Name: John Tejada
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: John Tejada's "Silversonic", a collaboration with Ulrich Krieger, is out now on Tejada's very own Palette Recordings.
If you enjoyed this interview with John Tejada and would like to find out more about his music, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter and Bandcamp for current updates and more music.
You can also read our Ulrich Krieger interview as well as Ulrich's ideas about alternative tuning systems for some thoughts by his recent collaborator.
What was your first studio like?
The very very first idea was a Digitech looper pedal and a 4 track cassette with my turntables. However in 1991 my first little setup started coming together. I bought an Ensoniq EPS with 4x memory expander, Casio CZ-101 and Juno 60. At that time I began collaborating with Arian Leviste who already had a Roland TR-909, Alesis HR-16B, and Juno 106 as well as a Mac running Studio Vision. This all went through a mixer straight to DAT.
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?
Well at first you just want to get more gear. Especially in the days before DAWs, every little piece you acquired would take care of a specific task so it was a really limited way of working.
Then when the tech evolved and VSTs began happening myself and many I know got rid of a lot of our hardware and were totally involved in dsp, however soon after we realized it wasn’t quite the same (these days not so much different). So around 2003 I began to buy some new pieces a lot of which didn’t make the cut and were sold.
But at the moment, a few that are really important to me are the Sequencial Prophet 5 (desktop version), Cwejman S1, and my MacbookPro. I could really live with just those. But there is still quite a list of kit that I am trying to cut down a bit still.
What motivates you to buy new gear: The curiosity to try new things, a specific function, something else entirely?
Well, in the beginning it was for something specific as there were no plugins or usually even any samples to find. As things went on, it became more of a curiosity, but then I would end up with a few pieces that are more or less the same and then I just become paralyzed with options and not knowing what to use for what task.
Then of course there are the classic pieces, in my case the early Roland xox boxes which I got very cheap back in the day, but still hang on to and use from time to time (TR-808, 909, TB 303, MC 202)
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? How do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
I do like to work fast, so I try to have everything ready to go in a good physical position for me to work fast (at arms reach). The days when technology isn’t working are a total loss so I try to avoid that.
I find it makes the most sense if I limit my sound sources to one or two synths for that particular piece of music so that my options are smaller and the ideas can happen faster. I’ve had to develop little exercises to keep me in focus and to keep me from just layering too much. I’ll first limit myself to one track and only one voice (of polyphony, even though multiple sounds can be used). That gives me focus on an idea to build on. This way I can keep some space between all of the elements. It doesn’t always work but it does help when I feel a bit lazy.
Historically speaking, there has always been a close relationship between technological and artistic progress. Accordingly, there have been musical paradigm shifts accompanied by technological innovation. Which of these shifts do you rate particularly important for your own music?
To me it seems the academic world develops the tools and uses them for some years in a highly academic fashion, but it’s the artists who come along and use or misuse this new tech. Perhaps the code gets an easy-on-the-eyes UI and tidies everything up into a plugin that is easy to use, or a eurorack module. Then there are a handful of artists who develop tech and use that in contemporary pieces which inspires other producers to figure out what they’re doing.
But I feel in most cases the technological innovation and the artistic progress are separated in this way. I’ve been getting closer to the tech part teaching at CalArts now, but I still feel myself more on the artistic side of it all.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I love this question. It makes me want to think about this a lot after I’m done writing you my answer.
My first thought is the computer in multiple ways. Years ago it was more of a “well the computer can do everything” which turned out to be true but didn’t have the sonic quality some of use more used to a certain sound had. But I feel now in 2021 the line is starting to blur and the difference is no longer so big. So it becomes this desire to keep the dsp manageable, meaning to not be overwhelmed and to configure it in a way where it is fast and fun to work with.
These days I reach for dsp in the box quite a bit more than I ever used to and just save really specific tasks for hardware. For instance, I still very much love and use vintage samplers for the happy aliasing accidents they produce. This also may be there with software now, but I still find some magic in real dacs and the intricacies associated with every nuance on every semi-tone that is resampling the sound. That or certain unique filters which I don’t yet see in the box (Casio FZ-1 a great example).
But as I work in my little room of synths, the computer makes me question daily, “what don’t I need anymore?” When it comes to hardware, there are quite a few new ideas out there but mostly hardware is now looking to the past which isn’t that interesting for me.
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 feel this is still in the early stages. There are some examples online that are quite amazing generated compositional works, but for myself I prefer hearing that persons emotion in the music. Also, I find a lot of great music comes from happy accidents so perhaps that is one element which is still a unique part of the human expression when it comes to composing.
Or who knows, at some point it may get advanced enough that it becomes more fun to program the AI for composition.
Do you personally see a potential for deeper forms of Artifical Intelligence in your music?
I have a couple of friends that are really experienced with coding AI for music. I find it totally fascinating but my joy comes out of translating an idea from my head into the machine or computer. I tend to want AI for smaller details such as modulation, rather than notes and composition. I’ve never felt much satisfaction generating a random idea even if it sounds very good because it doesn’t have that part of me in the creation. But I’m sure there will be many interesting developments with AI in music tech that I haven’t even thought of yet.
Using AI for sound generation interests me. As in there could be a memory bank of millions of sound sources which have been analyzed and memorized and then when creating a sound, certain parameters could be AI synthesized from real world or synthetic models but generated to sound different or a hybrid. I’ve seen large scale visual work like this.
I am definitely no expert in AI, however I am always excited for new tech.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I feel there is still room for ways to simplify DAWs while making them more powerful.
For instance, there is always the dilemma of “will I use an audio track or create a sampler on a midi track?” This bothers me a bit when I’m working as an audio track should already have all the features of a sampler since both are audio data. This is why I still really like to work in trackers like Renoise often (which only gives you sample slots and no audio tracks). It does away with this old idea of audio tracks being tape tracks in your DAW. I really wish all of this would be streamlined into a single focused idea.
I really have a hard time with info windows. I feel everything should happen on a zoomed region in the arrange window. Just less windows and more immediate functionality. There is still this lingering design concept of imitating a real studio setup with tape and hardware samplers which I feel limits the way we work with computers.
So that is what I’d like to see the most: A revolutionary idea of how a DAW could work. Most of our DAW designs have roots to tech from the early 90s. I feel it’s about time to abandon that way of thinking and DAW design.