Joan Jeanrenaud: A Fourth Approach to Performing Music

A Collaboration-Oriented “Solo” Career

A Fourth Approach to Performing Music: Excerpt #04

FRANK J. OTERI: Since leaving Kronos, you’ve really focused on cutting edge repertoire, on really, really exciting collaborations with people, and things that are relevant to people beyond the classical music ghetto.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Right. Well you know I’m choosing to work with musicians and composers that are relevant to me, actually, and of course at the beginning of when I first stepped away from Kronos, I tried a lot of different things, but it became very clear to me very soon that really I was very interested in the direction of contemporary music, and that I was very interested in learning. So I wanted to have experiences that I had not had before, or that I had been exposed to but hadn’t really delved into. So, for instance improvisation, or electronics… Both of those really interest me because I really can learn something. I felt to a certain degree that I knew what I was doing with Kronos and I could do it really well, but was it enough of a challenge to commit that time? I don’t think it was. It could be for somebody else, but for me I felt like I needed some kind of change to light a fire under me or something. I wanted to be a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit challenged. So now I’m really much more into not only improvisation and electronics, but sort of a mixed media idea of a concert, also I’ve been researching Charlotte Moorman and Fluxus which is why I have all these Source magazines because I became very interested in the Fluxus movement. So the whole idea of, if you want to call it, performance art or installation or any of that sort of genre interests me too.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s interesting because in a way it’s a unique way to approach a “solo career,” because it’s not really solo oriented.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: No it’s not.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s collaboration oriented. And in a way it comes out of a chamber music sensibility. It seems that if you’re a musician going to a conservatory, there are three paths. You can join an orchestra, be part of a chamber group, or become a soloist. And those are three very different attitudes towards music making, different ego approaches, different approaches to what you’d feel you want from music. And you’ve created a fourth path here.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Oh, that’s really nice. I realize that I’m not really doing so much of a solo thing because I have all these collaborators, but I thought that made a lot of sense. If I had to pick one of those paths I’d pick being a chamber musician. I’ve always felt that I was somebody who enjoyed that experience of sitting down and playing music with somebody else. And even in working with someone like Terry Riley who’s writing a piece for me – I almost said ‘string quartet’ – who’s writing a piece for me, yeah, it’s really exciting, I’m going up there next week to work to work with him again on it… It’s really a great collaborative process because I feel like I can experience it in a different way even in the past because it’s more of a one-on-one thing, even though I had this group that had those experiences, but now I really feel like it’s my relationship with Terry that’s involved with this piece. And that’s really exciting.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s really a collaboration!

JOAN JEANRENAUD: It really is. It’s great. And when we work together at his house it’s really wonderful because he’ll write something and I’ll go and practice it, I come back and play it for him, and he hears it and goes back and writes some more. It’s really great. I’m getting so that my relationships with people are really, really satisfying because it is a much more individual kind of a relationship than it had been in the past.

FRANK J. OTERI: Who are some of the other composers you’ve been working with recently?

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Well Hamza el Din… All these guys–I feel like I should say gals too, guys and gals–they are all really teaching me a lot! With Hamza, of course, I knew him through Kronos playing his piece “Escalay,” and then I became interested in him when I started getting interested in all this looping stuff that I’m doing. I thought, I bet you I could play that piece by myself.

FRANK J. OTERI: You did a transcription of it?

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Right. And then the great thing was that instead of having this piece of music that I read and that’s the end of it, I had to get into that piece – I listened to it a lot, I worked with Hamza a lot, I heard Hamza play it a lot, I became more familiar with the way he works, the way he thinks, the whole structure of his music – the rhythmic aspect of it – so I felt like I really got much more into the piece than I had before. And it’s kind of nice that I had known the piece on one level, but then it was great to discover all these other levels. And I think my whole interest in improvisation and certainly Hamza has really opened that all up to me. So now we’re talking about doing more stuff together.