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Uprising: Jordan Sterling on Music Capturing “That Moment and Its Memories, Forever”



Pressure Cooker’s intern shares his love affair with sound design, why he listens to new music daily and the pure emotion evoked by sound, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Uprising: Jordan Sterling on Music Capturing “That Moment and Its Memories, Forever”

“Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunities and support to explore the stuff that I was interested in,” says Jordan Sterling while reflecting on his younger years. Now at South African-based music and design company Pressure Cooker, Jordan made the connection between technology and creativity pretty early on. “From as early as I can remember I was messing around with computers, clicking every button I could find just to see what it did.” Digging up a video camera from his parents’ cupboards, and spending hours making both film and audio recordings, he spent his time recording anything and everything. 

Jordan’s start was in photography but soon, music, audio and mastering instruments became a passion. “I started getting into photography and then photo manipulation when I got a copy of Photoshop, which progressed into learning as much of the Adobe suite as possible. Every piece of equipment or software was a whole new world to explore.” He continues, “The biggest one was music. I took some piano lessons when I was about eight, and from there I tried to teach myself the basics of as many different instruments as I could. I was more interested in experimenting with new and interesting ways of using the instruments than mastering them.”

Like many, there was one particular instance that made the initial click for Jordan, solidifying that this was something he’d wind up doing. For him, it was a keyboard, “Early on, I got an old Yamaha DGX keyboard that I played to death over the years. I spent so much time digging through every function and feature that thing had. Probably the best thing about it was the five-track user slots where I could record my own music. It was super primitive, but it was my playground where I made full use of every single sound that a keyboard could make.

“I remember the first time I realised the emotional impact of sound. Using the terrible stock effects on the keyboard, I recorded a war-zone soundscape with screams, explosions, helicopters, fireworks, and some crazy dissonant piano. Then plugged the output of the keyboard into my guitar amp that I put in the garage. I sealed off the garage so that it was pitch black and put a chair right in front of the amp and blasted the sound in my face. 10-year-old me was suddenly transported to this whole new world that I created, it was terrifying and insanely cool. I proceeded to lock every willing (and often reluctant) friend into my garage to experience this incredible thing I had discovered.”

Thinking about his personality, Jordan confidently answers, “I am 100% introverted.” He elaborates, “My happy place is being sealed up in a room by myself, experimenting, creating or learning something new. I tend to spend a lot of time in my head, I love puzzles and problem solving and am generally a cautious optimist.” While being at Pressure Cooker, he’s felt himself grow as a person, “I'm super fortunate to be part of this incredible team and what they are doing here. They have been so supportive in helping me grow and explore my creative voice. I'm very excited about the future of the studio.”

Initially embarking on a filmmaking course at the AFDA Higher Education institution in Cape Town, Jordan initially believed he’d go down the path of visual effects but after his first term getting to grips with sound design, it was a done deal. “I realised that I was in love with this medium and that every second working with it was really just pure joy.” As much as he enjoyed graphic design, sound in particular “had a grip” on Jordan’s heart and after finishing his degree, he knew it was now or never. “Last year, I got in contact with Pressure Cooker and Dan & James (co-founders and co-CEOs of the studio) who gave me the incredible opportunity to intern with them.

“Honestly, I never considered doing music as a career. Even though music has always played a massive part in my life, I didn't think of it as an option. Firstly, I didn't really have any formal training, and secondly, I often said that I loved music too much to make it a job. But because of how much I loved it, naturally, I ended up working music into every project that I could. So when I got the opportunity to create music every day for a living, I realised that it is genuinely a dream come true.”

The emotive ability of music and sound is what Jordan looks to evoke within his work and his favourite aspect of what he does. “I remember lying on the trampoline with my Dad when I was young and he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I said, ‘I want to make people feel things’. That's still the goal. The ability to take people on an emotional journey is honestly what inspires me the most. Whether it's filmmaking, graphic design, art, music or sound design... I love creating stories that hit people's feelings.” When it comes to music, in particular, Jordan explains the “direct connection” between sound and feelings. “it's a secret weapon where you don't know why but you're suddenly crying, terrified or overjoyed. Music is interwoven into our memories and it keeps moments and feelings alive long after they've passed. It really is a very powerful tool.”

Jordan is inspired by a few different people, particularly Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury, Hildur Guðnadóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson who he believes are “pushing the meaning of what music is and what it can be to a different level, especially to a mainstream audience.” By breaking rules, they’re showing the way that music and sound design can be blurred as well as creating sounds which “are able to twist emotions in such a raw, chilling way, which excites him. 

“My passions haven't changed much since I was little,” says Jordan, “Creativity, technology and mashing them together to discover everything in between.” With learning at the forefront of his craft, he loves seeing how far he can push his creativity, creating and doing things that were never intended. “On the technology side, I've got a handful of programming languages in my tool belt that I use for random projects. I love getting stuck into building a new tool that I can use to help my workflow, inspiration or even just something absolutely pointless for the sake of it. Honestly, most of the time I'm stumbling around in the dark tackling things that are way too ambitious for my skill-set, but that's the fun of it. Discovering things that I never would have found otherwise.”

With a passion for the craft, Jordan says, “I try to listen to at least one new album or artist every day.” When he was growing up, the range of music and films he was exposed to was limited and so he now makes every day “an adventure of discovery.” With so much new content, he shares some of his recent favourites which he can’t help but circle back to, “Perfume Genius, Oneohtrix Point Never, Mid-Air Thief, Big Words & Peter Cat Recording Co. But that will probably change in a few weeks.

“I love the surreal, bizarre and unexpected. Collections of things that "shouldn't" go together to create something unique and beautiful. I'm really inspired by artists like Otto D'Ambra and Kazimir Malevich with their unique way of exploring storytelling and our connection to art.” 

The way Jordan analyses his new music favourites is simple, “If it makes me feel something, it succeeds. It's good. In the end, that is really the only point of the stuff we create... Whether or not it's the artists’ intention is irrelevant. It's a super complicated mix of the artist's emotions, their creation, consumer emotions and the current moment... And when those all come together, sometimes there is just magic.

“Any music, whether technically bad or good, in the right moment to the right person, can become a valuable storage device for that moment and its memories, forever. I love that.”

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Pressure Cooker, Mon, 04 Jul 2022 16:50:00 GMT