Tuesday 26 September 2017

Electro-acoustic music, trombones & cheese: I chat to composer Jack White

Jack White
On 27 September at Colston Hall's 'The Lantern' and on 3 October at Wigmore Hall, Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) musicians Peter Moore (trombone) and Richard Uttley (piano) will give the world premiere of Jack White's Three After-Dinner Pieces, as part of a lunchtime concert which includes music by Beethoven, Bruch, Faure and Sulek.

Three After-Dinner Pieces was commissioned by London Music Masters (LMM) in collaboration with YCAT. LMM is a UK-based, charity that supports the involvement of young musicians in classical music and the work's composer Jack White is the recipient of the LMM Composer Award. I spoke to Jack on the phone to find out more about the piece, and about his compositions, but what we first started talking about was cheese!

Jack works part-time at a fine cheese specialist in Cardiff (he is based in South Wales), when commissioned to write a piece for Peter Moore he decided to explore the idea of relating the music to different types of cheese. He feels that, as people are generally familiar with types of cheese, this will give them a way in to the music, and will hopefully promote debate. The work lasts around 15 minutes and is in three movements, each exploring a different cheese - Stilton, Caerphilly, Epoisse. For the music, Jack references both the country of origin (Wales, England, France) as well as the texture, so that the lines of mould in the Stilton come out as fanfares whilst the music for Epoisse reflects the fact that the cheese is very runny. Intrigued, I certainly way. This is Jack's first work for solo trombone, and he describes Peter Moore as a phenomenal player and Jack has been getting tips from Peter on writing for the trombone. Jack was particularly struck by Peter's lyrical playing, and uses this a lot in the second movement.

Trombonist Peter Moore (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Trombonist Peter Moore, who premieres Jack White's
Three After Dinner Pieces
(Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Jack White studied music at Somerville College, Oxford, with postgraduate study at Cardiff University where he he recently finished his PhD in composition. His research interests are in electro-acoustic composition and the combination of this media with traditional ensembles in ‘live’ performance, and this is reflected in his own compositions. So I was intrigued at how he approached a purely acoustic work. Jack explained that he was interested in exploring different sound-worlds, though in fact in the middle movement of the new work the piano holds the sustaining pedal down and picks out notes. The resulting texture gets quite dense and Jack feels it comes close to electro-acoustic music.

Electro-acoustic music, as the name implies, combines electronic music with live acoustic performance. Jack feels that in this type of music you have to provide a framework with the electronic sound and so put the singer or live musician through the mixing desk too. This means that there is not complete dislocation between the electronic music and the live acoustic music, though he adds that some electro-acoustic composers do not do this, but he likes to merge things.

Whilst Jack read music at Oxford, the degree was mainly music history and he did more composition when doing his masters in Cardiff. He then took a year out, before continuing with his PhD in composition in Cardiff. Since then he feels he has been developing his skills, combining composing with teaching as well as working part-time at the cheese shop. But he is also working on an EP as a song-writer (you can hear his songs on his website). He likes these different strands to his career, and does not see a great difference in the various types of musics in which he is involved.

Jack thinks that the main difference between the various strands of his work is who is asking for the work. In dance, theatre and advertising, for instance (all areas in which Jack has worked), he needs to fit in with the brief and the work is more collaborative. Whereas working in the classical music world is freer, a composer can work to their own brief until they are happy with the work.

Jack likes the collaborative nature of some of these projects, working with people from different skill sets. Jack was recently working with the choreographer Marc Brew (on the Cheltenham Music Festival / GDance dance project Stuck In The Mud), and the two talked about dance. Marc described his relationship with music in ways which Jack could understand but had not thought about, giving Jack a different perception of time, duration, and the way a note was put down.

Language is another area of interest, Jack has written a bi-lingual (Welsh/English) chamber opera A Dream Of Men, and is currently working with the Norwegian percussion group The Pinquins on a cross-cultural piece about story-telling in northern Europe using Welsh and Norwegian languages as a basis for the electroacoustic elements. Jack enjoys language as music, listening to languages that he does not understand. He finds it inspiring to be able to listen to the language as sound, and with the Norwegian piece he thought it nice to be able to put people's language into the piece. Further ahead, Jack is working on a piece for National Dance Company Wales. At the end of October 2017 there is an event outside the Wales Millennium Centre to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and Jack has been asked to 're-jig' a recording of Satie's Parade (the new recording was made by Martin Yates and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, see Jack's post on his website). Satie's Parade was originally written for a ballet which was premiered by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1917 with designs by Picasso. The National Dance Company Wales event will start as an art-installation outside the Wales Millennium Centre, so that Jack's piece will lead into a performance of Satie's Parade in the theatre with choreography by Caroline Flim.

And Jack is writing a piece for COMA at the end of this year, which will be incorporated into future LMM concerts.

Jack White
Jack White
27 September - Peter Moore and Richard Uttley at Colston Hall, further information
3 October - Peter Moore and Richard Uttley at Wigmore Hall, further information
24 & 25 October - National Dance Company Wales' P.A.R.A.D.E. at Wales Millennium Centre, further information
28 & 28 October - National Dance Company Wales' P.A.R.A.D.E. at Pontio, Bangor, further information

Elsewhere on this blog:

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