31.07.2013, Words by Ruth Saxelby

Found Sound: Jon Hopkins

Found sounds abound on London producer, Ivor Novello-nominated composer and Brian Eno collaborator Jon Hopkins' newest album 'Immunity', roughing up the urgent edges of his most upbeat release to date. Having previously spoken about his desire for "less laptop, more reality", he was a shoe-in for our occasional found sound series, in which artists send us their self-sourced field recordings and samples. What we received is very special indeed: the fireworks sample that Hopkins used for the new version of his track Abandon Window, which is included on 'Immunity'. And not just any old fireworks, but the ones set off during the Olympics ceremony last summer. Listen to the eerily dramatic results on the left and read on for a short interview with Hopkins, including why he likes accidents in music and what his favourite sound in all the world is.

Hi, Jon Hopkins! How's your day going?

Jon Hopkins: Hi. My day is going well thanks. I am currently on a plane home from Amsterdam – I had a show in Utrecht last night at this awesome small outdoor festival called Stekker In Het Park. I was quite sensible afterwards so there is no hangover today. Something I have learnt is that when you are in your 30s you cannot do exactly what you want after every show.

Could you tell us a bit about the found sound you've sent us?

Jon Hopkins: The sound I have sent is a recording I made from my rooftop of fireworks that were going off during the Olympics ceremony. It is heavily processed and slowed-down. I had to make it fit with the track that it features in, a piano track called Abandon Window. I actually wanted it to sound not like celebratory fireworks but like a distant battle, or the echo / memory of a battle. To achieve this I had to do a lot of work on its placement within the stereo field and the pitch.

You've spoken to the Quietus before about using found sound to incorporate the reality of making music into the music itself. Would it be right to say that you see the incorporation of found sound in your music as a way of making it more personal or literal?

Jon Hopkins: It's partly that – I do like the idea of the listener experiencing the sounds I am hearing around me as I am writing the music – but it's more just the magical effect that sounds from reality have on the overall recording. Real-world noise of any sort has a very wide frequency range, far wider and more complex than any electronically generated sound. Mixing found sounds in with computer or synth-made music gives it a width, depth and character that it can otherwise lack. 

How do you usually go about the field recording process?

Jon Hopkins: I have a small Zoom hand-held recorder, which can record in stereo at full quality. Once the sounds are captured on there it's easy to drop them in songs. I usually drop them in at random and listen back – more often than not, things will line-up in an interesting way and inspire other ideas. I believe in being open to these "accidents" happening and seeing where they lead.

Your recent album 'Immunity' is beautiful, are you enjoying playing it live?

Jon Hopkins: Thanks I am glad you like it. Yes, the live shows have been going great so far – I've been playing the new show since the end of May and am now at a place with the set where it feels really comfortable. It's also very satisfying playing for crowds who are familiar with the songs – not something I am used to, as in general my previous albums have not exactly been top of the charts.

What's your favourite sound in the world?

Jon Hopkins: Birdsong. It brings peace, resonates with something deep and primal inside us. It gives back what traffic noise takes away.

Domino released Jon Hopkins' album 'Immunity' on 3rd June 2013. He will play Green Man Festival on 17th August, Bestival on 6th September and London's Koko venue on 21st September 2013.

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