Interview: Gas/High Skies (AKA Mat Jarvis) | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Interview: Gas/High Skies (AKA Mat Jarvis)

Mat Jarvis

Image: Charles Webster

 

A while back, I was sent a “you gotsta try this” -style email from one of my music sphere friends to try Hemisphere Games’ Osmos.

If you’ve listened to previous podcasts you’ve probably heard Conor (aka Still-NOT-Aquaman) salivate over the iPad version of Osmos.

What really sets Osmos apart for me is the incredible soundtrack featuring Gas/High Skies, Loscil, Biosphere, and more. The soundtrack is an ambient, electronic delight which serves to draw you into the game.

Continue on for my interview with Mat Jarvis (aka Gas/High Skies) where we geek out on music, synthesizers, and more games.

 

 

–Did you have any sense that Osmos was going to be as big as it has become?

I didn’t have any idea. I gave up trying to predict things like that years ago. As long as it’s a good project then it’s worthwhile even if only ten people get to see it, but great if it gets a wider audience.

 

–How did the Hemisphere/Osmos collaboration come about?

When Eddy Boxerman (Osmos creator) first contacted me three or four years ago it was just plain circles on a plain background with just the concept, but it already had great gameplay. He didn’t know if it would be a free game or even released but was just asking to use my music.

 

–Did you write music specifically for the game? (or were they existing tracks?)

They were existing tracks, but I added a few in-game sounds like the wall-bounce and end-of-life (iOS) sounds. “Discovery” was first released in 1995 (from “Gas 0095”), so it was very much an existing track. “The Shape of Things to Come” was a track written for an experimental double CD project, where you could play any track from CD1 at the same time as any track from CD2, to make up something like 100 hours of music rather than two. Each track was in the same key and was exactly six minutes with minimal or no percussion. I had another track on the actual CD and added “The Shape of Things to Come” as an extra.

 

–What has the experience been like?

It’s been a wild ride. Firstly, being involved with Osmos and Hemisphere from the start was a great experience seeing it progress from initial concept right through to Apple’s iPad game of the year. Also, Hemisphere are a great bunch; I’ve mostly dealt with Eddy, who is a great, talented, and genuine guy. Making a good game, like writing music, is a series of a thousand decisions and ideas, and any wrong move could ruin it, so I know we’re going to be seeing more great stuff from Eddy and Hemisphere.

 

–Has having music in games influenced your writing in any way?

Not the writing, but it’s something I’d like to get more involved in.

 

–On your site, you offer die-cut Minimoog models, which are amazing, what’s the story and inspiration behind those? Are you a fan of Dr. Moog, etc?

Of course. All synthesizer geeks love the Minimoog, it was the first portable synthesizer, and we still use its basic architecture today, VCO->VCF->VCA->Ears.

 

Minimoog Models

Mat's Minimoog models

Running my own label means I can do whatever I like; who wouldn’t want to make a 1:8 scale minimoog to give away with every CD? Although having said that, I will have to stop them soon as they’ve very expensive and time consuming to produce and I may not make any more after the current batch runs out.

 

–I also wanted to mention that, currently, all sales benefit the Japan Relief Fund, is there anything you wanted to say about that?

I’ve finished that offer and have now released an album for the Japan Relief fund called “Near Silence”. Donate ANY amount to ANY Red Cross and we’ll send you the full album, and if you donate above the average we’ll also send you a Charles Webster continuous DJ mix of the album and High Skies EP.

 

Near Silence Cover

Cover: Near Silence

There are some great tracks and exclusive on there from, Roedelius (electronic pioneer and Eno collaborator), Richard Barbieri (Japan, Porcupine Tree – and has rerecorded his Japan classic “The Experience of Swimming”), Charles Webster (Furry Phreaks, Presence etc), Woob, Anne Garner, High Skies and others.

 

–I’m a big fan of analogue synths, old and new… I’d like to ask your take on the newer digital/soft  synths in general? Does it lose something? Are we shite for even comparing? What is it about analogue that gets to you?

Soft synths are great, and in certain mixes where they’re buried in the track they can sound almost identical. But where sounds are very exposed, like in a lot of my tracks, there is just a certain magic and warmth to them. A bit like a great Frank Sinatra tribute act; great, but then when you hear the real thing you can hear the magic. I wish I could have a studio with just a laptop plugged into some monitors as it can be a real pain to use old gear; it breaks down, clicks, is hissy, has no memory, goes out of tune; but it’s worth the extra effort.

 

–Are you really in to shaping the waves from a physics perspective… or how much does science knowledge help you when creating sounds? (ASDR, etc)

I’m not sure science or physics plays a part, but it definitely helps to visualise how each control and slider is changing the sound, how increasing the harmonics reduces the bass etc. Knowledge of the physics I would say helps more with mixing; frequency cancellation, room acoustics etc.

 

–You write as both Gas and High Skies, what separates one from the other musically?

Musically they’re both the same, just separated by time. Another chap started using the Gas name and it got confusing so I changed to High Skies. Luckily the German Gas is highly respected; at least it’s not a Justin Beiber or Simon Cowel project, which would have destroyed the name.

 

–Who are some of your favourite artists?

It keeps changing, so at the moment, Japan, Roedelius, FSOL, Kraftwerk, Bernard Fevre, BoC.

 

–What’s your favourite piece of kit?

My most recent synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey. It has a real quality, raw sound and shows up my long-time Jupiter 6. It’s almost totally broken at the moment though, oscillator woes.

Odyssey Synth

A Sexie Odyssey - image: vintagesynth.com

 

–What software do you find important to what you do, or just really innovative or inspiring? (DAW, VST, etc?) What do you typically use in general?

I’ve been working with the same old copy of Logic 5 for the past ten years, so that’s my main software. Apple has just sent me a copy of the latest Logic 9, so I’m looking forward to using that. I find that I’m using less and less software, I even hardly use any compressors or EQ anymore. I’m not against software, I love all new things and technology, just that I like to do things more manually to get the sound and feel I’m after.

 

–Is the computer integral to your workings or is it just a way to capture a track?

Both! I use it a bit like an unlimited multi-track tape recorder, but I also do a lot of editing that would be impossible with a reel of tape and a microscope.

 

–Do you like the engineering process? Is recording part of the creative aspect, or is it a means to an end?

I don’t know! I like the techy, geeky aspects of engineering; learning new techniques and theories down to the bit level. But when I’ve been working on a track for so long the last thing I want to do is to reset all the faders, sort through the hundreds of tracks I typically use and do a proper mix, so I just leave it how it was written, lumps and all. I don’t like too polished a sound, polish turns things into wallpaper, and this definitely helps with that.

 

–Are there any more games you’re currently working on?

My most recent game was 6th Planet for iPhone. I did some of the in game sounds of the spaceship crashing etc and they used one of my tracks (Microscopic).

 

–What’s coming up on the horizon? Any exciting news you can share?

I’m just finishing the sound for a new iPad app called Silk, which should be out very soon [note- this has since been released], and Osmos is currently being ported to Android although I don’t have a date for that yet.

 

Be sure to check out Mat’s site for more exciting news and goods consumption.

 

 

 

 

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