Electronic Music Composer Val Jeanty Brings the Beats to Hip Hop Lab

There was spontaneous dancing, rapping and moving to the beat at The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts last week, courtesy of Haitian electronic music composer-percussionist-turntablist, Val Jeanty. The special guest artist from Brooklyn, New York, stopped at CalArts’ Hip Hop Lab to speak about and demonstrate her music.

Jeanty is a multitalented artist who makes use of drum machines, samples, and turntables to produce music with sculptural and spiritual dimensions. She opened the conversation during the lab by talking about how she uses turntablism to blend Haitian beats and other samples.

Her “Afro-Electronica” installations have been showcased in New York City at the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Village Vanguard and internationally at SaalFelden Music Festival in Austria, Stanser Musiktage in Switzerland, Jazz à la Villette in France and the Biennale Di Venezia Museum in Italy. Jeanty has collaborated with poets and visual artists, clocked time as a member of trip-hop group Wax Poetic and counts DJs QBert and Roc Raida of hip-hop turntablist group X-Ecutioners as inspirations.

She said growing up in Haiti influenced her sound, which draws from both voodoo and African cultures on the island. At age 12, Jeanty moved to the U.S. and was attracted to DJing—particularly the scratching sounds DJs create on turntables (which reminded her of her slight stutter). Jeanty explained that part of the reason she likes sharing her music is to bring a positive image to voodoo culture through her art because it’s sometimes looked at negatively through mainstream media.

To demonstrate her sound, she teamed up with Critical Studies faculty Douglas Kearney who provided vocals while Jeanty used her Mac laptop for beats, a Vestax VCI-400 controller and a Korg wave drum machine to tie everything together during several freestyle sessions during the lab. Dance faculty Nina Flagg improvised and freestyled to the rhythms.

During other interactive portions of the class, Jeanty asked attendees to clap three times in a rhythmic fashion. She then explained that the tingling they felt afterward is energy that can be used for the creation of art. Jeanty also allowed attendees to mix with her turntables and gear for a few minutes to familiarize them with how her set-up worked to create music.

To Jeanty, rhythm is important and needed to tie everything together, and her turntables are key to making this happen. Whether it’s creating techno rhythmic patterns or war sounds, it’s a life force for Jeanty—one that spurs her to make art to heal the world, believing that her rhythms go out and reverberate into the universe.
—by Oscar Burrows-Rangel

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