Corina MacDonald takes command as CMD
by Josiah Hughes
April 7, 2015
By combining, editing, and mixing other sounds, there’s no denying that sample-based electronic music is a culture of collage. Few people understand this as well as Montreal musician Corina MacDonald, a radio host and techno artist who mixes and blends fascinating sounds under her aliases Cyan and CMD.
In the late ‘90s, MacDonald left her native Calgary for the UK, ultimately ending up in Montreal. These two locales opened her up to many exciting new sounds. “Being exposed to those new music scenes was really exciting and inspiring and I developed a love for techno in particular,” she recalls. “The sounds that I am drawn to in electronic music tend to be deep and atmospheric, sometimes acid, sometimes dub-inspired or industrial-inspired.”
That diversity is also inextricably tied to the radio, a medium that has followed her throughout her life. In addition to her parents’ record collection, she explains that her earliest musical memories stem from the FM dial.
“Radio was also an important thing for me, not necessarily always because of the music being broadcast, but because I liked the idea of being able to tune in to all these remote broadcasts that could sometimes be picked up,” she recalls. “When I was 7 I got my own radio and before going to sleep I liked to spend time moving up and down the bands looking for weird late night programming.”
Upon arriving in Montreal, MacDonald started Modular_Systems, her bi-weekly show that continues to impress on McGill’s community station CKUT, which she hosts under her Cyan alias. “From there just kept exploring new sounds, buying records and learning to mix them,” she recalls.
Her curatorial, collage-like approach to music also contributed to the genesis of her techno alter-ego. “At some point I got really into making mix tapes. I was listening to minimal composers like Wim Mertens, Philip Glass and Meredith Monk, as well as pop, folk and ambient music,” she recalls. “I was really into projects like This Mortal Coil and and Brian Eno’s Ambient series. I liked to mix music together based on similar sonic qualities or textures, not necessarily by genre or tempo.”
Under the CMD moniker, MacDonald has developed a knack for forward-thinking techno music. And while her songs certainly possess the textural depth and sonic complexity to match any of her peers, she approaches them from a purely sample-based mindset.
“I’m really interested in sample manipulation,” she explains. “I work with samples as a starting point, sometimes samples that I record from synthesizer jams, or sounds that I’ve recorded (drawer opening, cat purring) or collected (drum kits for example) over the years.”
From there, she uses the Audiomulch software “as a kind of sketchpad…. I then throw together different sound elements until I have the core of something that I want to keep building on. What I end up using as the basis for a song is often completely different from what I might have been thinking initially, so it’s kind of fun to see what emerges from the process.”
Her music is often well-received by Montreal’s dance community. “Montreal is definitely a house and techno-friendly town, so there is an audience here for the kind of music I produce,” MacDonald says. “I’ve had good responses to my live sets, and support from other producers and DJs here, which is very encouraging.”
With tracks as fascinating, creative and refreshing as these, the support should come as no surprise.