Video Premiere: Wild Rumpus Performs Jenny Olivia Johnson’s Reflect Reflect Respond Respond

With predecessors including György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, and Alexander Scriabin, Jenny Olivia Johnson is the latest synesthete composer to attempt to share the colors she associates with sound. The visuals that accompany Wild Rumpus’ recording of Reflect Reflect Respond Respond (Echo and Narcissus in Reverse) were created with a video synthesizer and bring textured hues to life. Through various contemporary settings of Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude chorale, the composition meditates on sadness, our tendency to repeat past traumas, and the ways in which loss can propel us forward.

Reflect Reflect Respond Respond is one of five world premiere recordings on Vestige (2021), the final album from Wild Rumpus that also includes works by Jen Wang, Dan VanHassel, Joshua Carro, and Per Bloland. The 2019 merger of Wild Rumpus with fellow San Francisco-based organization Composers, Inc. resulted in the creation of Ninth Planet, a new music ensemble and service organization dedicated to commissioning and performing new music.

Here’s what Wild Rumpus co-founder Dan VanHassel had to say about Jenny’s piece:

Reflect Reflect Respond Respond is everything that I wanted the music of Wild Rumpus to be: big, ambitious, deeply expressive, and bursting with ideas. It draws freely from a wide variety of musical genres (minimalism, rock, early music, etc.) yet is completely original. One of Wild Rumpus’ very first commissions, it helped define the identity of the group early on. Ten years later, it still sounds completely fresh to me; I don’t know of any other music that sounds even remotely like it.

Jenny Olivia Johnson--Photo courtesy of the artist

Jenny Olivia Johnson–Photo courtesy of the artist

And here’s what Jenny had to say about the process of creating the video for Reflect Reflect Respond Respond:

This visual accompaniment provides the listener a window into my synesthetic approach to composing music, and also reflects my passion for the saturated, interactive color palettes of retro video games…My process of writing music is intimately bound up with the intense sensations of color and light that musical sonorities afford me, and composing often feels to me like an experience of gaming — searching for chords and colors and coins, addictively seizing the dopamine of cadences and climaxes, and luxuriating in the long, endless, richly-hued fade-outs of final confrontations, however unresolved they may be.

Vestige is available now on Pinna Records, and you can purchase the album on Bandcamp.

[Warning: the following video contains flashing effects that may affect photosensitive viewers]

About Wild Rumpus

Wild Rumpus was a contemporary chamber music ensemble dedicated to performing the music of the present. Founded in San Francisco by composer Jen Wang in 2011, the ensemble brought together stellar musicians who share a passion for risk-taking, collaboration, and working with living composers. During its eight-year existence the group commissioned over thirty new works, showcasing premieres alongside new music highlighting shared threads of influence and inspiration.

In 2019, Wild Rumpus and Composers, Inc. merged to form a new organization and ensemble, Ninth Planet, dedicated to the commissioning, performance and furthering of new music, especially the works of young composers and artists and those from underrepresented communities. Ninth Planet continues the traditions of both organizations by commissioning new works and performing existing, innovative pieces that stretch the genre’s limits.

About Jenny Olivia Johnson

Jenny Olivia Johnson (b. 1978 in Santa Monica, CA) is a composer, sound artist, musicologist, and associate professor of music at Wellesley College. Her music has been described as “gorgeous, ominous, and hypnotic” by the Boston Globe, “stunning in its simplicity and power” by the Boston Musical Intelligencer, “bold” by the Los Angeles Times, and “iridescent, shimmering, and evocative” by Time Out New York. Her two solo albums, Dont Look Back (2015) and Sylvia Songs (2018) are available on Innova Recordings, and her interactive sound art has been displayed at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Davis Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her writings on music, memory, trauma, and synesthesia have been published in the Oxford Handbook of Music & Queerness, Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, and the Transcultural Music Review.


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