Calling Time on Reality: an interview with Jessica Peace and Rory McCormick of 6&8

Rory McCormick and Jessica Peace (image from Xylem records website)

6&8 are a duo of poet/vocalist Jessica Peace and sound designer Rory McCormick.  They made some of the best music of last year, particularly the excellent ‘City Plaintive’.  Their latest release is ‘Ma Propre Fable, un Dimanche’, a collaboration with Day Before Us on the Auditory Field Theory label.  Here, they discuss some of the ideas behind their music.

EfE: Are there any literary influences in your work?

J: There MUST be but not that I was conscious of.

R: My personal influences are Kerouac, Burroughs, Gibson, and more recently, J.G Ballard, although I couldn’t claim that anything 6&8 have released was consciously influenced by any literary work, figure or movement. I’d be more inclined to suggest film as a driving force. I know in the beginning David Lynch was mentioned repeatedly – he fascinates. Similarly David Cronenburg has remained burned on to my retinas ever since I stumbled across Videodrome. I think of Ridley Scott’s ‘visual stimulus’ in Dr. Tyrell’s office, Stanley Kubrick’s symmetry, and wonder how I can transliterate these abstractions into what we do. More generally though, visual and auditory cuts between scenes, environments and characters spark inspiration. I envy vignettes. Typically, music fades and film cuts – an instantaneous change of circumstances. I fade things in and out all the time though, and always feel a slight prang of guilt when I do. Fade to black.

Dr. Tyrell’s office

EfE: Specifically, Is there a J.G Ballard influence in your work?  The anatomical descriptions on ‘Brutalism’ merging with the architecture brought him to mind.

J: So funny you have brought this comparison? Rory has just begun reading him and I took ‘Crash’ out of the library today. I watched the film adaptation when I lived with Rory about 8 years ago but that is my only connection to Ballard.

R: I found this question particularly interesting, because I only discovered Ballard last month! After re-watching Cronenburg’s Crash, I felt compelled to read the original but was completely unprepared for the Andalou-esque sense-attack I found within its pages – I flinched and squirmed, my pulse raced and I read with one eye closed. It was an assault, plain and simple. His repeated references to geometry in the confluence of the human body and other technological forms and abstractions was gin in my tonic.

EfE: To continue to talk (sorry) about Ballard – Rory, you are interested in the ‘confluence of the human body’ with geometry.  In ‘The Overloaded Man’ the protagonist removes physical objects of their context and associations, reducing them to something like their platonic source, I’ve seen this referred to as “the death of affect” – this struck another parallel – Jessica, your repetition of words and phrases occasionally feels like an attempt at this – a mantra like reduction of words to their essence as pure sounds?

J: Ahhh yes sometimes more than others. I worked with the artist Gabo Guzzo a few years ago and had to perform his poetry in this vein- no emphasis/ emotion on the word. It was incredibly frustrating but it has become my integral, as you say mantra. The death of the author/The death of the actress.

R: I’ve yet to read that story but your description of it is intriguing, it’s like calling time on reality. We’ve all heard the reality we perceive being described in one way or another as being only a construct of the mind, with nothing to prove that our experiences are anything other than electrical signals in the brain – so what is it? And how can we trust it? Etc. Well, here we go: it’s just a load of colour swatches and sense-dramas and ceramic penguins pointing the wrong way, and here’s my art to prove it. Your question prompted me to search for the name given to the feeling of having repeated a word so many times it loses its meaning, and becomes foreign somehow, causing you to ask yourself if you are even pronouncing it correctly. It’s called ‘semantic satiation’ and you might be interested to know that the last time it happened to me the word in question was ‘sofa’.

EfE: It’s interesting you bring up Lynch, do you have a similar aim of making the familiar strange? Some of your music sounds a little like Lynch’s lucid dream method, like a normal scene that is subtly but gradually buried in weirdness.
R: This resonates with me, certainly the use of field recordings and samples of choirs and washing machines and multi-storey car parks is an attempt to place them out of context. My natural environment is a great stimulus for me and often when I’m out I’m hearing my own 4’33” I try to take those sparks and weave them subtly into the sonic palette, via the arrangement, or perhaps embellishing other sounds with bird tweets and such in order to suggest a scene. Other times I’ve taken blocks of recordings made of this or that and just play them start to finish with little or no processing or attempt to amalgamate them with more traditional musical elements. To me it feels like dropping in short video clips for the ears.

EfE: Are there any plans to work any of your recorded material into a live show?

R: Upon reading this we both said: “That’s the dream”. Ideally, we would be making music for live performance. I think the way I compose would need to change, for example audio samples would need to be prepared for use with software devices that lend themselves to live interaction and improvisation. There would need to be dedicated real-time processing for Jessica and control over her parameters. Up until now my methods have been like painting on a cave wall, scrawling found sounds, waveforms and poetry together with myriad software tools over a period of days and weeks and ending up with a picture of loads of people spearing a water buffalo up the guts. A performance might require things to come together in a more preordained and organised manner. I’d want to develop some more efficient techniques, hone a dedicated and concise tool set. All of these things would impact the structures of music developed for live performance and listening. We’d need to rehearse! I don’t feel I use appropriate hardware for what we do now let alone for a live set of sexy collage-beats and spoken word microphone-drones. I hope 2014 will herald the next stage in our evolution. Long live the new flesh.

  EfE: You mention the influence of film making on your music.  Have you ever considered working with visual artists?

J: Yes. I think it may happen soon.

R: I would like to incorporate a visual element in the future. An electronic music performance often seems lonely without one and I think our project would lend itself to this medium. It’s about audience appreciation of your interactions with your tools. Playing the guitar, I’m physically interacting with the strings, they resonate as I alter their vibrating lengths with my hands, my body is moving as I exert the effort needed to do this. But with a laptop I may be just be banging the pads of a MIDI controller and watching the screen for visual feedback and performance markers to aid me in navigating through the piece. My eyes don’t find looking at someone guffing at a laptop or plugging a load of patch cables into small boxes a particularly stimulating sense experience, with or without someone fronting the performance by standing behind a microphone with their mouth. If I’m visible on stage, I want visuals, if I’m in a darkened corner and it’s all about the feeling – let them dance at their shoes. It still feels like an experiment with 6&8 though, neither of us know what to expect next. I mean, this may sound incredulous, but I’ve never even heard our music played through speakers. Slowly slowly catchy monkey. I must admit to not having been out to much live music recently, so forgive me if my opinions seem narrow.

EfE: There is a collage-like balance between abstraction and structure in your music, is that intentional from the outset or do you record segments and throw them together, cut-up style?

J: That is how we work. I think a ‘collage’ is an apt description. There is a working tension between a necessary structure and the abstract sounds it holds.

R: Remove the word ‘or’ and the interrogative and you just might have an answer:
“There is a collage-like balance between abstraction and structure in our music that is intentional from the outset. We record segments and throw them together cut-up style.”  That works some of the time, not always. That method tends to favour the collage / the collage tends to favour that method. It stems from my interest in sound switching perspective and location as film does while progressing a story. When I start something I very rarely have a picture of what it will sound like, I usually discover that as I’m working on it. I’m always confident that the answers will present themselves if I’m patient and diligent and have eyes to see them.

EfE: What are your thoughts on psychogeography?  Was ‘City Plaintive’ seeking to drift off the usual paths of the cities where it was recorded?

J: I am certain the surrounding affects the psyche, it’s irresistible. Regarding ‘City Plaintive’, I’d moved back to a smaller city and only then did I understand and respect the bigger or more furious cities I’d been living in.

R: I’m a stranger to the subject, but locations and architecture make me grasp for sonic methodologies just out of reach.

EfE: In some of the lyrics there is a focus on the body and its place in its surroundings.  Is this a particular theme that interests you?

J: It is. I am very interested in the body and the differences in human form. It is rarely regarded as a vessel that protects and provides for us. Nor are individual aesthetics celebrated, I think this ignorance is not only tragic but dangerous.

R: From a musical standpoint, I’m interested in environments and how sound propagates within them, how I perceive sound is influenced by my immediate surroundings, and even the position of my head. I often find myself intently listening to the distant horns and approaching rumble of trains as heard from within a local nature reserve. I spent some time a few months back repeatedly visiting a viaduct so I could stand beneath it and record footsteps passing through it, I loved how the reflections suddenly changed. I’ve gone on quite a bit about esoteric sound appreciation; I feel I need to provide balance by saying I also like synthesisers jizzing off diatonic melodies.

EfE: Jessica, you talk about the celebration of individual aesthetics.  A desire for homogeneity seems to be the norm, is that the danger you mention?  The creation of an ideal that can’t (shouldn’t) be attained (sought), and the unnecessary pressures this places people under.  Is your collage approach a reaction to this?  A dada jumble of lips, thighs, legs, arms, contusions.

J: I think ‘Exercises in Beauty’ certainly was in part. That’s why I mentioned my own fat, birth marks, blood spots, breasts. Perhaps the collage approach does relate to this, on a broader scale at least it does. The work has just been at the mercy of Rory and I, we have license to ignore the restrictions of an anticipated order- this is a rare freedom.
EfE: Jessica, are your voices on the albums from multiple viewpoints?  In ‘City Plaintive’ are they from the city itself?

J: ‘City Plaintive’- there were probably about four cities I focused on/ or from. There have been many voices available and used, as the concepts we work with have been more of an essence or strain within the work.

EfE: Rory, the rumble of trains is particularly striking to me, living in London, as they are omnipresent, the veins of the city, to return to the body/city meld.  The Victoria line announcement featuring on ‘City Plaintive’ stays with me as it’s such a familiar sound, if you’re a regular user of it.

R: Sounds associated with movement and the movement of sound. I’m not currently a resident of London, but have friends in Tottenham so have frequented the Vicky many a time. The sonic lexicon of rail journeys fascinates me. Track rumble, distant horns, Doppler shift, the scream of the Underground, automated doors, recorded announcements, low mutter. Maybe the gloomy quiet of British trains allows me to focus on these sounds with little distraction, maybe I focus on them out of need to ignore the roaring silence – if so, thank you repressed citizens, thank you personal space crimes. I used to live in Cambodia and Nepal – let me tell you, you don’t have the opportunity to appreciate the sonic subtleties of local transport in these counties and use them as a bridge to inspiration unless you work solely within the field of extreme noise.


Explore the sounds of 6&8 here:
Xylem Records
Auditory Field Theory

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