Kodomo is the moniker for electronic musician Chris Child, an Emmy award-winning full-time composer who lives and works in Portland, Maine. As Kodomo, he is best known for his work on the Harmonix video games Amplitude and Frequency. "Kodomo" (子供) is the Japanese word for "child"—both a reference to his surname and the fact that he grew up in Japan.
Chris could you tell us about the new album ? Where and when it was written ? Are they all new songs ? Have some been kicking around for a while ?
My latest album (Three Spheres) was composed in Portland Maine during the height of the pandemic between early 2020 through March 2021. All songs were new, but as is usually the case there are a few older ideas that I’ll revisit and take just one or two elements and recycle it for something else. This happens a lot for me especially with drum parts — I’m not happy with the melodic part of the track but I like the percussion or drum parts, so I’ll pull those out and start something new. I find it hard to start something new with melodic parts!
What’s your process for writing ? Do you start anywhere special and how has this evolved overtime ?
Its really a continuation for me rather than starting something from scratch. I’ve tried many approaches and I find that what sticks is when I’m not consciously “trying” to make something — but rather just letting my instincts and tastes guide me. For me, this does require a “research” period where I just immerse myself in new and older music to just see what I find compelling. Then I’ll do the same with gear — trying new software and hardware to see what sorts or sounds and vibes I get out of it — eventually I’ll hit on something that I find exciting and I’ll go deeper with that. I absolutely need constraints in order to focus and feel I have creative freedom. I think its difficult to do that these days because there are so many options — and difficult for me personally because I’m interested in a lot of different music and generally love gear. I’ll draft out an outline of ideas and concepts or inspiration points to get me started and I try and let those serve as a guide so I don’t stray off into the ether, as I will naturally let things I accidentally discover make there way into my music. I think the process of discovery is really important in creating authentic work to me because it taps into genuine excitement for the unknown and the curiosity leads you down a journey where ideas slowly unravel and reveal themselves.
Your studio is comfy and functional, sparse yet flushed out ! and seems to be divided into a few workspaces. Can you tell me more about it ?
Yes! I recently moved into a new space right in town in Portland and I’m loving it. I was working in the house for the past 3 years, with my son and that proved to be quite challenging — though it also was convenient and kept me from disappearing into my own world! But to have a space isolated from where I live for me just works much better. I find I can focus better and I also like having access to the area which I wouldn’t typically go if I worked from home.
My new space is divided into two rooms — the main room is where I record and create and the second room is where I store most of my gear. The idea being that I only take what I need into the main room and switch it out rather than having everything connected, which I had thought would be more efficient, but ended up confusing me more with too many options. This way I can be more deliberate and restrained with what I choose to work with and give me time to really dig into a particular set of gear choices. It seems obvious, but I’m realizing you really don’t need much — one synth, a drum machine, pre-amp, a live instrument and my computer. I’m really liking this approach so far. I also like to work on specific tasks at a time, for example — recording rhythmic loops on the modular or coming up with strange sound textures using a synth running through various pedals, or creating hybrid acoustic and electronic sample instruments. I find that having dedicated systems for specific purposes (sound design, beat making, textures, loops, sample kits, etc.) — but without the expectation of what I generate will be used for— can lead to really interesting results down the road. I try to spend a good amount of time and thought into building these “systems” both with my hardware and software setups. I create loops using these systems and am constantly adding these to my custom sound library.
In addition to your album what else have you been working on ?
Music for apps and games in development, collaborative album projects including Tape Pieces Vol. 3 — the third installment of my collaboration with sound artist Micah Frank (owner of the plugin company Pure Magnetik) A set of video pieces with artist Glenn Baldridge, music for a VR music system called (m)ORPH, and recently starting a boutique Sample Library.
This sounds great ! What has changed for you since the onset of the pandemic ? How has this affected your work ?
The main change for me was the child care! It took a lot more time when things were shut down, so I found it challenging to work consistently and I felt distracted and fatigued. That’s pretty much everyone with kids I guess. Working on music has mainly been an isolating experience for me. But during the pandemic it became very clear to me that involving collaborators / partners into my music process is now essential. I had hit a wall and felt I couldn’t really grow because I was always hitting the limitations of my own familiarity. So it got me reaching out to friends who I’ve wanted to work with on music but never really did, and it really paid off. I realized there are only so many things I can do well — and that it working with someone else can lift the burden of thinking I need to do it all and getting frustrated because I can’t!
Can you tell me how you use some of our plug-ins in your production ?
So one of the things I do a lot when working with Panorama is to automate the Azimuth plane using an LFO or drawing in a saw wave pattern to create the effect of the sound circling around your head. I find this really works great with strange textures without the low end that I want to give some movement to. I love that the movement with Panorama is 3 dimensional compared to just automating stereo panning. It definitely breaths some life into these kinds of sounds and can create a very satisfying disorienting effect on the listener. I’ll also route lots of LFOs and draw in modulation on many of the parameters in Masterverb. So much so that the effect becomes more of an instrument. And modulating the modulators of course!