Name: Cormac O'Halloran aka Kormac

Nationality: Irish
Occupation: Composer, producer, DJ
Current Release: Kormac's Equivalent Exchange is out via Always the Sound. Also, Red Election is now streaming on Disney+.
Recommendations: I heartily recommend Maser’s art. We are so lucky that he has designed my new album’s artwork and forthcoming vinyl package.
I’m just about to listen to the new Romare album called Fantasy. I love his work to date, and the singles already released from this new one, so I’m really looking forward to hearing it.

If you enjoyed this interview with Kormac and would like to stay up to date with his music, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

My earliest big influences were Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, Pavement, RATM and this developed into a huge passion for hip hop, jungle and drum n’ bass.

I started playing guitar at 12 years old and remember saving up my pocket money to buy a Fostex 4-track tape recorder. I started making songs then, layering guitars with weird tunings, adding little samples from my school language cassettes, drum machines, my voice -  anything I could find.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

So you’re synaesthetic? I toured a solo AV show in 2017 (I think) with the visuals based on that whole concept!

For this record I wanted the listener to really feel something so I, in turn, had to have an emotional response to what I was writing, as I was coming up with the rhythms, melodies, textures etc

In general, if I feel any kind of strong emotion when I’m writing something - be it sadness when writing a particular cue for a movie, or elation when writing a track for one of my records or the dance floor -  then I feel I’m heading in a good direction.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

That would require a very long answer as I’ve embraced a lot of disciplines in my career to date.

To create and release the music, put on the shows, write the soundtracks etc I’ve had to learn the skills of being a songwriter, producer, mix engineer, film composer, video editor, programmer, orchestrator, battle DJ, label owner … the list goes on.

I say this as, only now, having spent so long working on all of the above, I think I’m finally, properly, equipped to present a lot of the work I've been striving to create over the course of my career.

In some ways I feel like I’m just getting started.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Honestly, I’m not sure it does. I’m inspired by everything I hear, everyone I meet, everything I watch and read.

I think that all, kind of, comes together in my head and my creativity draws from that.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Every time I write something new, I also try to find a new approach in the hope of creating something different - both to what I’ve done before and to what others have written. This could take the form of using a new instrument, or learning a new piece of software or buying a new piece of gear and messing with it without fully understanding how it works.

I find making music without an existing muscle memory or habit can yield really exciting results. I’ve recently built a modular synthesis rig that has a lot of ‘random’ functions going on. The hope is that it reacts to signals I’m feeding into it and spits out sounds that I would never have conceived of or expected.  

For me, it’s all about capturing all of these ideas and then to set about editing, twisting, morphing these sounds and using that as base from which to write over.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

As mentioned above, every time I walk into my studio I’m focused on coming up with new sounds and ideas.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

It sounds so obvious, but the computer has really been my main instrument. I started producing electronic music using a PC running Cubase and an Akai S3000 XL sampler. Now we run multiple macs in the studio that handle everything from film scoring to songwriting, design, show visuals etc.

I think the tool that’s helped me most has been Ableton Live. There’s very little that can’t be done in that software but everything is so accessible and presented in such an intuitive way. I’ve written for dancefloors, orchestras, played live, created visuals and ran full live shows with visuals in Live. It’s incredible. Nicholas Brittel (If Beale Street Could Talk, Moonlight) put it best when he said “you can take audio and it becomes like Play-Doh in your hands”.

Sadly, when creating film and TV scores I’m using Logic Pro (as Ableton doesn’t play nice with SMPTE  timecode, which is essential in that world) which is far less intuitive and creative but can sync really accurately with Pro Tools and has the required number of auxiliary channels I’m going to need.

For my score for the spy thriller, Red Election, I used a Moog DFAM (Drummer from Another Mother) to create the bass tones and pulses used throughout. As a result this has now become my go to synth for bass sounds.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I get up early and my wife or I will get our young son off to his creche. I’ll try and get to the studio as early as I can as I write a lot better in the mornings.

I’ve a small team that work in the studio with me so we’ll have a quick chat first thing, figure out what’s needed that day and dive in.

I try to do all meetings and calls in the afternoon, if possible, as I’m a bit less likely to write great music after 3pm, for some reason. These could be spotting calls with film/tv directors, design meetings with visual artists, show prep with sound engineers, stuff with lawyers, management, press, anything goes really …

If there’s any time after that, I’ll dive back into composing.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

The opening track on my album, “Ondes”, was the first track I composed for this album.

I wanted it to have an arresting, abrasive opening that harnessed the full power of the orchestra and  grabbed the listener straight away. I was trying to write the best interview I’ve ever heard! So, I had the orchestra play massive bursts in “tutti” - meaning all at once.

Once the intro was written, I tried to write the most intense, almost arhythmic drum pattern and added a hook played by an Ondes Martenot

[Wiki: The ondes Martenot was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot. Martenot was inspired by the accidental overlaps of tones between military radio oscillators, and wanted to create an instrument with the expressiveness of the cello.]

I’ve been a big fan of Jafaris and his style and flow for a long time. We were working on another project in my studio at the time and I played him the instrumental version of “Ondes”. He really attacked it with all the vigour and passion that I had been searching for. So much so, he recorded two takes and that was it. Done.  

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

I tend to listen to music on my own but love to collaborate. I try and collaborate with artists who come from different musical backgrounds and spaces than I do. The idea with this approach is always to try and create new sounds and textures

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

I think it’s up to others to interpret what my music means to them and for them to choose how they interact with it

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

I recorded a song for my album with MayKay called “Always The Sound”.  Always The Sound is a poem my Mum wrote before she died. MayKay was in my studio one night recording for something else, so I took twenty words out of the poem my mother had written at random and handed them to her.

She put headphones on and sang the words off the page whatever way it kind of came to her, whatever melodies or rhythm. When she left I chopped them up and reassembled them; very much that hip hop cut and paste thing.

That’s where the song name and my record label’s name comes from, from my Mum’s poem.

How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?  

When I was studying orchestration before writing this record I was struck by the similarities with sound mixing / sound engineering theory.

In both cases, you need to be constantly mindful of the frequencies / space being taken up by the various musical elements and always trying to avoid things ‘clashing.’

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

It’s absolutely different.

A modern music producer now is a composer, engineer, orchestrator, arranger, mix engineer, mastering engineer, performer … the list goes on. You have to wear many hats in this line of work!