Photo by Steve GullickJon Hopkins started playing piano at age five. Seven years later, he was studying piano at London’s prestigious Royal College of Music.
- Names: Jon Hopkins
- Created on: August 15, 1979
- Location: London
- Homepage: Facebook page, Web site
- Domain: Composing, recording and performing music.
When you try to imagine 800 sounds in a single, nine-minute song, you might anticipate a fast-moving train that either crashes in a wreck of noise or sweeps you away glitch by unexpected glitch. But for Jon Hopkins, an electronic musician who spent his teenage years training as a classical pianist at the Royal College of Music, such layering can be subtle and dynamically restrained. With tracks like “Light Through the Veins” (with its hundreds of sounds), “Circle” and his remix of Four Tet’s “Angel Echoes,” which build calmly and keep you feeling constantly grounded, Hopkins hints at a love for creating cinematic music. The Domino Records artist, who has collaborated with Coldplay, Imogen Heap and Massive Attack, just finished working on Small Craft on a Milk Sea, the new album by Brian Eno, due out this November.
While it’s true that Hopkins does rock out and at times exude an Orbital-like grandness, he is particularly adept at capturing atmosphere and emotion, a talent that lends well to scoring film. Hopkins is the composer behind Gareth Edwards’ new film Monsters, and he previously worked with Eno on scoring Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. And these days, when he’s not creating scores that would make Vangelis proud, he can be found touring with fellow Domino artist, Four Tet.
Tell us about yourself, your background and what inspired you to become a musician?
I have always been obsessed with music, from as early as I can remember. My parents bought me a toy xylophone when I was about three years old and I was apparently found bashing out basic tunes on it. I can’t really do anything else so it was always the obvious thing for me.
How did you go from classical piano training as a kid to creating electronic music and working with such iconic figures?
The two things always ran alongside each other, independently. I was learning the piano, but at the same time I was much more interested in writing music on the computer, and in discovering what synths could do. At the music college I went to, they had a small studio where you could spend an hour a week playing around with studio stuff. That was where I really started.
Video directed by Bison for Four Tet’s remix of Jon Hopkins’ “Vessel.” The two artists swapped remixes, and in return Hopkins created a serene version of Four Tet’s haunting “Angel Echoes.”
Why do you choose to often use real instruments and edit the sound after, instead of working entirely through a synthesizer (not that a synth isn’t a real instrument…)?
If you start with an acoustic instrument as your source, you have a lot more richness of sound as your starting point. Sound that reverberates through strings and wood is always going to be more complex and harmonically deep than things conjured up out of 1s and 0s in a computer. But then things from a digital source can cut through and provide a whole different type of energy in a track. I love how the two processes can be combined and set against each other.
What instruments do you play, other than synths and piano?
None. I would like to be able to play the drums though.
Many of your remixes sound different from each other. When you remix, are you working primarily as a musician with your own sound, or are you honing in on something that you think is latent in the song and trying to take it to a place it seems to inherently want to go?
I don’t really think consciously about that when I’m working on something. I just have an idea for a track that I’m remixing, then I follow it through until the end, working on instinct really. To me, they all sound like they have my stamp but it’s hard for me to say exactly what my stamp might be.
Much of your music feels cinematic, which is fitting as film scores inspire you. Why do they inspire you?
I love music that creates images for you in your head when you listen to it. There is also something within film scores that takes the elements of classical music that I love, like the beauty, the instrumentation and the atmosphere, but is simpler to listen to. I have quite simple tastes and have never been a fan of massively experimental music so film scores are great for me.
Hopkins performing “Insides” live at the ICA in London.
Do you have any favorite film scores?
I love all of Carter Burwell’s scores for the Coen Brothers movies. Particularly A Serious Man, which is very understated and hypnotic. I also love the iconic Thomas Newman scores, such as The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, etc. These have been ripped off by so many other people since then, it’s difficult to recognize how distinctive they were when they appeared.
How did you come to score The Lovely Bones with Brian Eno?
I’d been working with Brian for a few years already on various projects, and one day he told me he’d been asked to score The Lovely Bones by Peter Jackson, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to take on such a massive task as doing a film score on his own. I told him I was a huge Peter Jackson fan and I’d love to get involved with the writing and recording of it, and he was into that idea.
It sounds like you and Brian Eno worked together very closely for a long time. What was it like to work with him on his new album, Small Craft on a Milk Sea?
It was amazing. We first met about seven years ago and ever since then we’ve jammed out a lot of ideas, along with Leo Abrahams, a mutual friend and genius guitarist/composer in his own right. Over the last couple of years, some of these ideas started to form this album.
How did you come to score Monsters? What were you working to convey in Monsters and what do you think the film, in turn, inspired in your music?
I was asked to score Monsters really as a result of my work on The Lovely Bones, and I already had a relationship with its production company, Vertigo Films. For me it was an amazing experience, as the imagery and emotion within the film suggested to me exactly what was needed musically. It’s photographed so stunningly, it’s almost like watching a painting at some points. There were several scenes where all the sound was faded out and the music becomes the total focus.
A trailer for the Hopkins-scored Monsters, directed by Gareth Edwards.
How is scoring different from writing your own music, or from remixing or producing?
Generally, I feel it’s less pressure, as when you write your own music or remix someone, what you are doing is 100% of the focus, and you have to stay aware of that and be able to make something that completely absorbs the listener’s attention. But when you’re scoring, you’re there to augment and intensify what’s going on on the screen. It can be just as powerful, but it’s not the full focus.
What new projects do you have on the horizon?
I have a few more remixes on the horizon. I have just finished one for Nosaj Thing that is out mid-November. And then I really need to write my next album. There’s also a collaboration album that I’ve made with King Creosote, which should surface in spring next year.
Jon Hopkins will perform an exclusive DJ set tonight in Seattle as part of the Flux-curated Film Nights by Relentless screening of Monsters, before embarking on a North American tour with Four Tet.
- Social Web