The future is JoVia Armstrong


“This music is about contemplation and meditation,” JoVia Armstrong said of The Antidote Suite.

(Photo: Michael Jackson)

JoVia Armstrong specializes in the creation of sound universes. This ingenuity goes beyond her gifts as a drummer, percussionist and composer as evidenced by her first album, The Antidote Suite (Black Earth Music), a captivating afrofuturistic journey centered on healing.

Threads of techno, future soul, hip-hop and chamber jazz float throughout the five-part adventure as Armstrong sublimely reconciles electronic ingenuity and leftist jazz improvisation. She creates the music with her Eunoia Society, a group of kindred spirits who collectively perform euphoric improvisations meant to seduce the audience into personal introspection. With Armstrong playing a hybrid cajon drum kit, the remaining members consist of electric bassist Damon Warmack and violinist/violist Leslie DeShazor. The music expands with guests such as guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Isaiah Sharkley, keyboardist Amr Fahmy, vocalist Yaw Agyeman, rapper Teh’Ray Hale and flautist Nicole Mitchell, owner of Black Earth Music.

“This music is about contemplation and meditation,” Armstrong explained. “In the 1960s, John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane were doing what was considered ‘spiritual jazz’. I go into this area but using cave electronics and technology. In ancient society, people went to caves to worship, perform rituals, hold their ceremonies. It’s a place that has a ton of reverb and reflections. There are these reflections, which is what we do when we meditate.

Using its technological background, Armstrong transports audiences to immersive worlds where sound designs travel naturally instead of radiating from conventional front speakers with left and right channels.

At the end of May, she was preparing for the oral defense of her doctoral dissertation, “Black Space: Composing Meditative Music Through the Dark Lens to Combat Unconscious Bias,” at the University of California, Irvine. There she was a doctoral candidate in the Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology program. Explaining the program in which many musicians use electronics to create their art, Armstrong said she was more interested in manipulating computer hardware than mastering software. With his strong background in expansive jazz and R&B, it’s vital for Armstrong to have kinetic live instrumentation in his music. But the manipulations of computer hardware allow the company Eunoia to offer new colors and personalized textures.

“As we play our instruments, we’ll connect them to different hardware devices to create new instruments,” she said before explaining how DeShazor could run his violin through a processor so the audience could hear an instrument. entirely different. “In my practice, I consider these processed sounds as separate entities. And we can mix the music in a certain way where the audience also hears the sharp signal of the violin.

When describing her ideal performance setting, Armstrong refers to the Herbie Hancock concerts of Future 2 Future (Transparent), his 2001 heavy drum-n-bass album where he used surround sound audio technology. For his concerts, Armstrong prefers a 16-speaker multi-channel system and Unity gaming software to create three-dimensional worlds.

“We have various sounds flying around the room,” she said. “We invite audiences not just to sit and listen, but to become participants in the world of sound. They were able to walk around the room and listen to the sounds move around them. In the real world, this is how we hear sound.

Armstrong grew up in Detroit, where techno, Blackness and pioneering music coincide. The mother city is home to a band of pioneering black techno, deep house and hip-hop artists such as Carl Craig, Derrick May, Moodymann, Jeff Mills, Theo Parrish and J Dilla. Detroit was also the city where Parliament-Funkadelic recorded most of his Afrofuturist funk classics. One of Armstrong’s early mentors was drummer and percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett, who worked with Sun Ra, and released his own Afrofuturist works such as the Henry Dumas inspired. rare metal.

She continued to develop her craft in Chicago, where she partnered with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Through drummer Vincent Davis, Armstrong met Mitchell at an ACCM event in 2000. During this time, however, Armstrong quit music due to his encounter with rampant sexism. Mitchell began hiring Armstrong regularly, which helped revitalize his music career. “We’ve worked together ever since,” Armstrong said. “She’s a very close friend and mentor.”

In Chicago, Armstrong taught children about music software like ProTools, Garage Band, and Logic. “Now I want to show black kids how to build their own computers, because every time I’m at a NAMM show, I don’t see us,” she said. “After years of going to NAMM shows, I really started to understand, as black people, we always seem to be accepted as artists. But when it comes to manufacturing, how do we enter these spaces? We know how to use the tools. We will learn them from top to bottom. But what could we do if we built these machines? What kind of creativity would we conjure up as technologists? comics

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