For the second Studiowerk feature, I sit down with Jonathon Bierman in his Vancouver studio space:
Give us a background of yourself and take us into your involvement in the electronic music scene when you were starting out in Vancouver.
I had a whole other period of development before I came to Vancouver. I started making music using computers in 1997. Then in 1999 or 2000 I was in a live drum’n’bass band called Keiretsu. We were together for 8 years or so and I toured around the UK with them. I was in this other production outfit called Beamer Grande, and we would make this crazy pop music. I was also working with other singer-songwriters to record their demos doing engineering and production for them.
I arrived in Vancouver in 2009 and wanted to get involved in the scene, but didn’t know anyone. Musically I had nothing really going on and I went through a phase of about 8 months or so where I didn’t know anybody and felt disconnected. The very first thing that happened to me, as Dark Arps, was Sequential Circus #7 which was in the summer of 2010. I got that gig totally by accident, just dumb luck really. So big thanks to Drew Smith & Rich Hamakawa for that.
After that I started getting involved with Soundproof. I was doing engineering for crews, some PA work. But really, I wasn’t performing that much at all. I was resolutely refusing to DJ at the time just because there was a lot of DJs, So yeah I just had a thought it might be way more legit if I was a live PA only guy.
Then Groundwerk came along about a year ago, and there was also The Producer’s Forum. There is the educational stuff I suppose that I've been leaving out which is something else I've been doing for a while. I’ve done workshops as well. I was around the Producers Forum with Adam Atma and giving presentations. And I’ve been making tutorial videos, which I’ve been meaning to make more of. There has definitely been an educational side of things I've been doing pursuing.
Describe the creation process of one of your favourite pieces or something you’re currently working on.
Sure. In the old style, the only hardware I would’ve had when I first came to Vancouver was the Virus, a soundcard, just the laptop.
I work in MIDI. I work as much in MIDI as possible because I'm a control freak and I like to have the most amount of control over the sound. So, to my mind, MIDI playing back samples or synthesizers is more controllable than moving audio objects around in the arrangement window. I can see it as quite a fast way of working, but with MIDI you can assign an almost unlimited number of modulations to that certain note. So I like the working in MIDI to have the most supreme level of control.
And then, for me, separation is super important so in every single synth. Routing virtual outputs to separate tracks in Logic. That's how I’ve always worked.
But to speak quite honestly, I don't do a lot of processing on sounds. I tend to kind of adhere to a standard of working that I like to have my sounds sound the way they do as close to the source as possible. In other words, this is exclusively through the synthesis design of the patches. That’s what I want to get my sounds like for the final result. I'd rather dial-in that sound at the source. And then that, and the combination of the correct mix of those sounds compared to everything else is what creates the effectiveness. I want to keep it simple as possible. I supposed it’s a purist attitude in me.
Basically, I’m using the lovely pieces of hardware that I have now with the world of software plug-ins.
You’ve been doing this for a while now, what would you say is something you wish you knew back then that you know now?
I almost want to say ‘everything’ <laughs>
Remember the power of minimalism in the context of club music. The other reason it’s important is from a technical and pragmatic perspective: lots of sound systems suck balls and a lot of acoustic spaces that are used for raving environments suck. Productions that don’t have a ton of saturation in the upper mid-range are typically the tracks that do well in those types of environments.
Of course you're tastes change over time. But I do think, objectively speaking, I was doing it wrong when I was younger. But that's not say that it was wrong for me to be doing it like that, you have to do that to learn. I was really making the music that I felt like making with not a lot of regard for the technical aspects. Those things didn’t occur to me when I was young. I was in a band, having fun, loving the visceral feel of making music but not really understanding the technical side. But I don't think it matters that it takes a long time. It's totally the journey that matters.
Do you have any final words?
Keep making art are my final words. And don’t forget about the pleasure that it can bring you and the power that it has to lift you out of a dark time. That’s certainly what has been the best for me. There’s nothing more effective than making art, and validating your worth in this world, so don’t ever forget that.