Name: Derek Carr
Current Release: Derek Carr's The Matter at Hand EP will be released on Just Jack Recordings on November 7th.
Recommendations: Book – Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor – Gives me chills even in the height of summer. A history book that reads like a novel. Hall of Mirrors by B12 – If anyone you know wants to know what real techno music is then play them this.
If you enjoyed this interview with Derek Carr, visit his facebook page or soundcloud account for plenty of music as well as current information.
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 really started to get into music in my early teens. I always loved music but it became an obsession when I was 13 or 14 years old, bands like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and Japan were huge influences. I discovered house music in 87/88 through pop music compilations and from watching Top of The pops on BBC. I began experimenting with sound and samples after buying a cheap sampler in 1988. I still have those early tapes of my initial attempts at making techno.
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 relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
When I first started to make deep techno music my main aim was to emulate the originators, the Derrick May’s and Kevin Saunderson’s - not to directly copy what they were doing, but to stick to their blueprint and forge my own path. I think my overall quality of production has improved over time but I still think my music owes a lot to the early sound of Detroit and equally to the early 90’s UK deep techno scene.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The hope, in the early days, and still today, was to get the sounds in your head down onto DAT and ultimately vinyl. But limitations in both the size of my studio back then and limitations in the technology that was available at the time, constrained that process to some extent. Nowadays, with the tools that are available to almost all musicians, it is much easier to make those ideas a reality. When I started making music I used an Atari ST computer, with a program called notator, a cheap midi keyboard and one drum machine. I couldn’t imagine going back to that setup now.
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?
My first studio was, as explained in the previous question, limited. An Atari ST computer running a basic sequencing program with a Roland XP10 and DR660 drum machine. Today I have two 32 channel digital desks, analog and digital synths, banks of outboard fx etc. The evolution has happened over 25 years, it occurred naturally and slowly.
The most important piece of gear in my studio is me. My love for this music comes from the heart and is transmitted through to the machines.
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?
I use technology to transmit my feelings in the form of music. I’m not sure what machines excel at, they make my life as a musician far more interesting and easy, I guess, and help me to excel at what I do.
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?
I’m not sure if there is a 'co-authorship' between myself and my tools. Sure, I am dependent on the tools that are available to me and they provide a rich pallete of sound and audio posibilities that are endless. But it is my mind that ultimately creates the music, the tools almost work as a translation device, turning thoughts and actions into sound.
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?
I like to work alone, I seldom collaborate with other artists and when I do I find that sharing a working environment, where two or more people are in the same physical space can be far more rewarding and productive than sending files across the web. It’s just the way I feel, I know many excellent collaborations have come about through file sharing.
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?
A day in my studio begins with me starting up all the machines around 10 am, getting the pc fired up and set to record. I may then start immediately on a piece of music or get some breakfast or go for a walk. I need to be inspired, I just don’t simply throw myself into production. I like to dip in and out through the day, adding some elements to a track, get some dinner, watch some tv, start to arrange a piece of music … it varies from day to day. I may take weeks away from making music simply because I don’t feel like it. When you try to force yourself to make music, the results can be average at best.
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?
The creative process is not one that is easily defined, I have often listened back to a piece of music weeks or months later and thought, how the hell did I come up with that. The ideas come from everywhere movies, books, other music, the weather. Everywhere.
I really love "Binary Systems" from my Contact Album on Subwax and to be honest I have no idea where the inspiration for it came from. You tend to lose yourself in the moment while making music.
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?
I find that a clear mind helps, going for a nice long run or walk can leave you feeling refreshed and the mind uncluttered. This is the optimum feeling if you want to start producing. Ideas flow so much better in a clutter free mind.
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?
All the pieces of music I play live are originally recorded in the studio and then tweaked later to fit into a live setting. I really enjoy playing live; it’s rewarding to see people respond positively to music you’ve made. I always leave enough space in the live set for elements of improvisation, be it additional lines played with a synth or possible modulation of existing lines.
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?
This is the beauty of the synthesiser; you can take a raw waveform, combine it with other waveforms and twist them into any sonic shape you can imagine, this in turn can inspire you to new creativity. Of course you can get lost in a world of sound creation and lose sight of what the ultimate aim is. So sometimes you have to limit yourself to a certain timeframe for finding/creating sounds and actual music production.
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?
Music is a soundtrack to my life, it helps create and link memories. I associate some of my favourite music with seemingly unimportant moments in my life, but made important because of the music associations.
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?
For me, my art, my music, is an escape, it doesn’t have any political undertone or carry any sort of social commentary but that’s not to say that I am apolitical. I have a social conscience it’s just that I don’t express my opinions through my music. My music is an escape and I hope those who listen to it find that it helps them to escape, too.
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?
I’ve never been good at predicting the future. I said to friends that I’d eat my hat if Donald Trump got elected, so I find it best to leave that sort of thing to people with a clearer foresight than me. The music I am making references a future that I we'll never see – one where we explore distant worlds.