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Jlin The Instrument & The Body

We caught up with producer Jlin ahead of her performance at Sensoria Festival.

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Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Even in the USA’s industrial Midwest, it’s an unlikely origin story. Before becoming a full-time musician, producer Jlin worked night shifts at the steel mills that dominate her hometown of Gary, Indiana.

That sense of controlled chaos can be heard in her razor-sharp footwork, a sound developed from 2015’s acclaimed Dark Energy to last year’s follow-up, Black Origami. Her work has become increasingly ambitious, having recently been commissioned to score Autobiography, a new contemporary dance piece by Wayne McGregor.

I caught up with Jerrilyn via Skype to ask about working with McGregor and her show for Sensoria Festival on 29 September.

Tell us about Autobiography.

The ballet is not your typical autobiography. It’s based on Wayne’s genome reading. He wanted to create a piece from his code. He liked my work, and Unsound [Festival] put us in touch in October 2016 and I met him in downtown Chicago at his hotel. He’s a gem of a person, and I knew when we first met that this would go very well.

I actually procrastinated for a long time. I had an idea what I wanted to do, but I’d never done anything like this so I was hesitant. Finally I got started on it. I sent him the first thing I’d done and he was like, “Oh my goodness, just keep going.” I completed a ballet and my album in the same year, which is complete insanity. Everything is kind of a blur. I changed my sleeping pattern, so I would get up at 2am and work to 6pm until the entire score was done. I notice when I start at 7am there’s just too many damn distractions.

How did your score fit in?

Wayne is a free spirit. He’s always trying to go higher than he did the last time. I think that’s why we work together so well. I know what that’s like musically, because that’s what I do. I wouldn’t say he’s never satisfied, but he’s always going for higher – no limitations – so I think I was trying to pull that out musically. I operate like that anyway, so it was actually really organic for me. When I was waking up at 2am, Wayne was already up because he was in London. We became joined at the hip during the creative process.

How is your compositional process different on a soundtrack than on an album?

It’s different because there was already a thing – I was creating around that – versus with an album, where I honestly never know how the hell I’m gonna start out. I have no idea. I have no direction whatsoever. I’ve never created for a ballet. I think I was kind of intimidated by the idea at first because I was like, ‘Well, what is the music for a ballet supposed to sound like?’ If you think about it, it’s very fluid. I see the fluidity, but it can be so much more than that. That’s what I went for, and after I did the first piece Wayne was like, “Keep going,” and I said, “Shit, I’m gonna go all out, whatever.”

Every track he loved because I never held back. I always went full steam ahead. I’ve been creating scores for years, and he was the first person who let me show that I know how to create scores. Everybody thinks I just create within the space of 155 to 161 bpm, and I was making scores that were 119, 124. My mum told me a long time ago that I’m a composer, and I used to fight her and say, ‘No, I’m not. That’s not what I do’. I fought her for five or ten years about it, and then one day I walked into Sadler’s Wells after the ballet was done and on the door, lo and behold, it says, ‘Composer: Jerrilynn Patton’, and I couldn’t do anything but laugh. I had to accept that that’s exactly what I was doing.

It’s a different world.

I love it! I have to be honest, and I mean this with all sincerity – I hope nobody gets offended – this is the best thing that I’ve ever done in my entire career. I would put the ballet in first, second and third place, and my album and doing festivals in fourth. This was a life-changing thing. It changed me as a person. It was just as important for me as it was for Wayne. This was the best experience of my life.

You’re hoping to do more soundtrack work?

Yeah. I love movement. I love dance. There’s just something about it. I love when the body moves like the instrument and the instrument moves like the body, and they intertwine and work between each other and give each other space. One knows when to contract, one knows when to expand and when to come together. That to me is impact.

What music inspires you to create?

Lately I’ve been listening to [Philip Glass’s] soundtrack from the movie The Hours, The Blue Notebooks by Max Richter and also the soundtrack to The Grandmaster. I’ve been really into movie scores lately. Every now and again I’ll listen to my own work and then veer off somewhere. I was listening to Ludacris the other day, so it’s a major jump.

Lately though I have to say when I’m in my car I don’t even get a chance to turn on my radio, because my girlfriend plugs in her phone immediately. She’s actually laughing in the background. We have very different tastes. She doesn’t even think my music is real music [laughs]. No, no, she does. She likes some of my stuff. We have very different tastes, but I like the fact that she opens up my world to something different, and vice versa.

What have you got planned for your Sensoria show?

I don’t plan, because I feel like when you plan shit doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to go anyway. We might as well just walk in there together and hope for the best on both sides. Do I know what my sound sounds like? Yes, and that’s enough for me. I know my work well enough. I know every beat, every hit, every clap. After that it’s all up in the air and I’m fine with that.

Your show is improvised?

Lately it has been. I had a situation in my last performance where I completely missed my cue, which is so funny because I know the music so well and I know when to come in. It’s like asking the audience, ‘Do you practice your dance moves before you come to my show?’ No! I like being vulnerable in front of the audience and I like the audience being vulnerable in front of me.

As long as you’re not disrespectful, you can stand there completely still and stop breathing all together. That’s fine. Or you can dance your ass off from the time I start to the time I end. Whatever you want to do. As long as you don’t treat me like background noise, I’m fine with that. I like the vulnerability of being in front of everyone. I really do.

Learn more

Autobiography is released on 28 September. Jlin plays Trafalgar Warehouse as part of Sensoria on 29 September, with support from jme.osc.

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