Kodomo Interview

by Jesse Sussman

JUNE 24 2014

I recently sat down with Kodomo—the moniker of Brooklyn-based and Emmy-winning composer Chris Child—who was gracious enough to spare a few moments between putting the final touches on his third full-length release, Patterns & Light. Over a lunch of authentic (and delicious) Japanese ramen just blocks away from his Williamsburg studio, we spoke of his forthcoming record, musical background, and production process. Patterns & Light is currently available for pre-order before it's released independently on July 22.

Ten Million SoundsDo you think the influence of your travels has found its way into your music?

Kodomo: Absolutely. Whenever I travel, I always carry a little recording device I use to capture sounds that interest me. Often, when I’ve recorded stuff in a particular country it’ll be something you couldn’t get anywhere else—at some point, a percentage of it will find it’s way into my music. I also think being in a physical environment and in a particular culture informs your experience in ways you can’t really define or put into words. It leaves an impression, and those impressions definitely get translated into the music I make.

On that note, you recently moved into a new studio. Do you think that adjustment has given your music quite a new focus?

Absolutely. My new studio is on a great block in Williamsburg close to all the essentials to keep me energized; good lunch spots, coffee shops, the water front, and yoga!

I think that the space that you work in completely affects your mindset; it influences my mood and my ability to focus. I feel like there is a direct link between what is happening in my mind and the physical environment... I want to minimize my distractions. 

What’s your daily routine like?

I like to keep a consistent schedule, and go in daily at the same time.  If I’m working on an album or music project like a film or a remix, I try and carve out two to three hour blocks of time dedicated to just working on that.

Do you take breaks in the studio or do you lock yourself in?

Of course, you have to take breaks. At least every two hours I take a break, and then I’ll take one long lunch break, at least an hour.

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Let’s talk about your new record, Patterns & Light. I saw in the past that you talked about using photographs and field recordings as conceptual starting points for your music.  Has that process has changed for your third album? Are you using photographs like you did for Still Life, or are you using field recordings—how are you getting inspired?

For Patterns & Light, the inspiration came from sampling classical pieces of music on vinyl that I had amassed over the years. Having grown up with a lot of classical music, and playing classical piano, I had always wanted to find a way for some of these pieces to make there way into my electronic music. I began sampling some vinyl, and discovered all these little patterns in the pieces that could be looped; sometimes just ¼ of a bar. I would then take these bits and process them, and edit the parts that had something special to them. Each loop had a distinct mood to it, and these short loops served as the impetus for which I built the rest of the track on.

You’ve mentioned in the past that Logic is your main production software, is that still the case?

Yes, I’ve been using Logic for probably—oh I’m really going to date myself now—since, like, the ‘90s [laughs].

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You clearly have a lot of analog gear. What do you think the balance is between digital and outboard sounds on the new album?

I’d say 60/40. 60 percent computer, 40 percent analog, outboard gear.

What’s your favorite piece of gear?

That’s a tough one… but I really love the Moog Voyager.

Was there a specific record that got you into making music?

A few come to mind… Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine was a big one. I still think it’s an amazing record and at the time the production was really cool and inventive. Depeche Mode’s Violator is up there, along with Boards of Canada’s record Music has the Right to Children.

Your Still Life record had a beachside atmosphere, but still a warm, gritty edge. Frozen In Motion was a little more industrial and darker. How would you stylistically describe the new record, Patterns & Light?

It’s kind of a mix of German Electro, Dub, and IDM. Overall, it’s a dark and moody record; some tracks get pretty epic and others are more spacious.

When you start a track—like you did for the new album—do you say, I want to have it fall in this guideline or this genre that I’ve become somewhat known for, perhaps a kind of harder-style IDM, or do you let your curiosity take the reigns?

I let my curiosity and my interests of the moment dictate the inspiration of the album. Stylistically, I think about where I want to go and try to stick with it.  It helps me to keep focused and keeps the album from straying down a wrong path, and there is still plenty of room for variety there.

How much do you think your theory-based background influenced your music?

It’s definitely made an impact and I think I’m unconsciously influenced by it. To me, music theory is a strategy to help focus and guide my process. I’ve always been drawn to music that has a natural logic to it. There is something really satisfying in hearing that logic play out. It’s like a good novel; everything happens for a reason. Theory can come in handy when I get stuck, but of course it still doesn’t guarantee anything.

Where did you get your engineering background?

I studied sound design and music engineering in college, but most of what I learned were the theory concepts. I learned how to mix because I wanted to mix my own music, and I wanted it to sound really good; as good as the records I was listening to. And I was frustrated that it wasn’t. So I spent a lot of time in the studio experimenting with synthesizers, EQs, compressors, and various plugins to familiarize myself with how I could use them to get the sound and effect I wanted. I was also fortunate to work with a few amazing engineers, and I picked their brains and asked them a lot of questions. I wouldn’t consider myself a mix engineer by profession or trade. I’m a composer, but I know enough to know how I want to mix. And I’m continuing to learn. Each record I work on, I want it to sound better. The production is very important to me.

So you mix it all yourself and then you send it out to mastering?

Yes. I’m not at all interested in doing my own mastering. At that point I’m so exhausted that it’s just like... I don’t want to listen to it anymore. [laughs]

What we've said so far might seem daunting to new producers. To someone who’s just trying to start out and has this long road ahead of them, what advice would you give?

Develop an attitude of consistency and keep a long term view. Start simple. Start by having some fun. That’s the reason you’re doing this. Pick one instrument or program, learn some basics, but don’t go too deep. Don’t read the software manual cover to cover! Try a few tutorials, and then try using what you learned to make something. Don’t judge it—its just an exercise. After a while, you’ll hit a threshold where you realize you’re limited by what you know, and at that point you may want to go deeper. I also think ones’ limitations are what characterizes them as an artist. You don’t need to know everything. Let your intuition guide you toward what excites you, and do that!

Listening to Depeche Mode and your favorites, were you frustrated initially when you began producing... was there a discrepancy between the sound in your head and what translated into the software?

Absolutely. I think that’s a great question, especially for people who are starting off.

What I’ve found is that you are in for trouble if you go down the path of trying to get the sound you want out of your head. It can be a frustratingly tedious process and lead to mediocre results. I’ve found it more helpful to take the approach of letting the process I use inform the sounds and ideas I produce. Its like an experiment; I’ll setup a particular situation using software or outboard gear, and see what happens. Like, for example: what would happen if I took recordings I made from my radiator, mapped them to a REDRUM in Reason, modulated the pitch of each one with an LFO, ran a gated reverb through it, and sequenced a little 1 bar loop? It could sound awful! Or it might be really cool and lead to another idea.

I also think there’s a strong tendency to compare our music with the music we listen to and love. Part of that is good; we are inspired to create based on what others are creating. The part that’s bad is the judgement part. By judging our music in comparison, we’re labeling our music as inferior. What we aren’t acknowledging is the process through which a work of art develops. We are ignoring the many trials and frustrations those artists experienced. I don’t know any artist that just sits down and creates an amazing piece of music. Releasing an album is a long process which is informed by having created a lot of unreleased music, and needs time to develop.  

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Big thanks to Kodomo for chatting with us and sharing his experiences. Stay connected with his music at the links below. Patterns & Light is currently available for pre-order here.

KodomoFacebook | SoundCloud | Chris Child