Interview: Kodomo

Chris Child speaks with Death and Taxes on his second Kodomo album.

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The Kodomo project is Chris Child, an electronic musician and composer living in New York City, behaving a like a bizarre scientific researcher of urban rhythm. Using certain artifacts of photography or field recordings, he returns to his lab in midtown Manhattan and develops these into tracks that spell out patterns and textures of intelligent dance music.

Child works at 5 Points Records on 34th street. Inside his studio, three rows of keyboards form one wall of this small enclave high above the streets, and a computer station faces away from a window. This clean, little environment has all the zen and gadgetry an electronic musician could ask for, so it served as the workshop for Child’s second Kodomo album in three years, “Frozen In Motion.”

Where Does Kodomo come from?
Chris Child: “Kodomo” means “child” in Japanese, and it was a nickname I had as a kid. I grew up in Japan and a lot of the people there were amused by the fact that someone’s last name could be Child—over there it’s kind of a funny thing. Instead of being Chris, I was Kodomo. After a while it just stuck with me as something fun to use.

I started doing remixes about eight years ago or so before I worked on the albums, and when they asked what I wanted to be on the name of the remixes, the first thing that popped into my mind was “Kodomo.” I never really thought to use that as an artist name, but then when I started making my own music shortly afterwards I was thinking about an artist name, asked a few friends what they thought, and they all kind of unanimously thought “Kodomo” was the obvious choice, so I’ve been using it ever since.

Did you begin on the piano?
CC: Yeah, that’s correct.

Then you found your way to electronic music through a keyboard?
CC: I got one of those early Casio sets when I was about 13, in an airport or something. But I was just drawn to it for whatever reason. I liked sounds, I liked programming little beats on it.

They’re fun!
CC: Oh yeah, definitely. Saved up for a little better one and started making very basic stuff—this was maybe early high school. I got a pretty decent one when I was a senior in high school and started making stuff on that, and from there it was just more.

Were you excited to discover that there were other musicians doing what you were doing in high school, and some with established names in music?
CC: Absolutely! I was listening to Einstürzende Neubauten, this German industrial band, and was fascinated by the fact that this kind of music could be made and actually sell CDs and people listened to it and it had an audience. Yeah, I was recording random sounds on tape from as early as I can remember, going back and trying to screw with the tape.

Have advancements in technology changed what it means to be considered experimental in this genre that is inherently experimental?
CC: Well, I think that composing and the music making process within electronic music, particularly before the rise of digital sequencers and all this stuff that we have today, is a very process-involved way of making music. But I think those two are very synonymous with each other; the process of coming up with sounds and composing are really one in the same with a lot of electronic music.

In a way, there’s so much you can do now with these instruments, these computers, digital sequencers, that you can say you can lose some of the raw quality of actually enacting these various concoctions to produce these interesting sounds and tones that would then give rise to music like Brian Eno, Throbbing Gristle, or all these early electronic music pioneers that were very process-oriented composers. I think now it’s just you can do that digitally and simulate that, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot come up with interesting music. It all goes back to the artist, the composer and what their intention is towards the project. I think you can become very creative and very deep within any of those worlds.

Are places and the metropolis important to the scheme of you work?
CC: Well, places certainly are, definitely, definitely. Physical spaces can be a big motivating factor in coming up with a track. Particularly in “Still Life.” What was part of the idea was this collection of photos I took. I basically used those to springboard the catalyst for the track—not such a literal interpretation, but looking at that photo, kind of exploring what musical ideas or musical textures would emerge by just taking in an image.

But certainly, being in a physical space, and it could be in an interesting building in downtown New York or another city, for me serves as a lot of inspiration for coming up with a track.

And you’ve just finished recording your second album, “Frozen In Motion,” which is a bit faster and darker than “Still Life.” Is that about right?
CC: Yeah, faster, sure. But “Still Life,” if you were to have it on a meter from dark to light, it has, I guess you could say, a neutral emotional quality to it, more of an ambient feel. Whereas this one, a lot of the tracks have a stronger emotional intensity to it.

It’s also more complex than the last collection, because you’ve brought in outside artists and used recordings of them in the new material.
CC: Right, the last album was purely electronic. This one involved a lot more musicians.

How did you write for that, did you create the electronic element first and then build from there?
CC: What I would do was I would come up with the parts in my sequencer using close-to-those kind-of-instruments sounds, like cello samples, guitar samples. And I’d write the parts and then the musician would come in and record the parts. So, I had a sense of how it would sound before, and of course it was really satisfying to hear someone play this live, because it brought out the expression.

What is the best way to hear your music?
CC: I really feel like listening to it while driving somewhere, or listening to it on headphones, because it really puts you in a specific space and it also involves a lot of intricacies within the actual production elements that I think you can get a lot out of by listening to it on headphones. It also invokes environments, so I think driving along to it works really well in that context.

Did you work with a set of photographs as the center of this second project, or did you use a new approach?
CC: When I set out to do these albums, in general, I would be exploring one central concept, and not necessarily so literally. “Still Life” explored how photos could be interpreted musically. In this case, the second album, the idea was to use field recordings that I made as starting points to explore how sounds, recorded and edited, these seemingly random moments in time just happened to be recorded have inherent musical properties in and of themselves, whether that be a rhythmical content within that—it might be drops of rain on the window or the radiator, an espresso machine—some kind of a melodic pattern—ambiance from a flute melody in the subway.

So, the idea was to explore interesting ones—there was a lot of editing—and then to see what musical ideas come up out of those, and then how those ideas start to form a track. It starts to take a certain direction, and then a few weeks later you have this whole track that just derived from this little snippet of recording. All the tracks started from recorded sound. That was the initial idea.

It’s a study on how we should all be listening more to what’s around us?
CC: Absolutely. Listening back to these moments was the equivalent of looking back on photos, but it had a different quality. It’s interesting how when you smell something that it brings you back to a space, when you hear something it triggers these other sensory memories.

Currently, Child is putting the final touches on “Frozen In Motion,” his second album, which he believes will drop this April on 5 Points Records.

Photos by Brian Appio