Q&A with Jason Gorman – Music by Programmers

Q&A with Jason Gorman – Music by Programmers

Today a new album of electronica is released which has been created by software developers intending to raise money for maths and programming workshops for Children at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park. Having seen what minimal programming education my kids have had at school I can see why there is a massive need to get kids into computer programming rather than just showing them Excel and Word. So I caught up with Jason Gorman one of the software developers behind the project to find out more about the album and project.

ID: What was the reason for starting project?

JG: I’ve been talking about a programming club at TNMOC [The National Museum of Computing] for a while, and I figured it was time to get the ball rolling. As always, it was a question of finding the money to get them started. I’ve done various silly things to raise money for Bletchley Park and TNMOC, and was looking for something fun and new to try. I’ve been an amateur musician for 25 years, and I knew there were other software developers out there who made music in their spare time. It’ll be interesting to see how we’re received.

How much are you aiming to raise?

£5,000 this time. If it goes well, we may do more.

Why do you think we still need to raise money for computer clubs?

Honestly? Because programming is still a hugely undervalued skill, and a hugely underrated pastime. I think it’s us adults who are the problem in that respect. Most adults have never programmed, don’t know what’s involved, and wrongly assume their kids wouldn’t be interested. We need to get kids programming in informal, fun environments where they can explore and be creative. Just like we did when home computing took off in the early 80’s. Sadly, when it comes to putting our money where our mouths are, it seems we have billions to spend on, say, a one-off sporting event, but relative pennies to invest in this.

The music reminds me of late 70’s early 80’s Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre. What was the reason for creating music in that style (which in my option was the golden era of electronica)

Two reasons, really: firstly, I love that kinds of music. I’m more of a metal head these days, but I grew up on these synth pioneers. Secondly, that era of synth music coincides with the home computing boom, when many of us started programming. For someone like me, Kraftwerk are the soundtrack to those endless hours we spend hunched over a Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum. It just kind of fitted. Also, now I think about it, it felt right to have a juxtaposition between the style and feel of the music, and the way we actually created it. It feels very analogue, but it was done entirely using software.

What software and hardware did you use for the project?

We all used different tools, but the one rule was that it had to be software. So we all worked on our home computers and laptops. For sequencing, mixing and general project stuff, there was a mix of Digital Audio Workstations used – Reaper, Ableton Live, Cubase, GarageBand. I used virtual analogue synths from Arturia’s V-Collection, which are faithful recreations of the circuitry of classic analogue synths like the Moog Modualr, Minimoog, Yamaha CS-80 and Oberheim SEM. I also used another virtual analogue synth called Sylenth1, as well as Native Instrument’s Absynth for some ambient stuff, and a sample-based synth called Omnisphere. The other guys used synths like Native Instrument’s Massive.

How did you and the team approach writing the tracks? 

I can only speak for myself – I tend to start by writing a melody, then create a harmony around that, and then break that down and arrange it for various synth parts. When we’re working on laptops, the process is pretty iterative. You can hear what it will sound like with all the effects and wotnot running, so you’re part writing, part arranging and part mixing all the time. As Agile Software Developers, we approve, of course. Then, when we were happy we’d got our final mixes into the ballpark we wanted, we sent all the raw audio off to Nagasaki Sound to be mastered. That basically means EQ-ing it to sound good on a range of speakers, and making the mix much louder! I tied their hands behind their backs by insisting they only use software. They did a great job of capturing that early 80-s feel, I think.

How did you and the team approach writing the tracks? 

I have to say, I bought Sylenth1 specifically for this project, and I’ve been very impressed. It sounds great – pretty modern, in some respects – and isn’t resource hungry. The presets are a bit dance-focused, but once you get in and started noodling, it can do a lot.

Where is the music available to buy?

You can download it from iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play and CD Baby. There’s also a very limited edition CD with bonus tracks available through the Bletchley Park shop.

Any plans to do more music? or maybe a live show at Bletchley! 

If we reach our target, quite possibly. The audience will decide!

Many thanks to Jason for his time and you can find out more at musicbyprogrammers.com

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