What was the first recording you bought?
A tape cassette of Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Legends and Swan of Tuonela – after hearing the Legends in Mrs. Parsons’ school music lesson.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you start in composing?
Originally, I guess it was a desire for more pocket money. There was a competition where you could win £50. I think I got second prize, which must have been £25. My violin teacher and his wife played in my piece, for piano and string quartet. Devon County Council ran residential youth-orchestra courses where composition was one of the afternoon activities, so I got my first taste there. The council also employed a composer-in-residence, Christopher Williams, who gave me lessons and pointed me towards Renaissance madrigals, Balinese music and contemporary music. I would never have formulated the idea of composing music if it had not been for these local frameworks, which gave me the opportunity to work with professional musicians on my ideas and get professional feedback, criticism and encouragement.
Who or what inspires you?
That’s an endless list, because it’s always changing. Working together with musicians is a key source of inspiration for each piece in the development process. And the work of other artists; works in other media often provide me with metaphors for compositional concepts or processes that I can then put into sound. I’ve spent the last 14 years chewing over two video pieces I saw in Belgium by David Claerbout. But Varèse’ Ionisation repeatedly packs an immediate punch.
If you could pick a favourite project or personal career highlight to date, what would it be?
That would be All the time, an instrumental theatre production I developed in 2001. It was an extreme meeting between the most reduced artistic material I had ever worked with before, and the most extensive/intensive rehearsal and production process. Together with 4 musicians and a theatre production crew, we spent weeks putting soooo much effort into lighting matches, dropping feathers, splitting near-silent tones, unpacking a clavichord in the dark, tuning, tuning and re-tuning ancient instruments… I was exhausted, I had never spent so many hours in a black-box space before, and my music was getting quieter and more sparse, day by day. By the time the journalists came to interview me for the pre-show PR, I hardly had a score left to put on the coffee-table. It was a low point and a high point at the same time. The delicate and pain-staking production of All the time was the moment I learnt how much artifice and rehearsal is required for the simplest expressions, and how rewarding it is to bring the integration of sound and light under control in the same gesture. The next main production I did after that was a huge, loud orchestral electro-acoustic video extravaganza …
And finally, name your 3 most listened to pieces of music at the moment…
1. Deep Purple’s Smoke on the water (coming from my son’s bedroom)
2. Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf (a musical toy that hangs over my daughter’s cot)
3. And everything in between: all kinds of radical contemporary music and sound art that I’m researching for my curatorship of Spor Festival in Denmark next May – so I can’t tell you about it, as we want the programme to be A Surprise.