Hosted by music journalist Lauren Martin at the Metropolitan Arts Centre, Chicago house legend Larry Heard spoke about his life in Memphis, Tennessee, and collaborating with local funk and jazz musicians in his home studio. It was in this studio that Heard returned to his classic Mr. Fingers alias, and wrote and recorded the alias’ first album in nearly 25 years, 2018’s Cerebral Hemispheres.
Released on Heard’s own label, Alleviated Records, Cerebral Hemispheres explores the tender musicality that characterises his sound. In collaborating with live session musicians such as prog-fusion drummer Ed Finney and tenor saxophonist Zachary McElwain, Heard brings together potentially disparate sonic elements with a smooth slight of hand: drawing from his upbringing in Chicago, his parents and siblings spinning blues, psychedelic funk and Motown records, and playing together on piano, bass, drums and guitar; a family that came together through a shared love of melody and groove, the sonic backbone of his multifaceted work.
It’s an upbringing that Heard describes as key to his early work with synthesizers and drum machines. “I discovered I was a musician, I didn’t become one,” he says. “It’s ingrained into your psyche, from the cradle.” Thirsty for creative freedom while playing drums in bands as a young man, he went solo, electronic – and the ideas that he had bottled up inside him flooded out, writing and recording seminal tracks like “Mystery Of Love” in a single day by working meditatively, rather than analytically. Two favourites of his, the Roland June-60 and the TR-909 drum machine, were played with on the fly: recording to two cassette decks, passing back and forth between takes and tapes; bringing the tactile experience of playing with live instruments in this raw, rapid-fire format.
It’s rare that a figure like Larry Heard sits down for a long public conversation about his work. It’s Native Instruments pleasure, then, to share this beyond the original Belfast audience and with curious fans worldwide.