Name: John Monkman
Occupation: Producer, performer, DJ, label owner at Beesemyer music.
Current Release: John Monkman's “Entropy” is out via Beesemyer.
Gear Recommendations: Soundtoys Effects rack - brings together key Soundtoys plugins in one interface.
Xfer LFO tool - an oldie but I find it a must when shaping sound
If you enjoyed this interview with John Monkman and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
We also recommend our Pete Tong interview for the ideas and thoughts of one of his collaborators.
What was your first studio like?
A PC in the corner of my bedroom running cubase with a pair of red Tannoy reveal monitors.
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?
I started in the box. Over time I began to acquire a few pieces of outboard kit.
The first major piece was the Moog Voyager. It's made it into so many records. A nice example here is “Harmonix1” (Crosstown rebels).
Once I got the FM sync feel right, I used this Overload trick to give it the extra feel. (laughs)
The lead - quarter note delayed melody that sits over the track in "Magnolia" is another nice example of the Voyager doing its thing (Anjunadeep).
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
First off it’s about feeling what you’re working on - I'm seeking depth and character. Certain synths create different flavors, therefore the synths you use are 100% important in terms of the final feeling.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I go in and out of these - I enjoy the freedom of coming up with ideas on headphones, then taking that idea and fine tuning the song in a proper space to feel I’ve understood the mix and to make sure it delivers on the big sound systems.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
I’ve been through so many midi controllers over the years.
It’s always good to have something close by, especially if you’re using soft synths, as it can be nice to have something physical to tweak. When playing live I use the Akai apc40 controller which integrates well with ableton.
When I’m in making mode, the trackpad and keyboard on my laptop does a lot of work.
In the light of picking your tools, 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”?
I like to feel like I'm pushing things when I’m working. I’m here to move the music into a new chapter. My new track ‘Entropy’ is a good example.
Most would regard recording tools like microphones and mixing desks as different in kind from instruments like keyboards, guitars, drums and samplers. Where do you stand on this?
Yes, in a sense these are more passive bits of kit - you use them to capture a moment or as a means to control the feel of the music.
However, like most things, these tools can be subverted - the mixer, whether that be outboard or in the box, is where creative decisions happen, where effects take place. It's an instrument in itself.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
I am always starting sketches - these can be drum / melody ideas etc. And then there’s the tracks that I’ve taken forward but are still giving me problems (i.e I can't seem to finish).
I still hit crazy walls when working on tracks. It’s usually an idea I’m convinced has some magic to it. I end up obsessing on the idea and I lose perspective of what it’s missing or where it could go … the blinkers are on!
Songs / ideas like this often find their moment when I merge it with another idea. Perhaps what was missing was a different or better groove, which I’ve made in a different project and therefore bring the two together.
How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
This is where modular synthesis shines - in this world I’m in discovery mode … the unknown … most of the good stuff comes from this space of experimenting, and is where the happy accidents appear.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
The more clarity on what you want to get out of a writing session prior to the moment, the better. This doesn’t mean you know exactly what you’re going to do. However I like to have a vision of what the final piece could end up sounding like.
To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I’d be interested to see where things will be in 10 years. Surely I’ll just write some key words in, throw in a couple songs for ‘inspiration’ and the computer will generate new DAW projects for me.
In this case it's still being created by my inputs, experiences and memories - there’s a new hybrid collab going on.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I’m looking forward to when AI/machine learning is more integrated into my workflow.
There are so many repetitive tasks I go through when producing a track e.g the amount of time you open an EQ or saturation plugin. It would be great if my DAW would anticipate these moves.