the mad heiress interview:
patrick harrington of music for cougars
mh: why do you make music? how did you start?
ph: i got started a couple years ago after getting a keyboard, determined to learn the piano. around that same time, a friend sold me his multitracker. i had gotten into drone/ambient music a few years ago and i very quickly dropped the goal of learning piano in favor of recording that type of music because the barrier of entry was a little bit lower.
mh: why the name music for cougars?
ph: i’m a little embarrassed by this but it’s the name of sugar ray’s last album, which came out in 2009. i just thought that was so on-the-nose because i figured the only people still listening to sugar ray in 2009 would be older ladies on the prowl.
mh: if you have particular composing/work process, can you describe it?
ph: i don’t have a particularly organized process. in the beginning i would record shorter segments and stitch them together in ableton but lately i’ve been attempting to do longer takes and fewer overdubs.
mh: do you have any heroes or role models, musical or otherwise?
ph: i really admire lindsey buckingham (of fleetwood mac), especially his work with tusk. they had just been about as successful as any band could be and he was determined to get them in the studio and to try and record something different from rumours. i guess we have cocaine to thank for some of that manic energy, but still think that album holds up today and it’s probably in part thanks to his echo chamber and speakers in the bathroom.
mh: do you have a favorite piece of gear? why is it your favorite?
ph: that first keyboard will always have a special place in my heart. though i have a more sophisticated synth, i still love working with it because there’s a lot less granular control over the tones, so when you find a really nice sound or texture it feels like a real discovery.
mh: you’ve got a one-use time machine- there and back. where and when do you travel to, and why?
ph: since i have to go somewhere and come back, i’m thinking i should aim to attend an event so i’d have to say 8/27/72 veneta, or to see the dead. truly a hippie paradise.
mh: is there a narrative element at play in your music? i’m thinking of dyatlov pass incident. what is it about that event that inspired you to make music based on it? can you describe how the incident is expressed in the music?
ph: i used to work at a used bookstore and i came across a book called dead mountain about the dyatlov pass incident. there have been many theories about why the hikers left their tent in a blizzard, from ufos, the soviet government, or sasquatch. the author was trying to figure out what actually happened by researching and retracing their steps. his research leads him to examine infrasonic waves, which are below our threshold of hearing, and there’s a lot of work being done using them as crowd dispersants or weaponry because if they are focused correctly they can basically drive people crazy (temporarily). in this book he meets a researcher who examines their campsite and suggests that wind could have hit a nearby rock formation just right to focus infrasonic waves on their campsite and made them go out into the blizzard. and i don’t know of a better name for a drone album than a story about unhearable sounds that drive people crazy. since i don’t have much in the way of musical training, thinking of a loose narrative helps me to organize and clarify things.
[note: to learn more about the dyatlov pass incident, go here.]
mh: how might sound be used as a weapon?
ph: sound can really transform an environment in a very meaningful and immediate way. music specifically can really alter how we perceive our environment almost as soon as we hear the first few notes. i mean, it can literally drive people insane. that’s pretty powerful stuff. some sort of infrasonic gun would be pretty sweet. god i hope that doesn’t get invented and traced back to me somehow.
mh: i give you a fur-covered spoon. how do you use it?
ph: to eat fur-covered soup, obviously.
mh: a lot of your music seems to float, in a kind of distant or remote way. can you speak to that?
ph: one thing i really love in a lot of my favorite tracks is that they seem to be totally repetitive and static and then there’s this tiny change or a new element is introduced and suddenly you somehow hear some timbre or rhythm or melody you haven’t heard before. some examples that come to mind are “now i am become death, destroyer of worlds” by nadja, “pulsing rings of ice” by expo ‘70, and “dust” by günter schlienz. it’s very atmospheric but if you’re really listening there’s so much to grab onto and really wrestle with. in my own meager way i guess i try to replicate that sensation. eno’s idea of being worthy of really close listening but also pleasant as ambient music is something that always sticks in my mind. synths especially give you such control over the sound that it’s really fun to play with really small gestures that can really change the whole sound.
mh: why mad heiress? how do you see your music fitting with the site?
ph: i really admire how ambitious and multidisciplinary the site is. i think there are a lot of things that computing and the internet make easier artistically but many do not extend beyond access to the material or methods. i find it very inspiring to find people committed to curating artistic expression in a virtual space. i hope that my music can contribute to this virtual environment in a way that highlights the photos and writing on the site. reading some of the other interviews i can tell there are people who have been working for much longer at at a much higher degree of sophistication so it’s really a privilege.
mh: do you have any specific goals when you’re creating music?
ph: i gotta say, nothing that has persisted throughout beyond feeling happy with it a couple months later. i was playing something on the guitar over christmas and my grandma started dancing to it and if i could make that happen again that’d be pretty great.
mh: do you have a favorite piece that you’ve created? if so, what makes it your favorite?
ph: ancient beyond knowledge felt like a real accomplishment, at least to me. i got to film a video for an excerpt of it, which was a very fun process. even though it started with a silly premise, i think i was much more detail-oriented in putting it together, which i hope pays off in some way.