If you consider that the world’s population is approaching seven and a half billion people, it must mean that there have never been more people making music. Ever-increasing numbers of musicians are distributing music online, which is a wonderful thing for listeners but presents new challenges as traditional models for reaching an audience adapt to the changing media landscape.
Also, you’d expect that for certain percentage of the huge number of emerging musicians there will be a trend toward finding new ways of making music. This is one reason why the releases of Schemawound are fascinating. The Schemawound website states that it “is the solo electronic project by J.Siemasko. Free from the constraints of genre Schemawound is able to evolve and change with every release.”
Jonathan answered questions from Jason Richardson to discuss this musical project. In the interest of disclosure, it’s worth noting they have collaborated in the form of remixing each others’ music.
Q: When did you start making music?
A: I played guitar previously but I really started making my own music in 1995 when I picked up a shareware copy of Scream Tracker 3. I was instantly taken with how much could be accomplished by using just a few samples. I didn’t know much about music theory or how to use the program properly. I didn’t know how to import samples so I would use existing song files and see how far I could get with the same samples. After a year or so I made my first demo tape. I never had the money to register the program so I rendered by playing the tracks and recording onto a cheap boom box.
Q: Which artists have you been inspired by?
A: I think my earliest recordings were very much inspired by Aphex Twin’s album “I Care Because You Do”. A friend had given me a dubbed cassette of the album and it really changed the way I looked at music. The biggest influence on my recordings has always been Autechre especially “Draft 7.30”. Looking into their methods of creation is what eventually lead me to making music through code. Most recently my obsession is Lorn. “Ask The Dust” really stands as a high water mark for recent electronic music.
Q: How has your approach to recording developed?
A: There is currently something of a division in my work, half of my material is beat based and the other half is drone. My earliest material was written in trackers and I have come full circle by creating my beat driven works in Renoise. The workflow between those two is not incredibly different but in the intervening years I have been through a number of different methods.
My drone material is created in the audio programming language Supercollider. It is a good exercise in letting go. Usually this material is more process-based, I create an algorithm that will generate a piece but I do not control every individual event. With my beat-based material I tend to obsessively attempt to control every detail. Recently I have tried to marry the two methods. Many of the tracks on “Heart Removal Kit” have notes and beats with set probabilities. The probability controls the likelihood of a particular note or beat triggering. Each time through the track the computer will generate a slightly different result.
Q: Does writing music with code require a different approach to composition? I’d guess that it shares similarities with recording in that you start with an idea but there are happy accidents too, so is there something that really distinguishing the approach?
A: One big advantage to working with code is it becomes very easy to scale up your ideas. In Supercollider if you wanted to have a particular sound use 200 oscillators instead of 2 it is simply a matter of changing a number. To perform this with a traditional synth plugin would require you setting up many copies of the synth to get the same result. By making it quick to change it keeps the cost of failure very low and invites play and experimentation.
The other big advantage to me is being able to set up processes with some degree of randomness. For many modern musicians the act of creation is a completely solitary craft. By providing a degree of randomness you can treat the computer as a collaborator rather than just a tape recorder. Allow yourself to be inspired and surprised when things take a turn you did not expect.
Q: What do you like about drone, both as a listener and a composer?
A: As a listener I enjoy it as a form of music that has no expectations or demands. What I get out of a particular track varies greatly based on my mood at the time and what I choose to focus on. As a composer I find it an interesting exercise in letting go of control. In my more traditionally structured compositions I tend to edit and micromanage every detail. Many of my drone based works are algorithms that transform between two states. I design where things will start and end but leave room to be surprised by the things that occur in between.
Q: Do studio techniques drive your compositions? Are there times when you’re keen to use a technique and will find a project to utilise it?
A: Many of my tracks start off from some form of studio experiment or other. I will start testing out a particular concept and after a certain point the sound of it will start to dictate the direction it needs to move in.
Q: You came to my attention through the Junto. Aside from an audience, what have you gained from those activities?
A: The ability to move quickly and trust your instincts. The Junto has a four-day time limit on each weeks assignment. Due to my schedule and the time frame I usually have at most four hours to put into a Junto piece. There is a certain magic in not overthinking or obsessively editing with no deadline. I much prefer some of the pieces I created in that manner to others that I have put 20+ hours into.
Q: One thing that’s embedded in the Junto process is the use of Creative Common licensing. Does Creative Commons inform your work at some level? What sort of derivative works have you produced? Do they use Creative Commons?
A: I’ve done some derivative work through the Junto but more often than not it is the other way around. By licensing my music to allow derivative works it has allowed my material to live on far beyond it’s original intended purpose. One of my earliest albums was later reworked into several different albums by other artists and used in numerous videos. It is satisfying to provide something that is available to the artistic community as a whole.
Q: One thing I’d like to understand is your experience discovering that your Creative Commons-licensed material was used commercially. I got the impression through our exchanges and on social media that you had to think through a number of issues relating to your own enjoyment in producing music and how it is distributed.
A: I’ve had very mixed results with my material being used. I had an incident where I was requested to use a song in a “small fashion film” to later find out it was a film for the YouTube channel of a multi-million dollar corporation. On the flip side I’ve found my work used in a lot of interesting projects that helped to visualise my music in a new light. In the long run I try not to think about the financial aspect of my art too much. I am happier to separate my work from my art.
Q: Working outside of a record label means that you’re not pigeonholed into producing more of the same and you’ve experimented in different areas. How has this liberated your creative output?
A: I made a decision when I created Schemawound that I would release all of my solo material under the same name. As long as each individual album had a reasonable internal logic it would be included in the project. Too often I see artists creating a new side project for each aspect of their personality. The most interesting thing is seeing where the most divergent of my tastes are forced to co-exist within the same track. My previous projects often had distinct divisions and it lead many projects not getting finished due to waning interest. By breaking down these barriers it freed me to move outside my comfort zone and combine ideas. If the audience has narrow expectations about a project it is very easy to disappoint them when you move beyond what you have previously done.
Q: So, without the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ in the form of A&R at record companies, there’s a different approach to producing albums. I’m curious how you decide what to release because it seems like you sometimes make this decision based on workflow.
A: All my album decisions are based around track flow rather than workflow. I am constantly producing song fragments without any sort of plan for them. After a while I will be able to catch a thread where some of the pieces seem like they belong together. I will simultaneously flesh these pieces out while also creating new music. At this point I work on everything within the context of the full album. When making decisions about a particular track I try to think about it’s role in the album.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on how to reach an audience in a crowded market?
A: I am unsure how my work has gotten the attention it has. The parts of it I am able to understand all seem to point back to community. Get to know others who are creating similar work, support their releases, collaborate, contribute to community projects and share your knowledge.
“Heart Removal Kit” is available as a free download from here.