Current Release: J-Shadow's Final Departure is out via Keysound. Get the limited vinyl at boomkat.
Recommendations: A picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde; ‘Showreel, pt. 2’ by Djrum
If you enjoyed this interview with J-Shadow, visit him on Soundcloud for more music.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
From a young age I was classically trained and studied music theory. I was drawn to the technical aspects in which notes, scales and chords are structured and relate to each other. Using this as a foundation, I trained to play back by ear, whether it would be something I would hear through radio or advert on television.
My love for music production spawned much later across the spectrum of UK bass music and its experimental excursions.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I believe that the interpretation of music is largely a subjective experience where the physiological processes underlying the conscious and subconscious vary between listeners. This can be tethered to its emotive qualities, chord patterns, harmonies, stylistic performance and beyond. I feel that it is also important to consider where it sits within a social context or the place in time from where the memories and feelings were forged.
Depending on the composition played, music can evoke a range of emotions from their associated memories, some of which can be traumatic and others healing (e.g. revisiting old tracks for those with advanced dementia).
Occasionally my mind will create visual landscapes or fluctuant geometric patterns to match the auditory experience. This often guides my approach to production in creating sounds that resemble a certain concept or theme that I am attempting to convey. I find that drives the search for widespread sources and to collate these ideas into a collective narrative, many of which lie beyond music alone.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I am somebody who loves to learn. Particularly at an age where we are exposed to vast streams of information at a click of a button, I am as curious as I am humbled by how lucky we are to have open access to these wonders.
I find that my development in music has been an extension of my personal journey of knowledge and discovery. Perhaps there are many artists who feel the same in finding a voice within music production to express their passions and values.
I am sure that we are channelling a vision to put our distinct stories out there, forever stamped in time. However, I find that it can be easy to become too comfortable with a particular workflow and eventually regress. Without the onus to keep pushing and evolving ourselves we may never reach more breakthroughs.
This is something that I have been all too guilty of and a challenge that I will internally chase.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I feel that sense of identity is derived from not only how we see ourselves but also how others do. Although the notion of free will is eternally debated, we are still inevitably a product of our surroundings. We may act out of inherited predisposition but there is more to how we are wired up from each and every experience.
My inclination and identity have been fundamentally drawn to my homeland so a lot is owed through the lens of UK culture, which in itself is built from a myriad of influences. Nevertheless, as a listener, it is refreshing to extrapolate styles from all across the globe and to become awestruck by an enriching, vibrant world of musical heritage.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
The approach to music production can take different shapes. There were early periods where I would focus on making single shot percussion and build a sound bank of the most unusual sounds. This would then speed up the process of layering the drum palette for a particular project.
Eventually I then started creating soundscapes first and piecing percussive elements thereafter, which has helped to expedite the ideas behind specific themes.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Respect must be paid towards tradition and how it has shaped the trajectory of music. The relationship between innovation and tradition is such that they are closely correlated, if not, inseparable. Events of the past affect the present and future - it is all connected together in a continuum.
I think that we tend to search for a healthy balance between novelty and familiarity. Particularly in a revolutionary age where we are saturated with sensory information, originality can be regarded with increasing importance. Replication celebrates the past but innovation writes the future.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I have always admired producers who have been able to use tools, no matter how primitive, as expansive instruments and manipulate them to desired effect. These masters engineer brilliant methods to conjugate these sounds deeply and harmoniously within their compositions.
Personally I have taken a modest path in experimenting mostly with software but occasionally pull together hardware elements. I find that with enough trial and error I can eventually build up the layers of a composition, but typically after a whole world of initial error.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Crack of daylight, jump into acceptable attire, gobble some fuel down. Straight up the motorway, straight to work. Cannot get any more uneventful as that!
Cram as much as I can possibly do in 9 hours, head back to crash and fill my mind with mindless garbage washed down with some warm tea.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Final Departure is my first completed album. It has been a project several years in the works with a focus on uniting themes of existentialism and metaphysical departure into a singular body of work.
The intention focussed on weaving each piece to stand and tell a story of venture and discovery, a dedicated project that I hope listeners will enjoy.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Depending on the occasion, sharing music or diving solo has always held its own unique and profound moment in time.
I feel that the most memorable occasions have been shared communally, whether at an event or a friend’s living room. The energy is multiplied in ways that cannot be replicated alone, especially when a particular song is played that resonates with the crowd. As much as I do love having my own space to explore music, the enjoyment of the collective experience is truly something special.
Over the past year I have also embarked on creating more collaborative projects. I feel that the prerequisite requires a great understanding, respect and connection with the other artist(s). It can be challenging sometimes to share the same vision but when the project starts flourishing with ideas it can really make the process remarkably natural and inspiring.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I am not sure if I have enough insight to define this but in the same way that individual identity cannot be solely determined by the perspective of the subject him or herself, it must also come from how it is interpreted by others. It may not be possible for there to be a singular consensus but I still enjoy conveying certain messages and ideas into my work. It is also humbling to soak in feedback of how others have processed them.
As with all the appreciation I have for any opportunity to be heard, I hope that it can help others to find their own ways of expressing themselves.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Perhaps music theory can to an extent rationalise our association of sound and emotion. However, life events can be difficult to distil into something explicitly descriptive.
I think art can help fill this void as a medium to project our sentience in ways that language and literature cannot. It is sometimes through ambiguity that I find beauty, where the meaning behind love or pain can adopt a form that is more tacit and nuanced.
It is certainly fascinating to understand the direction behind a particular piece, to build a sense of character of the artist and their explanations for the significant milestones they encounter.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
In the physical domain, sounds exist as waveform. The craftsmanship to engineer this domain I would consider more of an art. I could use physics and philosophy almost as a parallel - the two intertwine but are predicated by each other.
There is science behind the objective reality afforded through mathematics and physics, but it also asks fundamental questions as to what we consider music to be. If a tree fell in the middle of a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make 90s jungle?
I believe that one day we may be able to listen to sound despite its physical absence. Information will be sent directly to various parts of the brain encoded as electrical activity to induce the perception of sound.
Theoretically we should even be able to program frequencies beyond the naturally audible range but I imagine this probably will not be too useful in finishing a decent track.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
There are technical aspects of producing music that can be seen as formulaic or mundane, perhaps likened to making coffee. If certain production techniques are copied across the board then the workflow can seem methodical just like how daily tasks are neurologically processed.
I think that it can be important to establish a degree of consistency. However, holding the vision to make coffee with fresh ingredients can invigorate new creative approaches.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
The space to interpret music is so diverse that it is a different experience for everyone. Even re-listening to the same work for an individual is by no means an identical experience.
The association of music with a message is based on the interpreter. I think some of this is primed innately, but by in large, our minds are all wired up on experiences that have shaped us to who we are. How we feel and behave is based on innumerable factors that lie before us, spread between different conscious layers.
Our mood can be distorted by basic physiological factors and can affect how we interpret sensory input. Assuming various cognitive states can heighten the neural computation of music. When lyrical content is then used, there can be greater power to send powerful messages and stimulate altered states.
Music will inevitably elicit its own meaning for each and every one of us.