Founder of The Human League, Heaven 17, British Electric Foundation. 40 year career as record producer. Founder of Illustrious and 3D soundscape designer/composer.
Born in 1956 in Sheffield, UK. After leaving school worked in computers for 3 years, in 1977 formed The Human League. Formed production company/label British Electric Foundation in 1980 and formed Heaven 17 the same year.
Martyn has written, performed and produced two Human League, five BEF and nine Heaven 17 studio albums. As record producer and artist has featured on recordings totaling over 50 million sales worldwide - producing Tina Turner, Terence Trent D’Arby, Chaka Khan, Erasure, Marc Almond and Mavis Staples, etc.
Founded Illustrious Co. Ltd. with Vince Clarke in 2000 to exploit the creative and commercial possibilities of their unique three-dimensional sound technology practice in collaboration with fine artists, the performing arts and corporate clients around the world. He also lectures extensively on music production, technology, and creativity at universities and colleges across the world. He has just been appointed the first ambassador for the international NGO In Place Of War, and is a board member and trustee for the charity Street Sports Hope in Sierra Leone. Martyn is proud to be a supporter of artist’s rights, and is also a proud socialist and international activist, helping to fight oppression and injustice worldwide.
Martyn is also…
- Principal of Tileyard Education
- Visiting Professor and Honorary DSC at C4DM at Queen Mary College, University of London
- Member of the Advisory Board for Queen Mary College, University of London, Doctoral Training Centre in Digital Music & Media for the Creative Economy
- Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts
- Visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art
- Visiting lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
- Fellow of the Academy of Urbanism
- Voting member of BAFTA
- Founder member of 5D (a US based organization promoting future development of immersive design).
- Member of the Writer’s Guild of America
- Ex- board member of Featured Artists Coalition
- Impact Assessor on the Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts sub-panel of the Research Excellence Framework 2014
- Member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Versita – open-source publishers
- Patron of the Sensoria Festival, Sheffield
- Patron of Small Venues Network
- Ambassador for In Place Of War
- Board Trustee of Street Sports Hope charity
- Practitioner In Residence at Central St Martins School, UAL
Why do you make music?
A very good question – it has become my career and therefore my means of survival, but predominantly I make music as a compulsion or artistic vocation. I rarely work solely to commercial brief, without an understanding that a client is ‘buying into’ my artistic vision. Music is so much interwoven with my sense of self-worth that I can no longer determine what is my character without reference to it. I go through periods where I feel no love or compulsion to create music at all, but this normally only lasts for a short time. In a nutshell I find it increasingly easy to make music, and I’m normally very happy with the outcome.
What music do you make?
I make popular music with traditional song structures, predominantly for Heaven 17 and British Electric Foundation – both recorded and live arrangements – more interestingly (for me) is the three-dimensional soundscapes I create for my company Illustrious, featuring a range of applications – large scale urban installations, performative (Theatre, Ballet, etc.), museums, retail, heritage plus many others.
How do you make music?
Technically speaking, I use traditional recording techniques in my studio, mainly DAW based composition (Logic Pro X) – also create 3D soundscapes using our proprietary software called 3DAudioScape – conceptually I usually work alone in my studio – primarily in my meditative/lucid dreaming mode – I believe strongly in following my subconscious, and trying to interfere as little as possible with the intuitive flow of ideas – much of this is down to confidence born of 40 years of production and compositional experience.
Is any of your sound-based work not ‘music’ as such and, if not, what is it?
I would regard everything I do as under the banner of ‘music’, although much of it features a wide variety of content and styles – ambient, electronic, natural, sound design, magic realist, spoken word, abstraction, impressionism, expressionism, sonic muralism…
How do you describe yourself (e.g. are you a performer, a composer, a technologist, an engineer, some combination of these or, indeed, something else) and why?
I am all these things – I believe that this is a necessary state of affairs in the contemporary musician’s world. My unique path and experience has led to a broad ranging and diverse appreciation of sound composition as a holistic part of the greater experiential and synaesthetically-informed whole. I suppose soundscapist or sonic muralist are my favourite descriptors.
What is the cultural context for your work - how are you inﬂuenced by music from other cultures or the other arts?
My influences have always been extremely eclectic, even from an early age. I’m lucky enough to have travelled widely and to have a broad appreciation of the world of musical expression across multiple cultures – I don’t believe in the Western-centric view of musical expression. Also, I try to experience and absorb all kinds of artistic expression as it informs my work in a myriad of ways.
What skills and attributes do you consider to be essential for you as a musician?
Confidence, persistence, imagination, constant refreshment of influences, salesmanship, bravery, patience and a degree of randomness.
How do you establish an identity as a musician in the digital age?
It is increasingly difficult for younger, inexperienced creators to make a living in this current digitally-driven economic environment – my one major worry is that young people are so beaten down by economic imperatives that they become followers rather than leaders – but this is easier said than done. There are many more people making music now – having confidence in oneself to have an artistic vision and follow it through is the greatest challenge (and gift) of all.
What are the most important things a musician can do to develop a distinctive portfolio?
Diversity – avoid imitation if possible, but experiment with recombining influences – and most importantly I always tell people who ask for advice to make a constant effort to get outside of their own personal confirmation-bias comfort zone.
Do you have any other useful or relevant things to say about being a musician in the digital age?
Do not rely on your immediate peers’ opinion of your work – get out into the real and potentially dispiriting world of public critique – be brave – it’s the only way that you’ll find your own voice and style.