15 questions with…ISHMAEL ENSEMBLE
Computer Music|October 2021
Ishmael Ensemble is a collective of Bristolian musicians, throwing elements of that city’s rich and varied history into a melting pot of styles and fusions. ‘Experimental jazz’ is one label, only the results are much better than that sounds, and have already drawn praise from the national press and landed the band two BBC sessions…

With Ishmael Ensemble’s debut album, A State Of Flow, garnering praise from The Guardian, Mojo and The Wire and landing the band sessions at Maida Vale for Gilles Peterson and Tom Ravenscroft, the pressure was on for its followup. Luckily, new album Visions Of Light is just as wide-reaching and ambitious and looks set to only increase the band’s success. The ensemble is led by producer and saxophonist Pete Cunningham, with Holysseus Fly on vocals, Stephen Mullins on guitar, Rory O’Gorman on drums and Jake Spurgeon’s on synths. Their sound takes all sorts of elements from the rich musical history of their home city of Bristol and mixes it up with experimental jazz leanings and a very decent helping of tech...

1 Tell us how you got into music

Pete Cunningham: “I first got into music through my parents’ record collection. All the classics: Dylan, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Nick Drake etc. We didn’t have a TV so we would just sit around and listen to records on a Sunday evening. I used to listen for hours, picking apart the arrangements and noting each instrument. The first music I discovered for myself was Placebo, Radiohead and Green Day, which led me to the guitar. I got an Epiphone Les Paul from one of my brother’s friends and a Danelectro distortion pedal. I had a friend who was a drummer and he asked if I wanted to join a band. One of them, Jake Spurgeon, now plays bass and synths in Ishmael Ensemble. I was 8 and he was 12!”

2 When did you get successful?

PC: “It’s always been a balancing act between producing, remixing, performing live and DJing. It all started to align about three or four years ago. The release of the debut Ishmael album A State Of Flow in 2019 was a turning point. We were suddenly booked to play across Europe for enough to actually pay ourselves.”

3 What is your overall philosophy?

PC: “Record everything! I’ve often ended up using the first take of solos or vocals as there’s definitely hidden magic in there that doesn’t reappear second time around. It’s also got to be fun. No matter how serious a piece of music is, if the musicians aren’t enjoying themselves it shows in the final recording.”

4 Tell us about your ‘computer music’ production history?

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