Jan on Joni

PhD student and composer Jan Foote has been a long-time fan of the music of Joni Mitchell. Almost two years ago, he began to think about a new composition for his research studies and the idea for Echoes of Joni was born. Little did Jan know that a global pandemic and a move across the Atlantic would be imminent.

In December 2021, Echoes of Joni will receive its world premiere online as part of Mexico’s Fonoteca Nacional’s 13th anniversary celebrations. We spoke to the composer to find out how this project evolved and what the future holds for Jan and Joni.

Jan Foote adjusts the camera on his laptop as he says hello from Mexico City. The Dutch/English composer didn’t expect to find himself in Mexico back in 2020, but moved during the pandemic to be closer to family.

“It wasn’t a move we had foreseen but it quickly became clear that we needed to come here and on very short notice! I’ve definitely made the most of being in Mexico. As soon as I arrived, I began to reach out to music organisations to see if I could put on a concert of Echoes of Joni. So that’s how I’ve found myself now in Mexico City, rehearsing with the ensemble to prepare for the concert and to be in close contact with the Fonoteca Nacional, who have programmed the virtual premiere of the piece.”

Echoes of Joni began as a germ of an idea in late 2019 when Jan started working with Attica! Ensemble to create new work with a plan to tour. Of course, then the pandemic began and any touring plans were cancelled but Jan and the ensemble continued to collaborate online. It was during these collaborations that this new work began to take shape.

“I’ve always loved Joni Mitchell and in particular, her album Hejira. She uses these amazing open guitar tunings in many of her songs. In Hejira, Jaco Pastorius adds these amazing bass fills in the track Coyote. I had the initial idea for the piece by trying to emulate these bass fills, but restricting myself to only using open-string harmonics on the bass. To achieve a similar effect, I re-tuned my bass about a thousand times and recorded loads of layers of harmonics to create these suspended chords. The final piece changed quite a lot from its inception, but some remnants of that initial idea can still be heard.” 

Jan continues, “I was inspired by all of these elements … my idea was essentially to take all the parts of Joni that I love and to reappropriate them to create something new.

“I pitched the idea to the Dutch Performing Arts Council who gave me the funding to do the project. This really kickstarted things.

“I began composing the piece by asking some ensemble players to record improvisations from specific parts of tracks on Joni Mitchell albums. I asked them to listen to the elements of Joni that I like so much, for example, I asked the singer to listen to the lead guitar line on Amelia, and react to what she heard.

“I received so many improvisations from this and then the fun began with playing about and layering and stacking them. The result is an ambient, quite intense piece of work. And not at all like Joni Mitchell!”

JanFoote with Attica Ensemble
Jan with Attica! Ensemble who have helped him create, perform and record Echoes of Joni

Jan’s connection with the Fonoteca has been a fruitful and positive experience. Whilst public concerts and performances have resumed in the UK, Mexico is still adhering to strict Covid restrictions which means opportunities for performance are limited. Luckily for Jan, the Fonoteca loved the idea for Echoes of Joni and wanted to premiere the work as part of their 13th anniversary celebrations.

“The work will premiere online on the Fonoteca’s channels on 11 December. We’re recording it with Attica! Ensemble in early November so we’ll be able to edit together a wonderful concert of music for viewers.

“RCS will then stream the work on 17 December, meaning the work will be seen on both sides of the Atlantic. I’m lucky to have had loads of support from my tutors. Dave Fennessy is my principal tutor at RCS and he, alongside my external tutors John de Simone and Matthew Wright, have given really helpful feedback.”

From its initial roots to the final scoring and performance, Echoes of Joni has been two years in the making, involving artists and producers from the Netherlands, the UK and Mexico. The piece also correlates with Jan’s research interests, to cultivate immersive environments in music.

“I’m interested in what happens when you remove silence from music and how the audience reacts to that. I often replace silence with resonances and sustained notes that create beating patterns. This piece is 40 minutes of almost continuous sound – it’s intense, expect lots of synth chords!

“In the future it would be great to do a live performance of Joni with an in-person audience – who knows how or when. I’ll be back in the UK in January so let’s see what 2022 brings.”

Echoes of Joni will be available to watch on RCS at Home from 17 December and you can book your free ticket from the RCS Box Office.

Find out more about Jan’s work on his website, join his mailing list, or follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Covid-19: discover our latest updates