Radio operas by
Yvette Janine Jackson
LP release January 29, 2021
Fridman Gallery announces the release of composer and sound installation artist Yvette Janine Jackson’s album Freedom, comprising her ground-breaking radio operas Destination Freedom and Invisible People. The album is to be released in standard vinyl featuring sleeve notes by acclaimed African American cultural critic Gregory Tate, with cover art by Nate Lewis, and as a special collector’s edition that includes a 9x9" print by Nate Lewis.
Borrowing strategies for immersion from American radio drama, in particular John Cage’s The City Wears A Slouch Hat (1942), Jackson’s Radio Operas performatively combine music concrète, spoken word and field recording, in order to animate the theatre of the mind and to foster conversation about difficult subjects.
The first of the two radio operas featured in this release, Destination Freedom, takes the listener inside the cargo hold of a tall ship transporting Africans to the Americas. The work was derived from Jackson’s research into the oral histories of those born into slavery and unfolds in three intertwined scenes: the cargo hold of a tall ship transporting Africans to the Americas; a disorienting journey that traverses time; and the arrival into the weightlessness of outer space.
Destination Freedom contains instrumental excerpts performed by Jackson’s chamber ensemble. During the sessions, musicians played traditionally notated and visual scores and engaged in both guided and free improvisations. The traditional instruments are often manipulated to represent non-instrumental sounds (e.g. strings pitched down and time-stretched to resemble ships) and conversely the sound effects assume a musical role. Creaking bedroom doors, banging from the heater vents, and underwater field recordings from Mission Bay boat slips and the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, are placed rhythmically and in counterpoint with other sounds.
The second radio opera featured in this release, Invisible People, is based on the negative outpouring from African American communities that followed President Barack Obama’s approval of marriage equality in 2015. Jackson aimed to explore different perspectives and media on the topic. The 'libretto' is taken from numerous spoken-word and published sources including sermons, speeches, religious literature, reparation therapy brochures and internet trolls. The work comments on the historical exclusion of women and queer people from leadership roles: posing the question of whose voices had been left out of this conversation, Jackson called the piece Invisible People.
Jackson’s work engages multiple periods of time, sometimes simultaneously or out of order, which is characteristic of Afrofuturistic music and literature. While Destination Freedom is squarely rooted in the African American struggle, it also embarks the listener on a journey towards an abstract concept of freedom, towards arrival into weightlessness of outer space. Invisible People is both a pointed remonstration of specific political voices and an exploration of the media landscape as readymade free jazz.
Cover art and collector's edition 9x9" print by Nate Lewis
Yvette Janine Jackson is an assistant Professor in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry in the Department of Music at Harvard University.
Photo credit: Catherine Koch