Interview: Jason Corder (offthesky)


1. Your first release has quite an abstract name: Studies of Lifeform in Transit. What is the theme of the album? What is the primary message of this record?

The songs were all created without a concept in mind. Often when I create an album, the concept or story behind the meaning of the songs does not form until closer toward the end of the album being complete. With Studies of Liveform in Transit, I came up with the name because all of the songs, I felt, had a special motion within them; from one to the next. They just reminded me of objects moving - blurring through the air - much like clouds do.

2. How helpful was for you, as a musician, releasing your first album on the netlabel Autoplate? What is your opinion on free netlabels?

Netlabels were, in the early 00's, very important for me (and many artists) to get the music out into the public ear without having to deal with all the difficult (often pretentious) attitudes of regular record labels. Guys who ran netlabels, to me, were always more responsive, open-minded, and easy going so it was much more fun to release with them than try and deal with regular labels' politics. I think this was the case for many artists back then. Autoplate and Archipel were especially important for me - and I feel truly blessed in that they flew me out to play shows in Europe and Canada back then in the mid 00's..

Anyway, I have always loved free netlabels but over the years there were too many started and many of them were not good so the netlabels became a bit saturated with immature or uninteresting sounding music. It became hard 
to find good stuff so I just stuck with only a few netlabels who had great, consistent curation and very friendly people working with them like Resting Bell, Rope Swing Cities, Autoplate, basic_sounds and Archipel.

3. How did you happen to switch from glitched ambient to drone? What inspired you to do so? How did you come by this genre?

Around 2000, when I first started making ambient music, there was a lot of glitch music out - it was just popular back then since computers were finally decently powerful and there was some great software (like Ableton) and a few popular labels such as 12k, Mille Plateaux and Raster Noton who were putting out a lot of experimental glitch music. Some artists who really influenced me were Desormais (their Climate Variations album is still great to me!), Ghislain Poirier, and Shuttle358 - to name just a few artists - they really inspired me to explore glitches and ambient music together with acoustic instruments. Also glitches came easy with a lot of the plugins and Reaktor patches back then - a lot of developers were making tools that just did glitchy dsp because it was new and exciting and a lot of artists were inspired by those sounds.

Anyway I started making more drone-oriented music around 2008-09 since the glitch thing got a little trite (and isn't always easy on the ears - especially when you listen to a song you are making 100's of times before you feel it is finished). I just needed to evolve. I still use glitches a lot as texture source in my music - I just run them through a lot of analog sounding saturators, granular delays, tonal convolutions, and distortions to get nice washes of smooth, warm texture from them. Glitches can also make great impulse responses for convolution reverbs.

4. How do you manage to record and release music with such a remarkable speed? Not every musician is capable of pulling this off. How do your tracks get born?

My tracks are always born as sketches - usually through r&d. This research and development phase is really fun and important for me. I spend a lot of time doing it. It consists of exploring new plugins, analog gear, or techniques and trying to push every knob in crazy ways just to see if i can break or squeeze out some crazy sounds. Studies of Lifeform in Transit was all about seeing how I could break plugins and get wild distortions out of them. I often like trying to run 100+ decibels through certain eqs or compressors just to see how they handle it, how they saturate. I love to try weird things like automate every parameter of a plugin all at once with polyrhythmic automation clip loops (by unlinking the parameter's automation timeline in ableton clips) - and then maybe turning the tempo to 999 or 20 bpm (or putting a smooth random lfo on the temp in Ableton) or i'll see what 5 of the same granular 
effect in a row will sound like. I can also try and build a crazy sound guitar patch in Reaktor or max for live. Exploring generative song creation is always a part of the mix. It's this freeform exploration where a lot of sounds/ideas are born. Sometimes if I'm in a creative rut, I'll take a video from Vimeo that I really like and try and make a song for it - my own soundtrack. The video helps give inspiration and guide the song (at a certain point I remove the video and finish the song without it).

As far as my fast paced workflow goes, I use a ton of keyboard remapping, shortcuts to call up my favorite plugins or racks that I build during those r&d phases. I've used Ableton off and on since version 1 and although I hated it for anything beyond sketching until it was version 5+ (geist cycles was the first full album I made with ableton actually - I used Cubase, Logic, Buzz and FL Studio before Ableton) I have gotten to know Ableton in and out and that is partly why I can translate the ideas in my head super fast.

Also I have made a sort of religion out of producing and improving my techniques - I sketch or explore with my gear every day for at least an hour and often those explorations turn into songs. I guess after 10+ years of studying and doing something every day, you will eventually become decent at it. 

5. Your every release so far has been on a different label. Is there a specific reason?

No, they all just asked me for releases over the years and that gave me a goal to put songs together into albums for those labels. Also because I work fast, no one label could keep up with me anyway so I had to diversify.

6. What are the most pleasant and memorable moments of your musical career?

Travelling to Europe and Canada playing my music for people - seeing the world because of my music and performing at Mutek, Decibel Festival, meeting a lot of great, inspiring artists along the way. I miss doing that, but now I am focused on my career as a video game audio director composing music and sound effects.

7. What is your opinion on the current situation in the world of music as a whole? Are you happy with it? What tendencies do you like and dislike?

I listen to about 20-30 new albums every week in a wide range of genres (mostly electronic). I end up archiving or deleting most of it. a lot of it sounds too rushed out, boring or just tacky/gaudy (this whole vaporwave movement is mostly kitschy/not great for my taste). Overall music has become watered down because (I think) the tools and means to make music now are so cheap and readily available with a lot of youtube videos on how to make this stock edm kick or that stock granular ambient song. There's the musicians who rely only on their one modular rack that just makes the same sounding material for an entire album. A lot of musicians just aren't pushing any compositional or sonic boundaries but scraping by with a bare minimum of effort (or like, their super simple live performance sound was just good enough for a release or something) - the whole minimal, noise and drone concepts kind of aid and a bit lazy music production habits. There are many factors really but those I mentioned have certainly lowered the bar over the years. That’s just my opinion. I still think there are some amazing albums coming out every month that have really hit the spot for me like Baker's Dozen by Daedelus, White Silence by Noumen, Plage Arriere by Romeo Poirier, Orchestral Variation by Minor Victories – just to name a few. They just exhibit good workmanship and beautiful ideas - you just have to be vigilant to find the stuff that is composed at a higher level these days. 

8. What do you do in your spare time? Do you read newspapers, or follow the news? Do you have hobbies and if so, what are they?

The news has become quite depressing and dark for me as of late, here in America. Mostly, I like to hike or bike a lot. Getting out of the house or studio - is essential. Long gone are the days where I sit inside on a sunny weekend and work in front of my computer for 12 hours each day. My body simply feels terrible after I do things like that, so I try 
to be physically active. Getting away from the studio - not listening to songs I'm working on for several days (or weeks even) always helps me when I can't figure out what I need to do to a song to finish it up.

9. Does Denver have appropriate locations for you to perform live? Have you thought about moving somewhere else?

For ambient music, Denver does not have a lot of options. There are simply not enough people here yet (like Montreal, New York or Chicago) to merit having any sort of full time venue where people can go a see great ambient or experimental music. There are still shows but they are not often. it's getting better. Some friends and myself 
have formed a collective called CELE and we aim to bring music audio/video and experimental based shows to 
Denver through the botanic gardens and other great venues. I'm actually, these days, more interested in helping the community out here by curating shows than I am in performing. There are several artists who I have wanted to see for a long time that I wish to fly out to Denver to perform.

And yes, i do wish to eventually move from Denver. My ultimate goal is to live remotely somewhere (probably by a beach) and make ambient music and just live a simple life. 

10. What is the most significant release of your discography?

Silent Went the Sea release is maybe the most significant because I love the music therein but it also features a lot of video work that took a huge amount of my time to do. That album took years of deliberation to finally get released, so in a way it is the culmination of my artistic abilites - both sonic and visual. 

11. What does offthesky mean? 

Offthesky started as a full phrase: off the sky - as many people know. I chose this phrase because at the time I was basing a lot of my musical ideas on atmospheric concepts (I still do in some ways). I was also using a lot of weather pattern data to drive parameters within the songs. When I decided to change my style, to get away from the space glitch music style I found myself sort of stuck in the mid 00', I changed the name to offthesky. I esentially created my own new word (and you haven't noticed, I love to use only lower-case letters as part of my own personal artistic dogma), but still, the music is very atmospheric and ever evolving - much like the clouds across the sky always will be. 

Questions: Ilya Kudrin/Faith