- Jlin deftly expands her sound in this score for Wayne McGregor's ballet.
- Jlin's music draws from footwork, a style that emerged from Chicago dance culture. But ever since the age of six, when her mother introduced her to the School Of Alvin Ailey, she's been drawn more to the ballet than to the club. The first ballet she saw live was one she had also composed the music for: Autobiography, a contemporary-dance production choreographed by Wayne McGregor. The opportunity arose when she met McGregor in a Chicago hotel in 2016, where they hit it off. "Immediately I saw Wayne was very friendly and energetic," she's said. "He's brilliant, witty and knows exactly what he wants; an absolute gem to work with." But the score for Autobiography is not just a supplementary project—it's a standalone album where Jlin experiments with her sound and technique. "Before I even started composing for Autobiography Wayne told me so gently that he trusts me completely with my direction of creating the score... Creating the score for an impeccable piece of work such as Autobiography changed my life as an artist."
Jlin has recognized the seeming disjuncture between Midwestern electronic music and British ballet. But her sound has always lent itself to moving bodies, as seen in the video for "Unknown Tongues" and her collaborations with the Indian choreographer and performance artist Avril Stormy Unger. Most memorable, perhaps, is the video for Black Origami's "Carbon 7 (161)," in which the dancer Corey Scott Gilbert is possessed by the twitches and rolls of a drum kit, weighted by the gravity of falling bass hits. The complexity of Jlin's sound is clarified by a body materializing her rapid time signatures and discordant harmonies.
Jlin's music is danceable not just because it has been danced to. The instrument of dance—that is, the body—guides the way she produces music. Rooted in "intuition" and informed by the sound's "impact and feel," Jlin's music is an "expression" of her life, her body and her ancestral heritage. "Being of African descent," she's said, "you have rhythm and drums in your blood." This idea complements McGregor's exploration of "the body as archive," where "each cell carries in it the whole blueprint of your life." In the ballet, an algorithm derived from McGregor's DNA scrambles the order of dances and songs, so that the body's data guides each performance.
"My sound is not a bite, it's a grab," Jlin once told Pitchfork, "it takes hold of you and it doesn't let go." On Autobiography, this "grab" is unclenched, which makes the music more spacious and patient. Tracks speak to each other across the score through their titles ("Mutation" and "Permutation") and through sonic motifs. In "Anamnesis (Part 1)" and "Anamnesis (Part 2)," gentle stillness is explored with cascading piano keys, somber silences and multiplying flocks of sampled bird chirps. Jlin embroiders Autobiography with nature samples (running water, assorted critters), ambient echoes and twinkling wind chimes. On "Carbon 12," her affinity for percussion lives a new life as triple-time marimbas and icy snare rolls.
Autobiography's blend of ballet and footwork is most delectable in "Blue I." While the drum kits are carried over from Black Origami, Jlin merges her signature tumbling bass, skipping hi-hats and spurting vocal samples with a tiptoeing piano line and breathy flute. The bouncing drums and smooth melody interlock throughout the song in a duet, each stepping momentarily to the fore, only for the other to brush past and take the lead. The two styles embrace one another by the end of the track, as the piano line is seduced by the off-kilter syncopation of the drums.
Jlin's calling cards are still evident on other tracks. Busy drum machines pulse through "The Abyss Of Doubt" and syncopated claps populate "Unorthodox Elements." Even string instrumentation, like the sārangī that appears in "Kundalini"—by no means a Jlin staple—gestures to the Chinese erhu violin that rasps in Dark Energy's "Unknown Tongues." Though Autobiography may seem like a departure from Jlin's past work, many of its themes have been present throughout her catalogue. The LP succeeds in challenging expectations for a ballet score while expanding the possibilities for the artist's post-footwork sound. But as genre-bending as Autobiography may be, Jlin's passion for self-expression exceeds heady avant-gardism. As she recently put it, "I'm not going for a certain thing. I'm just creating."
01. First Overture (Spiritual Atom)
03. Carbon 12
04. Unorthodox Elements
05. Anamnesis (Part 1)
06. The Abyss Of Doubt
08. First Interlude (Absence Of Measure)
11. Anamnesis (Part 2)
12. Blue I
13. Second Interlude (The Choosing)