Described by VAN Magazine as “A multifaceted Black Swiss composer, performer, and scholar,” Jessie Cox makes music about the universe and our future in it. Through avant-garde classical, experimental jazz, and sound art, he has devised his own strand of musical science fiction, one that asks where we go next. Cox’s music goes forward. When he describes it, he compares it to time travel and space exploration, likening the role of a composer to that of a rocket ship traversing undiscovered galaxies. He is influenced by a vast array of artists who have used their music to imagine futures, and takes Afrofuturism as a core inspiration, asking questions about existence, and the ways we make spaces habitable. Known for its disquieting tone and unexpected structural changes, his music steps into the unknown, and has been referred to by the New Yorker as an example of “dynamic pointillism,” a nebulous and ever-expanding sound world that includes “breathy instrumental noises, mournfully wailing glissandi, and climactic stampedes of frantic figuration.”
A dedicated collaborator Cox has worked as a composer and drummer with ensembles and musicians such as the Sun Ra Arkestra, LA Phil, Ensemble Modern, and the JACK Quartet; at Festivals such as the Lucerne Festival, MaerzMusik, and Opera Omaha. For his work as a composer, he has been recognized with a Fromm Foundation commission, and his commissions have been funded by the Ernst von Siemens Foundation, Pro Helvetia, New Music USA, and others.
Currently completing his doctorate at Columbia University, Cox is also an accomplished scholar writing about music and the world. He has published in and co-translated the book Composing While Black, published as a bilingual edition in German and English by Wolke Verlag in 2023. Further texts appear in liquid blackness, Critical Studies in Improvisation, Positionen Texte zur Aktuellen Musik, Sound American, the American Music Review, and others.
“…some of the most experimental music of not just the day but the season… They held a listener’s attention with surprises and delights aplenty.“
— LA Times
“ Jessie Cox' s Gene-Splicing Futurities'”
“ Jessie Cox sound science poetry magick in 'As a Song of a World,'”
“ ...was struck by Jessie Cox’s Breathing...'”
“…modelled on timeless grooves worthy to make the lovers of Sun RA drool…”
— BienneOut (CH)
“…complex, beautiful music.”
— Castle of our Skins
“…draws the succinct, low notes of a drum from the bassoon.”
— The Bay State Banner
“ Washa! a first record of high class, a contemporary jazz, steeped in both classical and Caribbean influences.…Nu Creation is… reminiscent of the sounds of Steps Ahead. Washa! is an end-to-end success, a musical synthesis brilliantly performed by talented musicians...”
— Le Bananier Bleu
One of the world’s most brazenly experimental composers, Swiss artist Jessie Cox makes music about the universe - and our future in it. Through avant-garde classical, experimental jazz, and sound art, he has devised his own strand of musical science fiction, one that asks where we go next. For the last decade, his music has been marked by its freeness; his embrace of otherness has led to a body of work described by the LA Times as ‘some of the most experimental music, not just of the day, but the season’.
Cox’s music goes forward. When he describes it, he compares it to time travel and space exploration, likening the role of a composer to that of a rocket ship traversing undiscovered galaxies. He is influenced by a vast array of artists who have used their music to imagine futures, and takes Afrofuturism as a core inspiration, asking questions about existence, and the ways we make spaces habitable. Known for its disquieting tone and unexpected structural changes, his music steps into the unknown, and has been referred to by the New Yorker as an example of ‘dynamic pointillism’, a nebulous and ever-expanding sound world that includes ‘breathy instrumental noises, mournfully wailing glissandi, and climactic stampedes of frantic figuration’.
Cox’s fascination with futures is seen in compositions such as The Sound of Listening, which explores the connection between human and terrestrial bodies. An interactive piece, it is written to feel deliberately unfinished, its tones and timbres open, moving forward through an endless map of possible pathways. Though his music is unwaveringly experimental, eschewing traditional structure, he is constantly looking for connections, attempting to explain how we relate to each other and care for our world. His recent collaborative composition ...As A Song To The World asks these questions directly, its bombastic collaborative ritual emphasising the way we create fictions and lores to feel things as a community.
Though Cox’s music is expansive, it can often come from relatively little. A rehearsal room with a drum-kit in it, for instance, can serve as the setting for his vast world-building. His work can be light on resource, but teeming with detail, as exemplified in Breathing, an opera for one vocalist and handheld percussion. The piece involves bass-baritone Derrell Acon, who sings, hums and hyperventilates alongside chiming textural percussion. Like many of Cox’s pieces, it features deviation and destruction, and is defined by moments of uncontrollable human intervention. The result is a large, labyrinth composition that can’t be contained as an ordinary ‘piece’ of music.
Fascinated with contingency, Cox comes at his compositions from a space of genuine curiosity. He doesn’t know what will happen to his music in a live setting - whether it will break down, or continue to pulse - and seeks to pass the sensation along to his listener. ‘My teacher, Richard Carrick, once said about my music that he was always worried about whether it would survive for the whole performance’, Cox says, attempting to describe it. That is ultimately his aim: not to create something, but to search for it.
For his striking music and uncompromising vision, Cox has been widely celebrated. His pieces have received plaudits from the New Yorker, the LA Times, amongst other publications. It is the subject of thoughtful analysis, with music writer Steve Smith hailing his music as ‘sound science poetry’, celebrating its ‘gene-splicing futurties’ His work has appeared at MaerzMusik and has received performances from renowned groups such as Ensemble Modern, LA Phil, the Sun Ra Arkestra, and JACK Quartet.
By Robin Smith