Composer Spotlight: Yvette Janine Jackson

A. Kori Hill

You’re typically called a songwriter if you write pop, folk, hip-hop, R&B or rock music. If you write classical music, you’re typically called a composer. But did you know that you can also be called a “sound artist?” Or both at the same time?

That’s the case with Yvette Janine Jackson. Not only is she considered a composer and sound artist by other people, that’s how she describes herself!

A big reason she calls herself a sound artist is that she doesn’t always write music for traditional experiences. It’s not so much where the melody or harmony goes as it is about how pitches resonate, how they resonate in a specific room, how music technologies like tape and computers can create new cool, wacky sounds, and how those sounds engage/impact the bodies of the performer and the listener, not just their ears.

Yvette’s early education started pretty conventionally. She went to The Colburn School in her hometown of Los Angeles and got her undergraduate degree in music composition at Columbia University. Then she made a choice that’s a little different: she got a PhD in music-integrative studies at the University of California in San Diego, not composition!

Why music-integrative studies? Because rather than solely studying how to write music, students study music, sound, and culture from a range of perspectives. That means they’re creating music that engages or uses materials and practices from visual arts to computer sciences, dance, and communication! That doesn’t mean they couldn’t explore those things in a composition program, but it does mean that taking classes that allow you to dive into those things will count towards your degree instead of being “extra” classes.

When you hear Dr. Yvette’s compositions and watch her perform, it becomes very clear why such a concentration would speak to her, adding to her use of the term sound artist. When Dr. Yvette performs solo, she performs on modular synthesizers, and a lot of her music features traditional instruments and electronics. Her music also connects with cultural and extra-musical themes.

One of Dr. Yvette’s notable works is Deliberate Afraid of Nothing (2022 )for solo percussion, commissioned and performed by Colleen Bernstein. This piece, which calls for a modified drum set, cellophane, and electronics, was inspired by a line from the poem New Year’s Day by Audre Lorde. I encourage you to explore how Dr. Yvette uses the different instruments, how the sounds relate to the lines of Lorde’s poem, and the emotional character of the work. It’s a journey of discovery that will leave you intrigued and engaged.

Audre Lorde

Listen to how Dr. Yvette uses the different instruments. How do the sounds relate to the lines of Lorde’s poem? What is the emotional character of the work? Does it depend on what instrument is being played or how it’s played? Is there a melody, and if so, is it driven by a pitched or unpitched rhythm?

Another work to check out is Cannot Be (Unrung) (2018), commissioned by the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel and Dr. Tiffany Ng, who premiered the piece. It’s written for tape and carillon, which is a percussion instrument with a keyboard and 23 bells! Again, this is about how the sounds each part makes impact each other, especially between electronic materials and instruments made of wood and metal. Do you hear any sounds that you weren’t expecting? How did you feel listening to the piece a third time versus the second time? 



More Posts from The Blog

Violin Prodigy: Amaryn Olmeda

A. Kori Hill Amaryn Olmeda is a 16-year-old violinist from Melbourne, Australia. She’s been playing violin since she was three and half and loved it so much she decided to

Composer Spotlight: Errollyn Wallen

A. Kori Hill Lately, when Errollyn Wallen must work on a commission, she doesn’t go to an office or a café or a library; she goes to her lighthouse.  Errollyn

Composer Spotlight: Yvette Janine Jackson