Q. The first thing that strikes me about the series of works on this recording is that it can be heard both as classical (three suites and a piano fantasy) and an album of songs without words. How do you see that balance in your works?
I really like the fact that you hear two different things in the music. I guess that’s at the heart of what I do.
I have particularly been drawn in the last few years to creating smaller pieces; shorter in length and for smaller forces. I have recommended so many times to my students to compose a short work for solo/duo/trio because it then stands a chance of having several performances, but it’s taken far to long for me to heed my own advice. This CD, apart from the last piece, is really a collection of short pieces brought together.
And I do like the album model as can be seen in ‘Fold’ and ‘Here’ (with my band MooV) and ‘Skin And Wire’ (with Bill Bruford and Piano Circus). I love your phrase ‘an album of songs without words’. I couldn’t describe ’Shenanigans’ better myself.
Q. Features such as the other worldly percussion in Three Movements work almost like studio-based elements of pop and rock which wrap the melodic lines, are they conceived in this way (i.e. lyrical elements first) or as a whole from the start?
There are two approaches to recording I suppose. One is to create a piece based on scored notation and then record the best performance of this score. The other approach is to develop material in response to what is put down on a recording; manipulating the sound files and adding further layers. I often makes use of both approaches.
This ultimately blurs the musical aesthetic and creates a challenge to the listener. A healthy challenge I think.
Q. You clearly love working with specific musical references (Lyric Pieces having direct relationships with works by Miles Davis, Joy Division, Genesis, John Martyn) but all worked thorroughly into their own integral form with a strong sense of personal direct communication. How do you balance these elements?
Your word integration is good. That’s what I think I do all the time. It’s what is happening in much of contemporary artistic practice. But I also see a lot of ‘combination’ going on, when there are several things brought together, not always integrated with much deep distillation. It can sometimes seem self conscious. I hope my music isn’t like this.
I like your phrase ‘personal direct communication’. This is not about dumbing down, simplicity or even clarity. It’s about being honest I think.
I don’t see that balancing these elements (or any others) is an issue. Everything we do is a balancing act.
Q. There’s a combination of lyricism and understated wit which is often associated with Britishness. Do you feel British as a composer?
Absolutely yes. You put your finger right on it. I think there are probably many opposites in my music. I take what I do very seriously, but I can’t conceive of doing this without the ability to undermine it simultaneously with irony and humour. I really enjoy a certain quirkiness (or frivolousness even) to the way that phrases and patterns can work. At the same time I’m easily drawn to a bit of lyricism (sentimentality even) and maybe a search for naivety. I love it when I have found a way to forget what I know as a composer and am then partly able to just delight in creating something with sound.
Q. These are excellent performances, superbly recorded. What advice would you give to musicians thinking about playing any of these works?
Many of the pieces on the CD are short and stand-alone miniatures. Any of the pieces from the ‘suites’ can be played as stand alone pieces as well.
A lot of my music is heard as having flavours from beyond classical music. I don’t really see any fences around what might be labelled classical music. I guess, therefore, that any of my pieces included in a so-called classical programme will add something which is both of interest for the audience as well as one or two new elements for the performer. The pieces all look quite clear on the page and that’s a conscious decision on my part. For me the rhythmic elements of the pieces need to be carefully executed. My music almost always has an element of what I can only describe as ‘groove’. It needs to fit together and can’t be fudged for it to work. If this appeals then I think the pieces might be for you.