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 2016. They are creating new, exciting and innovative music, across disciplines, all over the UK.
Bozzini Quartet composer-in-residence, Georgia Rodgers, writes music that intimately explores the experience of listening, an initiative that derives from her studies in physics and acoustics. It was then that her interest in the fascinating topic of the ‘perception of sound’ became established, sharing with us that she’s “never really gotten over the profoundly physical yet distinctly intangible experience of listening – its complex interior and exterior, its slightly mysterious relationship with our other senses, memory, time and the like”. Rodgers use of field recording and electronic and classical instrumentation in her work expresses her own philosophical ideas about music, which she divulges with clarity…
Describe your music in a few sentences.
My music is primarily about sound and the experience of listening, which might seem quite obvious (surely all music is about sound?!) but to me it is a conscious shift in priorities. I often start with the physical acoustic properties of an instrument – how the sound is created, how it vibrates and resonates – and make lots of recordings to work with. I might separate sounds into different textures which form focal points in a composition. I sometimes think of it as a process of magnification – zooming in on different aspects of a particular instrumental sound. I’ve also found it helpful to think of my compositions as ‘listening devices,’ which recontextualise sound, help you ‘listen to yourself listen,’ as it were.
What attracted you to apply for the Embedded programme with the Bozzini Quartet?
The Bozzini Quartet (Quatuor Bozzini) are a fantastic group. They are so dedicated to what they do, have so much experience and are so generous with their time. I had already heard of the Composer's Kitchen scheme and listened to the pieces developed in previous years with fascination. When the opportunity came up to take part in the project myself – to spend two whole weeks with the Quatuor developing my own work – well, it was too good not to try my luck applying.
Describe your experience working with the Bozzini Quartet. How do you think it went?
The Composer's Kitchen was an amazing experience and I am so grateful to all involved for making it happen. I really think it has had a big impact on my development because everyone involved was so skilled and we had the luxury of a lot of time together. We had a week long workshop in Montreal in June 2015 and then a follow up workshop in Scotland in February 2016. As well as the Quatuor, there were three other composers (Egidija Medeksaite, Kyle Brenders and James O'Callaghan) and two mentors (Christopher Fox and Christopher Butterfield) each of whom listened and shared their thoughts. The whole group was very supportive and friendly which created a familial atmosphere, so the workshops were challenging but fun and very rewarding.
Describe, in specifics, your fascination with the ‘perception of sound’? When did such an interest take form?
I've always been in orchestras and bands and loved listening to music and being part of a group of people making music, although I could never really describe why. My undergraduate degree was in physics, during which time I took courses in acoustics, music technology and computer music, and I started to engage with theories of sound and listening. This was when I first became aware of composers like Xenakis, Stockhausen and John Cage, who all approached sound in ways I had never even imagined before. It was such a revelation to me, I just wanted to know why they did what they did, and thinking about this helped me to clarify things and start to identify where my own fascination lay. It seems I've never really gotten over the profoundly physical yet distinctly intangible experience of listening – its complex interior and exterior, its slightly mysterious relationship with our other senses, memory, time and the like. As a composer I think this is what I am trying to learn more about.
Tell us a bit about your approach to using electronic sounds with traditional instrumentation. How do you utilise and integrate the two – to illustrate a narrative or otherwise? Do you feel that there any ‘repercussions’ as a result of their convergence?
When I use electronic sounds it is often to emphasise or recontextualise an instrumental sound, rather than to impose any narrative on it. For example, I might use electronics to amplify and spatialise a very quiet sound so that it becomes loud and surrounds the listener. It is a challenge to integrate instrumental and electronic sounds, but sometimes that tension can be interesting compositionally. For example, if the instrumental and electronic sounds start off blended together so subtly that you can't tell there are any electronics, and then gradually the electronic sound distinguishes itself, and you realise that you weren't hearing what you thought you were after all. It makes us question what we are listening to.
In field recording, how do you intend to capture and present the sonic landscape (specifically in Tadoussac)?
My piece Tadoussac tries to capture a listening experience I had on a beach in Canada last year. I suppose it's a bit like a memory for me – different to the flat response of a recording over time. The material was field recordings I made on the beach, and in the studio I used various filters and other techniques to create and emphasise changes in listening focus from one sonic element to another. It starts off as I was lying on the beach with my eyes closed and was aware for a long time of a powerful low frequency rumble underneath everything else as a large boat approached. By the time the boat reached its closest point to me the bass from the engine was huge and surrounding, engulfing me and covering everything else. The boat then passed on, leaving just the sound of the waves again, fragile and glassy by comparison, with their top, high frequencies seeming very exposed.
How do you feel electronic and experimental musics fit into contemporary society, in reflection of how they were perceived during the 20th century?
I'm not sure experimental music has to fit in particularly, and there shouldn't be a pressure for it to; there will always be some things on the margins. Certainly the contemporary music scene is more diverse now which is great, with performances moving out of concert halls and into fringe venues and public spaces, and hopefully gaining a wider audience because of it. At the other end of things, some pop music uses electronic sound in a fantastically creative way and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about all the diverse things we like to listen to.
Whilst working with the Bozzini Quartet, how did you ensure that your own philosophical ideas about music were reflected in the performances?
Well the actual performance is all down to the Bozzinis, and they are extremely good at it! They approach all the music they play with the same discipline and intensity, and during the course of the Composers' Kitchen workshops they helped me to clarify and articulate what the point of my piece was, and what the most important aspects of it were, from which knowledge they were able to present the best performance of it.
Do you have any recommendations of composers/artists to look out for in the next year?
Well my great CK friends of course, Egidija Medeksaite, Kyle Brenders and James O'Callaghan. Also I am a big fan of Paul McGuire, Vitalija Glovackyte, Daniel James Ross, Lauren Hayes and Alex Nikiporenko to name but a few.
Interview by Emma Sugarman (Communications Intern - Sound and Music)