stuff with mineral data. I put all that in there too and it all fused together.
MB: Do you also use the mineral as a reference because minerals are so complex and layered and take thousands of years to grow? It’s like they carry a lot of memories.
LA: Yes exactly.
MB: You seem to really go into the complexity and the ancient aspect of nature, how one thing becomes another and everything in nature comes from years and years of synthesis. This is the idea, right?
LA: Yes, and that feeling of uncontained liquid I guess… It’s very difficult now for someone to look at a tree, or be out in nature, and feel that it is really different from being in the city or being on the internet. These different types of objects are now all the same thing. It seems obvious to me now that you can’t view them as different things, like this is nature and this is organic, and this is material and this isn’t. It’s more about how all these things connect together. All the gaps between these things are filled up with stuff, I don’t know what that stuff is, but it feels to me like I’m more conscious of it.
I think nature is still different. It’s not synthetic, but it’s kind of synthetic in its own way. I’m definitely more excited about that stuff as a texture, but I’m starting to feel less and less that it’s distinct from a piece of metal or something. I think sonically, a lot of the music I’ve been working on in the past year has been about how I can generate sounds that sound as if you fused a piece of metal or a mineral or some kind of alien piece of material with something organic. What you might consider a sort of cybernetic entity, but in a material sense.