Carving out a prolific career with aliases such as Raiden, and Dot Product (with Adam Winchester) and running the pioneering Offkey, & Voodoo imprints, Christopher Jarman is an artist that has continuously evolved and refined his sound over the past two decades.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with him for a chat to talk shop about all things music production, and more.
In this interview, we discuss:
- How brutalist architectural principles and dystopian environments have informed his compositions
- Recording the sounds of radiation, tesla coils, swarms of crickets, and other weird and wonderful oddities
- His involvement in NFTs
- Teaching at Catalyst Music Berlin
- His best ‘secret sauce’ production tip that all producers need to know.
Also, check out this killer mix that he’s cooked up for Construct to go along with the read.
How have your production techniques evolved since the early days of Raiden (‘Fallin’ era)?
It’s scary to think that was 20 years ago now. My techniques have massively changed since then, ‘Fallin’ was made on a 400mhz PC that could barely playback 4 tracks at a time, mostly sample-based and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
I’m currently creating music with long chains of hardware equipment, patched into a large format mixing console which gives me a huge amount of routing and gain staging options. I’m using a mixture of modern and vintage synthesizers, sequencers, granular samplers, guitar pedals, and rack effect units.
It’s all centered around building complex signal flows via the desk and patchbay, loosely based on a mixture of performance dub mixing and ‘wall of sound’ shoegaze production techniques.
I really enjoy working this way as it turns the studio into one big interactive musical instrument where I can perform the music as I’m making it, yet be incredibly detailed at the same time.
Your tracks ‘Leyland DAF 45’, and ‘Loose Change’ (to name a few) use a lot of field recordings. Is this something you still actively incorporate into your music?
There’s usually some element of field recording in my music, although I’m mostly into weird synthesizers and effects at the moment. The thing I really like about field recording is you get to leave the studio and interact with the world around you.
I discovered the joys of field recording using unique microphones to capture sounds that the human ear can’t perceive or spaces we could never truly experience such as the internal resonances of objects.
I fulfilled an ambition a few years ago and visited Chernobyl to record the sound of the radiation present there, using a coil pickup microphone that captures electromagnetic sounds, attached to a Geiger counter.
The sound recordings that I captured are incredibly spooky. Halfway through the trip, the microphone started to malfunction, then died towards the end of the trip, that was kind of scary! I plan to do something with these recordings later this year, most likely under an experimental project, under my own name.
Tell us about the resurgence of Offkey Recordings, and the switch up in sound from the quintessential techno drum and bass era of the early 2000s.
After releasing a remix LP, the traditional method of releasing music as a label in 2021 left me feeling a bit cold and uninspired, not to mention financially impossible with issues such as DHL losing half the tapes I sent out, so I had to rethink.
I found myself trying to recapture an era that has long passed and that I have very little interest in nowadays.
Especially with the pandemic, it’s made me rethink what I truly want. Sound-wise, it is hard to go back to exclusively producing to the rules and confines of one particular genre. Genres for me are palettes of styles that can be drawn from and combined to create new things, there’s no coming back from that freedom.
We hear that you’re exploring NFTs… tell us more!
I’ve just partnered with a very interesting and creative NFT platform. I feel NFT is an incredibly creative space and as it’s so new, it has no established rules. It’s no longer about multi-million dollar cat gifs and is now more about creating spaces for artists where you can embark on more elaborate projects.
I believe this is sorely needed right now as we live in a DJ-fuelled landscape with few opportunities for the creators of the music, particularly in electronic music. NFT changes this, there is the opportunity for artists to be totally creative.
It allows an artist to collaborate with other creative disciplines such as visual arts, building concepts that were previously unthinkable. There will be an announcement later in the year regarding OffKey NFT, but what I can say is the contract has been signed.
Brutalist architecture and Chernobyl seem to be big inspirations to you. Do you feel your music is a sonic representation of these dystopian landscapes and themes?
I think dystopian landscapes have always been my main influence as I grew up in the Sci-Fi generation of the 1980s and the tail end of the cold war.
I remember when Chernobyl happened and we weren’t allowed out to play at school, then all these terrifying images started to emerge on the news and documentaries, it really felt like the end of the world to an 8-year-old. This left a permanent impression on me for life.
I like the idea of music taking you to places you’ve never really thought of, only the ones in your imagination. Nowadays, I’m writing music much less for the dancefloor and creating music that’s more designed to be listened to on headphones or 3D Ambisonic sound environments as this is what influences me now.
You’ve been teaching at Catalyst Music Berlin for a while now. Is teaching something you’ve always been interested in?
I fell into teaching by accident. Almost 10 years ago I did guest lectures at DBS in Plymouth and Bristol and also Bath college, and afterward, Bath college asked me to cover lessons which evolved then into a permanent position.
I got offered a job at DBS Berlin, which is now called Catalyst music, where I write and teach about 5-6 workshops a week in subjects such as creative sound design, mixing, and creative strategies.
I find teaching rewarding as I have to constantly learn new things and push my abilities to the limit.
I teach in a way where you learn the rules then break them. I really enjoy seeing students find their own voice, and witness their progression.
I get to spend most days in large fully equipped recording studios trying out new ideas and techniques, which usually find their way into my music, and I get to experiment with gear and spaces I wouldn’t normally get to use.
Can you tell us a KSP ‘secret sauce’ production tip/technique?
Master gain staging and signal flow.
How a signal is moving between your devices greatly influences how it sounds depending on how hot the signal is, and the order that you place these devices play a huge role in making great sounds whether hardware or software. Experiment, have fun and break the rules, you never know what you might come up with.
Music is emotional, you want people who listen to your music to feel something.
Think about not just how to make music but what are you trying to say? What is your story? Let your passions drive your creativity and personal expression.
“The only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers.”
What’s on the horizon for 2022? Any big plans?
Much of my time is spent producing and mixing albums in collaboration with other engineers for other very talented artists, mostly in the musician domain in genres such as jazz, hip hop, and electro-acoustic music.
I recently mixed an album called Contours for Dan Samsa, who is an incredibly talented composer/pianist. They specialize in 360 sound recordings. This will be coming out on R&S/ Apollo this year. I really enjoy mixing, especially from other, more talented artists than myself.
I’m currently finishing up a batch of new tunes which are deeper and more musical than before, mostly a collection of music I’ve been chipping away at during the pandemic.
To be honest I haven’t felt comfortable releasing music during the pandemic and have spent the time self-reflecting on what I want to do next as I’m not getting any younger. As mentioned earlier I will delve into the world of NFTs as my primary focus.
I have a collaboration EP coming up with Cocktail Party Effect which is quite an experimental, glitchy-sounding jungle record. I really enjoy working with him. He’s my best mate. We have a ton of fun in the studio and our skill sets are the polar opposite of each other.
I also have a single coming up on Zehnin records that’s a split between KSP and Raiden.
It’s the same track produced 2 different ways under these 2 aliases. Both these EP’s are pressed and ready to go. There will be another Osiris release including a new Dot Product LP at some point this year plus some remixes for various labels.
Dead Skin Cells is a mind-blowing album, with so much depth and texture. How much effort and time went into creating it?
Thanks, that was my intention! I wanted to create more of a listening experience and Simon Shreeve, who owns Osiris, gave me the platform to do this, which is something I always dreamed of doing.
Simon gave me total creative freedom which is something I’ve never had with a label before. He didn’t even want to hear the album until it was mastered, it was amazing to be given that much trust creating a record like this.
It was a very intense process that took about 2 years to formulate with lots of trial and error. I completely changed my workflow and studio equipment just for this record.
I visited places such as the Estonian Energy Museum to record their tesla coil machine that creates bolts lighting, using a microphone that captures the electromagnetic spectrum on tracks such as ‘Sparks’. And the using real psychical spaces for reverb such as the domes at the Teufelsberg radar in Berlin on the track ‘Dust’.
The biggest challenge was recording crickets which are all over the record if you listen carefully.
Crickets in Germany and Greece are impossible, they go silent when you get near them and somehow have the ability to switch the field recorder off when you are not there (no joke). Luckily I managed to finally capture hours of cricket recording in the Swiss alps as they had no issues being recorded. Fix up crickets!
All this was put together using weird homemade electronics, synthesizers, with a selection of guitar pedals and rack effects in elaborate chains.
When I came to mix the record I used the Trident console at work which gave the album its silky, open sound. I’m fortunate to have access to many resources these days so I wanted to see what would happen pushing all of this to its full potential. Dead Skin Cells was the result.
Describe your mix for us
I wanted to create a journey of various textures, tempos, and time signatures that can be listened to at home, and hopefully, it’s a bit more challenging than a typical DJ set.
I used dub mixing techniques at my studio so I got to use music that wouldn’t normally get to play and let them breathe a bit more instead of smashing tracks together on a DJ set up.
I’ve included music from Autechre, Aphex Twin, FSOL, Cocktail Party Effect, Isa Bassi, and Squarepusher as well as new music from KSP and Dot Product.
I think Raiden – ‘The Firm’ would make for a killer KSP rework. That triple snare has some off-kilter broken-beat techno potential.
I’m glad you noticed the triplet snare, that was the start point which was born from the Ableton live sets I was doing at the end of the 2000s. Many of my tracks from that period were born during live performances and in the studio, but sadly for that reason, no parts exist for most tunes from that period as they were compiled from the multiple versions cut from the live sets.
This was also frustrating for some artists, they thought I was remixing their tunes and withholding them when in fact I was just chewing up the tracks with controllers, Abelton, and a laptop live on stage, they didn’t understand what I was doing.