Darwin: Okay. Today I have, the opportunity to get a chance to talk to somebody who was a listener recommendation: his name is Jesse Stiles. And, when I started doing a little research on what his story is, I was kinda thrown because it's like all the stories are there. The more I got into it, the more I realized this is going to be a great interview because we'd have a lot of things to talk about. So, with little further ado, I'm going to jump right into the discussion with Jesse Stiles. Hey Jesse, how's it going?
Jesse Stiles: I'm doing well. How are you?
Darwin: I'm okay. I'm just getting off the backend of some real illness. I'm feeling like pretty perky and happy with life again. Thank God. So why don't we start off by having you talk - and I'm going to be curious how you frame it because when I started looking into your work, your body of work is like so massive and all over the map. So I'm going to be interested in hearing how you frame your body of work. So why don't you hit us with that?
Jesse: God, well, I've been working in the area of electronic and computer music since a pretty young age. I started when I was 12 years old. I'd been taking piano lessons and I was a really exceptionally mediocre piano student! But I wanted to be in rock bands - because that's like, that was the music I was listening to. So I thought if I had a synthesizer I can play in bands. So when I was 12, I got my hands on a synthesizer, and we had a like an early home computer in my house cause my dad's a scientist. So, when I was 12, I figured out that you could sequence the synthesizer using the computer in that it could do way cooler shit than I could do with my hands. And so I just became completely obsessed with this.
I was already deeply in love with music and the idea of music making and I wanted that to be my life. And once I figured out this potentiality that just like seemed like the obvious way - like a bottomless well. And so I was making electronic music and it was like a huge area of my attention from a pretty young age. And I was also in this unusual position because I was doing it at a young age without any references or role models of like what electronic music is. It was just something I figured out how to do at home, but my parents don't really have a music background. They thought I was just being weird and I wasn't listening to any specific artists who were doing this. I was just trying it - it took me a long time in that way to situate myself in this larger community of people doing experimental music. And so that was a kind of journey of its own.
Darwin: Well, that maybe explains why you have such a breadth of stuff because you weren't necessarily driven to follow one path. When I look at your stuff, I mean you're doing work with installations. There's a bunch of stuff where you were like using little mechanical actuators to help perform stuff. There's a band called Little Flowers, which you do live performance and, makes a hell of a caterwaul. It's a cool-sounding setup. But then also you're doing kind of more traditional electronic music. You're doing a lot of sonic experimentation. You seem to be willing to kind of hop all over the place.
Jesse: Yeah, well, I think I've been pretty fortunate where throughout my life I've had the ability to just choose projects that seem exciting to me at any given moment. And maybe part of what motivates that sort of diversity of work is just, you know, I get bored doing the same thing. And so it is really exciting to me to put myself in a lot of different contexts and see what I can learn and like what possibilities there are, but taking my skillset or my sensibilities and putting them in a very different context. So that's something that I definitely love doing and it's a byproduct of my education as well - especially my graduate studies. Whereas in a very interdisciplinary environment where I really grew a lot by working with people who are artists and filmmakers and installation artists and performance artists, that was like a really thrilling experience to be able to work in so many different contexts.
Darwin: Yeah, I'm going to want to come back to that because there's some important questions I want to ask, but before we get there, I want to talk a little bit about these contexts that you find yourself yet. I mean, some of them... It's one thing to, in the abstract, talk about that; in another way, it's very interesting to actually talk about the details. And I mean, the details are pretty amazing. You ended up finding yourself as the music supervisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. I mean, this is like a historical level of attainment really. You know, finding yourself as a professor in the school of music at Carnegie Mellon. I mean, this is also a really incredible position. I mean, it's hard for me to just imagine having the breadth of stuff that you like doing and just also finding yourself with the opportunity to do these things.
Jesse: Yeah. So I mean, those two things are just extraordinary opportunities. I feel so fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time for both of those things. The Cunningham situation was incredible. I was the the music supervisor for the final two years of performances of that company, including the final performances that we did at the Park Avenue Armory. There was six shows in three days. I think we had like 20,000 people come through to experience that. And we were working - the composers for that were Christian Wolf, Takehisa Kosugi, David Behrman and John King. And those four guys were the composers that I was working with for every single concert and dance performance that we produced during that two year time span. And we got to perform in just so many incredible concert hall halls and museums and site-specific performances.
Jesse: So that was, that was truly extraordinary. I was very fortunate and it was the, in some ways this, this musical community, it's kind of a small world. So when that position, when they were looking for a new person - my predecessor was Stephan Moore, who I know you've had on the show. He was leaving to go do his PhD at Brown and so they were looking for a replacement. And by then I already knew John King, and we had done some work together and I'd met David Bearman in some different contexts. It is kind of a small world. So, when I came in there was just, it was a good fit. And I've worked with that community quite a bit already. I was able to look at the ways that Stephan had been producing the concerts and it just made sense to me. I understood how we could do it.
Darwin: Yeah. Well, tremendous opportunities. And congratulations for finding yourself in a position to get a chance to do that. It must've been amazing to that final concert series, which is just kind of legendary - it must have been mind-blowing.
Jesse: Yeah, it was incredible. Yeah.
Darwin: So one of the things that's kind of a standard for my podcast is to talk to people about how they got where they are, how they got to be the artists or the instructors or the makers or whatever. And you actually embody a lot of those things. You know, you clearly are a composer/performer. And so there's that part of your skill. You're clearly a technologist because of the things that you do. But also there's this artistic side as well. But again, I mostly see when I take a look at your collaborations for installations and stuff like that. I'm curious, you mentioned that you kind of got started at a very early age with computers and computer music and not necessarily having a connection with traditional electronic music.
And it's always been interesting to me to find people who ended up having to kind of make their influences out of whole cloth. I know for myself, I grew up in an environment where I didn't hear a lot of popular music until I was fairly old - like in my later teens. And so an awful lot of my imagination of what like experimental music would be like, you know, pieced together from little bits that I would see on TV or something I could sneak on a ten-second thing on the radio before my mom changed it back to like the preachers and whatever. And so I'm just like really fascinated by how people pull together [influences] when it isn't clearly driven by the educational path to learning experimental music and electronic music, or "I listened to Yes - and became an electronic musician!" I mean, tell me a little bit more about the path and how you get got there - and then especially how that wove itself into your educational experience and the things that you learned there.
Jesse: So I didn't come from like a musical community when I was young. But I grew up in a town just outside of Boston. So there were these incredible college radio stations - like in particular WEBC that late at night had these experimental electronic music shows. So I would stay up late at night, and this is the kind of college radio show where there's just no explanation at all of what they're playing or what they're doing. And they're playing some, like, British ambient music. But then they're super-imposing interviews with clinical psychologists on top of it. And they're not telling you who any of the artists are. So, you know, I'm just up late at two in the morning listening to this with my headphones on in my bedroom and I'm just imagining somewhere out there in this world there's a place for people like me, but I didn't even know what the names of these genres were and I didn't know who these artists were.
And then some things started coming into popular culture that I began to find appealing. Like Portishead got on the radio a little bit and I was like, "That's incredible! I love the aesthetic that they're presenting!" So I started - this was back when in the time when you had to actually go to a record store and dig around through the bins to discover new music. And I would go into Boston and there were record shops for DJs and then there's usually just like one little section that just says "Experimental". And I would kind of explain myself and my interests and they'd be like, just go look in the experiment. And so that was what I began to hear things like Brian Eno, Stockhausen and things like that. But then even when I went to college, the music department, there was still not very much interest in that.
That was the first time I think I heard about John Cage, but their explanation of him was that he was a prankster and I was like... okay. Right after I went to college, I received a fellowship where I was able to travel outside the country for one year. It's the, Thomas J. Watson fellowship, which is sort of similar to a Fulbright where it's a year of self-directed study that you do outside the United States. And so I submitted this proposal that I would travel for one year, creating electronic music with the tools I had on hand at that time; I had a pretty early laptop and a portable DAT recorder and I spent about half of that time in India studying music at different music schools, all over the country there. And this was in 2000.
So internet connectivity was pretty bad in India back then. So it was a time where I really unplugged myself from Western culture and like my friends and family and community and I was really just thinking about music and sound and what motivated me to be doing the work that I was doing. And that was a super-transformative experience for me because I was no longer motivated by things that I thought would be cool in the culture I'd come from - because I was completely disconnected from that. And so I spent a long time just thinking about sound, thinking about drones, thinking about different approaches to rhythm. And then when I came back from that fellowship, that was when I began studying at RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). And that also happened to be the first year that Pauline Oliveros was teaching there.
I worked very closely with Pauline during that whole time, and then continued working with her afterwards. So I think that was like the real beginning in my interest in a really diverse approach to not only music-making, but the creation of experiences. So when I was in graduate school, I specifically wanted to go to a program that was going to be interdisciplinary. It just seemed more exciting to me than going to a program specifically for electronic music. So I was going to this program that was focused on electronic art as a whole, the electronic art MFA program at RPI. And that was also where I began learning how to program my own software for performance and sound design. Part of my discovery when I was learning how to program, but I was creating these algorithmic systems that could generate sound and it became clear to me that that same algorithm could also create some sort of complimentary visual experience or some kind of mechanical thing that actually happens in the real world.
And so the work began to be multimedia and it began as music performance systems, but that also evolved into some of the installation work.
Darwin: Got it. That really helps explain a lot. And it also ties all of those different art forms together. Everybody I know that had the opportunity to go through that RPI thing ends up coming out with this unified theory of the media world. I think it's really interesting that that's sort of the legacy of that place.
Jesse: Yeah, it's true - there was a really incredible group of people when I was there; it felt like a really special moment and there's a lot of collaboration and curiosity and experimentation.
Darwin: Right. Now I have some questions about some of this stuff and first of all, I'm glad that you described and talked about your experiences going India. I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to a lot of people that have experienced that. It's more like something that I hear about through you know, biographies, and this idea of a retreat to India - first of all, what made you choose India for this? Exploration?
Jesse: I was deeply fascinated with classical Hindustani music. So that was a huge part of it was just I wanted to learn a lot more about [it]. I mean because it's a really deep field, and I had no education in it whatsoever. I discovered that I love listening to this music, so I wanted to study it further. There was also, when I was putting together my proposal for that fellowship, there was an electronic music scene in this Southern state in India called Goa. I'm sure there still is. And it's basically just like a party scene for Westerners, but it happens to be situated in India.
Darwin: It was a very particular kind of Trance Techno coming out of there at the time.
Jesse: Yeah, that's exactly right. There was actually, back in that time, a whole section in DJ record stores that just said Goa Trance. So it was like a specific genre of Trance music. And I just thought that was like a really curious phenomenon that was worth some kind of anthropological investigation. I don't really have any attraction to that style of electronic music, but the existence of a scene in such an unlikely location was pretty interesting.
Darwin: Yeah, sure. You said that you went there and you actually - you went to some music schools and studied music. When I think of Indian music I think of a very focused and very detailed kind of music that would be, for me, incredibly alien to "sit in" on, right? What did it feel like, or how did you put yourself in a position to walk in there and be like, "Here I am, let's learn!" That would be so intimidating to me. I can't imagine how you'd do it.
Jesse: Yeah. Well, I have, a lot of experience of being bad at different types of instruments to draw on - my long history of being a bad student at piano was like perfect preparation for being a really bad student of tabla. I was taking tabla lessons for many months from different teachers and you know, they understood that I was a complete novice. And in some ways it's like [being] a tourist in a discipline that they are deeply immersed in. It's very serious. But you know, I took it very seriously. A lot of what they would do, for somebody as novice as me, is they would just dictate these different rhythm patterns to me, which are write down in a notebook and then when they were gone, I would practice them.
But I would also just read them. I was very used to the idea of looking at drum programming patterns right in a sequencer. And this is basically the same thing except that I had all these books that just in my own handwriting said, "Dada, teen TA" and so forth. And I would just look at them like they were drum sequences and begin to think about these different approaches to meter and feel. And probably the most productive thing that I ended up doing is after studying with some of my teachers for a little while, I could try to explain the project that I always working on, this electronic music project, play them some of the things I was doing and ask them if they would like to record parts with me. So I made an album when I was touring, that came out of that fellowship called "Watson Songs".
And you hear a lot of those musicians from India throughout that album and in quite a few of them where people as either studying with or, musicians that I heard at some concert that I went to who I would maybe approach and ask them if they wanted to record with me. And I just had this portable DAT recorder and I would put it in front of them while they were listening to my laptop with headphones. It was a very informal approach. But yeah, so it was sort of just about developing relationships where there is clearly there's like a mutual respect and interest. And that was probably the most productive thing. I don't pretend to be a performer of Indian music, but those relationships and collaborations were really valuable.
Darwin: Well, that's really interesting. And again, it kind of shows your ability to subvert the inner voice that's just telling you you're a great big pretender, and to get in there and do some stuff! I mean it must've been really exciting to play people your music and hear these instrumental masters in something. Again, that's like outside your perfect comfort zone, you know, what they're able to come up with is their interpretation. That must have been magical.
Jesse: Yeah, no, that's incredible. And that's something that continued as my work went forward was the joy of working with these incredibly talented virtuosic instrumentalists and trying to find a way to interact with somebody who has that level of skill and virtuosity. One of the riddles I hadn't unlocked at that time was this issue of how to perform electronic music. I had been producing it for my whole life since I was 12 up until then, but it was still the year 2000, and Ableton Live did not yet exist. I hadn't begun working with Max/MSP yet. And the tools that I had on hand were very much about music production, like a sort of studio-based approach to music making. When I came back from that fellowship and I was at RPI, that was when I began performing in concerts, with musicians like Todd Reynolds, who's an incredible violinist and extraordinary electro-acoustic musician on his own. And that was when I was beginning to develop my own software for music performance. I realized that I needed to create ways of performing this kind of music where I had the same level of flexibility that these musicians had where I could respond to their improvisation and dynamic changes in the way that they could.
Darwin: This is really interesting because I was doing electronic music at the time, too. And realistically, even the idea of having a laptop that could be a performance tool was a little bit - maybe bleeding edge, you know? Those early 2000's, the idea of being a laptop performer was considered pretty avant garde. And some of it is because of the tools available. I mean, I remember doing gigs where I literally had Cubase running on stage. And it's weird to think of now with the wider variety of tools that we have available. It's kind of weird to think of taking this studio-oriented stuff and bringing it stage, but there wasn't much choice.
Jesse: Yeah. I remember my, my first performances were before I had a laptop. So I would actually bring my desktop computer to a show with like a CRT monitor. And all the computer was doing was justsequencing. It wasn't doing any actual sound synthesis or processing. So I also had my synthesizer. And then I had a Kurzweil K2000 sampler and some outboard effects units and a mixing board. And that was my rig and it took me an hour just to pack for a show, just to get everything into the car. And then when I got there, it took me another hour to basically reassemble my entire bedroom studio, all just to do this one performance. And I was using - oh God, I don't even remember. I think I was using this MIDI sequencer called Master Tracks - that prob probably doesn't exist anymore.
That was my weapon of choice in the nineties. And so I had figured out how you could set up Master Tracks that you'd have different sections that would perform in a loop and then you could like move those sections around. So almost like a really hacked together version of Ableton Live where you have different scenes that you're launching. And a lot of what I was doing that was the live element then it was just manipulating the actual synthesis parts of it. So knob twiddling on the synthesizers, playing around with the filters and the sampler and then a lot of sort of Lee Scratch Perry type dub effects using the mixing board and outboard effects - because that was the sort of layer of sound manipulation that you could access with those tools.
Darwin: So when you got to the point where you were going to make your own performance system, what did you create? What did you make that was maybe informed by some of this, but put you in a position to be reactive in a live performance way.
Jesse: So quite a bit of it was just the ability to create your own interface where like you could really make the decision about what's the element that I need to have my hands on without digging into menus - three layers - to get there first. So the ability to put the parts of the sound that you want to interact with directly in front of you. There was also the ability to begin to incorporate randomness into performances, which is something I had not been able to do before. And that was one thing I really loved was creating a system you didn't exactly know what it would create and then you would respond to different types of random behaviors from it. And then just the ability also to have a large database of samples or sound styles to draw from so that if people you were performing with went into a certain feel or style, that I can quickly move into material that felt like it belonged together.
Darwin: Yeah, that seems really key. I know for myself, too, it's when moving from doing solo kind of presequenced stuff to working in collaborations. I mean, the hardest thing to do was getting the electronic systems to be fast enough to be responsive to other people because the like the worst kind of live collaboration or live performance is where two people are just running on parallel tracks. And they can't do anything to help each other, so they just blaze it out. And so, I mean literally, what did you do and did you put this performance system together in Max? Or was it cobbled up of other pieces? How did you actually bring it together and make it happen?
Jesse: Yeah, this was in that time period when I was in grad school. This was all in Max/MSP so I had never done any kind of coding beforehand. But when I got to RPI I was studying with Pauline Oliveros, who had already been doing quite a bit of work in Max. And I also worked really closely with Curtis Bond, who was really sort of my mentor when it came to learning Max and building some custom electronics as well. Max was - and still is - one of the main tools that I use. All of that performance stuff was basically Max and then how to interact with it using different types of MIDI controllers and some custom sensors. And that was pretty much my rig back then.
Darwin: I see. So one of the things... I'll just drive directly into this cause I don't know that there's a clean way to it. One of the things that I saw when I was looking over your work that really blew me away was this thing called "The Deathworks of May Elizabeth Kramner". I mean, I right now I would give anything to go somewhere and see that. I don't know how limited of a run that had, but looked beautiful. It looked kind of haunting and the story behind it sounded also like [it was] equally creepy.
But I noticed in that one, at least the parts that I saw on video, it was one of the cases where you were doing this hardware-actuated instrumentation. How did you move from making your own software that you'd work on, to getting into at least some level of hardware hacking - and also the kind of programming that drives an installation like that. I mean that's a next big step. Was a lot of that driven by the things that RPI had kind of pushed you towards? Or was there more to the story than that?
Jesse: It definitely came from that when I was in grad school, quite a bit of what I was still doing was like some pretty heavy dance music-style material, although it was very experimental and abstract. And Curtis Bond, who was one of my main teachers, saw some of my performances and he pointed out that I was sort of slamming my head around a lot while I was performing - and that if he could put a sensor on my head, we could probably get a lot of useful data out of it that could interact with some of the filters I was using. So I built this helmet that I used at a handful of performances back then. That the original idea was just that it would have an accelerometer inside of it, which could convert accelerometer data into MIDI.
And this was before Arduinos were a thing. So we actually were using a Basic Stamp that had some analog to digital converters. And I also, while we were building that, I thought as long as we were getting sensors going into Max/MSP, we could also visualize this as an actual electronic object so that it didn't seem like I was just wearing a helmet for no reason. So the helmet also was outfitted with LEDs all over the surface of it that were directly sequenced by Max, also using MIDI. So it was sort of bi-directional physical computing MIDI-based sculpture that I would wear on my head. And I think it might've been an LED helmet that predated Daft Punks' LED helmets! So I'm just going to go ahead and say I was the first person, I'm pretty sure that's true.
That was when I began also developing some installation works; at first these were sort of generative music pieces, but I had already made things where I could control lighting using Max to develop installation pieces where there were randomly-generated sequences of sound and maybe they would be spatialized throughout a gallery. And that spatialization was sort of visually illuminated, using computer-controlled lighting systems. A few years later, Arduinos became a much more affordable, much more accessible way doing that same idea of sort of connecting your computer to physical things in a space - whether you're controlling lights and motors or getting data from sensors into your computer. And for that work in particular - The Deathworks of May Elizabeth Kramner - I was becoming increasingly interested in making a piece where there would be no traditional computer at all, and also no loudspeakers. So that piece is actually, it's purely acoustic. And there are no computers involved in it - that was using a small ensemble of these reed organs.
That which has such a unique sound. Yeah, they're really beautiful. And I just bought a whole bunch of them on eBay for $30 or $40. I would disassemble them and install solenoids underneath the keys and then create little rigs with Arduinos that could make those solenoids pull the keys down. So musically it's sort of a generative music piece for six reed organs where I chose like a very specific sort of harmonic space that they can move inside of. And then each instrument is sort of a self determined generative system. And because they're all working in the same kind of harmonic universe, it works out musically very well. But then there's also this very large visual element to the installation. So I was working with a fiber artist who created these beautiful soft sculptures that are throughout the space, as well as two writers who created this narrative background that you're referring to. Right throughout the gallery there's also a network of incandescent lights where each light is associated with one note that can be played by any one of those instruments. So as the instruments are performing these different melodic lines, you can see those melodic lines physically move through the space and move inside of the sculptures. And as that light is going inside of the sculptures, that's also sort of internally lighting the text that is embroidered into those sculptures. You can read the stories as the sound illuminates them.
Darwin: It really is an amazing looking installation. Where was that put up and how long was it up?
Jesse: We've shown it at three or four different galleries at this point. I think it was premiered at a university gallery in Wisconsin, but since then we've taken it to a few different places.
Darwin: Interesting. Now, fast forwarding to the present, you are currently a professor at the school of music at Carnegie Mellon, which puts you in the position now of helping the next generation of people go through some of the pains and trials that you went through, but in a different way. I mean, first of all, I imagine that you're able to provide them with an education where John Cage is maybe a little bit more than a prankster. Right?
Jesse: [laughs] Yeah.
Darwin: But also you're probably finding students that have a lot more comfort with digital tools than you would have experienced when you were in school.
Jesse: Yeah, I mean the generation that my students are coming from or have such a completely different experience of these things. First of all, their entire life they've had access to the internet, as well as all these different digital tools, many of which are really good systems for live electronic music performance and very accessible electronic music production tools. And in some ways, I don't even know how a person of that age, with that background could begin to learn these tools because I think when you and I were starting out, what was available was so limited. So you didn't have any choices to make. You were like, "I'm just going how to use this analog synthesizer because that's the only thing that exists." And then in the days of MIDI sequencing, there was really only three or four different tools that you could use with basic home computers.
And then, you know, when software synthesizers began, I was using a sort of very early version of Reaktor. I don't remember what the name of it was before it was called Reaktor (Generator), so there was only like two or three software synthesizers. And then if you wanted to get crazier than what Reaktor could do, you're either using Max or maybe Csound. Right? But now there's just like this infinity of tools. There's so many plugins and software synthesizers. Like if you wanted to learn about music - like we had to go way out of our way to like go to a physical record store or like find a specific mentor who came from that community and could begin to connect you. But now, of course, you're just completely surrounded and inundated by [information], there's so much stuff that's accessible that it seems quite overwhelming.
Darwin: So then as an educator, how do you, how do you cope with that? I mean, like you say, it used to be that what you were doing is opening doors for people who hadn't had access before. Now the access is ubiquitous. Do you feel like your job is curation? Do you feel in terms of helping them identify people that should be important? Is it to help them focus? Because when there's 10,000 tools, if you spend a minute with each of 10,000 tools, you're not going to have a great experience. I mean there's a lot of different ways to approach scholarship and teaching in this kind of thing. What is your approach?
Jesse: Yeah, I think there's a couple different things that we're talking about here. One is technique. So how do you teach them to do things and find their own voice? And then the other is, learning about the social and cultural situation that they're in as music-makers. And those are, to me, it started as different challenges in terms of the technique, which I think is a hard one, especially when they're inundated in this infinite universe of tools. My approach is to be very agnostic about what tools they might want to use and instead try to actually help them understand what those things are doing on a kind of signal level, which I think is something that the commercial software tools, they don't really want to help you do because I don't want to generalize too much. But in general, these companies - it's their business model to sell you software, right?
And it's not in their best interest for you to truly understand what they're doing and how they're working. And I think some of these tools are deliberately confusing and create made up nonsense words to explain what they're doing to generate or process sound. So one of the courses that I really enjoy teaching at Carnegie Mellon University is basically like a signal processing class where we go over the just the fundamental theories of oscillators and filters, convolution modulation - and we do this in Max, so they're also learning a fairly accessible programming environment in which they can create their own sounds synthesis, sound processing and control systems. And then I think if you can help people understand what's going on on a signal level inside of the systems, they can take that knowledge and then apply it in a lot of different domains.
So if they want to then go back to using, you know, Reaktor or whatever software synthesizers there are, they'll have a much better understanding of what those interfaces are doing in terms of music-making and how they might use them differently to create some things specific to their vision - or if they're going to be learning a different kind of computer programming language like Csound or creating interfaces in Unity. All of these systems are still dealing with control signals the exact same way. So if you can understand the principles of how they work, it becomes quite easy to transfer that knowledge into different domains or into different tool sets. And then I think in terms of helping students understand the cultural and social context of their work, quite a bit of that is just helping them to understand the history of where this came from, which is something that's just not taught enough. The history of electronic and experimental music: in a lot of music programs, the history education ends in, you know, 1955 - if you're lucky!
And that's just looking at, you know, sort of Western classical concert music, right? If you're a person who's interested and serious about electronic music, coming from the world of dance music, that's something that's even less discussed: where does electronic dance music come from? And it's incredible to me how important that is culturally to my students, but how few of them actually understand how some techno music came from working class communities of people of color in Chicago and Detroit, right? And the dub music practices of incredible Jamaican producers and artists, like people like Lee Scratch Perry. I think in the culture now, a lot of them just assume that electronic dance music came out of white people in Europe - because that's what's presented as the product. So I think in both of those contexts, it's a wonderful sort of look at the history of where they came from and a look at people who are not represented well in traditional formal music education, and to celebrate those histories. And also a lot of students think they're doing something for the first time because they just don't have any education in that background.
Darwin: So that's important to you, right? To make sure that they understand the historical context so that they don't end up trying to reinvent the wheel!
Well, Jesse, unfortunately our time is well up. We, we kinda got rolling there and it's great. Before we go though, for people who want to check out your work, what's the best way for them to find it online and to experience kind of the broad range of what you do?
Jesse: Sure. Yes. Or my, my work is all housed on my website, which the is "jessestil.es" with a dot in front of the "es". Or you can just Google me! Bet yeah, you'll find links to all the work from there.
Darwin: Okay, fantastic. And one last question then, given the all the different directions that you've embraced and all the things that you've done, what's next for you? What's the thing that's kind of like on your work bench that you're excited about for the near future?
Jesse: I mean, something we haven't talked about in this conversation, but it's like a huge part of our reality right now is that we're all sort of stuck at home right now where we're having this conversation in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. And a huge part of my world for the last month has been interacting with musicians and ensembles and students entirely digitally and making work entirely at home. So, I'm working on some new performance and music generation systems using things at home and things from my nearby environment and looking at ways of distributing those things digitally. That's a major area of research that I'm doing right now, just out of necessity because of the new world that we live in.
Darwin: Yeah. And the fact that remnants of this are going to last for a long time. Right?
Jesse: Yeah. And it's obviously it's a pretty scary situation, but it's also really interesting to see how people are coming together and being resourceful and creating new tools to create shared experiences in this situation. So it's been really interesting to me to see all that happening and to participate in that.
Darwin: Right on. All right - well, with that, I am going to let you have the rest of your day. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to have this talk. I really do appreciate it!
Jesse: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Copyright 2020 by Darwin Grosse. All right reserved.