Emma-Kate Matthews on architectural influences

"I’m very interested in the material and acoustic properties of both architectural spaces and musical instruments..."


Every year, Sound and Music shine a light on the work of the composers who are currently in residence on our Embedded and Portfolio programmes. These are our New Voices of 2017.  They are creating new, exciting and innovative music, across disciplines, all over the UK.


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Emma-Kate is an architect, artist, musician and composer. In 2012 she founded EKM Works; a creative practice which promotes cross-disciplinary design with a focus on exploring the boundaries of innovative technologies. Emma-Kate teaches a Masters design unit at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL where she is also undertaking a design and performance-led PhD. Her research concerns spatio-temporal interdependence between architecture and performed music. In 2015, she released two solo albums of experimental music featuring both electronic and acoustic instruments. She is currently writing a number of site-specific compositions which are directly influenced by the outputs of digital acoustic simulation and 3D scanning. Emma-Kate has previously performed at the Barbican concert hall and has exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts and the RIBA. She has also had work published in multiple peer-reviewed journals including Architectural Design (Wiley) and Design Ecologies (Intellect books).

What was your route into composing?

I’ve played musical instruments from a young age, starting with the recorder and clarinet, then eventually guitar, electric bass and the drums. I’m a self-taught composer and a lot of my ideas have come from the experience of playing instruments, but also through my architectural work. I have become fascinated with how architecture influences the way we experience music and vice versa. This fascination is a key driver for many of my musical ideas.

How does your work as an architect influence your compositions and vice versa?

I’m very interested in the material and acoustic properties of both architectural spaces and musical instruments, and I’m specifically excited by the idea that architectural space can be appropriated to behave as an extension of sound-producing instruments. My PhD research at the Bartlett, UCL is centered around understanding and exploiting the reciprocity in the simultaneous composition of both musical and architectural ideas.

You have begun work on your own notation system for your work. Tell us a bit about your motivation and how it works.

The Architect Stan Allen once quoted that “notations are necessarily reductive and abstract... [notation is] better able to anticipate the complexity and unpredictability of the real” (2000) - With this in mind, I consider any score and/or drawing produced to facilitate the performance of a musical composition, as a means to an end and not an end in itself. In my recent scores, I have been experimenting with ideas of chance - in terms of the organisational systems by which a piece might develop and unfold - and how this might manifest in a score which maintains the composers’ overall creative intent, but allows for controlled differences in the way the piece is eventually performed. I’ve also been experimenting with various methods of graphic notation, though I very much see this as an accompaniment to, not a replacement for, traditional notation.

What are you most looking forward to about working with the London Graduate Orchestra?

The London Graduate Orchestra has a strong interest in testing the limits of modern classical music, which corresponds well with my experimental approach to the composition and performance of musical ideas. I’m very much looking forward to working with such a progressive and ambitious group of talented musicians. I hope that in addition to creating a new piece of music, that we will all gain new and inspiring insights from this collaboration.

What is it like being an artist in 2017? 

There are a lot of tools to hand - both digital and analogue - and sometimes this can be confusing and distracting. I try to work in a way where the ideas drive the pieces and try not to obsess too much about the specification of the kit that I use to make the work. Sometimes it’s important to be precise with these things, but I find that ideas often get clouded when there are too many options available for making things happen. That said - I’m really grateful for the accessibility of all the learning resources out there. I can just about remember a time before the internet became a household necessity and it seemed to take much longer to find information. Now there is absolutely no excuse for not knowing something - equal parts terrifying and useful!

What is the new music scene like where you live?

I think there is a huge appetite for experimental music in London and a lot of support for emerging artists. There is an exciting, growing network of hungry and curious people, looking to be entertained and surprised by new music. It’s great to be embedded in that scene. There are also lots of opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration - great for both learning and producing new and interesting things!

If you could collaborate with any living artist – who would it be?

There are so many to choose from! But I would really like to work with one of my favourite film directors, such as Werner Herzog or David Lynch (amongst many others)… I’ve always wanted to work on a soundtrack. I’m keen to understand how the visual and audible aspects of films are developed in tandem - which one drives the other, and how interactive can that process get?

When you are not composing, you are…

Mostly working on other projects, which at the moment is anything from fabricating bespoke objects and artworks, to designing installations. I’m also teaching architecture to students at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where I’m also currently studying for my PhD. And since 2015, I’ve been learning to play the drums. At the moment I’m working towards grade 7, so I try to practice rudiments and stick technique whenever I have a free moment, then learn the pieces when I can get to my kit! (...I’m also addicted to playing Tetris)

Do you think the word composer adequately reflects you an artist? If not, what word does?

Yes I do, though the word composition isn’t necessarily restricted to one medium – it could refer to the act of composing a sound, a space, an experience, a view, a memory - anything! I think “composer” is a word used to describe anyone who is committed to compiling and making their ideas accessible to others via the medium of their work.

What are you top 3 desert island discs?

In no particular order… (I also added a few extras based on what I’m listening to right now!):

John and Mary – Jaco Pastorius

Przebudzenie Jakuba - Krzysztof Penderecki

Jericho - Joni Mitchell

I Only Have Eyes For You - The Flamingos

Waves Know Shores – James Blake

Herzog - Clark

Mademoiselle Mabry - Miles Davis

Horses on Ice - The Gasman

Ghost Story - Louis Cole

Night School – Frank Zappa

Ptolemy – Aphex Twin

Milky Way – Weather Report

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Emma-Kate is in residence with the London Graduate Orchestra as part of Sound and Music's Portfolio sheme. Read about it here.

You can find out more about Kate on her websiteTwitter and Soundcloud

There are 26 New Voices of 2017. Find out more about them here.