My first introduction to the music of South African producer and composer Jason van Wyk was his 2016 contribution to the Eilean Records project, an entrancingly lush foray into piano-centric post-classical electronica called Attachment. He followed the next year with the equally exquisite Opacity, this time on the venerable Home Normal imprint. Jason made a welcome return last year on the n5md label with Threads saw him exploring a more densely layered, atmospheric sound reflective of his work in composing for film over the intervening years. Continuing in that vein, he has just released a follow-up called Descendants, an album which he deems more introspective in tone but is still very much imbued with the same kind of cinematic breadth and depth. I have thoroughly enjoyed both albums many times over and am thrilled that Jason has taken a few minutes to talk to us about them here.
Before diving into the new album, maybe you can tell us a little about your journey from where you started to the kind of music you make now. I understand you started off producing, so I am especially interested in what drew you to more experimental and cinematic forms and how you feel it has evolved over time.
I got into writing music for media after many years of producing trance and club music. Through that and the people I was working with, I began to listen to a lot of ambient, drone, electro-acoustic and got into the more experimental side of electronic music. At this point, I’d moved away from producing trance and all this new music was piquing my interest, so it felt like a natural direction to take.
I feel it’s always evolving. I try to keep things interesting for myself with every album by mixing up the workflow, trying out different synths, different microphones, etc. It’s a continual experiment and learning exercise.
Like ‘Threads’ which you put out last year, ‘Descendants’ is very densely layered and expansive in its sound, yet they each have their own distinct vibe. Was this a continuation of a theme for you or is it really a separate journey of its own? Or maybe a little of both?
A little of both. I’d say Descendants is a bit more introspective than Threads overall, however one could still consider it a “part two” in many ways. Some of the pieces were started while I was working on Threads, so there’s certainly a connection between the two.
Do you see the songs on the album as each standing alone or is there an overarching narrative that ties them together thematically?
Both apply to some extent. Each track was created separately, but they all contribute to the overarching idea of the album.
The production values on both records are outstanding. Do you handle the sound design & engineering aspect of your albums as well?
Thank you. I handle everything except the mastering. All mixing and sound design happens as part of the production process.
I am curious about how you compose these days, especially since you have moved away from a piano-centric sound to more abstract forms. Do you typically build around a clear melodic idea or is it more of an interactive process?
There’s actually more piano involved than one realizes in these last two albums. I usually start with trying to establish an atmosphere. That was the main goal with most of these tracks. Often enough, that will be done through some piano improvisations. Once that’s recorded, I’ll start editing and processing, adding various layers and building upon those recordings. By the time the track is finished, that piano element can end up being completely unrecognizable, or in some cases muted altogether. Though, even if it is muted, it still plays an important part in getting the track to its final state.
Each track is different. “All This Time”, for instance, was started with the drums, then everything else was built upon that.
There’s actually more piano involved than one realises in these last two albums…By the time the track is finished, that piano element can end up being completely unrecognisable, or in some cases muted altogether. Though, even if it is muted, it still plays an important part in getting the track to its final state.
Regarding the work you have done in film & media or other collaborations, are there any of those projects you are especially proud of or would want to more people connect with?
There have been a few things over the years. I’ve just finished working on a documentary which is wrapping up in the UK, so we’ll see where that goes.
Finally, now that Descendants is out, what is next for you? Any touring plans or new projects in the works?
I haven’t done any touring in years actually, but I’d love to get back into it. Other than that, just finishing up before the end of the year with some collaborative projects that I hope will be out in 2023, plus the next solo album for n5MD.
Descendants is available now from n5MD on limited edition white vinyl as well as digital download and streaming. Cover photography is by Rebecca Hauri.
More by Jason Van Wyk
Threads (n5md, 2021)
Opacity (Home Normal, 2017)
Attachment (Eilean Rec., 2016)