A composer/singer who does not fear untraveled paths, Jessika Kenney is renowned by multiple audiences for the vastly different musical forms she has integrated into a distinct style. Her reverence for, and interpretations of South East Asian and Persian vocal traditions have formed the basis for her main improvisational work. Simultaneously, an ongoing series of collaborations with her husband, composer/violist Eyvind Kang, have her embracing the avant-garde audience. Add to that her performances of Scelsi, Cage and Feldman, and her involvement with experimental metal groups such as Sunn 0))) and ASVA, and one realizes that challenging horizons mark Kenney’s regular pursuits.
As a teenager, Kenney was already pushing herself, applying esoteric meanings to straight jazz lyrics, singing karaoke songs backwards and spontaneously screaming in public spaces. This approach of remaking and personalizing the traditional took greater route in her music degree studies at Cornish, where her exposure to the work of vocalists Diamanda Galas and Jay Clayton ran in tandem with a growing love for Persian and Indonesian court idioms. The late ‘90s found Kenney in Central Java, mixing street performances with established performances alongside the most renowned dhalang (puppeteers) of shadow plays. In 2009, she debuted “Atria” at Cornell, a work inspired by the texts of spiritual teacher Ibn Muhyiddin Arabi, the Sufi poets Farid Uddin Attar and Mowlana Rumi and the Indonesian ruler Mangkunegara IV, later performing the same work alongside Kang and the innovative Gamelan Pacifica in Seattle. "Concealed Unity" co-composed for choir and orchestra by Kenney and Kang has been performed at Iceland Tectonics and at the Winnipeg New Music festival.
Her first release as a co-composer was Aestuarium (2005; released 2011), a collaboration with Kang on Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ label. A sparse set of recordings for viola and voice, the record exemplifies Kenney’s technique, absorbing and singing fragments of a Latin psalm in a way that keeps one foot firmly planted in reverence and respect while exploring innovative vocal approaches. Since then, the duo has released two more records, each diving deeper into the inner worlds that have opened before them. Their most current release is The face of the earth (2013). Her upcoming solo work will be released in early 2015. Compositions take Kenney years to develop; she first approaches texts as untranslated poems, obsessing over bi-textuality and the space between texts, in order to more fully permeate the atmosphere found inside, as well as better reach the non-verbal communications implicit to their creation.
In 2014, Kenney received the Artist Trust James W Ray Distinguished Artist Award for a Washington State artist whose work demonstrates exceptional originality, and she and Kang were recipients of the 2013 Stranger Genius Award in Music. Presently, Kenney studies radif with Ostad Hossein Omoumi, Persian language and literature at the University of Washington, and avidly reads interpretations of Classical Sufism. In the spring of 2014 her work included collaborations with the Rumi scholar Fatemeh Keshavarz at the Library of Congress, Chinese text translator Red Pine, and poet Anne Carson.