Mira Martin-Gray

experimental musician

bandcamp   bio   email   news

I am an improvising musician, producer, and reluctant composer / sound artist / whatever from Toronto. I perform in many collaborative contexts as well as solo, and sometimes use the moniker tendencyitis (that's tendency-itis).

A multi-instrumentalist, injury and chronic illness led me to find a way to make music accessibly. I have developed a practice of manipulating mixing boards wired in feedback loops, probing the intersections between noise and melody, drone and rhythm, indeterminacy and control. In my work with feedback I'm interested in countering notions of desirabilty in our culture, revealing beauty in what's conventionally considered undesirable. I also work with voice, percussion/objects, other electronics and synths, and rarely guitar, if my joints are feeling up to it.

My music has been reviewed in The Wire, Musicworks, Bandcamp daily, The Quietus, Exclaim!, Whole Note, Toneshift, ATTN magazine, and other outlets. I have performed at festivals and series such as Guelph Jazz Festival, Long Winter, Send+Receive, Women From Space, and Audiopollination.

Solo recordings have appeared on Arachnidiscs (Toronto), Bastard Girl Utopia (Detroit), dubbed tapes (London), Full Spectrum (Texas), FLUF (Copenhagen), pan y rosas (Chicago) Personal Records (Montreal), and SM-LL (London). Self releases can be found on my bandcamp.

My latest dance EP as Cypro is out now on Hard Return.

I have also released music in the groups Overleaf with Heidi Chan and Kayla Milmine, 3M with Mark Zurawinski and Mike Lynn, and Quartz Ibex with Kurt Newman and Olivia Shortt.

I've started a lil DIY label called cette records, pretty much as a place to collect recordings of group improvisation I'm involved in.

You can hear me sing songs by myself here and with my friend Robin Jennings here.

* * *



Mira Martin-Gray's first release for Chicago netlabel Pan Y Rosas is an idiosyncratic romp in which she coaxes unruly feedback squalls from a variety of mixing boards. The Toronto improvisor's interest in using these studio tools as instruments stems from a desire for something accessible that could be played expressively following a disability inducing injury. Through her interactions, these unassuming boxes of wires become interfaces with howling electronic spirits. Martin-Gray has an affinity for what she calls "undesirable sounds". Her machine voices are abrasive, yet tender; squicky, squirty and even erotic, like a circuit-bent 8-bit video game console having loud, unrestrained orgasms. What's especially compelling is that each one has its own eccentric character. The personality of "Solo Mixer 4" is shrill and determined, yet vulnerable. "Undesirable" is in the ear of the beholder.


Mira Martin-Gray creates extremely unexpected work, and her latest is as quirky as it gets. This Toronto-based original is in her own world, and for good reason, it's a place to develop wildly original ideas. This falls somewhere between balloon animal play, tweaked-out digital frequencies and some kind of twisted old skool haunted house. Hers is a physical sound sculpture that finds an intermediary set of patterns from an unlikely sound source. Martin-Gray finds tonal ambiguity in the annals of the inverse. It's as though she is spitting rhythm. Beguiling.

ATTN Magazine on Stick Control For The Air Drummer

This album essentially captures the execution of several snare drills from George Lawrence Stone's 1935 percussion training book Stick Control For The Snare Drummer, described by the author as aiding improvement in "control, speed, flexibility, touch, rhythm, lightness, delicacy, power, endurance, preciseness of execution and muscular coordination". Mira Martin-Gray executes these drills perfectly, albeit via an alternate route. In other contexts, "air drumming" refers to a human player rhythmically moving their limbs in the absence of actual drums (and thus silently). Here it's the precise inverse: each drill is enacted without a real-time human player, instead translated into MIDI data and mapped onto tuned 808 samples, before being beamed at a snare drum that has been prepared in various ways (earrings, steel balls, pinback buttons) - quite literally using air pressure to play the drums. Largely unable to perform percussion anymore due to chronic pain, Mira Martin-Gray drains the utility from these exercises - the persistent refinement of a drummer's physical technique - and presents them as a technical fact achieved perfectly through mechanical means, rendered as an acoustic event rather than as a companion to intense practice.

Not only have the exercises been stripped of their original purpose, but the sound at the centre of the first three tracks is one often associated with nuisance and redundancy: the buzz of a snare wire against the drumskin, commonly only audible in error (recalling live shows and rehearsals where the drummer has neglected to slacken the wires when the kit isn't being used, leaving the snare to fizz obnoxiously over quiet performances). It flutters to the rhythm of the MIDI pulse, cycling through the same pattern over and over again, fizzing and whirring, modulating as repetition accentuates some frequencies over others, feeling almost tuneful and jubilant at points and abrasive at others. Persistence renders the sound as something abstracted from its source and bent into self-referential loop. After 10 minutes of hearing the same drill manifested through rippling sheets of static, I find myself no longer calling to mind the snare drum at all. Martin-Gray sheds the drummer first, then the drum itself.

The latter two pieces take on a different flavour. "Combinations in 3/8, piano (feedback)" sounds like a pair of accelerated Newton's cradles in stereo, slipping in and out of phase with eachother and studding an accompanying whistle of interference. "Combinations in 3/8, forte (feedback)" is the closest the record comes to feeling percussive in the traditional sense, stripping away all of the fizzing, hissing decoration to leave just the patter of impact. Even as the record approaches the sound of drumming, the intense concentration of a physical player is palpably absent. Yet this energy has been transposed rather than lost, manifest via meticulous scrutiny of a listener who has been liberated from the responsibilities of performance and left to simply ingest Stick Control For the Air Drummer for its every resonant inch.

The Ardent Wake on Microdebris

Microdebris... fashions no-input mixer, a cheap organ and a flanger into a searingly clean, chewy microtonal drone and glitch. Belying its humble sound sources somewhat, the sound of the tape has something medical in its sterility. Not an alienating or dehumanising kind: more a deeply refreshing, if brusque, cleanliness. Opener "Tremble Dance" best sums this up. A bracing, crystalline stream of mixer slush unzips; a gravelly but gentle and not unpleasant resistance gathers along the base. Feedback gradually pulls the current down into a sloshy, satisfying burble. A abrupt zzzchuup and a brief reflux pools before a syrupy whoosh of air wraps it up. I apparently have a reputation in my office for constantly talking up the giddying, low-key psychedelic experience of having your ears syringed (seriously though, if you haven't tried it already, do - it’s amazing). This track I think most concisely recreates the experience.
Most of the record plays out a causal conflict between an ominous, billowing drone in the background and a gristly but playful scratch and pop of bacterial mixer in the foreground. "unreversal"'s brittle, echoey rattle resembles the scraping of low-battery pocket fans across rusty strings... A sudden heave and some harsh light pierces the membrane of the track, revealing a hidden environment of joyous, tendrily harmonic skronk operating independently of everything else. "disposition" works similarly; feeding in a high-pitch stringy whine worried and rumbled by queasy mixer wavering. Enzyme flush and botched emulsification ensue in a frenzied fete of chewed buzzes and elasticated shape-pulling. Thrillingly ecstatic!
"proven benefits of walking backwards" is especially impressive. Layers of wavy thundercrack slide in, and soft glitch sticks and collects in the mushy ground. Begin friction, hum and levitation. Yr lifted, hovering in a celestial horizon before being steered slowly into a electric storm of acidic chirps and alkali gurgles, crumbling everything into twitching bells and sharp, strobing flashes. An EKG rings; some harsh momentary stillness, then - bluntly - torn up and crunched. From such a small, humble electronic setup, carefully manipulated, Martin-Gray produces something with the rich sway of a string quartet - or the gravity, tonal range and molecular reverence of a pipe organ - and, despite the relative brevity of each piece, makes it sound so damn forceful! The sidelong, self-titled B-side is a tenser, more studied affair. At the back; a steady underlayer; growling and baying, gradually teasing itself open imperceptibly as the side progresses. Up front, s ome subtly sinister static electric clicks and pops. Sounds evoked include: galloping hooves, typewriter keys, simmering pans, the zing and click of those metal balls you put in yr hand or on yr 90s office desk, and the sinister sound design for cell biology animations. This is left to wrangle and slow-cook for a duration. Listen deep and you can just about make out irregular patterns, unintentional mixer rhythms, specks and sparks like a record. Miniscule molecular twitches and spots in a closely controlled microbial play... It takes a good 17 minutes before an abrupt nosedive into panic-stricken feedback screech and bloody thump. Eventually it softens (I think, or perhaps I soften) to a manageable set of irregular chirps and clacks, still with the pattern fascination implicit in the cycling drift towards bounceable rhythms. An audacious, brilliant end!