Perfect Sound Forever

Jan Jelinek

Photo from Scrape Music

Cosmic Pitcher by Michael Freerix
(February 2010)

Within only ten years of musical activity, Jan Jelinek has become one of the leading figures in Germany's electronic music scene.

Now in his mid-thirties, Jelinek was born into a musical family. He was introduced to music at an early age- his father was a music-teacher, but he failed miserably trying to learn to play both piano and guitar. Today, he still considers himself a musician who cannot play any instrument. Despite this shortcoming, he became a sincere lover of music. He still considers Lee Perry and dub to be his main influences but he listens to music without restrictions or self-imposed prejudices.

Jelinek came to Berlin in 1995 to study sociology. He had many friends who were making electronic music. From time to time, he would borrow equipment from a friend and "fool around with it during the weekend," he said in a recent interview. Jelinek completed some tracks, but he did not think that they would be worth releasing. At this time, music was only a hobby for him. He concentrated on his academic career instead. Nevertheless, some of the music he had created was peddled around by his friends and then released under the name 'farben.' "I had only been creating music for 2 years or so. I was very lucky to get these tracks published," he recalls.

Stefan Bethke was impressed by these tracks and asked Jelinek if he'd like to release them on his label, Scape-Records. Scape had a distinct sound of its own, releasing abstract, techno-based, atmospheric electronic music.

By that time, Jelinek was focusing on loops he had generated from jazz records. He worked on each track for weeks or sometimes months, to achieve an ultimate, perfect feel to them. His perfectionism paid off with the creation of aerial soundscapes with an irresistible groove, devoid of the dancefloor beat. Released as Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records in 2001, the original source material had become absolutely unrecognizable. "At that time, I felt more like a graphic designer, always sitting in front of the screen, slowing loops down, pitching them up, and watching this process on the screen." It was microtonal groove music.

With this new sound Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records became a standout record and sold very well. The name Jan Jelinek became well-known in Germany. He was invited to tour the USA and had to choose to finish his studies in sociology or to continue with music: he chose music and "did not regret it for one moment, ever."

While other musicians in this field make a living doing remixes for other artists, Jelinek does not get a lot of offers. "If you do a remix you have to be effective," he explains. "You have to make it quick and it has to work for the dancefloor." Jelinek was used to working at his own pace and his goal was to change the original material into something totally new. "I have just done two tracks for a guy who is the recording engineer for Beck. He made an album of his own songs... you know, real songwriter stuff. He asked me to produce all of the songs on the album, but I refused because it would be too much work for me and I'm to busy with my own music."

Today, he still has trouble defining himself as a musician. When somebody asks him what he does for a living and he answers 'musician' and the next question is "what instrument do you play?" "That's the problem, I don't play any instrument." He doesn't dare call himself a composer, because he still has a high respect for people who have fundamental musical training and knowledge.

"For me, making music is fumbling around with electronics. I play with sounds, never knowing where this leads me to. I never belonged to the lap-top scene, because most of the time I use analogue technology." For a while, he used to take all of his old-fashioned sound equipment on the road but there was a problem with that. "I often had to pay extra for the heavy luggage and it was a lot of work, to set up all of my stuff and (I would be) hoping it would work during the concert, because it might have gotten damaged during the trip." After some bad experiences he started to use a lap-top for concerts. "Immediately‚ people labeled me as a lap-top artist, which I am not. Now I use both- I have some small gadgets especially build for me, and a lap-top for prerecorded sound files. In a live-set, I combine them both."

His music has changed over the years. From his early electronic layers of sound to the guitar based tracks on Kosmischer Pitch in 2006, which was inspired by his discovery of early krautrock pioneers like Kluster and Harmonia. To perform this new material, he asked two friends, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Pekler and drummer Hanno Leichtman, to join him on stage. Early shows saw them reproducing Kosmischer Pitch but Jelinek was dissatisfied with standing on the stage and playing music from that record only. He didn't want to be in a band that had to play the same songs every evening. They started to improvise on stage and then abandoned the idea of getting on the stage at all. Instead, they built up their equipment in the middle of the room among the audience and started to play before people arrived. Everything is improvised. The audience comes into the room and is witnessing the creation of music from the beginning, hears how it evolves. "It's okay for me when people leave the room, go to the bar, buy themselves a drink, have a chat with friends and join the performance half an hour later." So the trio plays quite long sets, between two and three hours now.

With this experience in mind, his attitude towards music has changed. He's not trying to build the perfect track anymore, but more often, he lets the music grow and evolve. "People criticize me for the sketch-like music I make now but that's OK. To me, it is much more interesting now. And besides, I don't have the patience any more to work on one track for weeks."

And by accident this year, he started a label of his own, 'faitiche.' On a flight to Vilnius, he sat next to a business-manager. They started to chat. Jelinek told him that he was creating electronic music. "That's funny, my mum was composing with a synthesizer, too," the guy told him. But her music was never published. Jelinek got interested and asked if he could hear some of this stuff. Several weeks later by mail, he received a box full of tapes with music by Ursula Bogner. Bogner was a unique character, being married, raising children and working as a scientist for a big chemical company. But whenever she had time, she would turn to her synthesizer and play music. Jelinek thought these recordings were amazing, but he couldn't find anyone who wanted to release her music. Ursula Bogner was already dead by this time (she died in 1994_. With his back against the wall, Jelinek decided he would take the chance and release Ursula Bogner: Recordings 1969 ­ 1988 as 'faitiche 01cd.'

Since he is now totally independent, it looks like Jelinek is heading towards something totally new. He just recorded a collaboration with the Japanese vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita. "It sounds like nothing I've done before. We only did an afternoon of recording, I did the edit and the mixing. It all came together in like three days of work. I would have never worked that easy some years ago." The record will be released in February 2010. Being more open-minded now, Jelinek is about to enter a new era of experimentation.

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