Michael Connor, Electrical Engineer on Mixing Vinyl

Hi, my name is Michael Connor and I am studying for a Masters Degree in Electronics Engineering. I will be graduating this year and plan to continue my studies with a doctoral position. I specialise in designing Control Systems, an area I find fascinating, as there are many interesting applications that require intelligent control. A favourite example is the great advancements in robotics carried out by Boston Dynamics.

I have grown up in Belfast and that is where my current home is. Previously, a one-year internship took me to Limerick, where I worked as a Failure Analysis Engineer for Analog Devices. This was a great insight into semiconductor manufacturing and it made me appreciate how well Ireland is doing in terms of technological identity. I found Limerick to be a beautiful place with many friendly people. They also have a fantastic array of pubs!

I have been interested in technology since I was little, playing around with computer parts and setting up dedicated video game servers. My focus in university has shifted gradually to the domain where hardware and software meet, and I think this is the most exciting place to be in Engineering. I think that the opportunities are endless, especially as we advance into an integrated digital age where machines are prevalent in society.

Away from my studies, I like to collect and mix vinyl records. By mixing I mean playing tracks in sequence, on my turntables. I have a setup in my garage that is really cosy; it is a perfect setting to play weird electronica and forget about the outside world. I would like to be mixing every day, but it is difficult now that my final exams are approaching. I would say I get practice in about one day a week.

I got into mixing by going to dance parties around 2014, and it quickly became a favourite hobby. Eventually my friends and I started getting a better taste of music and selecting higher quality nights out. We searched for new music all of the time, and we shared what we found with each other whenever we got together for a beer. I definitely believe that liking this kind of electronic music ultimately converged in an interest in vinyl, and so I happened to pick up some turntables in 2015 and started mixing.

My own taste in music has changed since I started getting into mixing. I was a typical fantasy geek, and became immersed into games like World of Warcraft, so I listened to a lot of soundtracks like that. There is also a lot of great sound design in video games, and I remember being blown away by the audio in games like System Shock and Deus Ex. I would say my favourite genre of music lies in the space between house, techno, and ambient electronica. I do also admire loads of the pioneering artists of the 1990’s, like Basic Channel, Aphex Twin, and Global Communication. There is unlimited cool music in this scene though, and some of my favourite tracks are by producers that have only made one or two LPs and then disappeared. Belfast also has a healthy DJ scene, and I think some of my friends are doing really cool stuff here.

When I am mixing music, and focusing on the blend of sounds, my mind is totally relaxed. There is a lot to be said for the other aspect of mixing too, which is searching for music. This means going to record stores and digging through tunes as well as searching the corners of Discogs and YouTube online.

Mixing definitely has provided some sort of creative outlet for me, and I like to think that when I have more free time I will be able to contribute more to this space. Right now I am just picking good music that fits well together but there is scope to do so much more. What particularly interests me is the audio-visual experience and I have a few ideas in that area.

Right now I am concentrating on studying hard, so mixing is taking a backseat. This will change when I have more free time. I think it is important to have a good routine. For me, relaxation usually comes in the evening time, so that is when I like to chill out with some vinyl records.

There is a definite correlation between the two modes of technology and music. I find being able to relax and display some creative energy is useful for my engineering work. I think it is akin to learning a language; it just helps the mind expand and grow stronger. You need to be focused for both pursuits, and totally dedicated to completing the task at hand. Otherwise the mix sounds bad, or the work is not done correctly.

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