East Lansing’s Kidder Takes “A Wild Liberty” with His Music

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Thursday, May 10, 2018, 8:40 am
Christopher A. Wardell

You can’t put the music of local, avant-garde, jazz musician Jj Kidder in a box.

Kidder’s latest album, “A Wild Liberty,” is a sonic ride through ambient, electronic soundscapes, and features an essay by environmental geologist and writer, Grant A. Mincy. The essay, “A Wild Liberty: The Sixth Mass Extinction,” totally meshes with the music, which took two years for Kidder to compose.

The album was released April 22, and is Kidder’s third solo release.

The compositions on ‘Liberty’ music brings to mind such ambient acts as The Orb, or Brian Eno. But the comparisons don’t stop there.

“I could always relate more to music than I could relate to people,” Kidder said. “I took a studio production class in high school, and I went to a Magnet school with an emerging artists program. That combined with roommates who were into technology and computers. Computers and electronic music kind of dovetail nicely. It was very formative for me.”

The Minnesota-born Kidder is a computer programmer at MSU, and he and his wife live in East Lansing. Kidder landed in East Lansing after spending some time in North Carolina where he was a disc jockey at Duke University. While in Chapel Hill, Kidder started nerdcore band Eyes to Space. He’s also spent time in other bands like Dies Arae, and Zurround, an improvisational techno group.

Along with ‘Liberty,’ Kidder has two other albums under his belt, “</style>” and “How to Tell Chaos from Anything Else.”

“I was really into punk music, and then I got into goth music,” Kidder said. “I made the unlikely jump from punk and goth, and into jazz improv. Although I was playing jazz improv, and not well, because I didn’t know. I was only eighteen.”

While in Minnesota, Kidder was a part of many bands that would perform whenever music was needed at a particular venue or location. This helped to keep him on his toes, while molding him into the musician he is today.

“Improv is a pretty strong theme,” Kidder said. “Most of the bands I’ve been in have had an element of improvisation in there. There would be no structure, but usually a break somewhere in there. With Zurround, there were six of us making music, and we weren’t always sure which person the sound was coming from. It wasn’t always a straight line.”

The music Kidder composes may seem like a hard listen to some, and Kidder admits his music doesn’t always appeal to a mass audience.

“Part of being an artist is knowing where you can plant a seed and it will bloom,” Kidder said. “Just like a gardener knows this is fertile soil, the musician knows this is a receptive audience and I can reach out to them. Or this is an audience that has very specific expectations and I need to meet those expectations, or they’re going to be very disappointed.”

Kidder is still exploring venues in the mid-Michigan area where the music he performs would be well received.

“Finding an audience, for me in the places I have lived, has usually meant finding a conducive set of people to work with, and then extend out the branches. There will usually be someone who’s interested in this form of music. I don’t feel like I’ve really found my people yet. The venues around here are mainly focused on singer-songwriters and rock music, although I feel that is kind of touch and go.”

Kidder points to East Lansing-based ambient musician Matt Borghi, who’s collaborated with Kidder in the past. A recent Facebook post by Broghi called Kidder’s new album, “An interesting listen and brings together his love of sound and texture."

The music for “Liberty” was composed over two years, and Kidder admits composing the music to Mincy’s spoken word essay was no small task. The music flows with Mincy’s essay and its three sections, which focus on the long view of earth’s climatic history, mining in Appalachia, E.O. Wilson’s proposal for re-wilding the Earth, and how humankind’s cities could be transformed to exist in harmony with the environment.

Kidder found the collaboration to be both exhilarating and exhausting.

“I reached out to Mincy and just said, ‘Hi! I read your thing and found it compelling and I would like to do a project with you,” Kidder said. “He recorded his essay and sent it to me. It’s a long essay that’s over an hour. There were a lot of words. I was kind of disheartened at first thinking, I’m going to actually have to do this and put it together. Fortunately he liked what I did with it. He’s a big Radiohead fan, and he somehow sees some of their music in what I do. I’m not a Radiohead fan. But I can see some of the comparisons with the electric pianos.”

“A Wild Liberty” is available on Kidder’s website, and on iTunes.





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