Text by CLOT Magazine
Our 9th Mixtape instalment brings Sorcery – the acclaimed electronic experimental drummer- with a very specially crafted mix, Manufactured Stimulus – the unfolding of a surreal hyper narrative through music.
Merlin Ettore (the man behind Sorcery) is a multifaceted creative: a highly skilled drummer, producer, and visual artist. With a long-established artistic career, he developed a very personal bold esthétique noir. Whilst the intense, polyrhythmic power of his live performances, his compositions reveal a mastery of both the acoustic instruments and analogue equipment that define his particular sound: There are no strict rules to how I compose beats, calculate clever subdivisions or bend time signatures, the rhythmic alchemy is dictated by feeling the impact that resonates in me. Ettore has also lent his unique drumming imprint to the techno scene through various contributions and collaborations, including Kangding Ray and Powell.
Last September, under his alias Sorcery, Ettore published his debut EP, Manufactured Conflicts (which includes a Samuel Kerridge remix), where he expands on his cinematic math-laden techno with a combination of bestial, off-pulse rhythms, clever metric modulation, inspired textures and punchy transients. Reinforcing the fact that Sorcery cuts a unique presence in electronic music’s experimental underground, with an unrelenting and visceral impulse to his work, defined by a lifelong and far-reaching passion for the rhythmic qualities of music.
Ettore shared thoughts on the new EP, his creative process and technical challenges, and his future plans. Recently, he’s been doing several collaborations under his Sorcery moniker; he just completed a collaboration track with Kyoka, made for a compilation that should come out very shortly on Midnight Shift Records. And another collaboration track on that same compilation with Xhin, a piece they already finished a while back but finally see life. Ettore also said he’s constantly working in the studio developing new material, which will most probably result in a 2nd Sorcery EP for early next year and in parallel, developing a new live set, which he thinks is where he will be doing most of the breakthrough new territory explorations.
For this mix, Sorcery wanted to create a vibe of “short stories” that intertwine and morph into each other, unfolding a surreal hyper narrative: In there, there is a collection of music and sounds from friends, family, influences and music that I like a lot. Mostly older stuff, some newer discoveries as well, but mostly dug into the “weird” folder. I guess it relates to my practice as I’ve treated the individual tracks like raw material and just jammed with them. The mixtape was so much fun to do! Hope you enjoy the listening trip!
In Manufactured conflicts, the rhythmic patterns, syncopated synths, and drum machines sound almost precision-enginery sculpted. How was the creative process like? And what were the technical challenges, if any?
The creation process spanned over a few years, actually. Mainly because I’ve been trying to coin the Sorcery sound and overall musical message. Essentially I was hovering between; recording free improvisations with various pieces of gear (Eurorack modules, drum machines, acoustic instruments etc..), selecting and arranging different grooves or sketches from those recordings and pushing the limits of “musical storytelling” with crazy structures. As for the syncopated rhythmic figures, I love to “bend the grid”. I’m always shifting the downbeat, adding or subtracting measures and playing around with evolving time signatures.
Trying to maintain good energy and functionality for the dance floor was a little more tricky for me. I would repeat the process of recording, selection and arrangement over and over again. After about 2 years of that, it resulted in a massive sample library from which declined the current Sorcery sound. At the same time, I was trying to figure out engineering technics that would give me good sound pressure, defined transients and rich textures that might satisfy me.
For some of the mixing process, I discovered outboard gear (tube compressors, tube eq, different preamps, etc..) and analogue summing on a 24-channel desk. That was a total game-changer for me. The whole thing has been quite tedious and challenging, to be honest… I’m still not out of the woods yet.
Did you develop the album with a concept around it, or was it more an exploration of the different instruments you were using?
The theme or concept of this EP is definitely about the process of its own creation. So yeah, developed around the many sonic explorations in my studio. The title “manufactured Conflicts” might recall how much “problem solving” I might be doing daily whilst making music.
As a drummer, how do you incorporate new technologies into your practice? Have you experimented with Sensory Percussion?
I’ve been fiddling with integrating acoustic and electronic (percussion) instruments for many years now.. more than 15 years focusing on that. I’ve always put efficiency in front of anything when I’m in the “dummer mind set”, I want to get instant and solid results when I’m sitting at the kit. But I don’t think the technological approach has more of an impact as much as the “alive” side of things.
When I work, I’m looking for the type of excitement or emotional feedback I get and try to channel that state or energy into whatever I do. Ultimately, if I don’t feel anything when I make or play music, it’s a complete waste of time for me. Yes, I’ve tried the Sensory Percussion stuff. I was never really able to get anything sounding different other than what it has to offer “out of the box”. Maybe I should spend more time with it.
You also have a background in visual studies; what are your main influences for your visual creations?
I come from a photography background. Always had a passion for that. I founded the analogue photo club/film development lab back when I was in High School, always coming late to class smelling like chemicals and such. The initial spark was when I understood that photography is painting with light. That was an exciting idea. Also, I’ve always been fascinated with performance or performers, so I often work with dancers, circus artists, models or actors when I’m behind the camera. I like the dynamic energy of working with a living muse. I’ve recently collaborated with Brandon Tay, an outstanding visual artist from Singapore, on the Manufactured Conflicts music video. Thanks to Brandon’s endless skill and imagination, this collaboration opened my eyes to integrating footage and digital art. The music video turned out to be a really exciting project. It also features two amazing dancers, Lena Kilchtiskaya & Bozna Milan.