Intersystems maverick John Mills-Cockell runs amok, taking our quick-fire question machine in his stride
Hello John, where are you right now and what can you see?
“I’m looking through my studio window. Eastward, there’s the Salish Sea and the Rockies on the mainland. Westward, the mountains of Vancouver Island.”
Intersystems are back! What brought this on after 50 years?
“About eight years ago, I began working with Toronto producer William Blakeney on a recording of my opera, ‘Savitri & Sam’. It was the beginning of a relationship that has generated several projects including ‘Intersystems #4’.”
As is fitting of a pioneer, you were an early Moog Mark II owner…
“In 1967, I was teaching electronic music at the Toronto Royal Conservatory. I gobbled every bit of published information about my chosen field. It didn’t take long for word to get out that Robert Moog and Herb Deutsch were developing what they were calling an electronic music synthesiser. We got in touch and began correspondence, on brightly fluorescent coloured paper.”
You knew you had to have one, but where did you get that kind of cash?
“When we learned that $8,000 was needed to buy one of Moog’s very first modular synths, I talked to fellow student teacher Ann Southam, a great friend, who offered to ‘lend’ me the money.”
How long did it take you to get to grips with?
“The first concert with the Moog was three weeks after our visit to Trumansburg to pick it up. It was the same day that Wendy Carlos took delivery of hers. It was a watershed moment in my artistic life. There was more of a dividing line in those days between academe and street life.”
You lost the Moog to a fire in 1970. That must’ve been a bad day at the office?
“The infamous Magic Tracks studio fire occurred just as my other band, Syrinx, were getting up and running. The fire destroyed all our gear and the tapes for our second album. The morning I got that call was obviously devastating, but the Toronto music community came together to mount an amazingly successful benefit concert for us with many well-known Canadian artists.”
You replaced it with an ARP 2500…
“When I was shopping in Manny’s Music in NYC for replacement instruments, I met Peter Townshend. He was doing the same and we both purchased the same axe! I heard his ARP 2500 on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ in a Toronto cab within weeks of our encounter in Manny’s.”
Blake Parker, the voice of Intersystems, died in 2007, but his words appear on the new album courtesy of clever computer AI-type stuff, right?
“We all miss Blake terribly. Nothing can replace his energy and creative brilliance, but, it is utterly amazing that William Blakeney was inspired to bring to life Blake’s characters that enliven his poetry so sensitively through the use of ‘clever computer AI-type stuff’. Blakeney’s idea of supporting the poems with improvisations using analogue musical instruments is brilliant.”
‘Intersystems #4’ is as weird as the three albums you released in the 1960s. How do you stay so weird?
“I’ve been asked how do I stay so weird! I confess that having created numerous fairly conventional scores for film, television and dance, I’m always on the lookout for projects that offer an opportunity to stay weird. But, I know this kinda evades the question… There is no answer to this question.”