Interview #83 — Corin Ileto
By Tracy Chen
Corin Ileto is an artist, producer and performer drawing from a background in classical composition. Through the performative aspect of Ileto’s compositions, she explores intuitive algorithms through the mechanics of human memory.
Ileto has composed music for dance and performance works, most recently producing the soundtracks for Justin Shoulder’s Carrion and video work Ex Nilalang - from Creature to Creation by Club Ate. Her releases include Virtuality EP (2016), Wave Systems LP (2015) and has performed with the likes of Howie Lee, Pan Daijing and Fatima Al Qadiri.
Corin spoke to Tracy about her recent projects, navigating live performance as a composer, and where Filipino-Australian identity intersects with her practice.
You’ve recently switched to doing music full-time. What motivated the change and how have you been managing so far?
I decided to take a break from other work just to focus on making music and performing. I guess my reasons were purely personal, wanting to take some breathing space and allow more time to further develop my creative practice, on my own terms and timeframe. So far, I’ve found it really relaxing and nice to be able to focus on just one thing.
Having a classical piano background, how did you come to exploring electronic mediums and working with more abstract qualities?
I studied classical music at university level but didn’t really delve into electronic music until a few years after when I bought a keyboard. My initial compositions were mainly improvised piano-based pieces but then I started to tinker around with the synth component of the keyboard. I discovered some really interesting glitching and pulsating effects produced by the keyboard, so I decided to incorporate these synthesised sounds as the basis of some tracks in the Wave Systems release. On that particular release, I ended up recording myself playing a lot of the synth parts live which gave it a really lo-fi, imperfect quality. Looking back, I guess there is something endearing about being able to hear the imperfections that are derived from human performance.
You've mentioned how you've gradually found yourself more drawn to accompaniment/composition over playing live. How have your feelings towards solo performance developed over time?
Nowadays, I feel there is less improvisation and more of a composed rigidity to the sounds I am making. I always felt the piano was the most human or emotive element that I could insert into my music and slowly I’ve drifted further away from that in my productions.
I’d say I’ve become more obsessed with digital, hyper-realistic sounds and making things sound mathematically precise. I think this is the ‘control freak’ aspect of my personality probably emerging—always continually trying to refine and structure things, and control the qualities of every sound. This obsession is probably also reflected in the way I perform live nowadays. Rather than conveying emotion in a musical performance I’m interested in the opposite—how I can perform in a way that is devoid of emotion and mimic the rigidity of some of the digitally processed sounds that are in my productions.
Since working as a composer for dance and theatre works, I’ve started to think a lot more about the physicality of sound itself and how the acoustics might interact with an audience within a particular space. For example, how a surround sound set-up or the placement of a subwoofer might physically have an impact on the audience.
Looking back, I guess there is something endearing about being able to hear the imperfections that are derived from human performance.
Similarly, do you feel like the general expectation for musicians to perform translates differently for electronic artists/composers?
It translates differently depending on the type of music or audience. Some dance music might translate better in a DJ set rather than a live performance. I’ve begun to question whether the music I like is really best enjoyed at a gig, or in a shared social setting. I tend to prefer hearing quieter music in solitude at home, on headphones, instead of a noisy nightclub where it could be easily drowned out, or the intention could be lost.
How did the opportunity to score the soundtrack for an ABC documentary series Video Becomes Us come about? What was it like to compose for your first TV series?
Kate Blackmore, the producer, had listened to some of my releases and was keen to collaborate together. The series focuses on a diverse group of artists in Australia creating video art, including some of my favourites like Melbourne artist Joe Hamilton. It also happened to include a feature on Club Ate and one of the video works that I was involved in recently. As the series features a really diverse range of artists I ended up creating a broad bank of short pieces that the editor could pull from, ranging from techno pop to darker ambient sounds. Some of the music was featured in the background of some of the interviews so I had to really focus on making sounds that were minimal and non-intrusive, which was a nice challenge.
I’ve begun to question whether the music I like is really best enjoyed at a gig, or in a shared social setting. I tend to prefer hearing quieter music in solitude at home, on headphones, instead of a noisy nightclub where it could be easily drowned out, or the intention could be lost.
Do your family have much awareness of/connection to what you do?
My family are pretty supportive of what I do. My parents migrated to Australia from the Philippines in the 1980s, and worked really hard to establish a life for us here. My mother took me to piano lessons and competitions when I was younger and also encouraged to keep studying piano at a tertiary level later on. As a kid I probably whinged about being dragged to class or having to practice scales, but in hindsight I owe so much to my parents, especially to my mother for providing the systems of encouragement and support that have enabled me to do what I do now. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I wish I had only realised it sooner.
My father probably took less of a supportive role in my creativity but his dedication to his profession has always inspired me. He’s an academic specialising in Philippine history, focusing on ‘history from below’, historiography and anti-colonial movements. Growing up here I’ve always felt a bit disconnected from my Filipino heritage, but it is something I would like to further incorporate somehow into my own music whether that be through my own research or talking to him about his work.
Given these feelings of disconnect, do your experiences as a Filipino-Australian still have influence in the context of your work or the projects you become involved with?
I think it’s been most relevant in some of the collaborative works I’ve been involved with recently—in particular with the aforementioned Club Ate (Justin Shoulder, Bhenji Ra) based in Sydney.
In 2017, I composed the music for their video work Ex Nilalang: from Creature to Creation which is part of broader set of video works exploring Filipino queer ancestral mythologies, reimagining stories that were used by colonial forces to demonise LGBTQI communities. The video is set in the ‘skyworld’, a liminal virtual space where their understanding and imagining of the Philippines begins and ends. Pop culture references are scattered across a digital landscape and also throughout the soundtrack. I was given a few sound references to work with such as the ‘Jollibee’ theme (Jollibee is a popular Filipino fast-food chain) and snippets from a popular TV show called Darna which is about an extraterrestrial hero (equivalent to superwoman). There are a lot of abrupt shifts in the visuals and music which gives it dream-like, video-game, simulative quality.
As one of the first projects I had worked on exploring Filipino identity and the diaspora it made me think a bit deeper about what my imaginings of the Philippines are, and how my preconceptions have been determined not only through the time spent with family, but also through intangible things like the internet.
In hindsight I owe so much to my parents, especially to my mother for providing the systems of encouragement and support that have enabled me to do what I do now. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I wish I had only realised it sooner.
Could you also speak a bit about your involvement with Justin Shoulder's theatre work, Carrion?
Justin is a Sydney based queer Filipino-Australian artist. After working on Ex Nilalang together I came onboard as the composer for his theatre work Carrion. I think we already share a synergy with our existing work which makes it easy for us to collaborate together.
‘Carrion’ is a transhuman primordial creature that mutates, transforms and evolves, and I really wanted to reflect this constant shift between human and non-human in the musical score. Justin was fascinated by Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ theme, so I ended up using Wagner’s leitmotif concept as a compositional tool to help reflect the physical transformation of Carrion, creating a short melodic motif that repeated and changed throughout the performance. There is a really evocative image at the end of the performance which I connected to on an emotional level—a bleak and barren desert-like space doused in overexposed sunlight with Carrion emerging as a primordial bird-like creature. For this scene I incorporated musical themes from earlier scenes however the melodies were broken down and pared back, appearing now as just a distant memory or as an apparitions. I also incorporated a melody using a virtual version of the kulintang (a traditional Filipino instrument) - disfiguring and affecting the sound so that it is buried in the track. The broken-down melody could be likened to a language, slowly lost and forgotten over time.
I think the work as whole is really about survival and adaptation—what is left of Carrion, after their journey? You could read Carrion as just a science fiction story but I think the narrative of the work goes beyond that, speaking to broader themes of identity, diaspora and queerness. Justin is a really talented artist and I’m glad that we’ve been able to work together.
It’s been almost three years since you’ve moved to Melbourne from Sydney. I’m curious about your experience with the music or general creative social communities in each city, and how easy it's been for you to find support?
I feel like I’ve had some really great opportunities to perform here and I think there is a wider variety of music scenes, and also greater availability and accessibility to venues that are adequately equipped for live performance. There have been some really memorable performances, in particular at Melbourne Music Week last year, where I created a special set that incorporated the monolithic grand organ that sits in the Melbourne Town Hall. I think there is also a pretty supportive community here of artists, and also a regular community of people in general who are interested in coming to gigs.
That being said, I think Sydney will always hold a special place in my heart and I feel like some of my strongest collaborations have been with Sydney-based artists. There is a lot of creativity flourishing there, despite all odds. I guess you just have to look a bit deeper, all the exciting gigs are now on the fringes, not in the inner city.
You’ve become involved with a few international labels, performed in Europe and have mentioned an interest in touring Asia. Do you find yourself drawn to international/online communities as a result of Australia lacking a well-defined scene for the kind of music you make?
I think there is a nice group of musicians here making similar music, but it’s a pretty small pool (or not enough to hold a regular weekly night or event). Over time, I’ve become more interested in the type of audiences I am connecting with, rather than say exposing myself to bigger audiences or gigs here, in a commercial sense. I feel the next step for me would be to connect with more audiences overseas that that would be interested in my music. This year in Melbourne I’ve had some great opportunities to support electronic artists from Asia including Howie Lee, Meuko! Meuko!, Betty Apple and Berlin-based Pan Daijing. It would be great to travel to connect with them again in their cities.
There is a really evocative image at the end of the performance which I connected to on an emotional level—a bleak and barren desert-like space doused in overexposed sunlight with Carrion emerging as a primordial bird-like creature.
Have your influences and processes changed since your 2016 Virtuality EP, how so? And what are you currently working on?
I think it’s definitely changed in some ways. I have an album coming out on an overseas label which is a collection of tracks I’ve been working on and playing live over the past year. There are a lot of converging styles so I tried to focus on how I can create continuity through the repetition of certain sounds, and through building interludes between tracks. Virtuality was really an ode to the 80’s Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra and had a very techno pop palette of sounds, whereas this upcoming release is probably a lot more dramatic and densely layered. I’ve been listening to more film composers and am interested in creating bigger soundscapes and moods in the same way you would build a score for film, and also how to sculpt more subtle layering and nuances.
Do you have any advice for emerging producers/composers?
I think it’s always good to keep trying out different methods and not to become fixated on one defining style. A lot of good things can manifest from accidents, and diverging from usual processes or habits. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to move on. Some advice I also wish I had sooner is to listen to more music. You can learn a lot though listening absorbing and not just doing and creating.
Who are you inspired by?
Ryuichi Sakamoto—I saw him perform at the Sydney Opera House and it was a really surreal experience, being able to watch someone I have admired for a long time.
What are you listening to?
DJ Python - Dulce Compania
Alex Zhang Huangtai - Divine Weight
Tirzah - Devotion
Kara-Lis Coverdale & LVX - Sirens
Meuko! Meuko! - Ghost Island
How do you practice self-care?
I’m slowly trying to get into meditation.
What does being Asian-Australian mean to you?
Being a first-generation Australian and child of migrant parents is a constant reminder to be grateful for the experiences and opportunities I have had growing up here. It is also a reminder to remember where my family has come from and to acknowledge the sacrifices they made that enabled me to become the person I am today.