Deeper listening remains at the axis of DJ, radio host and producer Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy‘s musical pursuits. Learning her craft under the mentorship of Loft Party founder David Mancuso, Colleen went on to apply this to her London-based Lucky Cloud parties, launched in 2003, which prioritise community and, of course, listening —particularly to songs in their entirety.
This idea extends to her weekly Worldwide FM shows, as well as her work with Classic Album Sundays. Started in 2010, these listening events provide a space to listen to and appreciate albums in full — something that can go amiss in a digital climate where we have everything at our fingertips and people’s attention spans are rapidly dwindling.
With a record room and audiophile set up that would make anyone green with envy, Colleen guides us through the gear that she’s accumulated over the years and charts the history of her long-standing love affair with sound.
Colleen will be hosting the next virtual edition of her Cosmodelica House Party live on her Mixcloud this Saturday 20th March.
What’s your musical education?
As a child, I played organ and then piano and also sang as a first soprano. I was able to sight read music very well, but once I got into records and started hosting my first radio show at the age of 14, I realised that was my path. Having a musical education has given me enough chops to write and play some of the parts on my own remixes and productions and has given me the language to communicate with proper musicians.
What was your first ever set-up when you started DJing?
I first started DJing on the radio and had to learn to mix on a radio board which is very different than using a proper DJ mixer because you weren’t able to hear the song you were mixing in when you brought it in from cue to program. It was the school of hard knocks as I had to keep the record ‘in the mix’ but only using the studio speaker monitors – and all this whilst practicing live on air!
Eventually I was able to practice at home after I scraped up enough cash to buy two technics 1200s from the electronics shop right below my apartment in New York City’s Chinatown. In fact, I still have those very same turntables today – they are workhorses! At that time, I was working at the record shop Dance Tracks and somebody brought in a Bozak CMA 10-2DL and Joe Claussell suggested I buy it. Thankfully I did and it’s the only DJ mixer I have ever owned.
What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?
A Teac A-3340 4-trackreel to reel in the early 90s when I was hosting and producing syndicated radio shows. I did all of my editing on ¼-inch tape. Now that’s old school.
Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?
I still have my original two Technic SL-1200MK2 turntables, but they have since been adapted with external power supplies and Jelco tonearms. For DJ-ing I use Audio-Technica cartridges– either the VMN40ML or VMN60SLC which are hi-fi moving magnet cartridges rather than dedicated DJ cartridges. Although the hi-fi cartridges are a bit trickier to use whilst DJ-ing because they track lighter (around 1.8 to 2 grams), I find they are much more musical and have a greater dynamic range. They bring the music to life.
Underneath the turntables are Auralex ISO-Tone Turntable Isolation platforms which absorbs vibrations so that it cannot be transferred to the turntable and hence interfere with the sound. In the rack I have my trusty Bozak which has since been reconditioned and again adapted with an external PSU by Justin Greenslade from Isonoe. Also in the rack is an IMG Stage Line VU meter and a 3-way ‘Cosmodelica Isolator’ custom made in Italy by a retired audio engineer who helps us with the Last Note parties.
There are The Chord Company interconnects throughout, an Audient iD14 sound card, an Audio-Technica BP40 broadcast microphone, MasterSounds record weights, Klipsch Reference bookshelf loudspeakers and Audio-Technica ATH-M70x headphones. It used to be vinyl-only set-up, but toward the beginning of the first lockdown, I succumbed and finally bought one Pioneer CDJ 850 so I would have the opportunity to play digital releases of new music for my weekly live radio shows on Worldwide FM.
Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?
We remodelled the record room a couple of summers ago with custom shelving and a DJ console all in birch plywood so it looks gorgeous. I can feel the ch’i moving around. Everything now has its place and I can accommodate the entire collection! We are so fortunate to have done this prior to lockdown as I have been broadcasting my radio shows live, hosting live Cosmodelica House parties and Classic Album Sundays events all on camera. At the moment we have green screen everywhere, too, so it’s both a radio and TV studio.
What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?
The equipment has been a gradual accumulation, but the redesign of the room was 15 years of mental planning and visualisation. We are so pleased with the results and it feels so good, I also do my yoga in the same room.
Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?
My late friend and mentor David Mancuso warned me of forever chasing the ‘sound cloud’. If you love the sound you have achieved, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
If money were no object what would you add?
An extension to the room so I can buy more records.
You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?
The Bozak as this is the original and best model and I have had it for over 25 years, so it has seen a lot of action.
Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?
I need a moment of quiet by myself before broadcasting or hosting a house party or playing a DJ set – a time to recentre and recalibrate.
What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?
I always have a concept whether it is for a radio show, a DJ mix or a remix. My musical interests stretch far and wide and I don’t have a cookie-cutter sound imprint so I always have an idea as to where I want to go and which sound I would like to achieve.
Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?
Having learnt from my past mistakes, I now know it is always best to have a raw, instinctive approach with any remix or production. If you don’t have the idea and a kernel of inspiration, you end up fighting with it and that never works. Indecision can be the downfall of a production; you have to know when to walk away which is very difficult to do.
Where do you go or what do you do when you have a creative block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?
I go for a walk or a bike ride. Whenever I’m working on a remix I listen to the rough mixes in progress over and over on my headphones whilst having a good stomp around the park. It’s much more inspiring that sitting in a room and it gives me a fresh perspective.
What inspires you outside the world of music?
Nature, the ocean, travel, yoga, books, architecture and art.
What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?
I think we are all excited for live events and festivals and this summer! I can’t wait to both DJ for and dance with other people! I’m also remixing a British band I have admired since I was a teen in the 80’s which is exciting. And on Saturday, the 20th March I’m hosting what I hope will be my last virtual Cosmodelica House Party live on my Mixcloud. One can expect a 5-hour musical journey accompanied by psychedelic visuals and hopefully after this last house party, all of my future sets will be ‘in-person’.
WNYU Photo Credit: Louis Kee.