Tutor Rodi Kirk, aka Scratch 22, shares his personal experience of making granular synth music in an old Polish castle and breaking new technological ground within the pop world.
For those of you that haven’t heard of Rodi Kirk, he is a music producer, DJ, film scorer and lecturer. Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, Kirk has previously won the title of New Zealand’s best party rocker at the Red Bull Thre3style Championship, as well as worked as a touring DJ and producer for over a decade under the name Scratch 22.
How did you and Aron (Ottignon) meet?
Aron had some songs written and was looking for a producer to bring them to life in an interesting way. Then we got the chance to build on that foundation and introduce a lot of other musical ideas, such as working as a trio with a steel pan which is something he’s always been very fond of. Then some of the other stuff we’ve been doing is where there’s an active conversation going on between the electronic and acoustic stuff. This idea of live sampling and something called granular synthesis is something that’s really interesting in this context. Granular synthesis is something when instead of taking an oscillator for a sound source you’re taking a sample or any kind of sound source and then you’re manipulating that. So what I’m doing with a lot of performance stuff with Aron is constantly monitoring what he’s doing on the piano and every now and then I take a little piece of what he’s been playing and re-contextualise that. Take the little grain of sound and then start to play around with that idea in a way that he can then react to and then I can sample what he’s reacting to and we can kind of keep having that dialogue in that way. It becomes really interesting and it’s totally improvisational as well.
I watched your live session with Aron and I thought it was really interesting because you’re basically jamming with him, using his own material and manipulating it and changing it. I noticed your sound can range from almost a new classical sound where people could sit down and watch you, but once re-contextualised it can also have an almost club or party-like sound. I was wondering, who is your audience when you can create such varied atmospheres?
You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s the question and I don’t have a clear answer to it yet. This is the big question that we’re figuring out. What are we trying to do with this? There’s definitely some interesting techniques in there and we can do so much with it. At the moment we’re playing jazz festivals and stuff like that, so it’s definitely a jazz audience, but I see the music as really a form of pop music in a way that’s just utilising some extremely experimental techniques. Of course, the music sounds really different, but if you think about examples throughout pop music there have been artists that have been very pop-rooted but have used quite strange and experimental techniques, using quite odd combinations of musicians as well. I think that’s more something that I’m looking to go in the direction of, not necessarily being the kind of sit down classical music crowd or jazz music type chin-stroking crowds. That doesn’t really interest me so much. What interests me is seeing if we can get people to start to think about experimental and conceptual ideas about how music is made and put together while actually enjoying themselves in a pop context. I found that maybe that video we did in the Funkhaus was a little bit too serious and that some of the shows we’ve done since then have been a bit more lively and fun.
At the same time that was our very first performance and it just happened to be on video. So it was bound to be a little bit rusty and I found it to be a bit stiff.
Come to think of it, it’s not spot on to say this, but I saw Basement Jaxx a couple of years ago and I can imagine some elements from your session in which things got a little harder and livelier transferred into that kind of atmosphere. You could play your lively elements out to a crowd but also have the more serious or classical parts have a bit more of a minor presence if it fitted that environment.
Sure, I mean that’s really interesting to me. It’s not so much a matter of either-or, I think you can have some quite complex ideas explored within the sphere of pop music. I think that’s what someone like Kanye West for instance does really well. He explores some really challenging concepts but he still makes pop music that people enjoy.
I’ve read that you and Aron recently recorded in a castle with a hundred-year-old Steinway piano. Can you tell me a little about the castle and how it was acoustically in there.
It’s up by the Polish border, so it’s about an hour’s drive out of Berlin going East. What we were doing was just recording as a duo and doing this idea of back and forth improvising in a way which wasn’t too different from what we were doing in the Funkhaus, but in a way which gave us a chance to do it in a long-form session. We were there staying the night and we had set everything up and we actually wound up with about six hours of material from it. All improvised material.
From a technical point of view we had two microphones on the piano, two on the room and one all the way down the kind of grand staircase and beneath us in the big hallway, so I was getting a huge delay of about one second. So what I was doing was mixing all of the signals from the piano together, sampling bits and rerunning stuff through.
As it turned out after five or six hours of recording about an hour of that sounds really cool and it’s a really interesting aesthetic. There’s no drums or anything like that happening so it’s a lot more ambient, classical and abstract in a way. A lot of the timbre, what I mean by timbre is the sort of colour of the sound, I think is really special from just recording in that kind of environment.
Waves, your latest single with Aron sounds more energetic compared to the previous Starfish EP, was this intentional?
Yeah, that’s cool. We were looking to make something which had a bit more energy and that infused elements of maloya music, which is a type of music from the Réunion islands. It’s a very beautiful sort of lively party music.
You came to Berlin with the idea of working on film scores. With all of your work with Aron and dBs Music [now Catalyst], have you had much time to do that?
Totally, I’m interested in music composition and all of that kind of stuff. I have only had a chance to do one film score last year and one the year before that, but it’s also a really interesting process. I’d actually really like to work with Aron on the next one. I’ll probably work on another this year and I think he’ll have some really good ideas to contribute. I was actually working on a documentary film [Tickled] with another tutor at dBs [now Catalyst] called Florian and it premiered at Sundance festival.
That process was interesting, we did it really quickly. They had a short turnaround and we had a very short amount of time. We did it in the summer and I was teaching at the school and touring as well and we kind of did it ridiculously quick. Florian was amazing to work with. He had a really good way of keeping all of the project organised and we were able to kind of do the idea that I wanted to do for the score really quickly. Usually it takes me a long time to come up with an idea and actually execute it.
To find out more about Rodi Kirk’s work with Aron Ottignon you can watch the full documentary here.