For some, creating music is a fun past-time, but for this Pennsylvanian, it has been a lifelong pursuit of "active listening" and growing as a total artist.
Ed Cornell is a writer, composer, and visual artist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having collaborated with many German electronic artists, including Hans-Joachim Roedelius of the band Kluster, Hans-Dieter Schmidt, and percussionist, Michael Hoffmann, Ed might be more at home in Berlin than in Philly.
Like many, Ed began learning music at an early age. "Both of my grandmothers were very interested in music. I started listening to classical music when I was around five years old and by the time I was in primary school, my fraternal grandmother was teaching me lines and scales on the piano", he says. He also began learning about recording equipment around the same time. "My uncle was into technology and brought a portable wire recorder over to the house. While the adults were in the living room having a cocktail party, I was in the kitchen making improvisational sound", he remembers. "When I was a preteen, I bought my first reel-to-reel portable recorder that my friend and I made all kinds of recordings on, skits, comedy routines, acoustic guitar, and virtual radio shows". Ed worked as a video Director and Producer, where he would work with the audio Engineer in the recording studio to tweak the sound for the videos. "Today, I like to work very closely with the actual waveforms of the tracks I record", he explains. "As a visual artist, this makes a lot of sense to me. In my video work, I am used to editing visually". In the late '90s, like many artists, Ed began working exclusively with a digital audio workstation (DAW). "I had a large ProTools rig and the original version of Logic", he says. "All of the Latome albums were recorded on that system". Today, Ed uses a stripped-down approach with Audacity and Ableton Live. "The work that I do now doesn't demand many tracks because it is very improvisational", he says.
Many things have changed over the years as technology has advanced, and so have his equipment choices. "I guess the first synthesizer I got was the original Yamaha DX-7 when it first came out in 1982", he explains. "By the late '90s, I had a number of vintage synths including an Ensonique Mirage, Fairlight Voice Tracker, Prophet 10, a Jupiter, DX-7, and an OB-Xa". Today, Ed uses mostly software instruments, most notably Native Instruments. "In 2013, I bought a Maschine MK2 that I still use with the work I do now. I also have four MIDI keyboards of various sizes that control everything", he says. Ed has recently acquired some new instruments from Spitfire Audio to create some interesting custom pianos and other "secret weapons". "I am very influenced by Harold Budd, who I had a masterclass with when I was getting an MFA degree from the California Institute of the Arts", he says. "For a lot of my recent work, I have returned to the piano".
“Semiotics in my 'music' doesn't mean something technical, but the absolute frisson between the Intellect, the Emotional, and the Mystical.”
Ed considers himself a mobile musician. "There are a lot of small boxes and portable gear that I am interested in, like the products from Teenage Engineering", he says. "I use my iPhone and iPad quite a lot and have many apps loaded on them". Ed says that he is very mobile with apps like apeSoft synths, Moodscaper, Animoog, Mononoke, iWavestation, iVCS3, and his favorite app SCAPE from Brian Eno. "I have composed music in my backyard and on the beach", he says. "If I had to put on a full-scale concert, I could do it with just my MacBook Pro and my small Arturia MIDI keyboard".
When asked about how he composes in the studio Ed said, "I have two distinctly different approaches to composition. The first one is very conceptual. I sit down with my notebook and figure out a piece track by track, making notes that are very narrative, since I believe every piece has a story behind it". He continues, "The other is completely improvisational. I still have a conceptual blueprint in mind, and I will sit down at my various keyboards and record for sometimes five minutes, sometimes 30 minutes".
Things are always a bit different when Ed collaborates with another artist. With Hans-Joachim Roedelius, he sent Ed some completed tracks that he had been working on and Ed reworked them and added to them. It was 3 to 4 months of sending tracks back and forth before they reached an agreement on the finished works. It is unfortunate that Covid interrupted their work together. The album remains unreleased, but Ed is hopeful that it will be released one day.
Covid is responsible for another collaboration that has created such a strong bond that Ed calls Hans-Dieter Schmidt his "brother in sound". "When HaDi first sent me some song files to listen to in 2020, there was one called Aurora. I was working on a couple of new songs at that time, and I had called one of my Aurora as well. When I played him, it sounded so much like mine I couldn't believe my ears! I looked at the waveforms of both tracks side-by-side and they were so similar I knew that this collaboration was meant to be", explains Ed. "I have never worked with someone who has the same conceptual, emotional, and spiritual affinity for the kind of music that we want to do together". It is interesting that at the beginning of the pandemic, Ed started writing a short story called A Perfect Day, chronicling the events that would later be described as "The Rupture". In the story, there is a dimensional displacement that is caused by an experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. Ed and HaDi loved the idea of a concept album based on the story and the characters in it, and they have now completed three albums. Ed has gone a step further and composed a solo album based on the life of one of the characters in the story as well.
Ed is always trying to grow and mature as a total artist. He started out in visual arts with photography and video art. "One of my goals is to bring the sensibilities and conceptual achievements from my visual art and writing into my music", he says. To that end, Ed continues to collaborate with HaDi and others, as well as try new things on his solo projects. "HaDi and I are working on some new music with percussionist Michael Hoffmann in a postmodern jazz style, with me on keys, HaDi on his electronic wind instruments, and Michael on drums. We are also working on a new album concentrating on dark ambient, with our own spin on it. We are also working on some music that focuses on Semiotics, which in my 'music' doesn't mean something technical, but the absolute frisson between the Intellect, the Emotional, and the Mystical", he explains. "Ivan Black and I have just completed an album entitled, Vaugh's Obsession, an homage to J.G. Ballard's iconic novel Crash". In Ed's solo work, he is always looking for new things to try. One thing that he keeps coming back to is the opera, Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson. "When I saw that opera, it changed my life", he says. "I would love to compose an opera because it brings together all of the elements I love, visual design and concepts, stories, music, sound design, and dance".
I asked Ed if there was anything else that he would like to in his career that he hasn't had the opportunity to do and he said, "The one thing that I have missed in my career is performing live more often. Years ago, I play a few shows in Philadelphia with Charles Cohen, but the venues here have really dried up. If I lived in Germany, I would probably be performing a lot more. HaDi is performing soon at the Bridge Festival in Frankford, Germany for 30,00 people".
Edward Cornell is an inspirational artist who isn't afraid to try new things, embraces technology, and is constantly working on new material and with new people. I have enjoyed getting to know him and his music a little better.
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