Junto Profile: Ethan Hein

From New York City: teaching technology and theory, sampling Thelonious Monk

This Junto Profile is part of an ongoing series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s your name? My name is Ethan Hein, which is also my online name; I have never been able to think of a good pseudonym for myself.

Where are you located? I was born in New York City, have lived here for pretty much all of my life, and have never really wanted to live anywhere else. You hear an incredible variety of music just walking down the street here; it makes all the noise pollution worthwhile.

What is your musical activity? I have been making music since I was a teenager, though I did not get serious about it (or good at it) until deep into my twenties. I play harmonica very well, guitar, ukulele and mandolin pretty well, and I hack around on synths and percussion and various other things. For the past decade, I have been making most of my music with Ableton Live and related software. I like funk, jazz and hip-hop, and most of my original stuff aspires to danceability.

What is one good musical habit? My best musical habit is to chase things down with dogged persistence over long spans of time. I find it hard to sustain my focus moment-to-moment, but I make up for it by coming back to ideas or techniques repeatedly over weeks or months. I will chew on some particular riff or rhythm or sample over and over and over, and the coolest things can unexpectedly pop out.

What are your online locations? My main online home is my blog, which has gone from feeling futuristic to charmingly retro. You can now also subscribe to it as a Substack newsletter, which is a thing some people prefer. I post all my music on Bandcamp. I love Bandcamp. I’m also active on Twitter, in spite of its chaotic evilness.

What was a particularly meaningful Junto project? It’s so hard to choose a particularly meaningful Junto project! It has been a formative influence on my musical practice, especially on my music teaching practice. I have Bandcamp compilations of my favorite Junto tracks and more of my favorite Junto tracks. Here are some standouts:

0052: This one just came out well, I think it goes really hard. It was remarkable to discover I could take samples of music by three people I had never heard of and make something that felt so much like me.

0100: I picked a couple of samples based on the fact that their titles mentioned phase transitions — “Boilin’ Water” by the Soul Stoppers Band and “Shuffle Boil” by Thelonious Monk. But then they ended up sounding great together, and I found a tea kettle whistle on freesound.org that played this lovely melody.

0315: This one is important because I spent less than ten minutes conceptualizing, recording, mixing and posting it, and it got the most vocally positive response of any of my Junto projects. It was a real revelation for a chronic overthinker like me.

You’ve mentioned the Junto has informed your teaching. You could talk about that topic a bit more, especially for other music educators who might be reading this interview? I teach music technology and theory. I think the best way to learn these things is by writing and producing original music. The Junto has been a huge inspiration for this approach. I love the idea of giving creative prompts with narrow conceptual parameters but that are otherwise wide open. Junto-style projects can accommodate students with a range of prior knowledge, preferred styles and genres, access to DAWs and instruments and so on. And I like the weekly project structure, too, it gets everybody used to pushing out lots of completed ideas without being too fussy about them.

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