Malak Al-Suwaihel & Hamad Al Mujeem
Below is our digital conversation with Sorcery.
-BackgroundMalak Al-Suwaihel (MS): You’ve discussed in prior publications that you got your first drum kit at 6 years old, and you were playing live shows as early as 12. I’d like to trace your evolution in music—namely, your background with percussion. Can you talk to us more about these formative experiences?
Merlin Ettore (ME): Yes that’s true, I received my first “real” drum kit when I was 6, but before that I was making random makeshift percussion set-ups with any kind objects I could get my hands on. I’ve always been drawn to percussive elements. I guess it comes from the fact that my father is a professional drummer and so was my grandfather, so there’s this lineage of drummers that runs in the family. Furthermore, my mother is a professional artist as well; piano, flute and fine arts, so with both parents being performers and artists I was soaked in music and art throughout my childhood. I went the autodidact way on my instrument and anything that interested me artistically speaking.
Quickly computers and different electronic instruments made their way in my field of view and it was a natural thing to close the gap between acoustic and electronic sources to make sounds or to record them. I was very comfortable on my instrument quite quickly, which led to starting to play shows at a young age. As far as academia goes, I have a diploma in cinema and photography and I studied electro-acoustic composition at the Montréal Music Conservatory. I never finished my studies at the Conservatory because I was touring a lot and it became too much to handle, so I decided to stop school and focus my attention towards my activities on the field. Never looked back since and still feel the most comfortable with an autodidact approach.
MS: How did you find yourself breaking into or working in the music industry?
ME: All of my efforts, time, and enthusiasm are directed towards my practice, so the professional aspect just manifested itself with time. I suppose I could still pinpoint when I signed my first record deal with the in-house record label of Montréal’s Iconic club, Foufounes Electriques. In Montréal, this venue has been at the epicentre of subcultures and underground movements from the 80s to the early 00s and I would say probably in Canada and most certainly a legendary venue in North America. I was 16 at the time. I guess that’s what legitimized my work “in the music industry” and opened the door to so many things. I’ve also always had a relationship with the performing arts, I’ve composed music and toured as musical director and drummer internationally for circus, dance and theatre companies for many years.
-IdentityMS: Through the media, you’re introduced as a “Montreal-born, Berlin-based” artist. Can you tell us more about that—the cultural shifts, your own cultural background, and when and why you made the move from Montreal to Berlin, a city that many would argue is the electronic music capital of the world?
ME: Montréal holds a very special place in my heart and always will, I owe it so much to my development as an artist and as a person and not to mention so many friends and family that are living there. The thing is that Montréal, and the whole Québec region, takes culture very seriously which gives birth to all sorts of cutting edge and world class artistic projects from all disciplines. I’ve had so many amazing experiences and collaborations with exquisite musicians and artists throughout the years I was there. It has been a very exciting place to grow up in. But I came to a point where I wanted to explore different areas of the world and spend time elsewhere with my music, for me it was either the US or Europe. Although I’ve had some great times in the US, it never really was a place that “called me” so to speak. I felt an immediate kinship when I first discovered Berlin in 2005 during my first European tour. It felt that it was like a deeper and more dense version of Montréal.
In 2007, I decided to move out there and see how it would go. The move was not planned to be such a long-term one. The amount of incredible music and culture that swarms around Berlin can be overwhelming at times, and this is something that really pleases me. As far as electronic music goes, it is true that the city has a firm stance on the topic and it has been very fruitful and inspiring to be swimming in these waters as an electronic music producer. I wouldn’t reduce my interest towards its electronic music scene only, I’ve met so many great people here. The city is like a freak magnet and it warms my heart every time I get reminded of it, which is constantly. Also, geographically speaking, it has proven to be strategically well placed, which facilitated many international tours, projects, and collaborations.
MS: Coming together to join the sum of its parts, your art is collaborative and integrates a number of mediums. Can you talk to us more about that?
ME: There are so many delightful aspects of cross-discipline endeavours, whether it is on a collaborative level or to articulate an artistic discourse on many levels or to discover new methods of expressions that complement one another. When done well, one art form ends where the other starts and it can create a seamless integration. In my opinion, multidisciplinary creation is the holy grail of artistic expression, or at the very least, a modern approach and where art might be headed in general. I see it everywhere and increasingly, so many artists are operating in this way. It doesn’t even have to be so far-fetched, for example; most electronic music producers are a hybrid of sound engineers and music composers, there’s a bridge right there and these types of bridges lead to so many exciting things.
I think another fact that might be responsible for this phenomenon is that our generation has unprecedented access to very powerful tools that are streamlined for ease of use. But don’t get me wrong, I do more often find myself sustaining focus on a very specific point and on a single discipline, mostly to try and manage excellence. With this said, I also use the ability to divide my efforts towards different practices to balance out my creative output to keep things interesting and novel. Of course one can get lost in the vast number of possibilities, let alone in one discipline, and to stack them can get tricky. To have a conceptual approach is very useful to carve your path within a constellation of disciplines.
-SoundHamad Al Mujeem (HM): Nowadays most artists prefer to compose music utilizing non-analog hardware. Could you offer your thoughts on what you prefer while creating a record?
ME: I am relatively instrument fluid when it comes to composition or sound creation, it really depends on what I’m doing. On the technical side, there are two distinct areas in my compositional process; the first can be considered more of a textural manipulation, so the type of sound, its character, etc. and the other is on a structural level, where I organize everything. Both parts work together and play a crucial role in the final result. I am constantly hovering back and forth between these two spheres. I guess the structural side is all “in the box” as I assemble and finish the work almost exclusively on a computer.
The textural side is very exploratory and “hands on”, anything goes really. So whether it’s a plug-in or hardware synth or a drum machine or a modular patch or a drum set or whatever, I often try to let the instrument do its thing and find the sweet spot where it shines the most. Recording is almost permanently running when I do these types of experiments. I’m always printing sound and chopping it up, I love to sculpt audio. Ultimately, I want to transcend technique and care less and less for it. Mostly because I want to be so comfortable with it that I can forget about it and just focus on the conceptual part. I get so irritated when I can’t crystallize something that is in my mind because of a technical barrier. I have similar approaches to my visual work as well.
MS: Sound-wise, your compositions on your most recent album, Mirrors of Perception (2021), are intricately overlaid—a formidable integration of acoustic, organic rhythms demurred by synthesized electronic sounds. Can you tell us more about the narrative backdrop and music-making process behind this album?
ME: Mirrors of Perception (MOP) is the direct manifestation of what I just talked about in terms of compositional process: generous amounts of these kinds of iterations. As far as the narrative goes, it is also an exploratory process. My daily focus is essentially towards my creative work, inevitably almost everything gravitates around that. Whatever I’m doing will impact my work and vice versa. I’m constantly reading tons of random stuff and always getting informed on weird topics and digesting that into a personal narrative that becomes part of a collection of random concepts. I’ve recently been reading about science, nature, bizarre species or experimental scientific practices. For example E.R.R.M stands for Emotional Rainfall Runoff Modelling which is a scientific method to measure the amount of water from rainfall for flood forecasting using Emotional Artificial Neural Network for accuracy. The title track, MOP, speaks of feedback loop systems or “echo chambers” (cybernetics) that have been put into effect to trick some into illusory mental states of mind. Synovial Membrane is more on a biological topic, it’s a layer of connective tissue that lines the cavities of joints or On The Bias is about development bias in evolutionary theory.
HM: Do you see a distinct transition in narrative and sound between your prior albums?
ME: The approach is similar, or it has been, but yields different results I guess. Manufactured Conflicts, the previous EP, speaks of prefabricated external input that interferes with harmonious existence.. If that makes any sense. Both Artificial Landscapes tracks are kind of like a personal journal reporting extensive explorations with psychedelic, mostly with DMT. I try and let things come as naturally as possible and indulge in whatever I’m into at the moment. Perhaps I’ll have a more streamlined conceptual approach for further works.