Interview ~ Jaja - We All Reflect to Each Other
SOUND REFLECTIONS brings together artists and musicians to discuss their history, work and creative process. The interview process is usually conducted by email and combines core questions repeated in most interviews with specific questions focusing on the unique background and talents of the artist found here. Through Sound Reflections, we aspire to share the spotlight, connect with as many people as possible and hopefully increase the positive karma in the world.
Jaja (aka Jana Rockstroh): Since 2009, Jaja composes unconventional electronic music full of atmospheres and little suprises. Her sound defines Space Ambient and the results ranging from space music to contemporary Ambient. She plays and arranges everything live with her Synthesizers Roland JD-800 and Roland XV-88 supported by some certain outboard equipment like the Fireface 802 by RME, the PCM 92 by Lexicon, the Vitalizer MK2-T by SPL and the Allen & Heath GL-2400 432 Audio Mixing Console. Every live recording becomes a deep space exploration while Jaja captures the inner moods and the visions of a sonic universe.
Aperus (aka Brian McWilliams) interviewed Jaja for this personal one-on-one conversation. Aperus is an ambient, electronic musician and photographer living in the high desert of northern New Mexico. With each recording, he explores new themes and possibilities, combining analog atmospheres, field recordings, electronic experimentalism and photographic artifacts to create unique audiovisual documents.
Hi Jaja, welcome! I honestly can't remember how many months ago we first started talking about doing an interview but I'm really happy to finally share this conversation about music and your creative process with a wider audience, so let's get started!
Q. Do you have any memories or feelings about the first time you really noticed music or sound in general?
Jaja: Music has always given me peace. My earliest memories are a tape recorder and a cassette recorder. I always sang along quietly.
Q. Did you grow up around music, learning music or have a musical family?
Jaja: I was somehow naturally born totally musical. I had guitar lessons and sang in the choir.
Q. When did ambient / experimental music first catch your ear and what were some of the artists that first caught your attention?
Jaja: I came into contact with ambient through dark wave and techno in the 1990s. The mystical, the underground, and especially the floating atmospheres touched me then as now. I listened to music by In The Nursery, Ordo Equitum Solis, Aphex Twin, The Future Sound of London, Moritz von Oswald, Wolfgang Voigt and Thomas Köner.
Q. It's interesting to see some of the albums that inspired you because some of these are favorites of mine as well. The neoclassical sound of In The Nursery really inspired me when I first started with friend John (in Remanence) on "Apparitions". "To The Faithful" is still on my phone when i go out hiking or running. "Duality" was a favorite ITN album as well.
Also, Thomas Köner is a huge influence. His use of open space and sound is fantastic. "Nuun", "Nunatak", and "Permafrost" are my favorites. I can see how Thomas Köner would impact you as I think you use open space and "frequency" as a way to create atmosphere too. So, this leads to the next questions - what's your most prized album(s) by another artist?
Jaja: There are very many favorites. I would like to mention the ones that have influenced me and that I heard the most in my life. Thank you also for your comparison with Thomas Köner. Indeed we share same vision about sound and timbre.
In The Nursery - Duality (Klive and Nigel Humberstone, Third Mind
Gas - Gas (Wolfgang Voigt, Mille Plateaux 1996)
Gas - Zauberberg (Wolfgang Voigt, Mille Plateaux 1997)
Thomas Köner - Aubrite (Thomas Köner, Barooni 1995)
Thomas Köner - Kaamos (Thomas Köner, Mille Plateaux 1998)
Maurizio - M7 (Moritz von Oswald, Mark Ernestus, Maurizio 1997)
Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works Volume II (Richard D. James, Warp Records 1994)
Aural Float - Introspectives (Alex Azary, Gabriel Le Mar, Paschalis Dardoufas, Elektrolux 1995)
Fluxion - Vibrant Forms I (Konstantinos Soublis, Chain Reaction 1999)
Fluxion - Vibrant Forms II (Konstantinos Soublis, Chain Reaction 2000)
Vladislav Delay - Huone (Sasu Ripatti, Chain Reaction 1999)
Blu Mar Ten / Akira / Nu Moon - B.R.O / Yellow River / Dark Matter / Sakhmet (Chris Marigold and Leo Wyndham, Akira Shimizu, Simon Murrell and Stephen Kite, Good Looking Records 2000)
Q. Do you feel that making music has value to your personally and do you feel a connection with your audience through the music you create?
Jaja: For me, making music is probably the most authentic expression of my feelings. I will never be able to put into words what I can so easily say in my music. My fans hear that, and that is my personal gain. My feelings in this world, about this world, the cosmos, the big picture, the small things, the calm in us, the special thing in every being, all that is the basis of my life and my music. My music is me and the world, my dreams, reflections and wishes, my longing and my regret about many things that are not right. The value of my music gives me the value of my own person, which develops, which grows, and which strives and lets be. My fans show me their connection to my music in such an incredibly beautiful way. I have received absolute appreciation over the years, and I am eternally grateful for it. I never write for myself only, I always write for the people, for the sadness that lives within us all, for the hopes, just as I experience it all myself. It is a very deep connection that I always feel.
Q. I read about your process of finding a specific synth that suited your style and music in another interview and found your comments fascinating. I wonder if you could summarize your thoughts again about connecting with an instrument because it resonated with me and I'm sure it would resonate with other musicians and creative types?
Jaja: It is very fascinating for I believe very much in the unity of man, music and instrument. I started writing music with software plugins and a controller keyboard. It was very limiting for I had to operate a whole universe of sounds with a mouse and could only modulate live in a limited way on the controller keyboard. Also, the quality of the sounds always bothered me. That was when I bought my first hardware synthesizer, the Roland JD-800 (built in 1991). I am a direct person. I need to touch and feel things to connect. I just needed a real instrument at that time. The JD-800 is my starship with a cockpit full of possibilities and direct intuitive access. That simply was not possible before with the computer mouse.
Then there was the groundbreaking change in sound. Much deeper and more voluminous. I am a person of depth, for me it is the foundation I need to travel to the stars and my innermost. Bass waves, by the way, have the longest range and carry the tones and timbres very far.
The depth of the sound is another aspect. Sound depth is achieved when the person and the instrument form a unity, as in the Chinese or Japanese martial arts the Ch'i. The swordsman wields his sword effortlessly, he can achieve this for he knows his sword, all its ornaments, the smith's craft, the handle that fits perfectly in his hand, the long exercises and meditations, the harmony with nature and the universe, all this leads to a resolution within the Ch'i. I have been doing nothing else for 10 years. I immerse myself in my synthesizers and let everything go. It is hard training, intuition and open mindedness, and it never stops.
A few years ago I also found my perfect second synthesizer, the Roland XV-88 (built in 2000), that has 88 weighted keys, 7 octaves on one keyboard. Now I was able to realize and deepen my live playing even more. Since then my fingers float across the keys.
My music tells from life with its dreams, emotions, dedication and connection to the world and beyond. I have fulfilled my dream through hardware.
Q. What was your creative process like before you found an instrument to your liking?
Jaja: I wrote my first three albums with a controller keyboard and software plugins. Of course, my workflow (I always play live and always at night) was the same as today, but it was complicated because of the lack of direct real-time variations. Of course, that inhibits. Also, I find these albums sound-wise outdated and have been thinking about remastering them. Back then I made computer music, today I create sound.
Q. What helps you get into a creative space?
Jaja: My studio, I turn it on and it is sound. The night, for it is universal and of great peace. Inspiration, only then I make music.
Q. You record music at low volume, what gave you the idea to do this? What are the advantages?
Jaja: It was not an idea, it just happened through changes. I made my sound smoother and wider, changed equipment and wired boxes differently. As a result, my music has gotten quieter since 2016. I did not want to compensate by raising the volume in the DAW or an audio editor. I always record what I hear. I adjust sound in the post process in a highly sensitive way. I want to stay analog. I increase the volume on the mixer, but analog has its limit in noise. That is just how it happened, and over the years I have gotten used to it. I make meditative music. Meditating needs a quiet environment, so my music can unfold subtly in the background. A cognitive blossoming, so to speak.
As Brian Eno once said: "Ambient music is intended to induce calm and a space to think. Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular, it must be as ignorable as it is interesting."
Q. You said you were naturally musical growing up. When did you know you wanted to create your own music? Were you called to create your music or did it evolve over time?
Jaja: It evolved over time. But I also believe that I was called to it. I have always been very musical in my own world, and I could realise it with the help of inspiring people. That I make this music today was inevitable.
Q. There is something about the way that you create music, write about music and share on social media that strikes me as being very honest and organic. That line from In The Nursery's "Always" from Duality -- "you are a child of the universe" -- keeps rolling through my head as I write this. This might sound cliche, but it seems as though you are channeling something very "cosmic" and direct on an energetic level when you create and share.
Jaja: This is such a great compliment. Thank you so much. My love for the cosmos has deepened throughout my life. I went camping a lot as a child, and I have always been a night owl. Later, we would lie under the night sky and watch shooting stars. At some point, the metaphysical conversations came along. I had some of my most beautiful experiences at festivals under the stars. There is nothing more freeing than a night under the stars. But the cosmic vibes also come from within me, for I am very meditative. I am a dreamer who captures cosmic energies from the within and let them out into life and music.
Q. You also talked about creating music usually at night, and how important it is for sound to interact with your studio and for you to be in the right frame of mind or having the right conditions. Am I reading too much into this? Or, are you resonating with something that most people don't notice or feel and you feel compelled to work with it and express it?
Jaja: It is much simpler. I indeed make music exclusively when I am inspired. It always needs breaks between my releases for inspiration. And when I am inspired, I can just turn on my studio, at night, for it is perfectly tuned to me. I am in total harmony when I write music.
Q. If any of these observations are correct, have you ever felt "too sensitive"? Or sensitive in a way that sets you apart from others?
Jaja: I am really very sensitive, but it does not set me apart from others. For we all reflect to each other.
Q. I imagine, with the way you feel about sound, the night, the sky, the universe, and how you work with sound - that you have a strong connection with nature, with the spiritual, with energy... Yet, you also live in Cologne, Germany which is a very large city with a population of over one million people. Do you feel disconnected from nature or the spiritual living in Cologne? How do you stay connected and in balance?
Jaja: By finding the details. Cologne is a very big city with lots of trees, parks, the river Rhine, and pretty neighbourhoods. Depending on what you want, you can live in the green or urban. I currently live in the centre, where there are many parks. You can quickly get out into nature here. I have a favourite park, a favourite tree, and a favourite forest, all in the near to me. I have lived here for long and I am at home.
Q. How did you choose your musical name "Jaja"? Did you have other names in mind too?
Jaja: There was always only this name. Marco gave it to me. It is my nickname.
Q. What are your thoughts about collaborating with other musicians versus working as a solo artist? Do you prefer one over the other?
Jaja: Basically, I am absolutely open for collaborations. I do not prefer solo work to collaboration, but it has to fit spontaneously. I wrote two wonderful cosmic albums together with Ran Kirlian and it was deeply inspiring. To see how a new world emerges from two worlds is absolutely fascinating. Our second album "Cosmos Vol. 2" is ready and waiting for release. I am very much looking forward to it. Apart from that, I have several other inspiring projects in mind. But I do not want to reveal anything about them yet. If they work out, they will be wonderful projects.
Q. You just released "Stars form in silence", another soundflow from the edge of the universe and again, this is a really nice, deep, nuanced piece of work. What was it like making this album and do you have anything you want to tell listeners about it?
Jaja: Like every album I make, this one is created from my dreams and inspirations. I write musical cycles, little stories embedded in the big picture. This story here began last summer with my album "Eternal" and it is about eternity and my desire to share it with others. After my album "Stars form in silence" there will follow a third part, that is in progress.
Q. Do you have any idea what you want to do next?
Jaja: Actually, I always have an idea of my next projects, but without planning them. They just have to happen in an inspiring moment. There will be a new album from me and maybe a collaboration album.
Also, I just became part of the wonderful Reflection Nebula collective. The music and art released there is epically beautiful and I am very touched to have become a part of them. I will be sharing my music and merchandise on Reflection Nebula from now on.
This year I will also fulfill a dream and buy my third synthesizer, the Roland Fantom-8. Again a heavyweight with 88 fully weighted keys and an infinity of high quality silky sounds.
And I am happy to share that Marco and I will continue our label CYAN that we both founded in 2009.
Q. I'm not sure the best way to ask this question as I'm a male who's striving to do better. There are not many women in ambient / electronic music, even though there were numerous early explorers such as Else Marie Pade and Suzanne Ciani. Do you think the ambient/electronic music genre somehow favors mostly male listeners and/or creators? Should we worry about this? Is it the industry, society, or something else at play? Do you have any feelings about this?
Jaja: Maybe it is for ambient has a lot of electronic components that require technical knowledge, which is still a male domain. After all, I learned the basics of hardware from Marco, which is very fortunate. As a female synthesist, I still represent something special. But for me it is just a unique experience as a human being to reach for the stars musically and to be the starstuff pondering the stars, as Carl Sagan beautifully said.
Q. Final question - Do you have any thoughts on the current state of ambient / electronic music, or the industry in general? Is it sustainable, are we headed in the right direction, can artists survive, do you wish something would change?
Jaja: Music is a universal language that connects positively in an incomparable way. I can not say anything about the current development for I am not involved in it. For me, music is the expression of my universal soul. I write music for myself and my fans.
Just today I got such incredibly beautiful feedback on my last album "Stars form in silence". I would like to quote these words to show why I am doing what I do.
"Your latest work is so quiet, it fascinates me how the sounds you select serve to examine and alter the silence itself, as if you were actually 'playing' the silence itself and not the sound."
Jaja, thank you for your time and patience (this interview was derailed by unforseen life circumstances on my end) and sharing your process with me and the people who read this. It's been an honor to exchange ideas with you and you've helped me think about my own creative process more deeply, which was the goal of creating "Sound Reflections" in the first place. Through creative dialog, we can learn, share and grow. I think you've made some great music and I hope readers will take the time to explore your catalog and support your work. Best wishes to you now and in the future - I look forward to seeing and hearing what you do next!
Jaja: Brian, thank you for your kind questions full of interest and curiosity. The interview and sound reflection with you gave me great pleasure. You are right, we all can learn from each other throughout interacting and communicating to share our lives under the stars with open minds and in kindness.
End of interview... follow the echo, echo, echo...
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