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What happened since 1985…

When I think back, there were some essential steps on my artistic road to present time – steps that changed the way I work as well as the way I think aboout music and sound (in my opinion, both always go together).

My real name is Jan C. Obergfell, which should explain my pseudonym “jco”. I was born in 1982, and became fascinated by technology early enough to witness the breathtaking, ongoing revolution that began when homecomputers became affordable. The first machine I laid my hands on was a C116, and then a C64 on which I wrote my first BASIC-Programs (but my interesting BASIC-Programs I wrote on an Atari 1040 STE). My first PC was a 286 – an ugly machine in comparison to my Atari. I continued on the road of software development, but this is material for another article.

I have always been fascinated by technology, and all the same I found a lot of satisfaction in being creative, in whatever way possible for me.

It all started when I was about 3 years old, when my mother endorsed me to learn playing the violin. I did so for many years, following the Suzuki Method. This educational philosophy made music and expression through melody a first language for me. I earned some little orchestra experience, and I remember clearly how I circumvented the effort of reading and translating the score by “just playing something that kinda fits”. Strangely enough, I got through with that approach. I learned some more basics and techniques of musical expression later – including education in piano, alto saxophone and my voice, as well as self-education regarding flute and guitar.

My second major step on the road of creative musical expression was the aquisition of computer technology. My first experiments and experiences with Sequencer Software and the MIDI protocol range back to when I was about 10 years old. Due to bad luck I never knew anybody who supplied me a tracker – thus, my first multitracked songs I created using the first AWE32, which basically was a cheap sampler, later extended with a Yamaha XG ROMpler daughterboard, which supplied more instruments and effects. I started selling tracks on the still new mp3.com platform – here is one of my most appreciated tracks of that time (1998 – and kinda cheesy ;)): jco – digital science

The third step was a massive upgrade of equipment in 1999. I already pushed the old hardware to it’s limits, composing XG-specific sysex commands after figuring out the specifications and using 8MB of sample RAM on the AWE32. So I got my first “professional”, ROM-based Synthesizer, using the popular Roland JV-Series engine, loaded with some extension boards. That’s when I stared using dedicated rooms for music production, too. I continued using a sampler for electronic drum sounds, and later extended my setup with a TB-303 clone and a Quasimidi Sirius (also known as the worst sounding digital synthesizer ever – which, luckily, is not entirely true). Here is one of the best tracks I got out of this setup: jco – when we rise (2001)

The fourth step was the massive increase in available computing power: the software studio. synthesizers, processing tools, mixers, it all went digital and into the average home computer. I completely went software, gaining a lot of possibilities and abilities. I increasingly reached out, trying myself in different musical genres – and having a lot of fun in the process. I also started holding back tracks, not releasing them, deeming them “not good enough” – whatever that means. My output nevertheless was high enough to periodically release tracks in the demoscene. What had happened to audio had happened to video too, and due to the availability of a digital camcorder and the necessary software, I started doing music videos and short films as well. One of my favorites of that time is Memorize your Future (2005).

My ventures into the non-electronic variety of musical genres fruited – among other experiments – in an “act” I call “Jakob Bienenhalm”. You can find his works at bienenhalm.de.

The fifth step I took on my venture of music production took me into a true-to-it’s-name recording studio in 2010. I was surprised over the efficiency an acoustically optimized production environment allows. Everything is so much more precise: For example, i began hearing differences in transients when comparing dynamics processors operating at 44.1 KHz with the same algorithms operating at 96 KHz. Not that it matters much, though ;).

I also started recording musicians and bands, which again opened my ears to new musical experiences. I learned about the intricacies of microphone placement, about bands overestimating themselves (as well as me overestimating bands) and what it’s like having neither cellphone reception nor daylight for extended periods of time. I became more and more professionally involved with music production and sound design, finding myself working for game developers and the automotive industry. It soon was clear that my focus ultimately lied on creating all kinds of audio in the box and less on recording. Luck again played into my hands and I found a suitable room in Cologne, close to my home, in late 2012.

Photos of Studio in CologneThe sixth step was creating my personal dream studio from scratch. Designing room acoustics and deciding on measures to modify the room was an interesting challenge. After a few months of planning, building and investing the result turned out to be awesome and perfectly suited to my needs. I went for a very dry and analytic listening environment. Too dry for a natural sounding recording room, but perfect for precision listening while still comfortable and natural to be in – simply a really quiet room. I also integrated a top of the line recording booth for the occasional instrumentalist, vocalist or measurement job.

At present time, my personal mp3 archive contains over 500 songs. That is, counting those I converted to mp3 and which I stored in my personal, persistent library. Including the bad ones.

To bridge tha gap: I came to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong about sharing a little more of what I do (and what comes out of it) – thus this blog. I hope you’ll enjoy the content, feel free to share your opinions.

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