Joan Jeanrenaud: A Fourth Approach to Performing Music

A Fourth Approach to Performing Music: Excerpt #07

FRANK J. OTERI: Within the classical music community, Kronos was perceived as the classical music world’s rock band to some extent because of the way you all dressed, the shades… I think it shows a real lack of understanding of what rock music is in the classical music establishment, but you certainly did cross over to some of the alternative rock music audience. I’ve often said that the rock audience music should be the audience for contemporary music. And Sonic Youth proved that last year when they did that album with pieces by Pauline Oliveros and Christian Wolff, and Cage number pieces, and David Byrne wrote a string quartet for the Balanescus. There’s a lot of possibility for intersection with that world. Do you work with any rock players?

JOAN JEANRENAUD: I can’t say that I do right now, but I’m certainly very open to that. I think that whole thing about Kronos’s image and all that, I mean we were all born in the 50s or essentially grew up starting in the 50s, and the 60s was a very important time in the United States and it had a huge impact on youth, and so we were all influence by that. I’m sure I listened to much more rock and roll music than I did classical music. I’m the only musician in my family, so it wasn’t like I came from a family that was in this classical music tradition where everybody in the family played a musical instrument. It wasn’t that way at all, and that’s the same with everybody in Kronos. I think that we were just naturally influence by that whole world because that rock and roll music was much more prevalent in society than classical music.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well it’s interesting because in the late 60s there were all these rock bands doing things that involved string quartet. You know the Beatles had several string quartet songs, and Traffic had a string quartet song…

JOAN JEANRENAUD: And it was good writing for a string quartet.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah!

JOAN JEANRENAUD: I sort of feel that Kronos in our photographs, and because, I mentioned, that we could do whatever we wanted to do, so we could have photographs that we felt more comfortable with. We felt more comfortable in addressing the way we dress. Why should the guys wear tuxedos that were uncomfortable and I wear some long gown that I never wear? Why don’t we wear what makes sense to us, something that we would normally wear? So all of that, I think you’re right, it was misperceived. People thought, “Oh, well they did it as a conscious thing for their image,” but really it wasn’t that conscious at all. It was a way of interpreting the way we were at the time. I think also there are a lot of composers, like Steve Mackey, he started out playing guitar in a rock band. I’m even a huge advocate of kids starting to play a solid body electric cello when they learn to play the instrument because then they can play with their buddies who play in a band. And they can really have a good time. I mean why should they be segregated into this other world, I think it’s very natural, it makes a lot of sense for kids to start on an electric cello because it’s cheaper, it’s not this huge precious investment, they can play with their friend and get exposed to playing music and I think that’s the most important thing.

FRANK J. OTERI: One of the things that people in the classical world don’t always realize is that rock bands are creating music together. They largely write their own materials, and they are collaborating together to create their own material. So there’s a real sense of listening, and give and take. Skeptics may say, “Well, it isn’t very sophisticated, it’s only a few chords,” but you listen to some of these bands out there and they are pretty sophisticated. The new Radiohead album is really out there.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Yeah, a lot of those guys are really incredible musicians. And even some of the old guys are really good – they’ve been doing it for a long time. I always felt that Queen was a really great group. They knew what they were doing; they were really great musicians. But a lot of people out there are incredible. Do you know the Flaming Lips?

FRANK J. OTERI: No I don’t.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: I really like them right now. The thing that I was first turned on to by them, they have this 4-CD set, Zaireeka and you play the CDs simultaneously.

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh cool! So you need 4 different players.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Part of the whole concept I thought was really cool is that you have to get 4 people together. It becomes a social event. Then you can place them so that you can sit in the middle. It’s really made me question the whole setup of a concert format of the stage, and the audience. They’ve done a bunch of stuff where they would have people come to a parking lot, and give everyone a cassette and put it in their car radio and turn it on …

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh wow! Interesting!

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Yeah, really interesting stuff. And I heard a live not too long ago and they had this great video of Leonard Bernstein actually, and they cut all these takes together, you know, of him giving these down beats, so it was a whole bunch of segments together, and it was brilliantly edited, I thought, and went exactly with the music. It was really fantastic.

FRANK J. OTERI: This sort of sounds like it’s along the same lines as work of a New York City-based composer Phil Kline who works with radio boom-boxes. Every year at Christmas time people show up at Washington Square Park and walk to Tompkins Square Park. Anybody who shows up gets a boom box and a tape, and then you walk to create an ambient Christmas piece.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: What’s his first name?

FRANK J. OTERI: Phil. He’s got a disc on CRI on the Emergency Music Series that’s really neat.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: I’m really fascinated with that whole thing. It’s the same thing with the Fluxus movement. Not a lot of those guys were doing that kind of stuff at that time.

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