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Interview with Offthesky / Jason Corder

img  Tobias

Your release "Form Creek" on Term takes field recordings of your immediate surroundings as its basis. How much is your music in general influenced by the fact that you live in Kentucky?
Well I think that every place has it's own ambient energy to offer the sensitive and seeking artist. I often find myself trying to explore new strange spaces just get some kind of residual idea or inspiration - I feel there are colorful ghosts in every corner of the universe and they all have something to pour through an open mind.
It wasn't until the last couple years ago that I started researching this area of the world. Kentucky has a strange sort of creative energy that is it's own prolific animal who's claws have sunk and left scars in the fabric of social culture throughout recent recorded history. We've had a slew of bloody family feuds of which the last long standing one just finished about a year ago through the signing of a government forced treaty. We've also managed to globally brand our own drink - bourbon, and our own strong style of music: Bluegrass. So you can see that there is a strong vibration of human inspiration that exists here.
Form creek was in some ways an attempt to explore into this; or at least a study on how to be open to receiving natural feedback. Honestly I feel that the great movement of earth under the Appalachian mountains that has been forming the face of the North American east coast for the last thousand plus years is cause for all this concentrated creative movement here. To answer your question, I don't think form creek would exist if I had lived any where else...

Were you born in Kentucky? Was this prolific animal part of your growing up as a child?
Yeah i was born here and have lived here most of my life save a couple years in college (Florida) and a couple years in California. Lexington is so super cheap to live right now; it's easy to have a lot more time to devote to being an artist here with less worries...
Growing up, I was always getting into trouble because I was dissecting and experimenting with the physical world around so that meant i was always making a mess of things, quite literally. I think I experienced a huge deconstructionism phase for most of my youth - I think I was the prolific animal to my parents...

So after your deconstructionist phase was over - what made you "start your research into this area of the world"?

Oh i still do deconstruction a bit... But it's more like a planned demolition sort of thing. To the point though, I think the awareness and study of chaos theories mixed with a theory of mine that the weather dictates much of our human reality on this planet indirectly drove me to a road of focusing in on a specific physical location and ideas surrounding this place. I guess at some point, everybody has to explore their roots a bit in order to know where to allow their future trees to grow... And lately I've been soaking in composer John Luther Adams' book 'Winter Music' about nature vs sound all the while listening to a bit of modern Bluegrass such as Ron Whitehead... Besides all this study being a personal evolution, I think it will whittle my style a bit down into a realm of experimental Bluegrass...

Were there eye-opening concerts which played a role in your musical development?

One of the oldest memories I still contain after all the mental bludgeoning of my rave/electronic music experience is of Plastikman coercing the crowd for almost 8 hours deep in the woods somewhere out west. It was quite an education inside and out of the brain that gave me some really useful hints for manipulating the psychology of a larger group of people using sound. Also, hearing Mitchell Akiyama and Tony Boggs doing their desormais thing back in the 'climate variations' stage made a huge impact on the direction of my production - their sound had such a free formed; open ended noisy atmospheric spin; it carved up a huge run of possibilities in the dangerous kitchen of my mind.
But the most unforgettable performance was Robert Henke's 8 channel surround set of 'Studies of Thunder' at Mutek a few years back. He also has some really amazing sound installations that take noise to a higher level of thinking. Since every musical idea has seemingly been done then it seems that an impressive experience is about all an artist can offer the public anymore; I think that the marriage of video and sound mixed with a unique space is about all that can offer the ability to move people during a concert; aside from certain chemicals...

I gather from this that you're listening to a wide array of music ...

Definitions, especially in music, are fickle, subjective, crutches that wobble with the weird cycles of hyper pop culture. But they are ideal so that everyone can relate to the experience of art (and so that writers don't starve to death). But music has become such a vague planet that carries a cloud coverage of confusion in relating its definitions.
If the world was perfect then perhaps everyone would simply accept that "all performances with sound constitute MUSIC". Then perhaps we could eliminate all those embarrassing genre titles like I.D.M. or painful hybridizations like christian-ambient-gangsta-tronica. And then perhaps we could just classify music as good, bad, or wtf!?
Seriously, the defining boundaries in music can't be dissolved until they are fully understood. musicians should listen to all forms of sonic creation but especially to the sounds of the world outside. Those are perhaps the only pure sources from which to create a language that extends beyond the cages of categorization...

So do you listen to field recordings a lot? Or do you find this aspect of "canning" the outside world and fixing it on a piece of silicone contextualises it again?
Sure, anybody can take a mic outside on a rainy day or whatever, sit there for 30 minutes then try and call it art. Sonic sculpturists should at least put some sweat into their work or knit together a witty array of unique movements (field recorded or no) before they dub it special. There's just too many half-assed, generic field sounds serving as filler on records.
A few great examples of composed or layered field recordings are on the Pink Floyd's record 'Several Species of Small Furry Animals...'; much of Tony Oxley's live performed/recorded material; Kit Clayton has created some interesting mash-ups of field sounds mixed in with processed noises; Bill Fontana is another amazing artist synonymous with live naturally derived sound installations. I always try and spin something rather interesting with my own fieldings to put them into a personal context...
Right now I'm a big fan of the freesound project and it's massive collect of field sounds, generic or interesting... It's quite a hay stack of the good, bad, and ugly - occasional something amazing pops up and that's kind of the fun; like digging through an old record store.

How concretely are some of these field recording inspirations for new tracks of yours?

I don't usually intend to ever rely mainly on field recordings. Even though the sounds outside are some of the most perfect and amazing sonic sculptures in the universe, when it comes to composing, field recordings are more like an another instrument in the orchestra for me. However, there are sometimes unusually superb field recordings that come about and most easily get to play a principle role in a song (where all the other songs play off it). Though I may study or focus in on a particular instrument or concept during record writing process, I won't ever rely on any one sound like a crutch - at that point I feel my music would become too predictable and thoughtless like allot of predominant field recording records are for me.

Let's get back to a point you mentioned earlier, though: The influence on weather on human reality. In how far do natural processes and phenomena (such as sun, rain, wind cloud movement) provide you with ideas regarding the structure of a piece of music?

I think there are two levels at which this outside influence of weather can affect art: Physically and psychologically. In the more mental sense - say when it's cold, I'll stay inside and work the winter day away. Oppositely, when the sun is shining, it's much more conducive to meander around outside collecting samples and film for the nasty days ahead. I believe this to be a simple pattern that many artists and people in general adhere too - at least I don't know of too many that like to work outside on their laptops in the snow. Also, there's the second angle which would be directly using various aspects of physical atmospherics to effect the artwork - i.e. via sensors and other data collection means: One can take samples of the movement of pressure, temperature, light, humidity. I've used an "arduino" board in the past with various connected sensors to create a literal "data" influence on the music. There's also the subjective (and more fun) route which I often like to take: Just sitting with a glass of bourbon and starring at the constantly evolving sky to find new ideas.

After the bourbon has kicked in, what do you usually start with when composing?
Typically one of two ways - I either pick up and start doodling on one of my main instruments (Vibraphone, Guitar, Piano, Foot-Pump-Organ), or I'll catch my self making a song in the midst of experimenting with Reaktor, Audiomulch, or some new facet of software that I haven't explored yet. I sometimes liken to cleaning the entire house with a new album on in the ipod before feeling a certain mental release to work on some substantial artwork - I call this 'working up to work'.

Do you usually finish the outlines of a track in one session?

Well I at least like to get a song to a strong point before putting it to sleep for the day - this typically takes about 4-6 hours. Some days longer depending on how many mental distractions are floating about. But as long as a piece sticks in my head, i.e. with a catchy melody or rhythmic structure, I'll remember it and get back to it. If I forget that I even created a sketch to begin with, I'll probably never get back to it. There's a tight-knit relationship between short term and long term memory.
Some days when I'm bored, I'll wade through the dozens of junk yard pieces mining for samples hoping to not let any sound or energy spent go to waste. Conjuring random approaches really helps keep the work fresh and exciting. For a while I was obsessed with the special acoustics of a space so I couldn't record unless I was in a different environment each time. Another phase was to work with a set of dice to help stear the course of a track. There was of course the atypical 'make a whole record from a 1 second white noise burst'... But ultimately the trick is to create and break rules - much like John Cage touted.
Specifically a song starts with one idea (i.e. a sample, inspirational idea, acoustic instrument melody, etc.), then grows from there - adding and subtracting (I delete allot of a song before I'm finished with it). Being tuned to new possibility and understanding the capabilities of the software to be able to execute and bend ideas in a fluid fashion is a key facet. Also, being able to remember an idea long enough to work through the technical mud to manifesting it in a reality is much of the battle - that is a practice makes perfect kind of situation.

On the one hand, your music is electronic. On the other, collaboration like the ones with Beta Two Agonist or Billy Gomberg, make extremely effective use of the natural timbres of non-amplified instruments. What, to you, are the benefits and interesting aspects of these two worlds?
Probably a sense of healthy chaos when putting the two together. The tones that come out of electronic instruments are often predictable and trite however if used wisely in the correct context, they can help get great points across. acoustic instruments have ruled the music world for all of recorded history - no laptop will ever one-up that!

To people calling Synthesizers "unnatural", Klaus Schulze would always reply: Violins don't grow on trees either. What he meant to say, was that acoustic instruments are inventions of the human mind as well. So what makes their sound qualities so appealing to you?
Acoustic instruments have so much more room for sonic variation than many software Synths (and even analog Synths). They shift and contract with the seasons, their tonal quality blossoms with age and often, as a musicians hold them close as they play, the instrument vibrates beneath the skin aiding sentimental attachments to form. That's not to say one can't grow emotionally attached to a laptop - however I think a breathing, tempermental, acoustic instrument has much more of a chance to tug on a human's heart string than a hunk of silicon. On a personal level I think having a completely open mind in exploration of all forms of sound making device useful whether it be a soft Synth or a hard melting block of ice. Though in the end, I will always be most in love with my Guitar!

Is this also why you keep releasing in physical formats with exquisite packages like the ones on Experimedia, Home Normal and Symbolic Interaction, even though you are very much open to completely digital albums as well?
I think most every artist thrives off some form of sharing their work with an audience. The free net audio scene is the perfect platform for this humble form of giving and receiving of underground recognition. There's also something challenging and rewarding about working with labels with the benefit of their promotional connections, financial backing, and sometimes their spotlight effect.  But considering my personality, I think eventually I will stick to producing and releasing all my material solo for free or as digital/limited edition CD release...

Is it rather a question of coincidence what ends up on a physical storage medium and what gets released digitally or are you producing with the format already in mind?

I always want to produce with a challenging quality level that I feel meets physical release standard though I really want for people to be able to enjoy the music no matter what! So what doesn't get put out via CD, gets released eventually for free. And now since several of my earlier label/CD contracts are expiring, I'm working to evolve those physical releases to be put out via good old net audio labels...

Your release on thelandof correlates with your Term-EP. It worked great from my point of view. Do you see that as a route to pursue in the future, of physical and digital formats mutually enhancing and enriching each other?

I think the free digital release works perfect in promotional effect for physical releases - it's all about timing. i.e. if a net audio release can come out slightly before a physical release, it can really help bring allot of attention to the cd release. As far as the psychological nature of the audience, from what I've noticed, there is definitely proof of symbiotic relationship between the free digital release aiding and abetting the success of a physical release. People hear, read about, and like something for free - they often want the related article of art.

As mentioned earlier, you have collaborated with artists like Billy Gomberg, Beta2Agonist, Darren McClure and Sarah Chung of lately. What are they able to bring to the offthesky sound?

Most immediately for me, they bring a sense of randomness - ergo: ideas that I wouldn't have even begun to dream up on my own. It's a rewarding exercise bouncing off of other minds. It's often challenging requiring humility, compromise and patience. In the end it helps me grow and evolve as an artist. But most importantly, I have gained many awesome life-long friends in the process, even though I haven't even met many of them in person!

I recently mailed with Ian D Hawgood who included you in a list of artists whom he felt strongly related to, who were not necessarily selling millions of records, but being considered influential within a small, but extremly dedicated niche. Would you agree?

I certainly agree with Ian and really do enjoy the humility and non-ego driven nature of the underground scenes we are thrivingly a part of. Even if I were to fall into fortunes of a higher level of fame by the spotlight of some larger lable, I would still produce and release for free regardless - I will always want to give back to the global underground community in some way; there's peace and creative freedom in that.

By Tobias Fischer

As Jason Corder:
Microcosmos LP (Thinner) 2004
thepresentday (Practising Nature) 2006
Autunno (Practising Nature) 2007
Further To Find Closer/ w. Beta2Agonist (Databloem) 2008

As Offthesky:
Cold Distances (dataObscura) 2003
Studies Of Lifeform In Transit (Autoplate) 2003
Caustic Light EP (Autoplate)    2005
Gently Down The Stream (Databloem) 2005
It Is Impossible To Say Just What I Mean (Stilll) 2005
We All Fall Down (dataObscura) 2006
Cumulae Movement (Autoplate) 2007
Form Creek (term) 2007
Rare Decay (Resting Bell) 2007
The Geist Cycles (Databloem) 2007
!Escape Kit! (Somnia) 2008
Creek Caught Fire (The Land of) 2008
Dwelling Spells (Zymogen) 2008
Evolute Of An Ion Apple (SEM Label) 2008
Subtle Trees (Rope Swing Cities) 2008
Fluorescence (Tokyo Droning) 2009
Flyover Sound/ w. Billy Gomberg (Experimedia) 2009
On Aerial Archetype (Archipel) 2009
Suspended/ w. Darren McClure (Symbolic Interaction) 2009
Hiding Nature (Home Normal) 2010

Offthesky / Jason Corder

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