Interview: Jenni Meredith


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Jenni Meredith
UK based artist

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 questions

    1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

    I have always been interested in making music since my first piano teacher got me setting my poems to melodies. I was about 6 years old and he found it a good way to teach theory.

    More recently I have become fascinated by the possibilities of layering digital voices together to form soundscapes; it’s a new form of expression for my poetry. I also like to create music with MIDI software for my video work; whole orchestras inhabiting my desktop! And they stay fresh however long I rehearse them!

    2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

    My piano lessons stopped when I was aged 12 but at school I always joined choirs; recorder choirs and singing choirs. And I studied music to O level there too. I don’t really consider I have had a musical education; more an arts education.

    I live by the sea with my husband who is also an artist and our son, a circus entertainer. I suppose our household is quite unusual, but to us it’s pretty ordinary.

    3.Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?

    Music making is not my profession. But art more generally is. And my music making is an integral part of that digital arts and video work. I Write a lot of lyrics and I compose soundscapes, but I don’t really write melodies or tunes.

    4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles? Do you use certain styles etc?

    I try to work out a structure to hang things on. It could be that I have an idea about say sonata form. Sometimes I will work to a poetry structure; adapting it to music. Other times I will try a music structure, but only using it as a loose guide for my ideas.

    Or I might be composing to support video work in which case the visuals will probably lead the structure. Sometimes, though, I use the music to edit the visuals. In these cases I would start with the music, which would have a theme and a shape that I decide initially and that I adhere to with much flexibility.

    With the robot choirs I usually start with the written text then audition the voices to decide which to use, how to use them together, who should come in when, who needs to say which lines, etc.

    I am aiming for interesting textures so I play a lot with sounds and get the robot voices to recite gobbledygook because the programmed voice patterns create strange rhythms. I also record myself so I can duet with the digital voices.; adding a warmer, human texture.

    5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

    I use Cubase and audio software with a Yamaha sound card to supply the instruments. I also use my robot choir voices and sometimes SoundBeam MIDI trigger; exploring the creative use of assistive technologies. The computer kit is pretty basic; an ageing Apple Mac running at only 500mghz and a control keyboard, an EMU sampler and a couple of rack synth modules. The mixers are software. So it’s not really high end. And when I am working on my own I really only use a tiny portion of it all. But if I am working with Richard Burns we do tend to get a lot more kit connected.

    6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general?

    It seems to me that New Media creates opportunities for good sound quality at low cost. You can create a virtual studio with a sound card instead of auditioning and booking a dozen musicians and then finding they can’t do what you need. You can fiddle until you have what you want and as late into the night as it takes (the neighbours can’t hear it if you use headphones), and you are not restricted by your inability to put dots on lines or by the difficulties of musicians translating the dots differently from how you hear them in your head. You are restricted instead by the limitations of the technology. But most of us don’t test our technology to its limits anyway.

    …And for you personally?

    For me personally digital technologies have opened up the world of music. I can create soundscapes with instruments I never dreamed I’d be able to use. I don’t have to worry about communicating what I want to musicians. I have it all inside the desktop. I don’t have to worry that my fingers won’t do what I hear inside as the software can manipulate my input. As long as I have ideas and a long as I have sounds around me to capture, then I can create music.

    7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

    I usually manage to finance with awards from organisations such as the Arts Council. But the good thing about new technologies is that once you have made the initial investment for hardware and software, you can create with almost no additional costs.

    8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative?

    I work individually much of the time. But I also collaborate with Richard Burns to create music for our videos. On the videos I collaborate with my husband, Tony Meredith. I have collaborated with other musicians. And with projects involving live music or choirs, collaboration is a necessity. Much of my music making is film based and films are always collaborative.

    If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

    I don’t think I prefer one method of working to the other. They both have different pros and cons and they each fulfill different needs.

    When I need emotionally to work alone then that’s what I enjoy. And when I need to bounce ideas around and gain stimulus from the ideas of others, collaboration is a better approach.

    But in the end everything is a collaboration of some sort since I run my work past friends and take their suggestions on board, even when working alone on a project.

    9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement, which has a lasting influence on making music?

    I would like to think Bob Dylan has influenced my poetry, along with numerous and various other writers; Dylan Thomas, ee Cummings, Manley Hopkins, Lynton Kwesi Johnson. And as what I write influences my music I suppose there is an indirect influence there. But as far as music maybe Smalley’s electro acoustic music has had an influence. And with my husband I share a large collection of modern jazz, so probably there are plenty of jazz players who influence what I hear in my head as well. Again these are varied and eclectic; Charlie Parker, Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davies…

    And amongst performance poets there are many black poets such as John Agard and Lemn Sissay, who have made me look again at the rhythm of spoken words and people like Bob Cobbin and Aaron Williams who take words over the edge; creating soundscapes from syllables without syntax.

    10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?

    I just want to continue enjoying creativity whether it is music, poetry, pottery or digital painting.
    But I am working on ideas to combine these interests in a multi media digital installation. One of the works I am currently developing is based on the theme of Chernobyl.

  • Can works of yours experienced on-line besides on SoundLAB? Where?
  • There are a few places online that I have work. These include my website at:
    http://www.wordsart.co.uk, which is a virtual gallery for some of my digital art including Flash animated poems as well as videos and sound poems in .mov and MP3 format. These can be downloaded at the site. Also at http://www.myspace.com/wordsart you can hear four of my sound poems as streaming MP3 files. They are downloadable too, but I can’t make the download button work there!!
    And at http://www.myspace.com/jennimeredith I have uploaded some videos. They stream at Myspace, which is faster than the download files at wordsart.co.uk.

    Then at http://www.myspace.com/snowtrax I have a couple more videos uploaded that can be viewed more easily than on my site as they stream.

    And at http://www.great-escapes.com/wordsart/transmutations
    You can find Transmutations, an interactive web art piece. This is also at

    http://www.ndaf.org/transmutations

    At http://showcase.commedia.org.uk/article/search/

    Type in Meredith and you will find three of my videos on a streaming server; Through The Pane, Shifting Shadows and The Chapeau Roan plus a link to Transmutations.

    http://showcase.commedia.org.uk/article/articleview/290/1/11/
    is the direct url for Through the Pane

    http://showcase.commedia.org.uk/article/articleview/312/1/1/
    is the direct url for The Chapeau Roan

    http://showcase.commedia.org.uk/article/articleview/403/1/1/
    is the direct url for Shifting Shadows