Jon Hopkins @ Electric Zoo – Talks Studio & Live Techniques

Don’t miss the latest remix releases by Hopkins. Here, he remixes Four Tet:

Angel Echoes (Jon Hopkins remix) by Four Tet

By Peter Kirn

On the eve of playing New York’s massive Electric Zoo festival this weekend, UK-based producer Jon Hopkins talked to me on Create Digital Music about how he works. If you don’t know Hopkins’ beautiful solo releases, his work features sparkling, cinematic textures that crescendo into pulsing tracks. His most successful recent hit, “Light Through the Veins,” begins with a simple, spare lead ostinato before washes of layered sound morph into a solid dance track.

But odds are, you’ve at least heard Hopkins’ music. Aside from numerous TV and film appearances, and a collaboration with Brian Eno on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, his music is spliced into Coldplay’s Light Through the Veins.

Given these luxurious sounds, it might surprise you to learn that Hopkins’ style is spare. His live rig:

Ableton Live, playing bare audio (everything from one-shots to longer, full stems, pulled from his studio albums)
Multichannel audio interface
Six Korg KAOSS Pads
MIDI keyboard for triggering and playing

Ambient legend Brian Eno himself got Hopkins addicted to the KAOSS Pad and the KP3. (The Dubspot crew more typically does work in the box inside Ableton, but our own DJ Kiva has been seen with them.)

In the studio, he still uses the instruments he first got comfortable with as a teenager (Hopkins is now 28). Aside from an acoustic piano – he was Classically trained – he gets many of his sounds from a Korg Trinity, on which he’s been gradually accumulating hundreds of custom patches since the age of 18. He does most of his actual sound design inside the Windows-only audio editor Sound Forge (now made by Sony), putting waveforms up on the screen and slicing and manipulating them into the desired materials. He’s recently upgraded to Logic from an old version of Cubase VST. But the real work happens largely at the waveform level, and with outboard processing via a beloved, dedicated box called the Eventide DSP 4000, not using lots of plug-ins. It’s an approach that recalls the analog tape methods of the pre-digital age.

What’s fundamental about this for Hopkins is finding a comfort level with his technology. As he says of the Korg Trinity, the only keyboard he’s ever used: “I don’t think it’s about what you use, it’s about how well you know it and how long you’ve been using it. And I know that machine ridiculously well. I’ve had it again since my first setup, when I was 18. And I’ve got a few hundred sounds that I’ve made over the years. Every synth sound on all three of my albums comes from that, with the exception of a couple of bass sounds from a Nord Lead that I’ve got as well. But it just gets enormously processed. I don’t use them as they are; I stick them into SoundForge and just mess them up, and go through a lot of processes.”

You can read the full interview with more gory details of his working method and film scoring at Create Digital Music.

Catch Hopkins with a fully live set Sunday afternoon at Electric Zoo. (Playing the same Red Bull Riverside Stage is The Glitch Mob, for a different approach – everything in Ableton Live but with lots of effects, multiple Lemur touchscreens instead of Korg hardware, and multiple laptop musicians.)

Four Tet, in turn, remixes Jon Hopkins:

Jon Hopkins – Vessel (Four Tet remix) by Four Tet

And from an upcoming 12″ release on Domino, English electronic maestro Nathan Fake (Border Community) remixes Jon Hopkins. (Got all that? Four Tet and Hopkins swap remixes, Fake remixes Hopkins.)

jon hopkins – wire (nathan fake remix) by nathan fake •official•