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Brendan Murray: At Rest, Work, and Play

Brendan Murray is one of Boston's best-kept musical secrets. Although he is well-known locally for his subtly enthralling live sets (made using a basic set-up of samplers and various electronics) and a lovely pair of hard-to-find solo records, it is only with the recent release of his latest solo album, the grainily enigmatic, Resting Places, (on Sedimental) that it seems he might finally get his just deserts outside the Hub.

This interview was conducted via email.

When did you begin making music, and what led to your eventual interest in making abstract/experimental music?

My interest in music making came from having a tape recorder as a kid, which I am sure is very much the same story for many people my age. I recorded everything, especially myself talking, for a very long time as a child. When I was 12 I was able to get a drum set and a Casio sampler and spent many hours alone trying to make music with those. I would try and make loops from records and play along with them, more along the lines of "being my own band?. I was really into classic rock and metal when I was young, but also was excited by college radio, which I first heard in the mid 1980's. As far as how I happened upon experimental anything, it was reading about stuff and trying to find recorded evidence of it. A singular memory of reading an article about Illusion Of Safety in an issue of Option and finding a copy of their More Violence And Geography LP in the dollar bin at Peaches Records tends to stand out. Honestly, there is no particular epiphany that changed it all, it was pretty incremental. I heard some bands and read about what they were interested in, and then found those records and so on.

What kind of instruments/equipment do you use and has it changed much over time? What appeals to you most about your particular set-up in terms of what it allows you to do?

My live and recording setups haven't really changed since I began in earnest in 1998. I had used delay pedals, four track recorders, amplified junk, guitars and whatever, when I was making stuff in school, but the live setup of three phrase samplers and a mixer and the seriously outdated software I use to record hasn't really changed since the pieces I recorded that led up to the Not Now cd. Jay Forney is essentially responsible for me ever being able to make a record. He gave me a cdr of software and said, "You'll figure this out." A little under a year later, I gave him a record which he released. I like that I have found my own way of using this stuff. The sound quality of the recording gear is not that of a Pro-Tools rig with bad ass audio card; it is about two steps under that, which I really like. I enjoy "mid-fi" quite a bit. The live gear has become very comfortable and allowed me to deploy a very big, specific sound that I have come to really adore. The samplers are so cheap and beaten up that they have almost acquired a specific timbre with age (that is impossible I know, but it feels that way). Lately I've become more and more comfortable with sampling what I am doing live and bringing it into a piece, which really tailors the sound to a specific space.

Could you talk a bit about the compositional process behind the four pieces on Resting Places? Was it very different from that of Not Now, which is a much more spare, silence-filled record?

Not Now was essentially a draft of the first pieces I ever successfully completed. I was more interested in smaller sounds when it was published, and when I listen to it now (which isn't often) it does sound a little dated and trendy, but I prefer to think of those pieces as like a thesis or something. Each piece in Not Now has a discrete, almost cellular structure, with specifically demarcated sections (Zorn's influence, if I had to guess) and that certainly carried over to Resting Places, which is deliberately programmatic.

Keep in mind that between Not Now and Resting Places (and the Wonders Never Cease cd due later this year or next) there are several hours of cdrs that will never see the light of day, save for the 40 minutes that became the Animation cdr on naninani, which I will likely allow to go out of print. The use of drones and long repetitive structures is the main development that came from this period.

There was a lot of work that went into Resting Places that no one will hear. There are at least four or five drafts of "Garden", which I started nearly three years ago. That piece became the benchmark for everything else on the record.

Boston has a pretty tight-knit scene of experimental musicians. What do you see as the most significant ways the musical community here has influenced you?

I would like to think that I have been more influenced than the individuals within the scene that the scene itself. I freely admit to entering the Boston improv scene at a height of enthusiasm (98-99) and allowing that fervor to push me into playing. It was only until I retreated from improvising a great deal (which I contend to this day that I am not very good at, but I have to do it otherwise there are certain things I will never figure out) and got into recording at home and playing those results for musicians I respected did I feel I was making a contribution. As far as "making" the scene, I am not very good at that. So much of my life is conducted outside of the scene that it is impossible. I'm very happily married (four years this month!) and have a job that requires a fair amount of my attention, so that is what comes to the fore. I love the musicians that live here and their encouragement and passion has really helped me, but I miss lots of events in town because I am doing other things and frankly, that separation is very important to me.

Any other major influences of note?

I can think of specific influential musical moments, which I'll tell you about:

  • Hearing "Spiderland" by Slint, and all of David Pajo's recordings after.
  • Seeing Ian Nagoski and Jason Lescalleet play at the Zeitgeist Gallery in 1999.
  • DJ Shadow "Entroducing..." record made a big impression on me (maybe it is the "mid-fi" thing I was talking about earlier, that record has a lot of that).
  • Seeing Tony Conrad in Hartford, CT (and the "Slapping Pythagorus" CD).
  • Seeing Magic Hour open for (and dwarf) Red Krayola.
  • Steve Roden's recorded output.
  • All of Philip Glass' early recordings
  • Fugazi playing at the Beacham Theatre in Orlando, FL.
  • All the records Howard Stelzer has ever played me (and the money it has cost me afterwards, the bastard!)
  • "I Am Sitting In A Room" by Alvin Lucier.
  • "Cede" by Jim O'Rourke
  • "Mi Meida Naraja" by Labradford
  • Music being made NOW by Keith Fullerton Whitman, Hive Mind, Greg Davis, Donna Parker, Greg Kelley, Andy Hayleck, William Basinski, Double Leopards, Pelt and Sunn 0))).

What's up next for you, concert-wise, recordings-wise and otherwise?

Besides the Zuzu show (June 27), which I am really excited about, there aren't too many concerts scheduled for the moment. Mostly I am going to concentrate on collaboration (with Richard Garet, Seth Nehil, Jay Sullivan and Vic Rawlings, all of whom I have planned recordings with). A solo cd called Wonders Never Cease, which I actually finished before Resting Places, will be out on Intransitive soon. I might "produce" David Gross' next solo record if he lets me.

I am also gathering material for my next solo record, which will be a huge collection (60-70 minutes, I was talked down from doing a double cd) of dense gatherings of single pitches and loops with lots of minute variations and little in the way of any of the obvious editing that has been part of my other recordings. It's going to take a very long time to finish, I hope.

Discography:

Solo Recordings

  • Not Now CD (Create Transmit) 2001
  • Animation CDR (naninani) 2004
  • Resting Places CD (Sedimental) 2005
  • Wonders Never Cease (Intransitive) Forthcoming

as TWIN (Brendan Murray, Howard Stelzer, Jason Talbot)

  • TWIN 3" CDR (Aesova) 2001

as The Please (Linda Aubry, Brendan Murray, Mike Bullock)

check out my review of Resting Places in the reviews section (natch!)

Some Brendan Murray-related links:

 

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