Jan has been performing for 14 years, ten years of which he gave collaborative performances with his friend Martin Epskamp, who performs as Klankman on Bunker Records. He performs mostly solo now, creating a live art experience on stage, and uploading music to Soundcloud sometimes as Colloid. Jan was on a personal search for what he wanted in his modular system, which led to his first designs.
Designing modules available to the public as Ginko Synthese for 4 years, Jan initially started out as an architect. He believes there is an overlap in the design of architectural structures and synthesizer components. Jan has no engineering background but is embodying the true spirit of DIY, 100% self-taught via the internet, printing out schematics and finding out the ‘what, how and why’ they work the way they do, utilizing trial-and-error based techniques. His first module that he put on the market was the TTLFO, and within 3 days he had requests for 100+ modules.
Jan has a background in classical music. He started investigating electronics when he was 12 years old by opening up old organs to see what was inside. The first organ he opened up belonged to his grandfather, that had an old cheesy drum-sound module inside; Jan discovered if he touched it, it made noises and feedback loops, which he found fascinating, and as a kid he could have played with it for days. He was amazed at all the wires and inner workings of the organ.
When I asked Jan if he had played instruments, or if he had ever played the organ, he laughed heartily…
“I only demolished organs…” and he demolished many of them, more than he could count.
He then told me he played the flute as a child, and played three different flutes for a long period, but he hated it. He was taught music theory and how to read traditional notation, but he was offended by it in a sense. He had a private teacher who asked him to write his own musical notation, which he did enjoy; it was the only way he would practice. The encouragement from his teacher to practice traditional notation increased his appreciation for composing his own music, rather than playing scores written by others. Now he realizes it helped him develop into how he thinks of music as an experimentalist.
Jan’s parents listened to mainly classical music, so he was forced to grow up with it. It did influence his musical views, because when he started creating his own music, he did some weird improvisations of classical pieces. When he got a little older, he discovered the alternative music on the Dutch Radio station; this is where he discovered abstract electronic music, which was an eye-opener for him that other people were doing music similar to the kind he preferred to make. He had the realization that others were also doing experimental music, and it was typified as breakbeat/ambient music.
Stradivarifuzz, a pedal that can be viewed on his website as ‘Not for Sale’ was an experiment of Jan’s, that started off as a simple schematic. He stressed the importance to me that every little part has a lot of influence on the final sound. It is still in its prototype stages, and he is concerned about taking it further because he doesn’t want to change it too much. He told me it is a finished product that can still be developed further, which he plans on doing one day. The Stradivarifuzz can be infinitely developed, which is why he had to draw the line and decide it was finished; a similar sentiment shared by many inventors and composers.
His Sampleslicer module was designed with the intent to be an instrument, to create a nice groove. Jan does not want this module to be confused with a sampler, because it does not have a sample-playback function. There is no SD card, because he was not interested in using the sample-importing technology in his design. Samplers are based on memory where you play back samples from an SD card. The Sampleslicer is a sound-mangler, with the sequencer being an important component to create the groove.
Combining the modules of many companies effectively, that’s the whole idea of modular synthesizers in Jan’s opinion and many other synthesists today. He is not interested in creating a filter because there are so many good filters already out there. There are lots of eurorack module manufacturers to choose from, to combine and make a great system. He went on to say that Doepfer has so many modules, that a full system can be made with only Doepfer modules. He ended with saying that, “Now, there are so many interesting small manufacturers doing really great designs, you can do anything you want in a modular system.” The modular synthesis community agrees.
Learn more about Jan Willem’s modules: http://www.ginkosynthese.com