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Alex MacKinnon - musical power

Alex MacKinnon - musical power


Alex Mackinnon developed his love for music at a young age; he started playing violin at age 4, and then quickly moved on to the piano. He recalls his childhood bedroom not having curtains, so when the sun woke him up at 5am he would practice piano for hours before going to school.

As with most kids, at a certain point playing sports started to sound much more appealing than music, so MacKinnon gave up piano. Fortunately, he had parents who realized his musical talent, forced him to continue to stay involved. To spite them, he chose to play drums.

Mackinnon learned to play drums alone in his basement by playing along to Rage Against the Machine's self-titled album. He found influence in 311, Tony Williams and James Brown, among others.

Getting a car and license opened up new worlds for Mackinnon, who grew up in Rockland County (about 20 miles north of the city):  "All of a sudden I had this incredible resource at my fingertips- you can walk into any venue in NYC and hear world-class music."

Hearing James Brown was what promoted MacKinnon to learn how to play jazz music, though it wasn't until he went college at the Music Conservatory at SUNY Purchase that he really started to play jazz with other people. MacKinnon chose to study jazz because he wanted to broaden his expressive ability; by improving his technique, he hoped to become a more effective communicator.

"I want to be able to scream and to whisper and to laugh... Any sound that I can think of I want to be able to make," says MacKinnon.

Attending the music conservatory at SUNY Purchase exposed him to an incredible community of like-minded artists, many of whom he is still in-touch with and plays with regularly. Along with an amazing jazz education, MacKinnon counts this vast network of musicians and artists of other disciplines among the things that he gained from his Purchase education. MacKinnon is a founding member of the Hoover Dam Collective and continues to be an integral part of the Collective almost 4 years later as a performer, collaborator and organizer.

Music has also helped MacKinnon cope with certain obstacles. After being badly burned at age 16, he had to spend a considerable amount of time in a rehab undergoing intense physical therapy.

"Being taken away from my instrument for so long was absolutely devastating" he recalls.

A moment that was life-changing for him in his process as a musician was going to see his favorite band at age 17. He had been cooped up in physical therapy and unable to go see live music and his parents took him out to the city to see 311. Being able to experience live art was such an incredible high after being confined for so long. 

"It was this sense of euphoria, this amazing freedom," says Mackinnon. "Being able to recreate that for someone else is all that I strive for as a musician." 

Having such an intense attachment to music can also be quite daunting. 

Because the drums are such a physical instrument, there are times when Alex finds himself taken away from his instrument; for example after a surgery. As a drummer, losing the physical ability to play can feel very much like losing one’s voice. However, MacKinnon knows that music will always be there for him whether he is playing or just listening, and this knowledge is incredibly comforting.

"Sometimes I forget to listen to music, and then I'll put on Marvin Gaye or Coltrane and I'll remember, 'oh, this is medicine.’”

Article By: Theo Boguszewski

Photography By: Alexander Jorgensen

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