Junkerry: Making Music In A Mansion

It’s not every day you are invited into the home of a musician who lives in a restored 16th century monastery in the South of France. Left empty from 1922, the incredible building was lovingly restored in the noughts, and has since been home to artists and creatives. The current inhabitant being Junkerry and her family: a producer, composer, and musician from Paris who has had an inspiring and eclectic past, with perhaps an even more interesting future ahead.

Situated in a picturesque village, the place is surrounded by lush plants and flowers with a spectacular view of the surrounding French Countryside - a musical haven, to say the least. Her music studio, light and airy with interesting furniture, books, and art on the wall makes for a relaxing and inspiring space to create and experiment - I’m sure many a creative’s dream. The building has a number of underground ‘caves’ where Junkerry holds art exhibitions, parties and intimate music concerts.

It’s very inspiring to meet a person who follows their creative vision, and fully embraces the lifestyle. From playing electric guitar in French all-female political band, Zarmazones, studying jazz guitar in Paris, Indian classical singing in Mumbai, living in Goa for eight years, and now residing in Provence, it definitely opens your eyes to possibilities, and our concept of freedom.

I was lucky enough to experience her musical set - a private performance for a few guests. She’s a one woman band, combining electric guitar, pedals, vocals, and Ableton. It’s a real lesson in simplicity and sweeping dynamics, introing with a delicate soundscape of soft guitar notes and whispers, growing into hard hitting bass and drums with a combination of French, English, and Hindi vocals woven in. It’s wonderful to hear an artist express authenticity and purity, especially in natural surroundings.

"My setup depends on the kind of performance I’m doing," opens Junkerry. "I always play with electric guitar, voice, and live computer, and do a cycle of tracks that build into each other, rather than a song format - kind of merging the musician and producer live. When the performance is immersive and contemporary, I use a tailor made Max msp Patch, with three non-synchronised loopers, all with real-time effects. This specific patch also allows me to have surround sound; the music plays on six speakers, so 'hugs' the audience.

"To perform my more 'pop' set - like I played for you - I use Ableton Live with my Max msp tailor made plugins, so I can still create the same sound identity into all my performances, from the more ethereal and contemporary, to the more song-like set. Then I use MIDI controllers: hand and footswitch to control the computer, and analogue gears on electric guitar and voice, depending on the set that I’m doing."

Tailor made patches and plugins? How did she create them?

“When I came back from Europe, I was Artist in Residence at The Contemporary Art Festival, where I met composer, Jacopo Baboni Schilingi, who was working with IRCAM (an avant garde French institute combining science, music, and sound), and he became something of a mentor to me.

"He put me in touch with a programmer/sound engineer at IRCAM in order for me to create some tailor made plugins and patches which are very special to me."

We sit down on the floor, and Junkerry guides me through a classical Indian singing practice; it was comforting to hear that the raga we were singing was a hard one given my difficulties replicating what she was doing.

"There are no parallels in western music, so it’s really different to our ear; the microtones just come as you practice," she says. "It’s teaching your vocal string to stretch as you would do a stretch in yoga, learning to slowly extend on those long notes, and training your voice how to perform those ornaments."

I ask what was it that struck her as being the main difference between western and Indian classical music.

“It’s modal instead of tonal, so it is all geared towards something more spiritual."

How was her experience of living in Mumbai and joining the course?

"I fell in love with the place from the very start. I respect and appreciate a lot of things in Indian culture, so I always felt I wasn’t doing anything exotic or out of place. I think sound vibration and the beauty of music is universal."

Personally I am fascinated by all things VR and AR, especially seeing how musicians and artists will integrate the new technology into their work - and I am pleased that she, too, has a keen interest, and has already ventured into this new world.

“It was an experiment and collaboration between [illustrator] Patrick Morgan, Room One, a VR production company, and myself. They were playing with the Google Tilt virtual paintbrush, which is amazing, as while the illustrator can see his creations as he’s wearing the headset, the rest of us can only see it on a computer screen. When I saw the seven seconds of what was possible, I asked if we could make a music video. Before that, it was mainly used for games, and hadn’t been used in this way, and we wanted to upload it to YouTube. At first, Google Tilt didn’t know if was possible, but they worked out how to create a video from what was created in the headset."

This collaboration and their great working relationship led Junkerry to again work with Morgan, creating a short film. In 2017, the CineSpace competition (a collaboration between NASA and the Houston Cinema Arts Society) drew almost 700 entries from 55 countries with Junkerry and Morgan’s short film Miss Baker’s Ride reaching the finals, only 13 being selected, and theirs being the first music video to be nominated.

Their creation focused on Miss Baker, a treasured squirrel monkey who, in 1959, became the first monkey to be brought back to earth alive.

"I had been binge-watching all those beautiful images and videos from NASA, and when I stumbled upon the story of Miss Baker, I got inspired to write the song. I wrote the piece from her perspective, what a crazy and terrifying journey into the unknown that must have been for all those monkeys who went to space, before any man had entered that darkest night. No-one has really told the story before, but NASA are really proud of this little monkey, and looked after her. She turned out to be the oldest living squirrel monkey!"

I ask Junkerry to explain how she made the score for the film.

"For the most part, I worked with a contemporary drum machine in Max msp using samples, chopped and sliced to create the beat," she explains. "It’s a 5/4 rhythm, and the thing is to still have a natural feeling with it. It is quite unusual to have those odds beats in pop or the electro genre, but I’m really fond of them. They come naturally to me, as I studied different rhythms in Indian classical music. I also used a little bit of Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator for the more electro parts.

"Sound identity is primary to my work, so I prefer to create something original with my voice, guitar, and sounds I have recorded through anagogic pedals, UAD plugins, Max map, and IRCAM tools. My friend Manfred Kovacic played Bass clarinet - I wanted to harmonise and double up on some of the string parts. For me, music always comes first. It’s more raw than words. I composed the chord progression and the melody - keeping in mind the story of Miss Baker.”

The video is released now and available to view HERE