Media - Reviews & Press
* CD Review - Echoes
A sweet serving of warm, comfortable chillout is on the menu for Rena Jones’ new release, Echoes. According to her press releases, this disc represents something of a departure for Jones in that she brings in full ensembles on each track to create a live studio album. The result is a sound that’s deep and rich, full of the resonant pleasure of violin and cello, and just a pure joy to kick back with. The cool begins right off the bat with the title track as Jones trades violin licks with Emancipator’s Ilya Goldberg. A slow beat snaps out a smooth cadence as the bows sigh and pizzicato notes dance in the background. The quality of the sound here also immediately jumps into the foreground. Jones is a sound designer and producer, and the mix here is impeccable–clean, loaded with dimension, and with everything balanced beautifully. It’s like listening in 3D. As such, deep listens reap good rewards. Let yourself fall fully into “Returning to the Source” and hear all the small sounds coasting around like dust in sunlight and every bit as mesmerizing. There’s a whole lot of tasty ear candy happening here, moments that either give you goosebumps because they’re so good or that just stretch your face into an involuntary smile. Sopie Barker, whose voice has graced music from Zero 7 and Groove Armada, lays out breathy, airy lyrics on “Wishes” and “Mirror Me.” There’s a hint of Bebel Gilberto smokiness in her voice, and her belted high notes are both angelic and powerful. The mix of synth from Matt Robertson, who’s played with Bjork and Bat for Lashes, and Roel Funcken’s trippy string-sound manipulations on “Mesmerized” warble and wobble their way into your head while drummer Earl Harvin keeps a cool, jazzy beat. Rubin Elias’ Rhodes piano on “Shadows” reminds me of how much I loved Chick Corea in his electric days.
Echoes is a downtempo masterpiece, a cocktail-hour-ready blend of sweet grooves and laid-back attitude. Perfectly produced and loaded with crossover potential, Echoes is a disc I expect will end up on plenty of Best Of lists at the end of the year. It’s in heavy rotation at Hypnagogue HQ and will stay there. Melt into this.
* CD Review - Echoes
Reviewer: The Untz
Multi-talented music professional Rena Jones, an artist celebrated for her unique and experimental downtempo compositions, is now enjoying the release of her fifth full-length album, Echoes. Currently accessible for immediate, digital download, this collection will also take the psysical form of CD and Vinyl available come May. Jones is not only an outstanding producer, but an acclaimed sound engineer and practiced instrumentalist, as well, with a lifetime of study. Her developed and tempered taste of music guides the sound of this collaborative project, creating an album of deep compositional integrity and sonic warmth.
The most distinctive component of the Rena Jones sound is the artful combination of electronic and human elements. This solution features an electroacoustic union of digital and analog, true and synthesized, finite and infinite. Among the collaborative partners for this production is an entire woodwind section of singing clarinets and breathy sax. Also present is the extensive use of strings, especially the solo violin work of Ilya Goldberg. The notes of this small chamber orchestra are accompanied by the keys of warm analog synthesizer, and the tactfully chosen digital sounds of Ableton, embracing a full spectrum of tonal hues.
The second track on the Echoes album, “Shadows,” exhibits a handsome pairing of sonic colors, melody/ counter-melody, cello and analog synth. The rich timbre of emanating from a resonant body of aged wood is beautifully complemented by a round, electronic organ. These same tone color qualities carry over into the vocal characteristics, namely Sophie Baker on tracks “Wishes” and “Mirror Me;” full-bodied, exquisitely dark, yet sweet. Throughout the production, art music elements of orchestral instrumentation and expressive jazz composition interact with the more progressive sounds of electronic dance music. “All That Ever Was,” for instance, spotlights a classic hip-hop beat, with a deep sub line and a hallmark snare sequence pick-up.
Echoes is a production that moves from track to track in an embracingly warm, squishy mesh of aleatoric downtempo. Names from well known, atmospheric electronic acts such as Air, Groove Armada, and Emancipator are employed by Rena Jones for this latest collection, and can give you some idea as to its sound. Her direction of these various elements and musicians results in a sophisticated take on electronic music complemented by live instrumentation. The notion of collective teamwork and the soulful sounds of this album reminds us that there is something about this genre of music that is, perhaps, human after all.
* CD Review - Indra’s Web
Reviewer: Total Music Magazine
In addition to the graceful strings, the album is marked by a hefty bottom end and gently skittering percussion. And the intricate and spellbinding compositions, which do full justice to the album’s name. Indra’s Web is a metaphor found in Buddhism and Hinduism for “the structure of reality, representing the interconnectedness and interdependency of all things, describing a rich and diverse universe where infinitely repeated mutual relations exist between all its elements and entities.”
That’s as good a way as any to describe the music. It immediately grabs hold of you and sucks you in but the songs are not so easily digested on first listen. They’re subtle and, like elaborate labyrinths, they take time to reveal themselves. You need to explore the nooks and crannies before you can find your way out. But they’re beautiful, enchanted labyrinths, green and flowery, and time moves in hazy slow motion inside them.
I will resist the urge to discuss individual songs (except to say that the one-two punch of On the Drift and Point of Existence is a knockout). Suffice it to say that Indra’s Web is an extremely rewarding album and unique in the way it combines beat-driven electronic music with classical moods. It’s seamlessly done, blurring completely the lines between genres. It’s as good an illustration as any of the inevitable futility of categorizing art. This is simply beautiful music that will endure.
* CD Review - Indra’s Web
Reviewer: Babysue.com LMNOP
Beautiful, intriguing, intricate instrumental music from Rena Jones. This is mainly a solo album but Jones does elicit some help and/or assistance from a handful of additional musicians on this album. Indra’s Web…is a dreamy, moody collection of tunes that don’t easily fit within the confines of any one specific genre of music. The songs feature subtle, sparse arrangements and extremely restrained percussion instruments. Rena’s main instrument is the cello…so that obviously plays a major role in most of these tracks (although the sounds are sometimes so obtuse and odd that you may not recognize the cello itself). In addition to playing cello, Jones credits herself with programming and mixing…so you know technology played a major role in the creation of this album. This album won’t clobber you over the head on the first spin…but will instead remain in your “favorites” stack for an extended period. Top picks: “The Awe and the Wonder,” “Helix,” “Point of Existence,” “The Problem of Time.” Intelligent and well-executed.
* CD Review - Indra’s Web
Part of the San Francisco electronic music scene, Rena Jones unites years of classical training (twenty on violin, twelve on cello) with skills in sound engineering and digital sound design in her “modern classical electronic” work; she has released material on Native State Records, toured as support for Plaid and opened for Ladytron, and recently launched her own label Cartesian Binary Recordings. Following the release of her third solo album Driftwood, Jones spent eighteen months preparing its successor, Indra’s Web, and the investment of time and energy is clearly felt in the fifty-minute production that resulted (apparently some of its string pieces were recorded with musicians of the Chicago New Millennium Orchestra). Created with a meticulous attention to detail and with an obvious dedication to craft, the fifty-one-minute collection takes its titular inspiration from Buddhism and Hinduism, specifically the idea that, in spite of its infinite diversity, reality remains an interconnected and interdependent web where all things ultimately relate in some manner.
In ten originals (the eleventh track an EVAC remix), Jones creates a full sound from punchy breakbeat rhythms, electric piano sparkle, atmospheric electronic colourations, an occasional vocal murmur, and, of couse, strings—so many they sometimes swell into mini-orchestras all by themselves. Using digital sequencing software as a production tool, she draws upon ambient, trip-hop, funk, and dub in building her settings and uses programmed beats, keyboards, and synthetic bass to establish a fully-rounded instrumental base overtop of which her violin playing flows freely, whether as a solo voice or in a multi-tracked section. And though strings occupy the forefront, the balance isn’t overly weighted in their favour; Jones gives as much attention to the instrumental surround, making for a evenly-weighted “band” sound, and a representative track such as “The Webs We Weave” overflows with acoustic and electronic sounds. Trip-hop rhythms anchor the spirited “Helix” and the title cut, whose unfurl of slow-moving mystery is deepened by the oceanic exhale of a cello section. The tracks range in mood from agitated (e.g., the tumultous “Point of Existence,” where violins repeatedly ascend over a dub base) to languorous (e.g., “What Once Will Be Again”). EVAC’s “Helix” remix begins with a funkier and with a heavier electronic focus than the original but eventually strips the material down until the album’s last sound becomes—appropriately enough—strings alone.
* CD Review - Driftwood
Reviewer: John Diliberto - Echoes Radio
“For some reason, cellists–more than any other classical instrumentalists–seem drawn to electronica. Recent CDs by Zoe Keating, Jami Sieber, Hans Christian (Rasa), and Gretchen Yanover find cellists riding electronica atmospheres. Rena Jones is a bit different from most of them. They use electronics to extend their cellos’ range and sound. Jones plants her cello next to her laptop in fractalized grooves. Driftwood is an entrancing album that’s as much about Jones’s translucent laptop compositions as her gifts on cello, guitar, violin, and clarinet. But all those instruments give her music a different feel from many laptop jockeys. Compositions like “Photosynthesis” and “Driftwood” have an almost classical flow, as her strings and clarinet articulate Arvo Pärt-like lines of liquid inevitability while rhythms pulse, shudder, and ping through the melodies. But it’s not all airy on Driftwood. “Open Me Slowly” finds her plucking a cello bass line with a funky grit you can’t get with a computer sample. Rena Jones’s soulful cello lines lend her music a somber tone and soulful beauty, which is all the more striking when cast against her chromium-plated arrangements. The combination makes Driftwood intoxicating.’ –John Diliberto
* CD Review - Driftwood
Reviewer: Charity VanDeberg - ReGen Magazine.com
Gorgeous and so completely alive, Driftwood is a triumph in electronic and classical instrument fusion. String instruments such as violins and cellos are often used in gothic and electronic music as an auditory focus, carrying the tune while backed by abstract melodies and heavy beats, abusing the instruments to force a traditional sound or mood. But San Francisco’s multi-talented Rena Jones did something decidedly different when she integrated them into the very soul of every composition. Sometimes as expressive as a voice, the cello will waver above the electronic beats, fluttering and flying as if on a soft breeze. At other times, keyboard loops will tell a story while the violin carries the rhythm like vibrations in a deep pool. Jones calls her musical style “down-tempo sounds from another dimension” and she couldn’t be more right. These sounds come from a place where down-tempo doesn’t mean sleepy or morose, but can create dreamscapes so vivid that they practically replace the reality that surrounds you. The stimulating “Undercurrent” has a life all its own, toying with the listener and seducing one to come out and play. “The Passing Storm” features a subtle cello duet that hints at gentle longing, while “Seedling” practically illustrates the time-lapse of a budding plant or thought or emotion. And these are only a few of the amazing offerings on Driftwood. Subtle and never over the top, Jones maintains a beautiful mellow vibe that in no way feels forced. You may never look at classical instruments the same again.Charity VanDeberg - ReGen Magazine.com
* Feature - Strings Magazine
Reviewer: Eliana Fiore - Strings Magazine
Multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer Rena Jones is a force to be reckoned with. At age 30, she boasts more than 30 collaborative albums, 20 years of classical violin study, and 12 years of cello–and she is considered one of the leading women in audio engineering today. Jones has toured internationally, performing at such electronic-music gatherings as the Shambhala Music Festival, Burning Man, and the Glade Festival. Her third and most recent solo release, Driftwood (Native State Records), is a fresh, innovative take on down-tempo electronic music, with her acoustic strings work intermingled with premade beats that she created from scratch.
“It’s basically a concept record about the life cycle of a tree,” she says. “I wanted the listeners to have that feeling of life growing and budding and evolving. I’m very fascinated by life cycles in general and feel that gets tied into most of my work. Driftwood just went a bit further and went for a whole concept on it.
“I think honestly it’s the signature record that defines my sound. It’s the one record that helped me really figure out who I am as an artist.”
Driftwood has received quite a bit of media attention, most prominently a feature on NPR’s Echoes radio program, which showcases new music released by independent artists. The 2006 New Age Reporter Lifestyle Music Awards nominated the record in three categories: Best Dance/Club/Dub Album, Best Ambient Album, and Best Cover Art.
Although she has relocated recently to Portland, Oregon, Jones has been called “the revered daughter of San Francisco’s electronic-music scene,” having spent seven years there crafting her unique hybrid of electronic and acoustic music. She studied sound engineering at Ex’pression Center for New Media in Emeryville, California, from 2000 to 2002, going on to freelance as an audio engineer and also work at WaveGroup Sound and at Digidesign, where she helped develop the ProTools sound program.
What sets her apart from the majority of electronic composers in the ambient scene today is her manipulation of string sounds from real acoustic violins and cellos along with purely electronic beats.
“There aren’t many producers out there doing what I’m doing. Almost every song I have was sourced from a real instrument, which gives my music a very organic feel even though it is eventually synthesized through the computer. It gives it that richer, rounder tone that you just can’t get from a straight synthesis computer.”
Her compositional approach begins with creating a musical palette of sounds, some acoustic and some electronic, arranging the song structure, and then mixing the sounds together until the desired blend is achieved. In the case of Driftwood, Jones worked to present a unified sound from her acoustic and electronic sounds.
“I feel with Driftwood that I really wanted to be super subtle with the strings,” she says. “I wanted to integrate the strings into the heart of the music, and be one whole piece together. I would integrate parts of the cello into the electronics through synthesis. My previous record, Transmigration (self-released), was much more focused on the strings. I would write super thick-staffed parts, 20 parts of violin and cello combined. I wanted to do Driftwood with strings as a supportive element, as opposed to the forefront.”
While growing up in Texas,Jones began studying classical violin in the third grade, but her eagerness for the classical genre grew into disenchantment during her teenage years as she resisted following a more traditional musical path.
“I was a writer from the very beginning. I remember from a very young age writing pieces and bringing them to my teacher. I’d ask him to play the songs for me and he wouldn’t,” she says. “I was always very frustrated with that. I loved the idea of going with electronic music, because there’s so much more freedom and no rules, really. Anything goes. That was the greatest appeal for me.
“It takes a long time to find your voice as an artist, and what really makes your music you. It just all of a sudden clicks at a certain point. You understand your tools, how to get the right mix, and you figure out what you want to say.”
* CD Review - Driftwood
Reviewer: Kristofer Upjohn DJFix.com
Rena Jones mesmerizing marriage of organic and electronic is much like the calling of a breeze, wind that is sentient flowing across your face and body and whispering its secrets into you as you absorb it and it absorbs you. The lush, comsuming beauty of the melodies herein and the meditative profundity inspired by the music make Jones’ efforts rank high on the list of chillout artists. The music is intelligent and gentle and caressing and sexy and sweet and engrossing and introspective and … well, adjectives could be tossed around ad naseum trying to describe the experience of this music. Fusing the elements of electronica and the three-dimensional qualities of organic instrumentation, Jones has put together a gorgeous selection of tracks ready to win your love. — review by Kristofer Upjohn
* CD Review - Driftwood
Reviewer: Roger Batty - musiquemachine.com
“Driftwood weaves together tuneful electroinca with violin and cello music to a haunting, memorable and beautiful effect. Making enchanted and edgy beat-works to disappear off into. It never tries to be musically difficult, it just slides along smooth as silk, making wonderful chill out music, that will sooth away the days stressers and strains.
This is Rena’s Third solo album, but she has collaborated with many other people, as well as been a well recognised and respected sound engineer- which is clear from the production of Driftwood- everything is so clear and vast, ever sound is aloud to shine and flower in it’s own right, making the ravishing lush tunes shine even brighter. Its touches down in classical, ambient, tuneful electronica, bluesy and jazzy touches also appear. But never at any time does it feel contrived or trying to be too clever, which can often been the problem with virtuoso albums. She’s always mindful of creating an atmosphere and mood that is both soothing and inviting, like floating in a vast bath of sound, letting the sounds lull and charm your ears. Her violin and cello playing is always used in the right places; it never becomes overbearing, as it sails in over the head nooding beats- like angles calling- often haunted but always exquisite
A wonderful and rewarding example of how instrumental electronica can done with great charm and flare, with very much of its own sound and musical vision. Surely one of this year’s electroncia lay- back -and –let- it –wash- over -you highlights.”