I am using my position as guest editor for August 2018’s The Sampler blog to investigate how intersectionality informs the identities and processes of our sound and music practices. My questions aim to center the idea of intersectional personhood and creative output.
You will find links relating to the content of this interview at the bottom of this page
You will also find a helpful glossary of terms relevant to this interview in a digital publication entitled ‘Women and Non-Binary Identities’ created by the educational platform Shades of Noir which is linked to at the bottom of this page.
Hannah Catherine Jones is an artist, multi-instrumentalist, scholar, radio presenter, composer, conductor and founder of Peckham Chamber Orchestra. Their broad practice is connected through a central spine of inclusivity and decolonization. Myths, (both ancient and modern), word-play, appropriation and their own voice (in song) are their materials.
You can find Hannah’s work here
For accompanying interview audio see here
In one sentence tell me who you are
My name is Hannah Catherine Jones I also go by the moniker Foxy Moron (which is more of a state of mind than anything that I change about myself). I am a multi-instrumentalist, academic, broadcaster, conductor, composer, basically somebody that does to many things but I refuse to give up any of those things.
How would you describe the sound and music you make?
I see my output as having two forms that are deeply interconnected. I founded an orchestra: Peckham Chamber Orchestra [which involved] a lot of admin and getting people together. I also conducted that orchestra for four years selecting music [and] learning how to conduct [which is] coming off the back of me playing in orchestras. There is this classical side [to my practice], which is about me and choices and keeping rhythm, but also very much to do with working with between 20 and 50 other people. Then there’s my solo practice which I would align more with playing various instruments: usually Theremin with viola, sometimes mandolin, usually vocals, often singing in Zulu. [There’s] this body of work that I’ve been doing for a few years now called ‘The Oweds’ spelled O-W-E-D-S like this idea of debt, of reparation of fragmented histories that I’m trying to fill in the blanks, so it’s cultural reparations for myself at the very least. As the audience gets a bit broader putting [The Oweds] out there, hopefully it can be thought about at least. It’s not radical its political. [My practices] crossover a lot, so I’ll sample similar things, maybe I’ll orchestrate them for the orchestra and then maybe I’ll sample that within my solo work. Peckham Chamber Orchestra and the orchestrated works is orchestrated, so you’re reading the music and communicating through a set of instructions. Sometimes we improvise, in fact often we improvise but my solo practice is all improvised [and] that’s the balance – solo improvisation and community collective music production through scores and sheet music. I need that balance. It’s not necessarily strict but I never write anything down for my performances and that is very important.
How does your music express (or not express) your identity? Feel free to comment on the kinds of software / instruments / approaches / research you use.
So as somebody that’s extremely privileged to have been taught from a very young age how to play instruments by my dad who is from Barbados, [he] moved over here [the UK] when he was nine and then he got a scholarship [and] moved to the north. He’s black, he plays violin, he’s very well spoken – people don’t expect that of him. You wouldn’t expect my dad to do what he does because of racial stereotypes ‘oh well he might play the saxophone, or the drums, or the trumpet’, so there’s always a bit of cultural dissonance doing what I do which my dad has experienced his whole life and more intensely. So for me it’s a deep connection with my dad. Singing in Zulu [for example], I trained in opera and you [usually] sing in Italian, German, French, Italian – colonial languages and I’ve never liked the sound of my voice singing in English because you have to elongate all your vowels and it’s posh, which is not my speaking accent, so I found that really hard and I didn’t like the sound of it. Then I went to South Africa and was invited to sing in Zulu – backing vocals in the Thath’i Cover Okestra – which was great. I felt like I’d found my voice. It feels right and it’s a beautiful language [that] sits right in my mouth. It’s an ancestral language of mine.
I use ancient modes – Mixolydian, Dorian, Phrygian (I love), Lydian – Gregorian chant stuff, but it’s only called that because of Western musical history, it goes much further back than that. With the Theremin, it just happened [and it’s] my main instrument now. It’s a failed radio so I feel like every time I perform I’m sending out these soundwaves and I could just be communicating with outer space and time and I do feel like I am! It feels right. I know it’s not unique to me or my identity but there’s something about it that’s just working. I do feel something extra, extra-something, extra-terrestrial, by playing the Theremin because it’s a portal at the end of the day.
With the orchestra a huge part of what that is, is representation. Being a conductor, I’ve done some work with Southwark Youth Orchestra [which has a large percentage of] Afro-Caribbean, non-white kids. Having them [say] ‘oh you’re such an inspiration’ just fills me with joy. I think it’s important that people can see someone that doesn’t look like your typical cis-white-het man dominating that discourse because it’s for everyone. Chevalier de Saint-Georges – [in] the 1700s [in] Paris, Mozart stole the Symphonie Concertante form from him, a Black African man, composer. Chineke Orchestra are doing a lot in that sense.
I stopped conducting [Peckham Chamber Orchestra] because of exhaustion, but I said one thing to them: keep it going, just make sure it’s never conducted by a cis-white-het man because that’s the antithesis. Anyone can come and play, but it’s about that role of leadership. You have to take that role seriously and understand what it represents beyond that room or that moment.
What question would you love to answer that I haven’t asked here?
If there were no limitations in terms of finances or technology, what would my ideal set-up be?
I’d love to have somebody to notate the samples that I want Peckham Chamber Orchestra to play. [I’d love to] be taught Ableton Live so everything [could be] recorded in separate channels so that I can play around with it afterwards. [I’d love to have] all non-binary, people of colour, queer folk [in] an amazing space [that was] Black owned. If I could find these people to work with, that’d be my ultimate vision of something that would bring everything together. The fact that I’ve got an orchestra is good. A choir is the next one because an instrument is the barrier – if you haven’t got someone to buy you an instrument, you’re not going to be able to learn it, so therefore it’s inaccessible and that’s not radical. [The wish list above] would be the dream.
I am compiling a ten-track playlist and would love to feature one artist / sound practitioner / band you would recommend.
I can’t get enough of Alice Coltrane and her track Er Ra has been on repeat for most of 2018 for me! I also had the pleasure of meeting Kelsey Lu at the last Peckham Chamber Orchestra and this track is one of my faves of hers – Dreams
Terminology Glossary (created by Shades of Noir)
The following are mentioned in this interview
Hannah Catherine Jones’ website
Peckham Chamber Orchestra
Hannah conducting Peckham Chamber Orchestra
Hannah’s solo work ‘The Oweds’
Hannah’s involvement with the Thath’i Cover Okestra in South Africa
Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Hannah is currently listening to:
Hannah’s August activity
Hannah will be speaking, performing and DJ-ing at the Wagner Museum Bayreuth.
Hannah’s next NTS Opera show airs on August 4th
Hannah’s Late Junction show is on BBC iPlayer for the next month
Interview produced, transcribed and edited by Rebekah Ubuntu with editorial support from Jaime Peschiera