Reviews

Artist Spotlight & Interview – Ben of Essence

Ben of Essence is the electronica solo project of prolific musician Ben Jahnke, based in rural Minnesota. After a childhood spent growing up in various different countries, he began his musical career at the age of 14, composing short electronic pieces to pass the time. As of present, his musical CV is very impressive. Aside from Ben of Essence, Jahnke composes scores, plays saxophone in concert and jazz band and also forms one half of the folk duo Ben and Monica. Ultimately, Ben of Essence is very much a project Jahnke runs for himself first and foremost. The music showcases a great deal of experimentation and certainly stands apart from many other solo projects.

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Having released track-abundant albums since 2017 under the Ben of Essence moniker, Jahnke’s latest release ‘Motion Sickness’ took a ‘quality over quantity’ approach. After composing over a dozen tracks for the project, Jahnke was able to whittle down the tracklist to the four very best tracks. This approach has clearly paid off as the project showcases the very best of his abilities; distorted, modal synth lines carry each track and Jahnke makes use of a range of interesting rhythms and and time signatures. There’s fantastic variation track to track, from the hard-hitting accordion-like synth from ‘On Dying’ to the more serene glissando runs on ‘Electric Space Cloud’. The project appears to be strongly influence by retro video game music, which I thought was a nice personal touch.

Visually, Jahnke is very much on the right path to carving out a strong visual identity for Ben of Essence; his graphics are simple and created on a basic graphics editor, which effectively represents his retro sound. However, I struggled to find a full body shot on his social media platforms that effectively communicated his identity. If Jahnke was to look into further marketing opportunities, I’d strongly advise he includes more identity-coherent images of himself on his social media platforms.

Whilst his social media presence is off to a great start with his Facebook and Twitter accounts interlinked, his posts have a tendency to be few and far between and I found it difficult to quickly source music to listen to. For his Facebook page, I’d recommend Jahnke posts updates on his recording and producing activities regularly whilst he makes use of his Twitter page to attract more fans and provide more lighthearted, conversational content to keep fans engaged.

Overall, Ben of Essence is a unique and interesting project from a hard working musician with a huge amount of potential. I would thoroughly encourage Jahnke to continue to pursue all avenues of music and I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes Ben of Essence over the next few releases. Highly recommended for fans of electronica and video game music.

INTERVIEW

Sonically, ‘Ben of Essence’ is quite a contrast from your other main project ‘Ben & Monica’. How do you approach each project and what do you think makes them so different?
I try to involve myself in as many different kinds of music as possible and be open to them all, even if they are very different than my other creative avenues. The music Monica and I play is mostly covers and just whatever songs we both like and enjoy playing together. We’ve only made one CD so far and the idea was actually an afterthought we had only after playing songs together. In other words, having some sort of end product is not our initial goal when making music. I’d say this contrasts with my solo work, in which I focus much more on the songwriting. When it comes to my independent songwriting I tend to use a “let it happen” philosophy. In other words, I try to allow whatever creative ideas that I may have in the process to be included in the work, even if it doesn’t go in the same direction that I intended from the start.

You’ve had quite a childhood growing up in several different countries. How do you think these experiences have shaped you from an artistic perspective?
Strangely, I don’t think my experience living around the world has really influenced my music much. In fact, one thing I’ve loved about making music is that it is the one thing that can stay consistent when moving from place to place. I have often said that the more places I go, the more everything seems the same [albeit] in a good way. Music differing from different cultures and places is truly a beautiful thing but I think sometimes people undermine the similarities that music around the world can have. The intrinsic, universal nature of music is equally beautiful in my opinion and is also my silly attempt to justify my underwhelming amount of foreign influences.

Do you have any plans to perform material from the Motion Sickness EP live? If so, how do you think it could work in a live setting?
If only. The joy of experiencing music live with an audience really can’t be paralleled with simply releasing it online. I think the idea of using pre-recorded or sequenced patterns in a live setting is pretty lame, but my music is made with hardly any recording and no use of analog or FM synthesizers so I don’t know how I could do it. I think if I were going to shift my focus to live performance, the songs would change pretty drastically. Another problem is that I just don’t think I have the audience for it at the moment.

You’ve spent time playing saxophone in concert and jazz band at school. How has traditional music education aided you in your independent ventures? 
I’ve never really had any music education apart from being in the bands. Apart from learning to play the sax, I’m pretty much self-taught everything. A strong sense of music theory is very important to me though and usually inspires my songwriting. Ironically, I would say my “independent ventures” have had a greater impact on my involvement in traditional music!

What’s next for your two main projects?
I try to always have something I’m working on. To be honest, I really want to move on from electronic music and get more into recording, but I’ve told myself that “this is my last Ben of Essence project” so many times in the past that I know I won’t give up on it. I’m always trying new things, it just depends on whether if I can put the ideas together into something that I feel is worthwhile. Lately, I’ve been working on implementing more recording into my electronic music, but I can never say whether it will stick or not. As for Monica and I, we plan on making another CD next summer, hopefully with more original songs this time given a whole year to prepare.

https://benofessence.bandcamp.com/album/motion-sickness-ep
https://twitter.com/BenOfEssence
https://www.facebook.com/Ben-Jahnke-Music-639836856378642

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