Daniel Janke

Dateline: 03/27/98

Daniel Janke is a musician's musician. Born in Edmonton, Janke grew up in Ontario and now divides his time between Toronto and the Yukon. His remarkable versatility found him composing music for film, theatre, dance, and television, as well as performing at jazz and folk music festivals across Canada and the United States.

Janke plays the "prepared" piano and the kora, the West African harp/lute. Developing his own unique approach to the instrument, Janke was introduced to the kora when he studied with Jali Nyama Suso in Gambia, West Africa.

Janke explores many musical avenues on his new CD, In A Room, which is both melodic and hypnotic with it's complex arrangements of kora, piano spanning many musical styles and boundaries.

Janke also is the founder of Scratch Records Yukon, an artist-run independent label. I recently had the chance to ask Janke about his musical background and goals.

Paula: Tell me a bit about your musical background -- how did you get into music, and how did you end up doing it as a career?

Daniel: Early piano lessons etc...etc... blah blah...
[see Daniel's Web site for more info].

How it became a career is a mystery.

Paula: How and when did you learn how to play the kora?

Daniel: I first went to Africa in 1976 for about 5 months. During this time I came across kora and studied some with Jali Nyama Suso [now deceased]. I've been back a few times since, learning old repertoire as something of a long term cumulative undertaking [with Amadu Bansang Jorbarteh and Yan Kuba Saho]. Kora lessons are random and often intense affairs. It's a richly layered tradition not unlike jazz. The real challenge lies in seeing how much one can remember or take in from a given sitting.

I've also been doing field recordings there, and elsewhere. [see Daniel's five continents series].
A CD of the music of Yankuba Saho has just been release on Music of the World Latitudes series. I'm planning to go back there again next year.

Paula: What is a "prepared" piano?

Daniel: You put stuff in the strings - rubber, soft metal - to get interesting and beautiful sounds. It can be dated back to the 40's and the early work of American composer John Cage.

Paula: Who/what are your musical influences?

Daniel: Too numerous to mention:
- Jazz is a big influence - Sam Rivers, Monk, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Jarret...
- The kora teachers I mentioned are an influence in one sphere.
- New music - Cage, Ligetti, Berio etc... I'm in the middle of producing a CD for the Toronto-based New Music group "Continuum."
- I learned some Irish songs in a bar a few weeks ago.

Paula: What are your musical goals? What do you hope to accomplish with your music?

Daniel Difficult to answer directly. My main focus has been composing - film, theatre, dance. I'm composing for a CD project "Longest Night" which is based in Yukon - recording starts in the fall. I also just received word about a millenium commission I'm going to write here in Toronto.

Performing is day to day - I'm playing a lot of jazz piano gigs now. Toronto is full of great players, so this is getting my piano playing together. The kora is kind of special in that it emerges from its case when a performance context arises - I just played at a benefit for Tariq Abubakar. I'm playing a short concert at Harbourfront April 19th.

I'm moving towards doing more film music. I have a fascination with film, and plan to make my own super-8 documentary film during the winter of 98/99.

Lately, I've been asked to produce recordings, I enjoy it. I'm currently doing a record for Continuum - a Toronto based new music group.

Paula: Why did you form your own label, Scratch Records Yukon?

Daniel: Mostly out of convenience - like many independents. I've since expanded it somewhat to include an ethnographic series I produce. This is growing slowly.

Paula: Why do you divide your time between the Yukon and Toronto? Do the surroundings of the Yukon inspire you?

Daniel: Toronto is a great town and has work. In Yukon there's a lot of space. I have a place with a little studio to work in. I've an interest in ambient recording/musique concrete. I also occassionally do sound mixing for film shoots that use Yukon as a location for whatever.

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