Zoë Mc Pherson: polyrhythms in her skin

Records 22.09.2023

Far from conventional dance-music, Zoë Mc Pherson invents with Pitch Blender, their new and third album, an electronic music that is both intense and twirling, carried by complex and striking rhythmic programming.

" Separate my body parts as much as possible, so that I can play freely with each of them ". Zoë Mc Pherson sometimes use this poetic image to describe their approach to playing, and to rhythm in particular. For what strikes one first when discovering their electronic music, and in particular Pitch Blender, is a form of gangling dynamics, of polyrhythmic freedom, which generates pure enjoyment, pure vertigo, as one listens to their labyrinthine construction. Loaded with details and sonic discoveries, built on a skilful science of percussion that rejects the four-to-the-floor rhythm that has ruled dance music since the days of disco, Mc Pherson's electro is metaphorically addressed to the bodies of dancers who we might imagine liberated from the rituals, gestures and routines of the culture from which they come. Their music, rich, innovative and experimental, owes much to the world of raves and free parties, and to the values of Berlin techno, from which the artist borrows his energy, motifs and textures, without ever bending to its codes and conventions.

When Mc Pherson talks about their favorite instrument, they* spontaneously cite the notions of sound design and processing to describe the genesis of their sounds, as well as the fragmentation of samples and the multiple pitch variations they operate. Using a wide range of digital processing techniques, the artist manipulates percussion sessions (performed on multiple surfaces and materials), synthesizer sequences and patterns, sounds captured in their environment during their travels, not forgetting their voice, spoken, sung, fragmented, distant or modified.

Little is known about their biography, personal life and musical upbringing, except that Mc Pherson was born in England to an Irish mother, raised between London, the Drôme and Lyon, and followed their parents on numerous tours that introduced them to the world and techniques of music at an early age, before studying percussion and drawing inspiration for their approach to rhythm from jazz, in particular from composer, improviser and saxophonist Steve Coleman.

Since his 2014 debut with the more pop and downtempo project, Empty Taxi, Mc Pherson has composed three more albums, from String Figures (2018) to this recent Pitch Blender (2023), certainly the most masterful of his short career.

Now based in Berlin, Mc Pherson co-founded SFX in 2020, alongside video artist Alessandra Leone, a label and structure for musical and audiovisual production that promotes transdisciplinarity, in the form of sound installations, audiovisual concerts, DJ sets and videos that give a large part to choreographic work. Boosted by the creativity and energy of the queer scene, stimulated by the feminist impetus accompanying the current electro scene, the artist also declares a preference for collaborations (with Ciarra Black, Jay Mitta, DJ Diaki), and more particularly with French composer and sound artist Jessica Ekomane, as witnessed by a recent concert filmed by Arte in the lair of Berlin's prestigious Berghain club.

Perhaps the key to Zoë Mac Pherson's work lies in their numerous videos (often directed by Alessandra Leone), in which the artist's body is often confronted with an environment, sometimes wild, sometimes man-made, that echoes their approach to rhythm and sound.

Music, bodies and movements always seem to dialogue with, or echo, the lines that cross landscapes, the natural or urban rhythms that shape them, as if Mc Pherson were exploring a certain musicality of the forms present in our environments. Unless, as the artist has sometimes done, we are to refer to the notion of liminality, which designates spaces or temporalities of passage, between one state, one place, and another. In their play with genre, but even more so in their treatment of sounds and rhythms, Mc Pherson's music always seems to be in transition, willingly unstable, in a precarious equilibrium that proves to be more a source of enjoyment than uncertainty.

Jean-Yves Leloup

The Pitch Blender album and the Pitch Blender Remixes EP are published by SFX.

See Zoë Mc Pherson live on September 30, 2023 at Césaré (Reims), on October 7 at the In.Outsider festival (Brussels), on October 14 at the Mutek festival (Mexico), on October 21 at Trømso (Norway), on November 4 at the Ekko festival (Bergen) and on November 11 for a live audiovisual Alessandra Leone at the Mira Festival (Barcelona).

Jessica Ekomane in concert on October 7 at l'Athanor (Albi) as part of the festival riverrun festivaland November 1 at the Ekko festival (Bergen)

*The artist encourages the use of an indefinite pronoun to evoke gender.

Photo © Suzanne-Caroline De Carrasco


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