Reflections of a Musical Magician:
The adventures of JaN PuLSfoRD, aTHeNa BLue, Madame la Pulse, and JaNa KYoMooN
By Bob Sullivan
View this article on the artist’s site here.
Those familiar with JaN PuLSfoRD tend to describe her music in evocative terms. One fan says she provides “the musical notes my weary heart seeks to restore love’s light”; another calls her “an explorer in the world of music.” In describing JaN’s live online performances, fans say, “Your music is like therapy. It washes away the hardships of the day as it nurtures the soul.” Still another, “Your musical massage each weekend is the perfect way to let all stress disappear and to feel at one with the universe.”
As much magician as musician, JaN uses technology the way a wizard uses her wand, bringing piano, synthesizers, sound loops, and other digital wonders to cast intricate spells. Sometimes her spells take the listener deeper into their mind, transports them to another world of the imagination, or compels them to hit the dance floor. Reflecting upon her musical journey, JaN said, “I live on the edge of technology, always looking for new ways of getting my music out there.”
Throughout her career, JaN has served others as a cunning musical druid, the silent partner of many notables: the Thompson Twins, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, from the pop of Steps to the jazz of Chico Freeman, and most famously, Cyndi Lauper, all talented vocalists and charismatic front men comfortable in the spotlight. And like King Arthur, they receive the credit and the accolades while their musical Merlin casts the spells behind the scenes. At the same time, her music is heard on TV stations all over the world, from MTV to BBC, Oprah Winfrey to Jerry Springer (!) and in independent movies and on line videos.
Given how the myth and modern fiction have credited the United Kingdom as the source of so many famous sorcerers and wizards, perhaps it’s not surprising that JaN was born and raised in Wales. Her parents supported her love of music at an early age: violin lessons at age 7; piano lessons shortly after. By the time she completed high school, she’d also learned the flute, cello, and clarinet. “Through high school I focused on the grades and exams required to get me into college with the goal of becoming a music teacher.”
Through perseverance, hard work, and dedication to her craft, JaN embarked on a successful career writing music for film and TV. Her early CDs of electronica are now collector’s items and her music won awards at the New York Film Festival. She also wrote the U.K.’s prestigious Song for Europe and played on countless sessions in the blossoming electronic London studio scene of the 80s. Eventually, JaN hit the road as the keyboard player for the Thompson Twins.
JaN reflects, “There is no such thing as overnight success. We make and discover our future, and are found by people who are looking for us in the same way we find people we are looking for. I have been jumping over hurdles all my life and when I fall, I dust myself off and start again. That is the trick—to get back up! I enjoy my feast or famine existence in the knowledge that I am true to my art, and still, after all these years, making a living with my music.”
Other established musicians took notice of JaN’s unique keyboard stylizations, and the demand for her talents grew. She moved to the United States and, in 1993, joined the tour band in support of Cyndi Lauper’s Hat Full of Stars.
During the tour, JaN shared with Cyndi her insight into the Arthurian Legend. They started writing new music, injecting their shared view of feminism and sisterhood as a creative power and exploring the various betrayals of that power in modern society. The result was Sisters of Avalon, Lauper’s sixth studio album. JaN not only provided keyboards and loops, but recorded, engineered, and mixed the final product (and afterward served as musical tour director on the road). A Christmas album followed, and their final co-creations were released as part of Lauper’s 2002’s Shine. Their partnership spawned twenty co-written songs between 1993 and 2001, and is arguably Lauper’s most artistic and critically acclaimed work.
YouTube Link: Sisters of Avalon album preview
At the same time, the internet sprang into the public domain, and JaN started her own Independent CD record label, Collecting Dust Recordings, to release music recorded by her production company under her alter ego “Madame la Pulse.” At English Valley Music Studio in the woods of Tennessee, JaN recorded, engineered, and released efforts for a host of talented musicians, including the late David Schnaufer, Kat Dyson, Felicia Collins, Sir Jam and Nigel Pulsford, her brother and lead guitarist from the rock band Bush. Most of the original ideas for Sisters of Avalon were recorded in this studio.
“I was seeing the potential the internet held for independent artist/musicians,” JaN recalled. “Back then, the internet was still an untapped adventure. On the other hand, I was incredibly naïve. I really believed the music business was about music and soon found the hard way that it’s about business—on every level. I got chased around by CEOs who didn’t have a clue about music or technology but knew that what I was doing was part of the future. Negotiations to buy the company got silly and I walked away. Later, Collecting Dust collided with the mp3 revolution and music quickly became devalued. No one wanted to admit that filesharing was stealing a living from many creatives—it really hurt the small indie companies and songwriters.”
In 2006, JaN first encountered the medium where her music has been discovered more recently and heard by a new group of fans—Second Life (SL), the virtual world in which JaN makes regular and highly attended appearances to perform using her avatar alter ego JaNa KYoMooN. “My friend the ambient musician Tony Gerber had discovered SL and, as the avatar/musician Cypress Rosewood, was having the time of his virtual life. I followed him in.”
JaN recalls her first musical adventure in a virtual environment. “I was part of the Peace Park Trio in 2006-7 playing at the Music ALL Music Peace Park, a sanctuary I built as a place of inner and global peace through music and the arts. I remember the exhilaration of really doing something new and special. The mixture of electronica with dulcimer and Native American Flute was extremely successful.”
In the summer of 2008, JaN began performing in SL as a solo artist. “It was quite a daunting prospect for someone whose whole musical life has been spent at the back of the stage or on the other side of the glass. At first I was performing hard-hitting electronica music from my aTHeNa BLue project, but the more down tempo, meditative ambient music was getting the biggest reaction. When I realized the positive aspect of performing this kind of music, I decided to dedicate most of my performances in SL to this end.”
Now back in the U.K., JaN performs online two to four times a week, while a dedicated radio channel (Radio JaNa) streams her music 24/7, growing her followers and a new set of collaborators only possible through the modern technologies of cyberspace. “Each day is like being on the Star Ship Enterprise, hailing all frequencies as I converse and write music with my creative collaborators in Greece, New York, Chicago, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Italy, L.A., London and Nashville. Where I have my address is of no consequence.”
And her performances in virtual worlds are indeed “live.” JaN explains, “I prepare sequences in Logic and have everything running live. With computer running sequences and me playing over them, there’s a feeling that anything could happen. There is a certain energy from playing music live that you can’t communicate from lip syncing with ready-made mixes.”
YouTube Link: JaNa KYoMooN plays “Silver Shimmers”
JaN PuLSfoRD, aTHeNa BLue, JaNa KYoMooN—the musical magician vanishes, changes, conjures new personas, creates new moods, evokes new aural landscapes. On SL, JaN can finally create the proper otherworldly venue to accompany her musical spells. Where congregating avatars have the floor drop out from under them (no worries; avatars float), where colors swirl and pulse to the beat, where the paintings move across the wall. Not to mention the big purple disco ball. Even magicians have to accessorize!
aMBieNT ReFLeCTioNS oF JaNa KYoMooN is her third collection of Second Life compositions to be released commercially, and JaN’s first release through the D-Pulse Ovrtone label. About D-Pulse, JaN enthused, “I worked with DPulse on a few remixes and live shows with my aTHeNa BLue project. I have always admired their commitment to electronic music and I am so delighted to have them involved!” Ambient Reflection of JaNa KYoMooN is available in CD or download at all major online music sites.
As the title suggests, JaNa is casting her calming spells, weaving otherworldly tones of blues and jazz to draw you inward and help you escape to happier places. If this is the first time you’ve surrendered yourself to the musical magician’s spell, you’ll be pleased to know she has a huge “spellbook” in her back catalog—from dance electronica to soothing lullabies and everything in between.
Merlyn’s Magical Music
Sketches of the Kyomoon
Reflections of the Kyomoon
aLiVe iN a SeCoND LiFe (As aTHeNa Blue)
ReTuRN 2 ZeRo (As aTHeNa BLue)
Plus over 20 albums of Production music available from Universal Music Group
Highlights of Collaborations:
Sisters of Avalon – Cyndi Lauper
Delcimore – David Schnaufer
Night of Peace – Darlene Love
Merry Christmas, and Have a Nice Life – Cyndi Lauper
The Thompson Twins Live
True – Jeff Oster
The Leaders – Chico Freeman
Kathy Raimey – Still Moving
Oxygen + Love – Charles Green
Pride Remixes – Julian Marsh
Various Dance Remixes – Junior Vasquez