What I love the most about music is the performance, usually with more traditional instrumentation. As much as I like electronic-based music, it tends to lack any spontaneity when performed live, something I have tried to improve upon with my own work with varying degrees of success or failure, depending on your perspective.
My name is Conor Curran and I am a distributed systems engineer. I previously worked with BBC, Canonical, Microsoft, and several start-ups. Currently, I’m involved with Axiom (https://axiom.co/), an on-prem analytics start-up with good friends of mine. I work remotely from the top of a mountain in Waterford.
I chose my job because I was always curious as to how things work and how they are put together. I like to demystify something that, on the surface, looks like magic. Behind every technological convenience lies the sweat and tears of many engineers.
I lived in London for over a decade; previous to that, I was in Copenhagen. In late 2016, my partner Jakob and I sold up and moved to Ireland. It was only supposed to be temporary, as we were en route to Seattle (at the time, I worked for Microsoft). But we found an old house in the hills of Waterford, and we decided to stay and rebuild it (plug alert – the project has its own Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/lahearthouse/).
I co-founded the publishing label Forwind with Shane Lawlor in London in 2009. We set out to create a place for music that doesn’t necessarily fall into any one genre. At first, it was envisaged to be a home to many of the groups that we were in some way associated with (Sonnamble, Clang Sayne, Fourth Page, James O’Sullivan), but it organically grew from there to be more of an international project with reach far beyond the UK or Ireland. Once Hannes Jentsch joined the project, it mustered a sustainable momentum of its own, allowing the project enough in-house skills to keep it running. Primarily, it’s an Arts project, and we like to judge our progress on artistic merits (not financial).
We have a wide spectrum of artists on Forwind. From noise to ambient drone, from song improv to electroacoustic, we try to be a broad church. Tokyo based Tomonari Nozaki would probably be our most successful artist. His release North Palace is definitely one of my favourites on the label (https://www.forwind.net/releases/fwd09). Currently, we have been releasing quite a lot of material from Norway. In particular, I really like the new Rune Clausen release from earlier this year (https://www.forwind.net/releases/fwd24). Jeff Carey, a noise artist from Baltimore MA, is definitely worth checking out live if you get a chance. He has toured globally with Matmos in the past. His offering on Forwind is a real ear bleeder, but if noise is your thing, I would recommend Bodies Under The Waterfall release from late last year. It is melodic noise, very expressive on the softer side of that genre (https://www.forwind.net/releases/fwd22). Another favourite of mine is Elsie Martins, aka Atom Eye – her instrumental cross-genre wall of sound offering has a real cinematic feel to it (https://www.forwind.net/releases/fwd11).
With Forwind, we are currently working on our 27th release, and are busy with 3 more releases planned (at least 2 before the end of 2019).
With music, similar to engineering, I’m fascinated by how it works and how to put it together (i.e. compose, mix, and produce!). I am inspired by music that is influenced by many distinct genres (and no, I don’t mean fusion!). If I were to book 2 acts for a given show, I would choose Colin Stetson and Stian Westerhus for their raw, expressive power.
I studied Music and Media Tech at Trinity College Dublin. The MMT programme was really inspiring – great people, great attitudes, and great lecturers. It was there I started to learn how to write code. Music is a daily routine; it has to be something you do daily. It requires discipline which, ironically, doesn’t fit into the stereotype of the ‘lazy musician’. On my last musical project, I used a home-baked improv system, written with the help of Pure Data, Python, and Faust DSP. It was the basis for most of the Sonnamble material.
For mixing and mastering, I use Harrison Console’s Mixbus. I particularly liked the last offering we did as Sonnamble – the live sessions. We may cut a release from this at some point. You can listen to the full mix on Mixcloud: https://www.mixcloud.com/Forwind/sonnamblings/.
Regarding similarities between my time with music and my current occupation, I have tried to let one influence the other, with varying degrees of success. I worked as a sound architect on the Ubuntu platform, which I found very motivating for some time. It involved lots of coding and musical/acoustic elements. At BBC Radio, I worked on various projects which were concerned with the whole music industry space. The nature of the work is similar: the discipline, the need for focus, and a degree of agility.
I absolutely think music has been beneficial to my technological career – it’s very important to do something you are passionate about, regardless of success earlier on in your working career. By doing this, you should learn how to push yourself to self-motivate to improve the output of your work. I believe this helps to influence your work ethic in other aspects of your professional life as you progress. It teaches you to be a self-starter and a self-learner.
My advice to aspiring musicians is to learn an acoustic instrument first. Be disciplined in your approach and apply deadlines to compositions – finish it or bin it. Less is more; keep your toys to a minimum. And yes, I should have followed those wise words over my last 20 years too.
I think there is always more than tech – it’s interesting to learn about the backgrounds of many tech people, particularly those who don’t come from a straight forward computer science background. I did sound engineering; my first job was a part-time sound engineer in Today FM. Many of the best engineers I have worked with did not do computers at university – it’s important for people coming out of school to know that university is not the end game; it’s just one of the first steps you can take. As long as you are growing, learning, and challenging yourself, things will work out. Inertia is the ultimate enemy.
To listen to some more of the tracks on Forwind, be sure to check the following link: