Jenn Kirby interviewed by Charlie Romjin

This is the first in our series of artist to artist conversations. Here Charlie Romjin, who has previously played From Now On in her band Thought Forms and now will be playing at The Future Is Female as her solo act of Silver Stairs of Ketchikan, has a few words with experimental electro-acoustic composer Jenn Kirby. Hope you enjoy!

CR: What was the first live performance that you saw that made you want to make your own music?

JK: I was inspired by recorded music and the act of music-making with friends more than anything else. I listened to music all the time and just wanted to be able to play it all. I spent some time writing bad songs. However, I really sunk my teeth into composing when I did a Masters in Music Technology at the University of Limerick in Ireland. When it dawned on me that you didn’t need to follow the rules of music, I found that freedom really exciting. I had learnt to programme in my undergraduate degree in Software Development, but then I changed from coding in Java to Max and Csound. Making music in those environments is much easier than in Java or C++. Designing my own sounds from scratch and my own ways of performing them was completely liberating for me.

CR: You build your own software and controllers to create music - which of these creations have you most enjoyed using live?

JK: I really enjoy building software instruments. You have full control. If it doesn’t sound good, it’s up to you to make it better. If something doesn’t work as you might want, you can change it. If there are bugs, it’s up to you to fix them. Even if it takes quite a while to build these tools, it’s worth it because of the happy accidents, when trying to build one thing and you accidently build something else, that’s great. I’ve used a bunch of controllers and I am always looking out for old and new tech that I can hack to use for music-making. The controller I use the most, is the gametrak by MadCatz. It was introduced to me by Dan Trueman of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra. It is so expressive, I keep finding new uses for it. It feels great as a performer, in terms of agency. Audiences tend to respond really well to it too. Using controllers helps me overcome an issue I’ve grappled with since I began playing instruments – wanting to play everything at once. When I can design how the instrument works, I can maybe play more parts that I might be able to with an existing instrument.

CR: Was electronic music where you started out? What draws you to this way of composing and performing?

JK: I find myself drawn to making all kinds of music. Sometimes that’s contemporary instrumental music. Sometimes, and I’ve certainly focused on it a lot more recently, it’s electronic music. Sometimes I make sound art. Recently, I’ve been doing spoken word. I released a noise EP earlier this year. I tend to just have ideas for music that fits in all different genres and I’m pretty pleased about that. It doesn’t mean I’m good at all these things, but it means I don’t get bored making one kind of music. I think diversity in your own music is a really good thing, it just means that it’s difficult to explain what you do to people. 

I’m not sure what draws me to composing electronic music - I just enjoy it so much. I perform with the Dublin Laptop Orchestra and the Swansea Laptop Orchestra and it’s just so much fun. My music tends to have a lot of humour in it, so I’m usually inspired by silly ideas, or tackling serious topics in a playful manner. Being able to create and play with these ideas and share them with others is great. Sharing your music with other composers and performers who are interested in the same thing is brilliant, and then getting to share that passion again with audiences, that’s even better. In many ways, I couldn’t imagine not doing this. Whenever I take a break, I can’t wait to get back to making and playing again. 

Thank you Charlie and Jenn. Special thanks to Rhiannon Lowe for compiling the interviews.