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Joan Jeanrenaud: The Beat of the Moment

By Published: February 15, 2011
AAJ: Are there any electronic musicians of note that inspired you to explore this direction?

JJ: I've always listened to people like Tangerine Dream, and Michael Hoenig is a good friend of mine. Pat Gleason, who I was married to, is also an excellent synthesist. He did Vivaldi's "The Fours Seasons" on a Synclavier. Wendy Carlos is someone else I like. I remember hearing Switched on Bach (Columbia, 1968), and that was a big thing. I got to meet Wendy and became very interested in what she does. There have always been people in my past that have enabled me to be aware of what's going on in that field.

Joan Jeanrenaud and PC Muñoz

AAJ: How did the collaborative process with Muñoz work?

JJ: We just went into the studio and constructed the music, which is very unusual for me. That part took awhile to get comfortable with. Usually, you pay for your studio time, so when you go in, you know exactly what you're going to do and you record it. But this album was a great opportunity in which PC and I went to the studio and worked out the music together, more like pop people do. At first that was hard, because I felt Justin Lieberman, the engineer, and PC were just sitting there observing. It's such a private thing when I work on music at home, so to be doing it in front of those guys in the studio was awkward at first. Then I got used to it and realized it was a very good collaborative environment because everyone could immediately talk about things as they happened and try out different ideas.

Sometimes PC would give me a beat pattern and I might say "PC, that's too regular, give me that in 5/4 instead of 4/4." And then he would generate something else, send it to me and I would work with that beat structure. Just like I often do at home, I would fool around with this material, create layers, and see what works together. But then there were certain times like on "33 1/3" in which I actually generated the material and PC added the beat stuff on it afterwards. So we would go back and forth a lot in different ways. There were also certain times when I made a mistake, but ended up liking the mistake. Sometimes, instead of looping something eight times, it would get looped seven times, and I would think the result was interesting. A lot of stuff like that happened.

AAJ: Did Muñoz have a background in new music prior to working with you?

JJ: Not really, but he's worked with a lot of singer-songwriters, which was valuable for me. He's very familiar with the structure of pop tunes—the verse-chorus thing. So these tunes were sort of based on that structure, even though we didn't adhere to that at all. A lot of the time, it was something we would talk about. We would have things come back as a refrain. PC influenced me in that way. PC doesn't read music, so even when we did Strange Toys and did edits, he would take notes on his phone which were so clear. That was amazing to me as I have to write this stuff out in a score. But he's able to do it all in his head. A lot of improvisers work that way, but I rely on the classical tradition of having something written down. I wish I could do it the other way more.

AAJ: Strange Toys was your first foray into creating an entire album of original material. What spurred you into pursuing the universe of composition so deeply?

JJ: It came about because the Talking House label said they wanted me to record a CD. I had a lot of material I had worked on since I left Kronos. Also, after I left Kronos, I started improvising, because I knew that was something I wanted to do more of. I said "Great, now I have the time. That's what I'll do." As a composer friend of mine said "Once you start improvising, you'll start writing music." And that's exactly what happened. So the first 10 years of my writing and that accumulation of material is what ended up on that recording. The label left the pieces that went on the album up to me, so I chose to focus on documenting my own writing. I took the stuff I liked best and put it together.

AAJ: Tell me about your background in composition.

JJ: When I attended Indiana University, I was fortunate to learn a lot from really fine teachers, composers and players. I took one semester of composition. I knew Fred Fox well and played in his contemporary music ensemble. I also took improvisation classes, as well as lessons from David N. Baker
David N. Baker
and Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
. But I never had the time to concentrate on that side of things. All of the years with Kronos paid off tremendously though. I performed such a wealth of music and worked with so many composers. I got a lot from those experiences which helped me when I started working on my own music.

The Del Sol Quartet just commissioned me to write a four-movement piece for them. Last year is when I started writing music for people other than myself. It was a good step for me to get away from the looper to write for that context. The looper is useful, but it's also limiting because you're kind of locked into a tonality, but there are a lot of things you can do with that too. But I was getting to the point where I thought it would be nice to do something in which I'm not looping. In general, I'd like to get to the point where I'm writing more and more music for other people, and it's starting to happen. The Estamos Ensemble also had me write a piece for them. In addition, Cornelius Dufallo, a violinist in New York, had me write a solo violin piece for him.

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