Morgan McWaters’ incredible synth project WORNG is one of the most unusual live acts to have appeared in Melbourne. From within an inflatable bubble-wrap space suit, McWaters (formerly of Melbourne space disco legends The Emergency) helms his mammoth modular rig on the dance floor like an evil scientist from the future, while a gigantic bubble-wrap techno pyramid gradually inflates onstage (taking exactly the length of the performance to do so). The music is cosmic, dark and beautifully controlled, blending complex layers of sequenced melody, industrial textures and vivid washes of analogue atmosphere. Such levels of showmanship, precision and general nerdery are a rare treat amongst the detached coolness of the Melbourne underground scene. In the lead up to his forthcoming flexi disc release on Metal Postcard Records, we sat down to discuss home-made synthesisers, keeping drunken promises and why live techno is boring to watch.
Noisey: How did concept of WORNG develop?
Morgan McWaters: From boredom. (laughs). I got sick of The Emergency being about performing the songs perfectly. We were always trying to achieve a particular goal with unpredictable gear, and feeling crap if we didn’t achieve it. I wanted WORNG to be more fun, just fucking around exploring the equipment and experimenting.
Can you explain your live rig?
I have a sequencer and sampler which I use as a drum machine, that also sends MIDI to the modular synth, which has a couple of sequencers in it. The voltages from the modular go to my video box thing (that doesn’t have a name), which uses those voltages to move the projected triangle around—leaving a trail of changing colours.
And how much of that did you build?
I built all of the video thing and maybe a quarter of the modular—I built the modules myself and the rest I bought and put in the case—I suppose I…what’s the word...curated those parts into my instrument (laughs).
How did you develop the inflatable suit and sculpture elements as part of your live show?
There was a gig that I played at a dress-up party where I didn’t have time to make a costume. My friend suggested I just wrap myself in this big piece of bubble-wrap, which worked really well as a kind of futuristic cloak. I used that a couple more times, and started thinking about costume ideas in general. I really like the Ernest Hemingway quote: "Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
I was drunkenly telling someone how it would be fun to perform in a sumo suit—my original idea was a suit made out of bubble wrap, like in that Missy Elliot clip for The Rain where she’s wearing a black plastic bag and its all inflated—I thought that would be awesome. Then I realised it would suck to have sticky tape around my wrists and neck every show and then be ripping hairs out and shit.
Actually, technically that would blow.
Haha yeah. Also around that time Penny Modra reviewed The Emergency in Three Thousand and made the comment that my stage performance was the opposite of one of those inflatable plastic guys that waves their arms around in the air outside vacuum cleaner shops. So I thought I could grab that idea and make two big inflatable arms that were attached to my bubble wrap suit. It was cool because whenever I moved around they would sort of wave around.
I remember Matthew Brown at one of your shows attaching your air pump intake to a smoke machine to try and get your suit to fill up with smoke. I was worried you’d think you were on fire.
He tried doing it—it didn’t really work.
And how did that develop to incorporate the giant inflating pyramid you have now?
I was at Camp A Low Hum a few years ago and there was this guy collaborating with Bachelorette who had all these MIDI-controlled robots onstage playing instruments, and he spent most of the show running around fixing them and making sure they kept working. I thought that was cool and started thinking it would be awesome to make a life sized inflatable backline—like amps and a drum kit—that could rise up onstage during my set. Also, I find it quite boring watching people making electronic music a lot of the time. Like, if there’s a dude just standing up on stage playing with a laptop or just tweaking a few boxes. It’s cool fun to do and stuff—but a lot of the time it’s a bit dull to watch. I guess bands can be dull to watch too, but at least with a drummer you can see what they are doing and where the sound comes from. That was also the idea with the projections in my set, to have the visuals controlled by the voltages that are controlling the audio, to try and have more of a connection between what you are seeing and what you are hearing as part of the performance.
It reminds me of those rave installations you used to see in the early 2000s at the height of those massive parties here.
Yeah, people used to dance and look all over the venue. These days Melbourne people just stand around and watch the stage. I played in Adelaide a few months ago – and I made a pyramid for that show out of that silver emergency blanket stuff. It was a tiny little room, like about fifty people or something, with no stage, so I just put the pyramid in the middle of the room. It started inflating, and then people started lifting it up and carrying it around the room and dancing! It was awesome. I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen at all. I think a lot of them were really stoned.
Miles Brown plays the theremin, writes music and yells about things in Melbourne. Follow him on Twitter: @M1le5Br0wn
WORNG’s new flex single/digi album "ARTEFACTS" is due early 2014 on Metal Postcard.