In Conversation with Circles and Ellipses as he shares ‘Burn:Cycle Theme’ single

Chris Whitten’s burning desire to pursue music as a career led him on a musical path that most would envy. He left home during his salad days to study jazz and classical composition at The City Of Leeds College Of Music, but his diploma was cut short to embark on a tour with seminal British jazz-fusion guitarist Gary Boyle.

This proved to be the beginning of a musical career that has spanned over four decades, and has seen Whitten produce hit-singles such as “What I Am” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, to providing drums for “The Whole of the Moon” by The Waterboys, and the legendary Sir Paul McCartney’s 1989 album “Flowers In The Dirt,” and joining iconic British rock band Dire Straits on their final world tour from 1991-1992.

His latest release, Burn:Cycle Reworks is a re-imagined version of his 90’s video game score Burn:Cycle, the first video game soundtrack to feature orchestral music. Burn:Cycle Reworks will be officially released via Here & Now Recordings on February 22nd, and consists of 4 re-imagined tracks from the original score.

We caught up with him to talk gear and inspiration, and were lucky enough to get hold of his latest Spotify playlist.

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
My mother was an amateur pianist and loved all music including modern pop. My older brother was into all the latest obscure bands growing up. From four or five years old I’ve always been into music and never considered any other way of life.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea? 
I don’t think there are any rules. It’s hard to start with a blank page, so anything that gets me started is welcome. It might be a musical idea played (at first) using a terrible sound, or crafting an inspiring sound that then leads to some musical ideas. Being a rock drummer I’m totally tired of hearing guitar, bass and drums music. One of the things I find most exciting about electronic music is the sound design, trying to create unique sounds. I use modular synthesis for most of my sounds. So a lot of the time I have to imagine a sound and create it before I can get to any musical composition.

Does your material feature any collaborations? 
Not yet, except for the mid-90’s ‘Burn:Cycle’ soundtrack that spawned this, my first EP. The original score was co-written with Simon Boswell.

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
I dislike any sounds I’ve heard a million times before. My music is mostly made using modular synthesizers. I patch each sound from scratch, often including drums, and I never know exactly how it’s going to come out. I wouldn’t say my sounds are unique, but at least they are made by me, rather than uploaded from a sample CD, or from a template of previously used samples in my Live library.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.
I don’t really have a typical ‘day in the recording studio’. I have my gear set up at home. Sometimes I might muck about for half an hour and make a few sounds to use someday in the future, then turn my gear off for the rest of the day. Other days I’m trying to finish a track and will keep plugging away for ten hours or more until I feel I’ve cracked it.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”? 
When I went as a young boy to ‘old school’ rock concerts with my brother in the 1970’s. I was inspired by the spectacle and usually loved the music. The PA volume was intense of course. I never wanted to be famous, a celebrity, I just wanted to entertain people and make music 24/7.

What’s on your current playlist? 

Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
I have a vintage Buchla Modular and a vintage Steiner Parker Synthacon. I used to have a lot more, but I’ve distilled it down to the best of the best. I have quite a bit of Eurorack modular too, which I think is the most innovative music gear being made at the moment. I have vintage outboard like mic/pres, eq’s and compressors, character pieces. I use Ableton Live and Pro Tools. I have various Native Instruments software instruments including Maschine, the Roland Cloud, UAD and Fabfilter plug-ins. I have lot’s and lot’s of drums and cymbals of course.

Any side projects you’re working on? 
I have an ongoing drum sample business with my partner, recording engineer/producer, Peter Henderson. We recently supplied all the acoustic drum samples and quite a few (modular) electronic samples for a new Roland drum module called TM6-Pro. I have played on two Kirk DeGiorgio albums for his project ‘The Beauty Room’. I recently played drums for a new animated band called ‘Analog’. That’s still a work in progress so I can’t say any more.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
I’m always learning and improving. I’m a completely different musician to the one I was 20 years ago.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year? 
The ‘Burn:Cycle reworks’ EP is out at the beginning of 2019. I’ve been working on drum sample products since I finished the EP, but am just starting to get into a couple of new tracks for my ‘Circles and Ellipses’ persona.

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