Jenn Taiga: An Interview

Jenn Taiga is a musician from Western Massachusetts.

I was really looking forward to getting the chance to learn more about Jenn's approach to synthesizer and improvisation. The album Plight is a masterpiece in the genre.

Weirding: So, much of the music you've put out is improvised.

Jenn: Improvisation is a tool that I lean on a great deal. And it’s for a few reasons — though none are as poetic as many people might assume. Due to a mental health condition that I have, I suffer from memory retention issues. As such, I cannot remember how to play most songs.

When playing in bands, this isn't as much of an issue because I can just bring lead sheets onstage with me. As a soloist, however, that's trickier. So, I've found a much more effective method of performance is to establish a set of structures that I can use as landmarks when constructing a live set. 

Weirding: Totally makes sense. It becomes more of a journey, then. “How do I get to the next milestone? What path am I going to take?”

Jenn: Depending on the vibe of the show and the other acts playing, I can pick an intro that I feel would be conducive to the night and then stitch together other structures that I can use as movements as I see fit. That way, I can keep producing interesting and new shows without having to go through the ordeal of keeping a big binder of music with me whenever I gig or tour. 

Weirding: And you’ve captured that process in some of your recorded material, right?

Jenn: You can hear that in the song ‘Solivagant’ on the album Plight

Weirding: Does that approach ever get difficult?

Jenn: I just kind of forget to think about the fact that I should probably prepare music sometimes. The B-side of that album was exactly this case. I had forgotten that I was supposed to be performing a full album, so I asked the sound engineer to give me a sec while I frantically punched some shit into my sequencer that I use for the ostinatos you hear throughout most of my music. The entirety of that piece was improvised, because I simply had no choice but to pull something out of my ass. 

Weirding: So, improvisation is more than just the music itself. For you, it’s really an approach to performing that gets at the nuts-and-bolts of the process.

Jenn: I can write things in a somewhat more traditional manner — as on my EP Darjeeling Dreams. Even still, I write in a more skeletal fashion and fill in the blanks when I'm recording. It's just less work that way. Why should I go through the pain and toil of fully writing something out when I don't have to? 

Weirding: That’s interesting. A very un-Romantic approach to improvisation.

Jenn: Seems like a bit of a waste of time and energy in my specific case. In addition, whenever a human does something, there's bound to be mistakes. I lean on my ability to improvise — in combination with my familiarity with scales, modes, and polyrhythms — to turn my mistakes into changes in the music. I'm of the mind that if you can turn something unintentional into something intentional, it's not a mistake and won't be heard as one.

Weirding: So first of all, I'm really interested in how you came to play synths.

Jenn: The story of how I came to play synthesizers is actually a rather mundane one. I started studying classical piano when I was seven years old, and continued taking private lessons until I turned sixteen. In addition to that, I attended a performing arts middle and high school from ages twelve to eighteen when I graduated. As such, I had what I consider to be a decently strong background in music. And it's something that I had wanted to pursue professionally since I was quite young. 

With that in mind, I had realized around the time I was seventeen or so that if I wanted to make it anywhere musically — and orchestral performance was out of the question as I didn't have the money to attend a big money music college — I'd have to develop a somewhat more contemporary skillset. 

What logically came to mind was to learn how to play the synthesizer.

Weirding: So with those synths, you've put out some pretty significant instrumental recordings. Could you talk about the idea of wordless music?

Jenn: I can't really speak about what others do when approaching wordless music, but in my case I don't really think about the mood as much as I think about what would sound cool. 

I understand that certain keys, chord structures, and tempos tend to have certain emotions ascribed to them, but what's most important to me is sounding good. What the good ends up being isn't as important — as long as it is good. Because at the end of the day, listeners will assign whichever emotions to a body of music that they please, regardless of an artist's intent. 

Weirding: Well, I guess you can give the listener clues in song titles and whatnot.

Jenn: That’s much of where and how this aligns, in my opinion. It is in the aesthetics and branding of a release. Take the artist Grandma's Cottage, for example. You could easily have rebranded it as, like, Hobbit's Den or something. It would have given it a completely different impression upon being released. 

For the most part, I've tried to keep the aesthetics of my music somewhat neutral — so that I can see peoples' different reactions and impressions to it. That's a great deal of fun for me — seeing how the same thing can be perceived and identified in all these different ways. Very recently — I'm taking the past couple of weeks — I've started trying to make music that sounds similar to what I hear in my head when I experience certain emotions or thoughts. Not sure how that'll work out, but if it doesn't work out as intended I'm sure there'll still be something salvageable. Just so long as I remember to brand it accordingly, of course.

Weirding: When you think about music itself, who are the artists or composers who stand out for you as the best examples of artists who succeeded in some way in getting an idea or feeling across in their art?

Jenn: That's a tricky one. It's always a bit of a crapshoot as to how someone's music gets perceived by a listener — so, how music makes someone feel can never be really assured. 

With lyrical music, communicating imagery or a story is much easier. Take Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or Captain Jade and the Skyfarers' The Maiden Voyage of The Sunlance, for example. Both of these albums have clear and effective vocal narration paired with their evocative orchestrations — and so it's pretty easy to tell what's going on in the story that the music is trying to tell you. 

But if we're talking about instrumental music, it's a lot harder. A good example of this done well is the song ‘Many Pillared Halls’ by Redhorn Gate. The steady thumping percussion with just a bit of staggering and reverb is clearly evocative of the marching of dwarves in their underground fortresses. Even without knowing the name of the song or seeing the J-card of the tape, I could easily tell you what's going on there.

Weirding: Speaking of J-cards, tell me about your logo and artwork. There is such a visual consistency through your albums and it's really unlike anything else.

Jenn: My logo was created by my pal Chris Phoenix, who also creates cool-as-hell music under his own name as well as Destination:Empty. He'd seen me perform more than a few times and already had a good understanding of my general vibe. So I trusted him to make something cool. Sure enough, he did. I try to give the artists that I work with as much creative freedom as possible — after all, they know what they're doing better than I do, so it'd make no sense for me to ride their asses about it. Just give them my requirements and let them do their thing.

Weirding: Switching gears… So in living up in Western Massachusetts, what effect, if any, has the environment had on your art?

Jenn: Well, I wrote and recorded ‘Darjeeling Dreams’ on a thunderously snowy winter's day, so that's one direct impact New England has had on my art. More generally, though, I'm not sure it has. I suppose one could say that the old cemeteries out here have lent my music a spooky quality, but I really think that's a stretch. I've been more influenced by the artists out here — and what it's like gigging among rock and metal bands.

Weirding: I ask because your music is often very evocative of extraordinary and fantastic places. Have you ever worked on scoring a soundtrack?

Jenn: I have indeed done film score work in the past — for a couple of independent private filmmakers. Not traditional scoring in the way of syncing music to video, but I've provided music along certain guidelines to be used in several films. I've found that those external requirements — length, general vibe, due date, et cetera… they all help my creative process. It's an enjoyable time for me. In fact, ‘Lunar Nocturnes’ off my newest album was written while I was doing the music for a movie. 

I don't usually listen to soundtracks — though I do pay attention to the music in films. The score of Knife + Heart has been particularly inspiring to me — the whole damn film is great, probably my favorite of all time. While I'm not entirely sure I'd like to get into full-fledged scoring, I'm certainly open to providing music for people to use in films of all sorts. I'd love to make music for queer porn sometime.


About

"Hailing from the forests of Western Massachusetts, Jenn Taiga combines an array of synthesizers with a background in classical music and inspired ear for the phantasmal to create eerie soundscapes and blistering melodies. Combining influences from Berlin School, Progressive Rock, and Dungeon Synth, Jenn aims to conjure visions of Chthonic madness and psychosexual insanity."

jenntaiga.bandcamp.com

Twitter: @JennTaiga

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