Jhno is a project of San Francisco resident John Eichenseer. As Jhno, and as Spool, in collaboration with John Ridenour, Eichenseer has released three spectacular CDs of electronic music that touch on several contemporary genres without falling into any single one of them. "Kwno" from 1997, "Understand" from 95, and Spool's selftitled debut from 1998 are fairly stunning digital constructions of breakbeats under collaged walls of sound - tablas, piano, "ethnic" percussion, guitars and samples. Sounds are massed together and processed into dense surfaces of multi-varied color, with a powerful bass drum sound (one of the most physical I've ever heard) and an almost intoxicating beauty within each perfectly assembled track. There aren't too many better produced CDs than any disc with a Jhno connection. Each sound is delicately crafted, sometimes by software written by Eichenseer himself. Jhno draws on his jazz piano background to add a lively flavor to all of these discs, especially "Kwno", which plays like a west coast cool version of ideas hinted at by Atom Heart, Orbital, Goldie, and maybe even Spiritualized. The first Jhno CD, "Understand", is a much wilder mix of John Oswald-inspired plunderphonics and jungle, enriched by sidetrips through dub, sound collage, new wave basslines, ethnic chanting, and even a grindcore blast beat.
1. What have you been up to recently since the Spool and "Knwo" releases? When will the follow-up to Kwno come out?
The next Jhno CD, "Membrane", will hopefully come out this year . I am currently mixing the next Spool CD - "Spool Saves the World". Lots of good music on the way.
Locally, I am starting a couple of live groove/jazz projects. Hard to predict what will come of this - but we have a couple of club dates and we'll see what happens.
2. All sort of great things are happening in San Francisco - Matmos, Carl Stone, Kit Clayton, Terre Thaemlitz, the Artifact label, plenty more - do you have any contact with any of these people? Do you have ample opportunities for live shows, or DJ performances?
I know Carl and Kit Clayton, and go hear them perform whenever I can. I guess that the experimental electronic scene is still, as always, pretty underground. It is hard to find venues for some of this music. We have had some experimental music nights here at the warehouse loft where I live. I wish there were some more opportunities to hear this stuff...
I haven't been playing out much, but that seems to be changing now. It takes an incredible amount of work to play live. I have been trying to create a setup that I feel really comfortable with, so I can improvise. I would like to begin a piece, having no idea where it was going or what it would become - and then just keep adding and shaping elements on the fly. This is how music gets composed in the studio.
3. Are you originally from Austin, or did you just go to college there? Can you tell me a little about the tape that you released while in Austin?
I went to school at UT [University of Texas] Austin from 1988-1992. I stayed in Austin a couple of years, then moved to San Francisco. I was raised in a military family, so I am pretty used to moving around. I start to get restless if I stay in one place too long.
That tape I put out, "Red Side Blue Side", was just a collection of pieces I had written for modern dancers, and some other earlier compositions and collaborations. I only made 50 copies, though. My music was pretty different then - but it still sounds like me.
4. The "Understand" CD is a great piece of music, very vibrant and dense - how do you feel about it today? I think it still sounds very contemporary - would you agree?
I'll have to go listen to it again to see whether I agree - but I think that in general, the music I have been making has lasted well over time. If you are making genre music, especially electronic genre music, it becomes much more topical and prone to the wax and wane of fashion. But, even though I have tried, I can't make "genre music". I can't just sit down and produce a house track. It would end up getting all complex and layered and pretty soon it would sound like a Jhno piece.
5. Are there any musical influences you can point to that might have influenced the sound on that CD? How does (or did) your work for Thomas Dolby's Headspace fit in to this release - did you use any techniques or equipment from your contract work to put the CD together?
Actually, I mastered that CD on Thomas Dolby's Protools system, when we were working together in San Mateo. That was years ago, though. On the software side, I am working with David Zicarelli now. We just released a collection of audio processing plug-ins called Pluggo. I wrote 30 of the plug-ins, and some of them are pretty unusual. Anybody can check it out at http://www.cycling74.com
I always have a lot of influences, musically. At the time I recorded "Understand" I was really into John Oswald, I guess he gave me some new ideas about what you could do with "re-purposed" audio. I had just started hearing jungle around then - that definitely had an impact.
6. "Understand" and "Kwno" were self-released - was there any particular reason you decided to form your own label? Have you had any offers to release music on other labels besides the spool CD? Will you continue releasing your own music?
When I finished "Understand", my first CD, I knew I would have a hard time finding a label interested in releasing it. The music was just a little too unusual. I think I sent it to one or two labels, but decided early on to release it myself - partly to learn a little more about the music industry, running a label, and the whole process of releasing recordings. More than that, the nice thing about doing everything yourself is that you can do whatever you want, in terms of art, publicity, and the whole style of presenting your work to the public. "Understand" was a very original CD, so it was nice to keep it pure like that.
The biggest problem for me was the sheer amount of time required to run a label. I am always doing a lot of things in my life and it is too difficult to try to sustain the level of effort a label demands. That said, I still plan to release music under the Delicate Ear imprint, but I will focus on very short run CD's and online music. This will give me an opportunity to get some things out that would never otherwise see the light of day, without all the hassle of trying to deal with the promotion and distribution of a full release.
My second CD, "Kwno", which I released myself, was picked up by Newdog records, who put out the first Spool CD. Other than that, some other labels have licensed some of my tracks for compilation CD's, but that's about it.
7. About "Understand" CD you said in an interview: "a lot of _understand_ is about technology. To some extent, technology has always determined what music is possible, and the pace of change and new development is faster now than ever before. By the same token, entire cultures, music and all, have been lost along the way. I think there is great tragedy there, but for better or worse I still align myself with this culture I am immersed in. I try to stay aware of what that means". - do you think your recent music is still dealing with these ideas? How do your ideas about sampling fit in to this? You have a pretty "freewheeling" attitude when it comes to sampling - have you ever had any problems?
Yes, I think I am still dealing with these ideas - but in a different way. I have not been using sampling as heavily lately. It comes and goes. I guess that when a piece is happening in my studio, I just bring to it whatever it needs. With sampling my palette includes the whole world of recorded music that I know... so I just draw from any source that fits the piece. I have been steering away from "topical" and obvious references; I like to use samples texturally, so that they do not call attention to themselves.
I have never had any problems with the legality of sampling. So far I think I am quite under radar. In fact this is the title of an as-yet-unreleased collection of Jhno tracks that are all very sample intensive - "under radar". It has all the most copyright-violation-intensive pieces. I am thinking I will just release this in MP3 format on my website, within a week or so. Check http://www.subminimal.com/ear/ if you feel like it. Maybe I'll ask for a couple bucks, just to see if this "alternative distribution" scheme can work at all financially for the musician...
8. In the same interview quoted above, from 1996, you said you were: "recording a jazz CD and learning to play the pipe organ and duduk" - and "I suspect that the next release will be a piano trio recording of some of my jazz compositions. It's hard to speculate, though... I never know what is coming next". Did you finish recording a jazz CD? Was it ever released?
No jazz CD yet. I keep trying to follow through on this, but it has been really hard for me to make satisfying recordings of my jazz pieces. There is always something about the performance that won't be working for me, and if I release any of this music I want to do it justice. If I get anywhere on this, I'll be sure to announce it on my website and mailing list. Meanwhile I have been playing and recording a bit with a jazz/groove crossover project called Wavelord, which has been great fun. We have been playing around San Francisco and should have a CD together before too long.
9. Can you tell me about the Spool collaboration - how did you hook up with John Ridenour and the other musicians who played on that disc? Can you give me some background info on Ridenour, Chris Searles, Brian Bowman and Susan Voelz? How did your working method differ (if at all) on this project, as opposed to your "solo" releases? What was the line-up for Spool's recent tour? Who plays what when you're onstage? Did your stage presentation include any visuals? Will there be more Spool recordings?
I played in John's band, the John Ridenour Cluster. This was in Austin, Texas, in the early Nineties. Chris Searles played with us too. It was a great band. we eventually went our separate ways, but kept in touch. John and I always wanted to do a project together, so in the spring of 1996 he flew out to San Francisco from Chicago and we recorded the basic tracks for the first Spool record. Bryan played with us on some of those sessions. Then I spent the next couple months mixing and finishing the tracks, which included bringing Chris and Bryan in to play some additional drums. Susan's violin tracks came from an earlier collaboration with John.
Bryan came with us on tour to play drums and percussion, and my longtime friend Hillel Familant played bass. John stuck to guitar on stage, while I was playing keyboards, loops, effects, and sometimes mixing recorded tracks from the original pieces, such as a prophet 5 drone or a feeding back space echo, which I couldn't re-create live. We didn't tour with any visuals, unfortunately, but sometimes the space would have something going on. We have played parties at my warehouse with people doing interesting visuals, from psychedelic oil projections to algorithmic cellular automata generated in real-time on a Macintosh. It always adds a lot to the space.
Meanwhile, we have recorded the basic tracks for the next Spool record. I am in the process of mixing and finishing the pieces. a couple of tunes are done, but we have a long way to go yet. This CD will be a little different... some of the tracks have a more live feel to them since we recorded them as a quartet (with John Christensen on bass). I think it will be a very strong record. Keep in touch with my website, http://www.subminimal.com/ear/, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to hear about this and other releases.
JHNO selected discography:
Spool: "Spool" CD Newdog Records 1998
Jhno: "Kwno" CD Newdog Records 1998
Jhno: "Fly" 12" EP Delicate Ear 1997
Jhno: "The Evolution of Consciousness Through Resonance" CDR Delicate Ear 1997
Jhno: "Understand" CD Delicate Ear 1995
John Eichenseer: "red side blue side" Cassette 1992
With John Ridenour:
John Ridenour: "Yin" Shiny Thing 1991
With The Aluminum Group:
The Aluminum Group: "Plano" CD Minty Fresh records 1998
"After Hours 4" Instinct Records 1998
"Off The Streets" Ultraviolet Records 1997
"mind/body" Atomic Novelties 1993
"manifestation vol. II" (with Liquid Mice) Awefull Records 1991