Q&A: Colleen "Cosmo" Murphy On Audiophilia, Secret People Watching And Forcing An Audience To Pay Attention
If an endeavor involves music in some way, Colleen "Cosmo" Murphy probably does it; she's mastered so many different musical endeavors, she's like a musical Danny DeVito. From DJing at her college radio station to spinning with David Mancuso at his fabled loft parties to remixing top-tier bands (under the name Cosmodelica) to running her own label Bitches Brew, she is in the rare class of women who get to call their own shots in an incredibly male-dominated industry. After a stint living in London with her family, she returned to the states a few months agoand she brought her long-running party Classic Album Sundays with her.
You pretty much have the DJ dream resume.
Uhhhh, yeah. Have you ever actually looked at some of the names on there?? Kevorkian, Krivit, Dancetracks, Beedle. Tell us how you got involved with David Mancuso.
A friend of mine from NYU, Adam Goldstone, who was a mod and was into 1960s stuff, got really into house music and started taking me to parties around New York and took me to this place called The Loft. It must have been '91 or '92, right when David had reopened. And of course there's no queue outside or anything to show that there's a party going on in there. And I went in and was completely transformed. The system, the vibe, and the music being played was the deep, psychedelic, emotional, soulful music that I liked in rock music but had just not heard in dance music. I started going every week and I met a record dealer named John Hall there who I started working for, who paid me in records.
Then I started a radio show called Soul School. It must have been '92 when I finally got up the nerve to ask David to come do my show. He never really played outside of The Loft. He's not a DJ. He hosted the party and he selected the music. That's really how he views himself. And he's right; he's not a DJ. We forged a really good friendship and he asked me to do some one on ones with him at his party, so of course I was a nervous wreck. I mean, his cartridges are $2000 apiece and he has no headphones because it's a Mark Levinson preamp, so you gotta know what speed, what cut and cue it by eye. What he did that was so brilliant was to meld a hi-fi with a club PA. It's not a pure audiophile hi-fi, although a lot of the components are, but then the way he uses delays and dividing networks, that's all club PA stuff. Some people have tried to replicate what he does, but he was definitely the first. At his party there's no compressors, no graphic EQ and the preamp that he uses isn't a DJ mixer, it's literally just Phono 1 to Phono 2 with no ability to mix. I think he tried it once in the '70s and didn't think it was for him.
"This mixing thing's not gonna last. It's just a fad. Trust me!"
[Laughs] Well, he wasn't a DJ. He threw rent parties. But he got into the audio thing and started to build up his sound system. That's where I got my education. I've known David now for over twenty years, and he's been my biggest mentor.
So was he the one who made you an audiophile?
I wouldn't say that I'm an audiophile.
I mean... I probably know more than a lot of people, but I wouldn't say that I am. I do events and I try to get a great sound quality across so people can enjoy the music on a deeper level, and at home too. We're not crazy, though, which some people can be about it. Once you get into it, though, you can hear music on a deeper level and hear things you haven't heard before and it's kinda hard to go back.
There's the sonic side of the music and there's also the story side of the music. The first few hours I play music that inspired the record or was inspired by it. So for Kraftwerk it was Silver Apples, Can, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno. But then I bring in a scholar or biographer of the band to tell the story behind the album, and then we play a pre-approved pressing of the album over the hi-fi. There's a lot of people there that know and are there for this album, but there's also a lot of people that just come to the event regardless and may have never even heard the entire record before front to back. So it's important to get the story right to appeal to first-timers as well as having the little tidbits of information for the experts, so that balance is important.
How has the reaction been so far in the States?
Great! I mean, the crowds have obviously been very varied, because you tend to get some people that are there as fans of the album itself and some that are just fans of [the party]. It's a great way to immerse yourself in the music; it's intimate, it's educational, it's experiential, it's emotional.
Yeah, the attention that you force people to pay to the music, in this cell phone age certainly feels different from any other event I've been to.
Yeah it can be funny watching people when the album first starts because they don't know what to do with themselves. Or their hands. Or their face!
[Laughs] To me, it just felt like I was at a friend's house with good music taste and a great system.
That is exactly what it's supposed to be.
Classic Album Sundays celebrates the 45th anniversary of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on Sunday at Bellwether.
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