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Interview: Arjen Schat

Sometime around 2011, I bumped into Waveform Transmission's "V1.0-V1.9" release, which is a really interesting Dark Ambient album. It's quite obscure and hard-to-find, so I found a download on an obscure music blog in order to listen to the whole thing before trying to hunt down a CD to buy. Rod Modell worked on that, and when I hunted for his other stuff, I first found Dub Techno. Going back to the music blog, the author had just posted that he was listening to some quality Dub Techno by Ohrwert, called "Yesteryear".

This was my first introduction to the musical world of Arjen Schat, a composer from the Netherlands who works in several different genres of electronic music. Over the years since finding his music, I've been quite interested to see how his styles have evolved. Recently I felt I had enough understanding to do an interview with him to get some inside information on how he works. He was kind enough to answer my questions; many thanks to him for the following interview.

For easy access, here are a few links to some of his music:
Arjen Schat - Fractional Dimensions
Ohrwert - Musis
Minute of Arc - Grit

How did you come to be interested in composing music?

I’ve been interested in music almost my entire life, composing wasn’t really on my mind until I got a copy of ‘Fasttracker 2’ around 1997 and started to fiddle around with it. I wouldn’t call it composing though, it took me a long time to learn how to arrange a simple pattern as the learning curve was quite steep for an 11-year old. Up to 2001 I didn’t spend much time on it, I was more focused on increasing my DJ skills. Since then I got back into composing, but without MS-DOS I wasn’t able to use Fasttracker and after trying different applications I found ‘Noisetrekker’, the predecessor of the tracker I still use: ‘Renoise’.

What sorts of music do you like to listen to?

Mostly electronic music, in its broadest sense. One moment I’m listening to Manuel Göttsching’s “E2-E4”, and the other I’m playing a recording of Autechre’s liveshow in Glasgow from 2005, or an old-school jungle mix from the Bassdrive archives. I grew up with hardcore/gabber, then went on to listen to more extreme and provocative music like breakcore, noise and industrial, from there I discovered ambient music and pretty much every other genre within electronic music (thanks to Hennie V of the local record shop “Dance Drugstore”).

Are there any artists that you regard as influences on your own work?

Yes, there’s a couple of them worth mentioning: Klaus Schulze, Conrad Schnitzler, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Rod Modell, Moritz von Oswald, and Aaron Funk. They have all influenced me in their own way, even though their music may differ from each other.

You're currently releasing music under three names: Arjen Schat, Ohrwert, and Minute Of Arc. What are the different creative forces behind these? How do you make the decision about how far you can push each respective audience?

I used to have a lot of different names for different projects, but it has been narrowed down to just Ohrwert and Arjen Schat until recently. Ohrwert is for all my dub and technoid related recordings, Arjen Schat for the music I play with my hands, which is primarily ambient and sequential music. Minute Of Arc is an alias I thought of a couple of years ago, and is used for IDM/electro kind of tracks.

How do the smaller EP releases (like "Apostrophe" or "Amtech") come to be?

“Apostrophe” was the first release on the Ohrwert Bandcamp page. I used to release my Reduct series on Internet Archive, which became quite dated, and Bandcamp seemed like the perfect substitute as a platform for these small EPs. The EPs themselves are usually tracks that don’t fit the length of an album, but do have a certain coherence.

We find quite a few of your remixes of others' music scattered around the electronic underworld on various collections and other artists' EPs. Do you have any recommendations for aspiring artists who are interested in that sort of work?

I’m not sure how that came about, I know I’ve done a lot of remixes for the Stasis Recordings roster. Every once in a while Sanderson asks me if I would like to do a remix for an EP or album. Depending on what I think I can do with it, I’ll work on it. I’d like to think that I have a certain style that people enjoy hearing in other artist’s tracks, but being friends with labels and artists also helps of course.

My first exposure to your music was through "Yesteryear". Still a great album! I love the first track in particular. Could you comment on how that music sounds to you after ten intervening years of musical development?

“Übertragene Anwählungen” was a series of tracks produced under my “Maskin” moniker back in 2006, around the time I did my first Ohrwert recording. It was inspired by Rod Modell’s “Illuminati Audio Science”, a continuous mix of dub techno. “Teil eins” is the first part, and was sent to Jamie (Silent Season) in 2009 when compiling the album, along with a bunch of other tracks from the same era. I still hear what I intended with it, but it wouldn’t make the cut now I think.

How did the inspiration for the big change in sound for "Intueri" come about?

In 2012 I had a spike in club performances, but I felt my sound wasn’t really appropriate for clubs. I gradually changed my live material towards a more dance-oriented sound, influenced by classic house music. This change also influenced my studio recordings, I found myself using many elements from my live shows which resulted in “Intueri”.

A lot of music in the various types of Techno still use the Roland 909 after 35 years. It's prominent on a few of your albums, such as "Inteuri". How do you choose when or when not to use this machine?

I don’t actually own a TR-909, but use two drum computers which can sound similar: Vermona DRM1 MK3 and Jomox Xbase 999. I also use Propellerhead’s ReBirth RB-338 iPad app occasionally. But it depends on the sound I try to achieve, if I want some rougher edges in the groove, I like to shape the drum sounds like a TR-909. For a smoother sound I’ll shape them like a TR-808, or design my own drums using subtractive synthesis.

It must have been a challenge to figure out in which order to assemble the tracks on "The Ambex Project”. Was there some process you used to work on that?

In comparison with the time it took me to complete the tracks for it, it wasn’t that bad. My idea was to alternate between the ambient and rhythmic tracks, and it had to work in a continuous mix. I did try a few different combinations, but settled on the final order, which is both the order of the album and its “Continuous Flux”.

Can you comment on the compositional changes your sequential music has gone through over the years?

When I started composing sequential music it was based on one or maybe two static sequences with a few transposes. Since then I’ve been searching for interesting ways to add more sequences with more variation to them, without interrupting my lead instrument. Now, 12 years later, I use various techniques to continuously evolve my sequences which play a major part in my sonic identity.

Do you work from the concept (for example "Infinite Arithmetics" has all math-concept-named tracks) through to the music?

All of my albums come from some sort of musical concept, but the titles don’t always precede them. I usually try to find interesting subjects that complement the music in a certain way.

A recent Arjen Schat release was "Spectrum", which got a vinyl release alongside the digital one. What's the process like getting a vinyl release ready?

It’s a tedious and time consuming process. We started a year ago with brainstorming on what music we wanted to release and what goal we wanted to achieve with it. Once we decided it would be an Arjen Schat album I started recording tracks for it. Along the way I came up with the title and began sketching some ideas for the cover. We had a pretty big list of things to do in order to set up the label and get everything ready for production. After every call or meeting we got closer, step by step. All in all, it took nine months from concept to finished product.

The first Minute of Arc EP, "Grit", is quite interesting. Can we expect more of this kind of thing in the future?

Yes, lots of it. Minute Of Arc is a project I’ve been working on for the last four years. Albums and EPs are stacking up, so I’ve decided to do a MOA-release every quarter this year and see if I can create a momentum that we can carry on to Trésor D’argent and do a vinyl release.

I'm often curious about which tracks artists like best of their own work. For example we found out on Facebook that Yagya's favorite Snowflake is #6. Are there any tracks in your catalog that you find stand out?

As for Ohrwert tracks, I find “Airy Pattern” and “Fidelis” stand out the most to me. The first because it contains just the essence of dub techno and keeps that going past the 10-minute mark. The latter because it contains both the dub vibe, and part of the cosmic vibe from my sequential music. As for Arjen Schat music, I think I’ll have to go with “Quale (Sequential)” from “Sequentem”. It has both a complexity, as well as an ease to it, which is exactly what I like to transmit through my sequential music.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these. Is there anything you'd like to tell your fans in closing?

No problem, thank you for the opportunity to shed some light on what I do. I’d like to thank my fans for their ongoing support, and for bearing with me as I tend to walk on different musical paths.


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