Name: Rolf Ellmer / Jam El Mar
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: Chandra EP on Tronic Records
Recommendations: You should listen to Rubicon by Tangerine Dream. This is one of the most advanced albums of electronic music history. And take a chance to listen to Johann Sebastian Bach´s incomplete composition „Die Kunst Der Fuge“. It has two musical themes, one is diatonic, the other chromatic. The diatonic theme represents the deity, the chromatic the human existence. These themes go through different modulations and finally, when these themes get merged in the last movement, Bach died over this moment in the composition. This is why it is incomplete.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Jam El Mar, visit his Facebook profile or personal webspace for more music, release information and tour updates.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I remember starting to record when I had my very first cassette player. It was this bulky thing that had to be used with so called “Compact-Cassettes”, little plastic cartridges that contained thin magnetic tape. They sounded terrible, their favorite dish was tape-salad but they could at least record sound. I was using stones and other materials to get our big mirror in the hallway to vibrate. This sound I taped, combined it with other strange noises. It was about the time when the first Tangerine Dream records were released. I was hungry for strange electronic sounds. Keith Emerson was using this giant Moog that would produce the strangest, unheard sounds. Rubicon and Phaedra by Tangerine Dream were most influential. But I also listened to a lot of Psychedelic-Rock.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Good question! Especially in electronic club music we often find similarities between tracks. Purpose or coincidence? - we dont know. There has been a lot of influence on me and there still is. This can be so strong, that I start to copy more or less, unconciously - it's really dangerous but at a certain point you have to realize it and trash that shit as quickly as you can! But influence is not bad at all. If you manage to use your mind to translate this influence into your own ideas you might end up with something that has nothing more than a particle of the original influence. However the best creation does not come from the mind because the mind refers to the past so you more or less are copying something that was there already. A unique idea is the highest goal for every artist!
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I had composition lessons at highschool and that helped me a lot when I composed the tracks for Jam & Spoon or other projects. Composing a good track or a great pop-song is a real challenge, also to bring it to life when producing it. Both disciplines need your highest devotion and demand everything you can give. It does not matter if it´s a Techno track or any other kind of music.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Now I produce everything “in the box”. The digital domain has become so good that I rarely touch one of my analog pieces of equipment. When I started producing, I hired studios. Then, I had a little bedroom studio in my parent's house - (poor parents). After that we established a little studio in a rock venue that was a former cinema. There, all the Dance 2 Trance and Jam & Spoon records were recorded and produced. It was small & dirty but everyone loved it. I recorded Midge Ure, Jimmy Somerville, Jim Kerr and many more great musicians there and they all loved it. Today, your musician partners are recording somewhere on the other side of the world and you get the sessions via the net - great thing, but I miss that spirit of teamwork in the studio.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Humans have inspiration - machines don´t. Machines can only refer to what we stored into them. With this information they can do a lot but true inspiration is superior. I remember there was a program that had thousands of pop-songs stored and with this it was able to spit out new tracks. I am not sure if it ever composed a new hit song.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Like you mentioned they are tools. The better you know your tools the closer you are able to realize your ideas. Some software synths or tools can be very inspiring and they can deliver a great, unique sound, for example, that makes you create a new track. I my case this is definitely true for the Oberheim Xpander that made the characteristic sounds for “Stella” and the “Age Of Love” Remix.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Any kind of way can be fruitful. A collaboration is always exciting. You never can say if it works or not. Musical style is not the only reason for collaborations, maybe it´s also someone who is able to bring out the best of you. This was definitely true for Mark Spoon and myself.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My music is definitely the centre of my life. Everything else is placed around this core.
A typical Jam El Mar day is something like this:
Wake up early, shower, 30 min of Yoga
- Bring the little girl to the kindergarten.
- Studio work
- Bring the baby to bed.
- Work on my DJ-Sets until late night
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
It might sound a bit unromantic but some of the ideas really come when I drive with the car. The Jam & Spoon song “Set Me Free” was 80% in my head when I came out of the car. I heard the melodies, the sounds and I was able to 99% realize it from what I heard in my mind.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Distractions are all around, from smartphones to Facebook - all that, so called, social media - is junk. You have to use it, though. Best is to shut down the phone and internet and start working - after some time you will reach an enormous amount of intensity.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Improvisation and composing are not the same. The can influence each other but improvisation uses the moment whereas composition makes use of the complete in-depth detail work. Playing an instrument can bring be the most satisfying moments for a musician. I started DJing only a few years ago, but now, having experienced wonderful moments of intensity with the crowd, I am now a DJ junkie, haha ...
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
In electronic music the sound can be the composition already. Composing and sound obviously go closely hand in hand here. Sound is a key aspect. For example “Stella” would never be the same without the razorblade resonating filter modulation sound of the Oberheim X-pander. When you have a few good sounds at hand you are a rich man ;)
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Sound in particular is interesting because everything in the universe is vibration, sound, frequency from low to high. Light is a very high frequency. Certain frequencies we are able to perceive with the eye. Certain frequencies in the audible range influence us strongly. It can make us dance, ecstatic or cry. When you chant the sound “AUM” very slowly it will have a very strong, positive impact on your system. Such a sound is a strong phenomenon. It can move us from head to toe from outside to inside!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is a way of expression. Some people just have a strong momentum to define themselves through art. Art reaches us on another, deeper level. Art starts where other ways of communication stop or fail. A true “piece” of art comes close to the truth and someone, who has a fine channel of reception will feel it.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
There is always a chance to push the limits and we should never rest before we haven’t tried. There can be lots of ways to create something unheard, however it is impossible for me to describe something unheard. It has to be created and brought to life - then we will know.