Up the hill forwards

Steve Jansen Steve Jansen has been an innovator in music technology since the late 70s, first with pop band Japan and then through a series of respected collaborations with the likes of brother David Sylvian and Japanese electronic music pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Brian Runciman interviewed him on his technology views.

I believe your first credit as programmer was on the 1981 Japan album Tin Drum - how different is programming now in the musical area?

Back in those days, programming meant either drum machines or midi data processing. Both were very simplistic methods of introducing more options into recording. These days, the recording itself is entirely computer based and pretty much every musician will have some knowledge of hard disk recording. This is then furthered by the programming of audio data within tracks and sequencing instrumental arrangements, etc. There's very little comparison between what was being done in the 80s and what we do today.

You and record label Samadhi Sound are using a lot of web tools to promote your music. Is this a long-tail approach to keep in contact with existing audiences or are you able to attract new fans?

We always aspire to attract new listeners and the means of reaching a wider audience is made plausible by the internet, however it's never an easy task. We ultimately stick to our own disciplines regarding the material that we put out and we can only hope that that will speak for itself and reach new people in the process. The use of internet resources is simply the way that the music industry in evolving.

BCS has just celebrated its 50 year anniversary. What developments in IT do you think were the most exciting in the music field in that time?

I'd say hard disk recording. Initially this was a costly medium but now anyone that can afford a decent spec laptop has the option to install some professional recording programs and turn out something that, 25 years ago, would have required bank rolling from a major label.

Who inspired you in the electronic and computing elements of your music?

These elements gradually became practical tools that enhanced the work environment, I wasn't particularly being influenced by any other band's efforts. I like to be in control, electronics and computing allow me that. Initially by being the band member that recorded and edited midi-data on albums like Rain Tree Crow as well as all Jansen and Barbieri projects, it meant that I was able to offer musical choices as well as decisions across the entire breadth of the recordings.

And later, as sampling became a practical option, it meant that I could control and edit the rhythm tracks whilst being in the producers chair in the control room which is where you can get much more of a grip on the overall sound and direction of a recording.

There is a lot of collaborating on your first solo album, Slope, was that done electronically? If so, by what methods? How did you find that from a creative viewpoint?

The traditional method of renting a studio and getting 'the' performance on the day can pretty much be considered a thing of the past, as long as the artist is able to self-produce, or at least have a colleague that will help them. Now we can send files to people anywhere in the world and ask them to contribute in their own time. 

Often the results are much better because the artist is able to work on the music when it suits him/her rather than when the date is fixed. 

And, they will often offer up a variety of choices as they have the freedom to express themselves that much more. The process opens doors, people are less inhibited and willing to experiment, confident within their own environment and in the knowledge that they haven't actually committed themselves until the files are sent. it also creates a certain mystique and romanticism that is all too easily lost in the studio environment.

I think that in general people are more comfortable with the written word as a pre-emptive approach to working together (maybe within my age group at least) as it gives you the chance to opt out at any given time. Consequently there is less pressure, more freedom and in the final analysis, a more selective process.

Whose hardware do you find best for music production?

Digidesign Pro-Tools, MOTU Digital Performer and Propellerhead REASON

Who are your influences?

My influences come from personal experiences - I don't follow contemporary music very avidly.

Quick Questions

Mac or PC?
Mac since 1986

BlackBerry, PDA or iPhone?
A regular mobile.

How would you like to be remembered?
I'm not concerned about that at all except as far as family and friends are concerned, in which case they'll have made up their own minds based upon years of experience.

Favourite music software?
Best all-rounder which includes live performance I would go with MOTU's Digital Performer.

Favourite electronic instrument?
Currently those developed by Propellerhead - also the Roland V-Drum and SPD-S as far as drumming is concerned.

Favourite website?
Currently BBC iPlayer.

One piece of careers advice?
Don't use anything off the shelf ... make it your own.

www.stevejansen.com

www.samadhisound.com

March 2008