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Day in the life of a composer

Having done a day about my life as a folk musician, I’d like to share a composer-ly day as comparison. I’ve chosen Thursday of last week, because it was especially busy!

I got up reasonably early, but no jogging this time – just straight into the studio by 8.45 to do some final mixing on the soundtrack for choreographer Kasia Herbaut’s piece The Secret Life of Public Loneliness in time for the premiere on Friday. This has been an interesting piece to work on. It’s based on a series of interviews that Kasia carried out and recorded, and the sounds from the interviews are integral to the soundtrack, both the speech and background noises. There are sections of soundscape, sections of music that came up in the interviews (in plunderphonic style), and rhythmical sections built from the background noises. I think it’s the first piece I’ve made that hasn’t involved my considering tonality in any way – none of the ‘music’ in it is composed by me, it’s more created / developed as a whole within the vast majority of ‘non-musical’ found sounds (e.g. trains, kettles…). Overall, I’m not 100% happy with it and I wish I had another couple of weeks to work on it, but that’s life!

At 11, I head over to St Alfege chuch to listen to the CrossContemporary Project rehearse my piece Kaze (goni, I, II, III) before their lunchtime concert. This will be its second performance. Second performances are very special, because so many pieces are written for a premiere and then never get heard again. I feel very grateful to Micol Degl’Innocenti, the harpist who played this piece at its premiere at the ICA, for putting together this performance. We’re all pleased and relieved because the piece works really well in the space – it’s a spatialised piece, and they weren’t able to try it in the church before the day, so we all had our fingers crossed!

Unfortunately, I’m not able to stay for the performance because I have to head straight over to the Laban building (housing the dance faculty of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) for a dress rehearsal of choreographer Laura de Altube’s piece Sense of Becoming. This piece is more conventional in many ways than Public Loneliness, it consists of an electronic track with some live violin over the top, to go with a film with some live dance. The technical set up is less conventional – the preset track and the live sound are sent through different systems, intending to emphasise the ‘live-ness’ of the violin part, even though the audience are not able to see the player (which is me in this instant). As I wasn’t able to attend the tech rehearsal, I’m keen to get this right in the dress. Luckily with the help of Laban’s great tech team (who I’ve worked with a couple of times before on Lea Anderson’s Smithereens, music by Steve Blake), it all goes smoothly and works well.

Next I nip up to a studio to check in with Kasia’s rehearsal for Public Loneliness. The CD I burnt in the morning isn’t working in the player, but we play the track off my laptop instead and it’s all going fine. We also come up with a few technological back-up plans for the performance the next day (when it comes to it, the CD is fine for the performance, and it’s the video element we have problems with, again fixed by using my trusty laptop).

Over the break before the evening show, I’m very happy to hear that the lunchtime concert went well – my very discerning friend went along with his very discerning baby daughter and they both enjoyed it, and apparently everybody got up and walked around to experience the piece as it should be – thanks Micol and the CrossContemporary Project! There is talk about doing it again, maybe even with some dancers, so watch this space.
Kazecomment

Khemi Shabazz on oboe

Khemi Shabazz on oboe


Micol Degl'Innocenti on harp

Micol Degl’Innocenti on harp


Georgia Cooke on flute

Georgia Cooke on flute


Livia Frankish on clarinet

Livia Frankish on clarinet

The final stint of the day is the show of Sense of Becoming. Before I perform, I get to watch two pieces. The first has music by 2 composers I know, in 8-speaker surround sound (with 4 bass speakers in addition). The surround element is much more effective than I expect, and I enjoy the interplay between the track and a noisy fan in the theatre! After I’ve performed (it went well!), I head straight home without staying to watch the rest of the evening – I’d have like to see all the other pieces, but it’s been a long day and I had another 2 show day coming up on Friday.

featuring dancer Mari Woll

featuring dancer Mari Woll

You might have noticed that for a ‘day in the life of a composer’, this day didn’t involved very much actual composing. I think it’s an idyllic dream that being a composer just involves coming up with and developing your ideas, and then somehow someone else deals with all the technicalities and practicalities of putting them into practice! In reality, I spend a lot more time organising stuff, communicating with people, and tweaking than I do actually composing. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. Especially working with the choreographers, it’s truly a collaborative process and I learn so much and feel like my creativity gets such a work out and really develops through that. And at the end of the day, the music I am making is for people – I don’t want to be shut away in an ivory tower, I want to be out there with them.

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