Part 1

Name: Jenny Pulse
Occupation: Musician, singer, producer
Nationality: American
Recent release: Jenny Puls and Timmy Kinsella's Gimme Altamont EP, harbinger of a full length LP slated for release in 2023, is out now.
Recommendations: This is the hardest question! How about:
1. Bande à part: On Independent Art Institutions- Mousse Publishing
2. Henry Flynt- You Are My Everlovin’

If you enjoyed this interview with Jenny Pulse and would like to find out more about her work, visit her on Soundcloud.  

Jenny was also a member of the Joan of Arc collective, whose members over the years have included Joshua Abrams, Theo Katsaounis, and Ben Vida.

[Read our Timmy Kinsella interview]
[Read our Joshua Abrams interview]
[Read our Theo Katsaounis interview]
[Read our Ben Vida interview]

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

It never crossed my mind that I could be a musician when I was younger.

I did grow up playing piano. I did grow up loving music. My parents liked music, but they only had eight CDs in their player when I was kid. This is what they were: The Beatles, Rod Stewart, Kenny G’s Christmas album, Jeff Buckley, a middle eastern folk band that I can’t remember the name of, Carole King, and a compilation of popular soul music. I had a full bag of RnB and Celine Dion cassettes then which I listened to all of the time.

Later I had a CD player and so many CDs. I was a teenager when I lost them all on a Greyhound bus on the way to Florida. Not only did it suck to be on a Greyhound bus for like two whole days, but my favorite thing in the world got stolen. A good lesson on being able to let-go of things, however. I’m pretty good at that now.

There weren’t any clubs in Green Bay, WI (where I grew up). I’d go to punk shows at V.A. halls as a teen, and that was my only exposure to live music until I left. I’d continue this tradition by primarily going to house shows upon my arrival to Chicago in 2008.

When I turned 25 I accidentally started making music. Then, I was listening to a lot of BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I bought vinyl with sound effects (such as a car going by, a door bell, crickets, common environmental noise) to sample. I made a rather bizarre mixtape from my vinyl collection for someone I had a crush on (of course). A blend of songs, soundscapes and voiceovers I dubbed onto tape by way of a karaoke machine. So, I had my turntable, a tape machine, a karaoke machine, a junky dynamic mic and a Roland XP-80.

In a way, I hadn’t thought about this until now, but I guess I was making ambient music with a process similar to early hip-hop. That’s pretty cool to realize. Ambient music has become very popular in recent years, but when I was doing this I didn’t know much about the genre beyond Brian Eno. Dubbing on a karaoke machine is so funny because the fidelity decreases so fast. I didn’t realize how muddy it all sounded. People would call me a lo-fi musician and I didn’t get it. I wasn’t trying to be lo-fi. I was working with what I had. My first live show I mixed sounds off of two 4-tracks while playing synths and singing.

How I learned to to write songs: quantization on the XP-80. Beats, melodic loops, all that. Because of that machine I was able to move on from sampling vinyl to making my own songs of quantized sequences. Still on this crappy tape machine, mind you, but I learned song structure. I understand most things in baby steps, but these baby steps grow quick because I enjoy learning and working.

When I got Ableton that really opened my eyes to what sound can do. It’s truly a masterful DAW that continues to expand and blow my mind with its capabilities.

I’d like my next record to be composed in a studio next. Hopefully the money flows to be able to do that. My friend built and runs this place called Sud Studio in Southern Italy that I dream of working in for a month. I adapt easily and can work with pretty much anything at my disposal. I don’t need a studio. I’d be just fine with whatever you give me. What’s most exciting about music is figuring out the approach to each song and/or record.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

Synaesthesia. Sad to say, that is not how my mind works. I’ve certainly taken psychedelics which likely produce a variation of this experience. Taking drugs can be a helpful experience, but it is not the same. I use shapes, objects and colors as prompts for creating music. For example, Tim and I cut up a book full of Picasso paintings and made pairs of them that served as a mood board to the mixing of each song on our record “Cherry Tree”. Composing and mixing are very visual experiences involving shapes which I enjoy immensely.

There is a part in a documentary or short video on Maya Deren that explains how I feel about music in the body very well. Someone talks about Maya’s draw to music and Haitian culture as being rhapsodic. When she heard music she had to dance. The drums would go and she’d go. I love that. I get that.

Music should dictate the body. Whether it’s ecstatic movement or stillness. The music tells you what it wants you to do. If it doesn’t, then the musician or composer needs to take another look at their work. I do my best to dictate others bodies with my music. I’m not saying it’s easy, not even claiming to DO it, but that is my goal.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

There are no rules until there are rules. Rules must serve as directives. Often boundaries create space and freedom because the lines in which you work within are so clear. I like that. I also like not thinking about any of that and do what feels good. Music that makes me feel something in my body is an absolute. So if rules don’t get me there I’ll throw them out no problem.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

My sense of identity will be forever shifting depending on what I’m learning at the moment. I feel so consistently myself because of this.

I’m interested in changing my vibe when I feel like it. Musically, aesthetically, intellectually, so on. I’m quite good at leaning into what I feel like doing. And this is a continuation, a natural growth of what has come before. My identity as a human and as an artist is doing what I like most within my means and always hope I can expand my means so I can experience more of things that I like and the things that I don’t know. It’s important to synthesize what we learn into our work or there is no purpose for learning.

Music is an important tool for exploring my masculine and feminine sides, and to play, integrate, and juxtapose them. I like letting one completely take over when it’s right. This how I’m able to learn about myself. Through the characters I explore through this way.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Work with what’s available right now. Never wait thinking you need to know more or have more in order to make something great.

I’ve changed my set-up so many times, and I have to say, the less I work with the more clear headed I am. Don’t get me wrong, I will take an orchestra, but I also know how to make an orchestra on a DAW. I also know that I can mic a room to play this digital orchestra in and give it some air. At the end of the day I would be fine with just a computer and a mic. And a bass. And maybe a snare drum. And some toms … because it’s fun to bang on things.

And as I’ve said before, integrate what’s being learned. Feel your work, no matter what the medium is, in your body. If the proper emotion isn’t be triggered when the work is done, keep going.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I’m not sure perfection or timelessness exists when it comes to music. And I think “perfectionism” is used as an excuse for procrastination. Nothing will ever be perfect. Art can only be “of the moment”, overworked or something in the middle.

Maybe timelessness can exist in “traditional music" since it is ultimately foundational to the future of music.

Originality. Do something that hasn’t been done before. Here are two approaches to getting there: Take what has been done before and turn it on its head. A clean curation and reconfiguration of what has been done.

The other way is mystical in a sense. Allowing chance to reveal something new. Do not over-think. We did a lot of this on our new record. It was basically composed by pulling numbers and words out of a jar or bags. We let the universe decide what the record is.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

Ableton is the instrument / tool I’ve used the longest. I have learned so much about composing, experimenting and mixing from it.

They’re a company that definitely has the artist in mind. Their latest updates are super. What’s promising about Ableton is that they continue to update with both musicians who use real instruments and those who are solely MIDI-based in mind. Like their update where the tempo can follow a drummer live is a game changer!

I would say most musicians are integrating some form of computer technology into their set-up whether or not they want to display it on the stage or not. It’s pointless to resist because of how compact a person’s set-up can become. I don’t think a computer with a midi controller alone makes for an interesting live show by any means, but I do like that it can be that easy. Say if you’re traveling overseas on a limited budget—you can go because you don’t have to pay for all your gear and renting a backline. This allows artists to travel internationally with just a backpack if they want and that is huge.

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