In the studio with Jason van Wyk

Hey Jason, let’s start at the very beginning. Can you tell us how you got involved in composing, and what was your very first piece of gear?
I started playing the drums back in junior school and around that time got heavily into electronic music. I then got into DJing and started programming my own music using Rebirth and FL on the family PC. After making a few tracks that I thought were somewhat decent, I put together a demo and sent it to a label. The A&R got back to me with a very encouraging letter and suggested I get hold of Reason. I managed to get a copy, then convinced my parents that I needed a midi keyboard for my 11th birthday. So I worked with Reason and that keyboard setup for the next few years and that produced my first releasable piece of music, which came out on that same label. My first serious piece of gear was a Clavia Nord Rack 2, which I bought second hand a few years later.

How many different studio iterations have you gone through, and what does your final setup look like right now?
This current studio would be my second. The room I’m in now used to be a garage which was converted in 2012. I’ve collected quite a bit of gear over the years, but right now my main setup is down to a dustbin MacPro with a bunch of SSDs connected over Thunderbolt and a MacMini server over ethernet, a UA Apollo Quad interface, a Yamaha keyboard which I just use for MIDI, Genelec monitors, a modified Drawmer 1960, Neve and Great River preamps, a Juno 60 and my 1920’s Grotrian Steinweg upright. I’ll then bring in my other synths when needed. I’ve just hooked up the JX3P for something I’m about to start. I haven’t used it in quite some time so it’s been nice to go back to it.

Tell us about your favourite piece of hardware.
Instruments and computer related stuff aside, I love my Neve preamps. I have the 1073 DPA which my piano mics are permanently hooked up to.

And what about the software that you use for production?
I work in Cubase with a few plugins. I’m using mostly the UAD stuff, Fabfilter and Soundtoys for FX.

Is there a particular piece of gear that you’re just dying to get your hands on and do you think one day you’ll have it?
There’s an endless list! A CS-80 would be amazing. I’d really love to own a celeste. I’ve been trying to track one down locally for years, but no luck as of yet.

Can you please share some aspects of sound design in your work?
It’s an important part. Both sound and music I feel should always work together and each is just as important as the other. Creating that balance between both is something I always aim for.

Any particular new techniques that you tried out for your new album?
I tried to push the electronic side a bit more than I did on my previous album Attachment. So there was more synth recording and experimenting with that.

What does your live setup look like, and what do you bring with you when you travel for an extensive tour?
When I used to play clubs regularly, the last setup I was using for that was a MacBook with Ableton Live and an APC40. The APC was eventually replaced with an iPad running Lemur. I’d love to start performing this new stuff live. I’ll have to work out what exactly I’ll use for it, but it will probably consist of the MacBook and iPad setup together with a keyboard controller and maybe one or two synths. Hopefully, the venue will have a nice piano too.

What is the most important environmental aspect of your current workspace and what would be a particular element that you would improve on?
I’d say having the separation between my living space and my workspace. That’s proven to be quite important. I’ve also put a lot of effort into the ergonomics and the lighting in here. Something I’d improve on, well, it would be great to have some windows. My studio is completely sealed up for acoustic reasons, so it looks the same in here at 10am as it does at 2am, which is nice, but having some natural light would be nice too.

What can you tell us about your overall process of composition? How are the ideas born, where do they mature, and when do they finally see the light?
It’s different from track to track. I’ll usually start with a melodic idea or an atmosphere or mood, but sometimes it can be a sound I’ve created using a synth or a plugin and I just go with it until the piece starts to take shape. I do a lot of sitting at the piano and improvising while recording. Same goes for synths. A fun process can be to then cut up the results and look for new ways to piece them together.

After the piece is complete, how do you audition the results? What are your reactions to hearing your music in a different context, setting, or a sound system?
I listen on both monitor speakers and headphones while composing and mixing. I’ll sometimes upload an MP3 and listen on my iPhone if I need that extra reassurance. But usually, if it sounds good on my speakers and headphones then I’m happy. It’s always interesting to hear it back in a different setting. Taking something I’m working on, especially if I’m stuck with it, putting it on my phone and going out into the world with it can be quite inspiring. It’s almost like seeing the piece from a different angle, so new ideas start to form.

Do you ever procrastinate? If so, what do you usually find yourself doing during those times?
I do! Far too much for my liking. I’m a big film fan, so if I’m not working on music I’m usually watching something, or reading something film related.

What gets you inspired?
Everyday life. Books, art, film, other music. Being in nature really gets the creativity going.

And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of “electronic music” today?
It’s really thriving. There’s so much great stuff coming out these days. The genre walls are down and everything is fair game, not to mention the amount of quality gear that’s available and the explosion of modular synthesis. Plugins and samples sound amazing now too, so whatever type of music you want to make, you can, and you don’t need to break the bank to do it.