Jenny Beck: Up To The Surface

, composer


Composer and sound designer Jenny Beck releases Up To The Surface, an introspective electronic EP of variegated ambient textures. Like so many musicians, Beck turned inward during the lockdown, retreating to a format that allowed her to craft compositions on her own in the studio. The result is a collection of four sonic meditations, evolving with subtlety and drawing the listener's attention to fine gradations of timbre and pitch.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 23:56
01Someplace Sacred & Submerged
Someplace Sacred & Submerged
02Radiant Currents
Radiant Currents
03In the Ether
In the Ether

Composer and sound designer Jenny Beck is captivated by alternative modes of listening, conjuring ambiguous sound worlds that draw from nature and a rich internal world. Up To The Surface is a four track EP of electronic music that encapsulates her reflective, textured approach. Beck’s music, while subtle and inward facing, is anything but static, as various features of the sonic environment emerge to become catalysts in the gradual structural evolution of each piece.

Up To The Surface traverses a wide range of timbral territory within its ambient frame, from the shimmering chime and wind sounds of the opening of Someplace Sacred & Submerged to the intimate, processed sighs and vocal sounds at the end of Radiant Currents to the nocturnal crickets that draw us into Wake. Sound color functions as an emotional key in Beck’s music, a guide into a new internal, resonant space.

Beck’s approach to pitch is varied as well. Often focused pitches pass across the audio image like waves, guiding the undulating forward motion of the piece. Beck also builds larger harmonic sonorities as one of the strategies to intensify the texture. These vertical pitch collections sometimes function in a progression, pushing the music forward, while at other times they are simply the byproduct of a momentary congruence of linear material. In fact, the music on this release can often be heard from both perspectives, as Beck guides us through moments that revel in temporal suspension while a subterranean teleology is present throughout.

Much artistic work since 2020 has come to terms with the isolation imposed by the pandemic in one form or another; Up To The Surface certainly lives in that space as well. But it goes beyond a Covid-specific expression, capturing a dynamic that seems particularly attuned to our current moment. In a tech-saturated environment, often dominated by the loudest and most powerful voices in the proverbial room, artists seek solace in spaces that afford them control over their materials and expressive outcomes. This retreat can be seen as an act of reclamation over the technological milieu, rediscovering the intensely personal in a realm that is being hyper-commodified and lends itself to a detached emotional interface. Jenny Beck’s Up to the Surface goes against the grain of these trends, delivering powerfully personal electronic music in its twenty five minutes.

– Dan Lippel

  • All sounds created, edited, and mixed by Jenny Beck
  • Additional mixing and mastering by David Darlington
  • Produced by Pascal Le Boeuf
  • Album art created by Helena Mutak and Jenny Beck
  • Album design by Traci Larson-Katz
  • Video by Four/Ten Media

Jenny Beck

Jenny Beck is a composer and sound designer who works with all manner of sounds and spaces. She collaborates with musicians, dancers, video game designers, and other artists to create immersive and transformative soundscapes. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania where the sounds of the woods stirred her imagination at a young age and has gone on to write music that invites listeners into alternative modes of listening, awareness, and consciousness. Working in an intensely distilled musical language, the goal of which is to forge significance for each sound, her music reflects her interests in nature, ambience, and ambiguity.

Jenny was a 2021 Gaudeamus Prize finalist as well as a 2012-22 Dodds Honorific Fellow at Princeton University. She has participated in workshops, festivals, and residencies including the 2021 RBC BRIDGES Soundstreams’ Workshop for Early Career Composers, Art Farm Nebraska, the Woodstock Guild Byrdcliffe Artist in Residence program, the Florida State University Festival of New Music, the Bowdoin International Music Festival as the Kaplan Fellow in composition, the UC Davis Composition Workshop, the Copland House CULTIVATE Institute with Derek Bermel, the Norfolk New Music Workshop, Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency with Martin Bresnick, June In Buffalo, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Weill Music Institute Professional Training Workshop at Carnegie Hall with Kaija Saariaho.

Jenny has worked with a wide range of chamber ensembles and orchestras including Alarm Will Sound, Latitude 49, Metropolis Ensemble, Modern Medieval, Eighth Blackbird, Argus Quartet, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Mise En, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Bearthoven, and SōPercussion. She also performs her own vocal work, is a member of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), and leads workshops in creative sonic meditation.

Jenny is currently pursuing a PhD at Princeton University.




Among the genres of New Music, it is at once easy and hard to judge environmental music. Because it depends on recorded sounds from nature that are subjected to electronic manipulation, the sound world being created either appeals to you or it doesn’t. The difficulty that enters centers on the absence of conventional musical gestures—there are no fixed standards or guidelines for a reviewer to grasp, much less describe.

This release is an EP (Extended Play) of an album titled Up to the Surface, whose four tracks are linked to water, although a key word like “submerged” in Someplace Sacred & Submerged could also refer to the interiority of the piece. Composer and sound artist Jenny Beck is listed as the performer in the headnote, but these are pre-recorded works that are assemblages of sound, so I’m not sure how much, or even if, performing them is the correct description.

The program notes at New Focus’s website tell us that Beck “is captivated by alternative modes of listening, conjuring ambiguous sound worlds that draw from nature and a rich internal world.” There’s a subtle gradualism in Someplace Sacred & Submerged, which opens the album, that held my attention. Although I couldn’t identify any natural sounds, there’s a certain underwater vibe to the piece. Humming, bell-like tones are sustained in Radiant Currents, which is slightly more active than the first track, thanks to some vibratory, quivering sounds.

A gentle, meditative quality seems to be Beck’s signature, setting her idiom apart from the often raucous manipulations of much environmental music. The third track, In the Ether, so closely resembles what came before that it seems best to approach the entire program as one piece with a unified effect. The interjection of some electronic gulps and buzzing does pose a difference on this track. In conclusion, Wake is the most overtly watery in its use of bubbly or dripping sounds set against an insect-like buzzing backdrop.

There are color-filled paintings that feature gradations of tint in a uniform sameness (I’m thinking of early Jules Olitski in particular) that receive their aural equivalent in Beck’s subtly gradated scores. A human touch is added through sustained notes that sound vocal to me, whatever their actual source. The integrity and modesty of this music have a cumulative effect, which makes for a quietly appealing listen.

— Huntley Dent, 3.12.2024

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