“I’m a person who believes in infinity, but because I also live in space and time, it is my goal to reach that infinity, creatively”
proud of her. Because I am the descendant behind her. It seems to always happen when it comes to AfricanAmericans, there’s this very heavy preconceived notion of, oh, they live in the ghetto, and they somehow made it out.”
Patton finished work on Black Origami in Bangalore, in South India, where Avril Stormy Unger lives. “It’s totally not like my world at all and I like that,” she muses. Throughout Black Origami there are hints of an Indian influence, with rhythms that bring to mind Carnatic tala patterns, and the sound of a sarangi woven into “Holy Child”. She connected with Indian rhythms instinctively: “Being a person who’s of African descent, drumming and the sound of drums is natural for me... Indian sound has such a rich culture, and Africa is such a rich culture, and in the contrast in between the two there’s this very familiar middle ground for me.”
Africa is represented most literally with “Hatshepsut”, which references the ancient Egyptian queen, and “Nyakinyua Rise”, which takes its name from a community organisation that Patton’s mother, Donna, co-founded in Kenya. But the tracks don’t seek to imitate or recreate African music, nor are they pleasant adventures in exotica. “Hatshepsut” uses an assortment of percussion, piling it up to suggest a crowd moving in formation, but does so in conjunction with harsh, siren-like synth stabs and whispering cymbals. Throughout Black Origami I’m reminded of the current networks of electronic artists whose work approaches the ‘global’ but does so without the complacency and acquisitiveness that that label often suggests, instead imbuing their work with a politicised urgency as they collaborate across continents and genres. Elysia Crampton and Rabit’s “After Woman (For Bartolina Sisa)” comes to mind, as does the abrasive sound of Crampton’s associate Chino Amobi and others of the Afro-diasporic NON collective.
On Black Origami, Cape Town rapper Dope Saint Jude, who has worked with NON member Angel-Ho, provides the vocal for “Never Created, Never Destroyed”, her lyrics rearranged into percussive syllables that form the backbone of the track. “She was the whole texture,” explains Patton. “Her music is so bold I thought, well, if I’m going to be creative, she damn sure better be the texture of what is being made, so I’ve got to build the instrumentation around her.”
The overt politics of NON are not so apparent in Jlin’s music, and nor are the chaotic, clashing messscapes that artists such as Amobi create, often with critical intent to address the present and historical trauma of indigenous and diasporic existences. There’s a refreshing refusal among all these artists to recognise limitations of sound, genre and geography; but Patton has put in the studio hours and the commitment to a historical and codified musical form that make her refusal all the more meaningful. Patton’s attitude, if not so much her sound, brings to mind the work of Jamal Moss aka Hieroglyphic Being, in the sense that both artists break down and rebuild club musics like house and footwork for neither analytical nor political reasons – although both are highly analytical and political – but as a means of achieving an elevated musical consciousness, what Jamal Moss might call, with a debt to Sun Ra, migrating to a “higher level of existence” and Patton simply calls “infinity”.
I ask her what constitutes infinite music, and she cites not producers or instrumentalists but singers:
Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt and Rachelle Ferrell. “I’m a person that believes in infinity, but because I also live in this parallel and this world, in space and time, I still feel like it is my goal to reach that infinity. I want to do that, creatively. Where space and time doesn’t matter, even if we’re in a space and time parallel, I would love to get rid of it.” Can she do that with sound? “I’m working at it,” she replies.
Her music for Wayne McGregor has pushed her to consider ideas of space and time in a more literal way, by introducing ambient, textural passages that she says are unlike anything she has produced before. “I’m creating an intention in a space – it can be peaceful but you know it’s leading to something,” she says.
Patton and I are catching up over Skype a few months after our initial interview. She’s been working hard on the music but has suddenly hit a block. “It’s like hell on Earth, and nobody can get you out,” she says despondently. “The only thing that can get you out of it is time.”
As part of his research for the ballet, McGregor had his entire genome sequenced. Patton sees parallels in her more spiritual explorations into self-awareness, describing a period a few years ago in which she learned about meditation and the tantric philosophy of chakras, the body’s energy centres. While reading about genomics for Autobiography, she says, “I was learning, realising what a mutation was… I feel that I have many mutations – many mutations from my mood, even musically, going into these deep dives where sometimes it’s very danceable and other times, it’s in the depths... Because there are times when I go back and listen and I can’t believe I made it – not because I’m proud and arrogant, it’s just scary because it sounds like another person, not myself.”
“Having Jlin’s music for eight hours a day blasting out in your ears is a challenge,” McGregor laughs, when I enquire how the dancers have responded to it. “One of the things we’ve learned is that Jlin’s music followed by emptiness – followed by noise of the room and the studio – is very powerful: you cut these holes in the world. So in the piece itself we might do that, we might have some very long stretches of intensity, rhythmic intensity and unfamiliar sound, and real richness, and then we might have some holes.”
In describing how Patton’s music transforms the silence that follows it, McGregor nails something essential about its often breathtaking impact – and echoes Patton’s awareness of her music’s ability to overwhelm its own composer sometimes. “The thing is that the mutation was already there,” she reflects. “It’s something that I needed to adapt to; something that I already had that I just discovered. I call it a mutation because it was like a change when I first approached it but now it’s like, this has always been you, and there are things inside of you that you’ll discover later.
“This is what life is – everybody is like this,” she declares.“ And if you take the time to go into the core of yourself and pull that thing out, even though it’s as painful as hell – that’s what a block is, having to go into your core and pull something out. Nobody likes to do that, it is so uncomfortable. Having to go and dig and pull it out – that’s a whole other animal.” Jlin’s Black Origami is released by Planet Mu. Autobiography opens this month at London’s Sadler’s Wells: see Out There
Jlin | The Wire | 37