Name: Main(void) aka Jan Ola Korte
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Current release: (Main)void's UTIL 02 EP, which includes a 30-track collection of 'Entanglements' "informed by the process of making the EP, presenting loops and iterations that came up during the production process," is out via A.R.A. (About Recording Artists).
If you enjoyed this interview with Main(void) and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, Soundcloud, and bandcamp.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
It can be an experience or a conceptual notion, but there always needs to be a sense of excitement about it. It’s when I immediately spiral into developing an idea that I mark it for further exploration.
I’ve had tracks develop from visual and auditive impressions, dreams and psychedelic experiences, but also musical gestures and structure, or technical concepts. I often create music that takes me on an introspective journey, to places within. Whenever possible, I firmly hold on to the initial idea and let it guide me throughout the process.
My new EP on Kangding Ray’s label Ara, UTIL 02, is guided by a circular theme. The two tracks that started the project, Feint.0 and Tesla.0, are actually 10 years old. During that time, most of my music was connected to a reoccurring dream I had as a child, an abstract setting with strong sensations of circular motions and endless spirals. I tapped into this when continuing my work on the EP, both emotionally and conceptually. This also led to the circular structure of the 30 extra tracks, called Entanglements.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
It’s rare that I fully articulate a track right from the beginning, however I try to quickly develop a set of phrases and sounds from the initial idea. In some cases, it’s one and the same thing—a particular change in timbre, a harmonic movement, or a rhythm. In other cases, there is trial and error until I’ve found something that resonates with the idea or emotion. Whether it’s planned or spontaneous, it has to be a catalyst for the initial idea. Ideally, it’s a feedback process that will reinforce what has inspired me in the first place.
I’ve had good results with working within a set of defined parameters for a given track or project. This can be a certain technique, aesthetic direction, or combination of tools, at least to the extent of applying it to key elements. But it can go as far as using sounds from a single recording for a whole track, or using only one instrument.
Stoicism on Spatial Cues, the label I run with my mate Kon Janson, was exclusively created using the software instrument TRK-01 by Native Instruments. It’s essentially just a kick and a bass synth controlled by a step sequencer.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I write down ideas and add notes as my thoughts revolve around them, especially when I don’t have time to work on music. My studio setup doesn’t really change, so the tools are already laid out. However, I sometimes plan recording sessions and create material I want to use in a track.
CUES002 B on Spatial Cues, for example, is based on a recording that I realized using a concrete slab, a triangle, and contact microphones. It took some time to get the sounds I wanted from that.
In most cases there are early versions, sometimes whole groups of related tracks that get binned in favor of the final result. But I rarely plan this out, instead I just happen to try things out, hit dead ends, or do quick arrangements for friends to play. So in hindsight there is often something like an explorative phase, however my intention is to get it right from the beginning.
If I knew it would take me 20 versions to finish a track, I probably wouldn’t even start. I tend to be very excited in the beginning, creating many variations that I then need to revisit later on.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I don’t really have any rituals, I just try to follow through on ideas and work as much as possible when I hit a creative streak. During those phases, it’s actually difficult for me to take breaks and rest. I can be obsessive once I have immersed myself in the process.
When I’m not in that mindset, my best chance of developing an idea is to patch away on the modular synth, play the Yamaha VSS30, or record some cassette tape loops. This is how I ended up doing a series of ambient recordings during lockdown, which I put on IGTV as a little side project.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I usually go to the studio with an idea in mind, so there is already something I can work with. If that’s not the case, I just hit record and play my favorite instruments.
Since most of my music is repetitive at its core, looping and layering random bits from synth or field recordings is a good way to avoid the blank project file and set the stage for something new.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I pretty much always leave the studio with a recording that I can listen to, even if it’s only a section of a new track. Especially in the early stages I listen to my own music obsessively and put down notes about where I want to take it, or what I want to change. If I am able to spend a lot of time in the studio it can be a matter of days until I wrap things up, but most of the time I will iterate for weeks or even months.
Working on UTIL 02 was a fantastic experience since David (Kangding Ray) has been really engaged in the process. In the beginning, he pushed me to find the right direction for the EP. Later on, we started bouncing ideas back and forth. Originally, the Entanglements were five transitions that connected the main tracks on the EP, and David suggested to break them out. At one point during our conversation he said something along the lines of, “you could also create 50 tracks, single sounds even, do something crazy”, which inspired me develop this absurd concept that led to a total of 30 extra tracks.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I am generally strict about sticking to the parameters I’ve set for a project, however within this framework I am happy to lose myself in the process. Sometimes I work intuitively from beginning to end, one thing leading to the next.
As desirable as it is, I think it’s hard to develop a practice around it since it’s so volatile. Injecting some control into the process helps me build a routine.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
My process is rarely linear and will take twists and turns. If I get sidetracked and am steering away from the basic idea, I simply go back to a version that feels more to the point. However, I do save alternative versions as additional material. It can be difficult if there are competing versions of the same track. My best strategy is to finish all of them, then take some time to listen and make up my mind. Or get feedback from friends and family. When a strong, new idea emerges I’ll try to turn it into another track.
My track Microdot on SPE:C’s Transformation compilation took many different forms, starting out at 160 BPM, turning into 2-Step at one point, and I think there even is a techno version. Once I went with the half-time feel at 140 BPM and focused on the interplay of the bass elements it finally came together. It’s all about the final track, however I don’t think there could have been a shortcut to that version.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Releasing music has been key for me, in the sense of having to commit to that final version. Running our own label and working on releases together with Kon has been invaluable. But also holding on to the initial idea and using it as a beacon. If I feel a strong connection to the initial idea throughout the track there is probably no need to change anything.
Late in the process it’s about eliminating anything that breaks that connection.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I only consider a track finished when it’s released. Until then, anything goes—from minor refinements to substantial changes in countless iterations.
Coming back to tracks after long periods of time can be tricky, but I also don’t mind turning ideas inside out if something does not feel right anymore. I used to obsess over details even before arranging a track, but I have learned my lesson. Fleshing out an arrangement as early as possible has helped me immensely in developing an understanding of what the finished track might sound like.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I don’t draw a line between writing and mixing, it’s one and the same thing for me. I use mixing techniques to create gestures and structure in a track, and I use compositional techniques to balance the overall sound. I consider timbre and spatiality to be my main modes of expression, so strategies and tools associated with mixing are integral to how I write music.
Mastering is different though, I think those finishing touches are best done by a mastering engineer in their own studio. By the time a track is finished one has lost perspective and won’t pick up on certain problems, some of them technically relevant.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Releasing music is a positive experience for me. Rather than emptiness, there’s relief and excitement, and I enjoy receiving feedback. Depending on how intense the final stages were I might take a break, but usually releases motivate me to continue working.
What I do struggle with is finding myself at the end of a creative streak. It’s like saying goodbye to a dear friend, and you don’t know when you will meet again.