A conversation with Jon Porras

 

    We spoke with Jon Porras (Barn Owl) about understanding the context of his body and the universe, being fascinated by the number π, testing the laws of the physical world as a child and reflecting on the vastness of open space.

     

    I see the creative process as an investigation of where boundaries are blurred between an individual and the outside world.


    We asked Jon to tell us what comes to mind when we brought up these expanding levels of his physical space.


    Heartbeat.


    Wind chimes.


    Warmth.


    History. The past.


    Falling leaves.


    Complicated.


    Complicated.


    Wilderness.


    A single sphere.


    The unknown.


    Home.


    Mystery.

    1

    Morgan Enos

    I personally make power pop music, so I’m super-worried about chords, arrangements and vocal melodies. But I’m also such a fan of very monolithic, droning music, because it erases all those borders and becomes this one big thing, not like an intricate puzzle. But at the same time, it’s not like drone can be made carelessly or by anyone. How would you describe your own approach to the manipulation of textures to create something seemingly simple, yet complex?

    Jon Porras

    For me, making music has always been an iterative process that moves between intense experimentation and taking a step back to listen. I’m making edits, blurring and adjusting recorded movements, adding or removing elements and manipulating sounds with intense processing. In the end, it’s an attempt to satisfy the curiosity of “What would happen if I tried this?” as the individual elements fall into place. It’s still a puzzle but one without a clear image, lines, or shapes to guide you.

    My guess is that I pay attention to a similar set of parameters that you do. Most of the time, it’s my own emotional feedback that guides the direction of the work. Instead of looking for interesting combinations of lyrics and chord changes to create that spark, I look to a range of sonic possibilities that sometimes go beyond musicality like texture, frequency, and timbre. But layered within the nonmusical moments, I work to create a pop sensibility by emphasizing thematic elements that draw a listener into the piece.

    2

    I suppose that if very droning music was a painting on a canvas, it would qualify as abstract art versus an intricate still-life or whatever. In art and the world, are you generally attracted to the essence of things, the point where concepts blur? Can you give me any examples of this?

    It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I’ve always been drawn to things that require decoding.

    A boss on one of my first software engineering jobs used to love talking about stuff like this. One day we were chatting about π — how it’s an irrational number that cannot be expressed as a common fraction and its decimal representation never ends. That alone is awesome to think about — a decimal that never ends! It is a mathematical constant that has contributed to many milestones from ancient sea navigation to space travel. We’ve been able to learn enough to leverage the predictive power of π, but it’s likely we’ll never be able to fully decode the randomness of its infinite digit sequence. π blurs the boundary between the known and unknown.

    I also see the creative process as an investigation of where boundaries are blurred between an individual and the outside world. Creativity, in my life, has become about self-exploration while in search of the universal.

    I like how the laws of physics offer a way to see all objects as bound together, but they also require a degree of faith.

    3

    On the topic of universality, what is your personal understanding of astronomy, the stars, cosmic hugeness? Can you point out certain celestial bodies on a perfectly clear night? If so, what?

    Regrettably, I’m not the guy who can point out celestial bodies — I’d like to be — but reflecting on cosmic hugeness is a big part of how I move through the world. This was actually the core of the struggle of moving to New York. In San Francisco, I got used to driving out to the ocean and reflecting on the vastness of open space.

    It always put my own comparatively insignificant problems into perspective. It took some time to figure out how to do this in New York. The vastness is a little harder to find. But I live right where the East River meets the harbor and, over time, I’ve grown to love the light there.

    4

    That grabbing-at-the-essence thing reminds me of how personal belief kind of makes all things porous and one, regardless if you lean East or West. Do you consider yourself a religious person at all? Regardless, do you think anything binds all objects in existence?

    This is an ongoing question. One thing I can say is that I embrace mystery and am comfortable, if not energized, by the notion of not having answers. I like how the laws of physics offer a way to see all objects as bound together, but because those laws have been pulled from human-collected data and tested within the limits of our five senses, they also require a degree of faith.

    My dad and his family immigrated from Colombia and I was raised within a healthy atmosphere of Catholic mysticism. I say “mysticism” because, as a kid, it all felt like black magic to me: my grandmother lighting candles in dark corners of a room, intoning prayers about the body of Christ. These experiences, in combination with an interest in science and programming, have given me the confidence to live outside the dichotomy of logic vs. belief, rational vs. spiritual.

    I feel a pull toward nature and can look out onto the horizon for hours. I’m very comfortable within this contemplative headspace.

    5

    Do you have a personal relationship with trees, limbs or natural wildness? How do you feel in the middle of a spooky woodland, no one around, with a big bright moon overhead?

    As I’m getting older I’m developing a healthy fear and respect for wildness — especially at night. But I feel a pull toward nature and can look out onto the horizon for hours. I’m very comfortable within this contemplative headspace.

    6

    For some reason, I’m remembering this odd thing I’d do as a child. I’d lie in bed, slowly drawing the palms of my hands together until they met. I was trying to understand the smallness of physical space, in a way – I’d wonder at what point my palms would be at the distance of one atom or one molecule, trying to comprehend that. I feel funny putting that into writing, but did you ever perform any experiments or trials as a child, trying to understand the physical world?

    That’s awesome. I’m still trying my best to cultivate that sense of curiosity even now, but yeah, I remember keeping my eyes closed tightly until I started seeing moving patterns on the inside of my eyelids. I guess I was testing perception, but I’d spin myself into a frenzy wondering if the patterns were real, or what.

    7

    Finally, can you describe the last time you truly longed for something? What or who was it, and why did you feel that way?

    I considered myself to be an adaptable person until I made a move across the country. For a while, I longed for that familiarity and friendship.

    Thank you.

    Data


    Conversation: 81
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: December 4, 2017
    Total questions: 12 + 7
    Word count: 1161
    Reading time: Four minutes
    Hyperlinks: 4
    Dimensions: 12
    Borders: Erased
    Stars: Longing
    Fear: Healthy
    Pi: Eternal
    Curiosity: Cultivated
    Celestiality: Reflection

    Relation


    About the curator


    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.


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