A conversation with Jesy Fortino


    We spoke with Jesy Fortino about volcanic eruptions, her creative goal of creating more empty space, the experience of a scent triggering a deep memory, her daily work in civil engineering and why true community is impossible when we can abandon it.

    If I had to commit to an overarching theme or goal in my music, I think it would be to create more space rather than to fill it.


    Morgan Enos

    Lots of people make music that’s supposed to kind of act as a decorative agent, to make your world angrier or funnier or a perpetual party. But a lot of the music you’ve made has kind of done the opposite… it gives me a colossally bare feeling, like looking at the Earth prior to people. Are you attracted to the concept of aloneness or desolation in art or life?

    Jesy Fortino

    The world seems like an increasingly crammed place full of people with complex agendas. If I had to commit to an overarching theme or goal in my music, I think it would be to create more space rather than to fill it.


    Please briefly meditate on these three objects: ashes, water and hood ornaments. What does each subconsciously remind you of? Any memories, anecdotes, theories or dreams?


    I think of the Mount Saint Helens eruption and how you can still see piles of ash next to portions of southbound Interstate 5 when heading from Seattle to Portland.


    Because I am already thinking of Mount Saint Helens, I am reminded of Spirit Lake and how it was filled with dead trees after the eruption.

    Hood ornaments

    One of the first cars I owned was a white 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. I imagine looking at the hood ornament while driving down the freeway and seeing the ash piled next to the road.


    What was the last time a very powerful memory or sense of nostalgia was triggered by a scent? What was the smell, what was the memory, how were the two connected, and why do you think it stuck around in your psychology for so long?

    I was recently on a trip to the Oregon coast with my mom. As we drove south on the 101, we passed a bunch of wineries and my mom decided to break up the drive by stopping for wine tastings. I had never done a wine tasting before, so when we entered the first winery storehouse, I was hit by a lot of memories associated with the smells there. I hadn’t smelled barrels of aging wine since I was a kid. My dad’s side of the family is Italian, and my grandparents used to have large gatherings at their house where they would make wine from grapes they would buy from the same area of Oregon that my mom and I were driving through. The wine we made had a caricature of my grandpa on the label of the bottle along with the year and type of wine. Each batch had bottles with the name of a grandchild written on it to indicate whose wedding to open it at.

    I am more impressed with people who ask good questions than with the people who give the answers. The average conversation seems like a sort of manic tug-of-war of who gets to talk and who is forced to listen.


    Beyond music, it would seem you made a dramatic life shift into the field of civil engineering. I’m really fascinated by what’s entailed in all of that. Can you describe what you do in the realm of cities and infrastructure in as much technical detail as possible, regardless of whether I’m a layman or not?

    I currently work for a civil team that is redesigning the Seattle Waterfront. Currently, Highway 99 passes through downtown Seattle on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. As part of an effort to retrofit Seattle to withstand earthquakes (we are anticipating a very large one), the Alaskan Way Viaduct was marked for removal. Currently, a tunnel is being built under downtown where we will eventually divert the traffic highway 99 to it. My team is designing the roads, walkways, and bikeways that will be above ground to service local traffic.

    My role on the project is technical support. I help out with quantity take offs, design drawings, basis of design documentation, turn simulations, research into existing conditions, utility coordination and cost estimation. My long-term goal is to build an engineering career focusing on resilience by supporting the development of decision support technology and multi-criterion objective functions that optimize infrastructure systems to provide high social equity by incorporating human and environmental health, diversity, welfare, security, sustainability, and adaptability into design processes.


    Please tell me about your office, studio or workspace. What are you currently working on?

    I am currently working on a basemap for the civil design team. It displays all the utility lids that will need to match the design grade. I’ve spent weeks trying to figure out which utility lines in our project footprint will be demolished and which will remain by the time of our construction. There are a lot of utilities (gas, power, communication, sewer, storm water, drinking water, combined sewer, monitoring tools) downtown, so it has been a puzzle.


    Please briefly scan the room or space you are in for the nearest metal object. Can you describe it to me extensively as far as its color, nature and physical dimensions without stating what it is?

    Two thin, flat metal planes. Their length is about eight times their width. Both taper at one end (on the same side) and divot at the other to form a sideways V shape in lengthwise profile view. Near the tip, on the sideways V, there is a pin that connects the two metal pieces. A spring between the metal pieces prevents them from moving away from one another without force being applied to the two edges of the V.


    How has your demeanor, personality or mental state been dictated by other people? Who are they, and why have they been so influential on you? From there, who do you believe is very influenced by your behavior, hand gestures, body language or tone of voice?

    I am an incurable eavesdropper and I listen to many conversations in passing. Lately, I have been really inspired by the people in conversation who are really good listeners. I am more impressed with people who ask good questions than with the people who give the answers. The average conversation seems like a sort of manic tug-of-war of who gets to talk and who is forced to listen. I wonder why good listeners are so rare and why the listening position is so undesirable. Isn’t it the listener that gets the most out of conversation?

    As long as we can walk away from one another or retreat into a private space, I don’t believe that community is possible.


    Is there anything that scares you as much as an adult as it did when you were a child? How so? What is at the root of this fear?

    I am still afraid of my parents’ death. The idea that they can die makes me want to hide them somewhere and keep them safe. The idea that time only goes one way and that we cannot access the past has always scared me too. I’m not sure what the root of this fear is. I think they are common fears, though.


    Lastly, please meditate with me on the idea of community. I am all for serving others in a local situation, but I think a lot of people come up with alternate social communities online and elsewhere where it’s actually the illusion of the term. I don’t think a lot of people in the “folk community” or “DIY community” would actually change your tire at 3:00 in the morning. What do you think about the idea of a real, sustainable community, one that could better your happiness or overall existence?

    I believe that community is an outcome of constraint.  It is a network of people who need each other… or, maybe it’s better to say, a network of people who cannot escape each other. As long as we can walk away from one another or retreat into a private space, I don’t believe that community is possible.

    Wealth and institutions that support individual power are the antithesis of community. Anything that allows you to disregard people because you do not like them or because they do not resemble you… actually, the ability to disregard people at all, is a freedom that prevents community.

    I don’t believe that community can occur in an unconstrained environment. Rather than trying to “build intentional communities,” I think we need to move away from and attack institutions that encourage individual freedom. In short, people need to recognize that they absolutely need each other and that the failure of one individual is a threat to the stability of all. For this reason, I believe that systems that obscure social and environmental dependencies must be removed and replaced. But, removed how? And replaced with what?

    What are the constraints that result in community? How are they or how could they be enforced or perpetuated? What resources result in power, and how does power travel through networks of people? How can we reconfigure infrastructure so that power is conveyed in a way that restricts an individual’s ability to escape dependency? How can we socially organize ourselves now so that we need each other today? How can we connect our fates as individuals to the fate of strangers and the environment? These are the questions that completely drive me as a civil engineer, a musician, and a person who seeks a new coordinate system with which to measure progress.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 147
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: March 9, 2018
    Total questions: 9
    Word count: 1498
    Reading time: Six minutes


    Retreat: Null
    Plane: Flat
    Line: Demolished
    Individual: Threat


    About the subject

    Jesy Fortino is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who records music as Tiny Vipers. She currently works in the field of civil engineering in Seattle, Washington.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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