Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background?
JW: Insurance Claims Handler by day (following the footsteps of Charles Ives); “Daddy”…”Daddy”……”DADDY!!” to a charismatic daughter and husband to a charismatic wife by day/evenings/weekends; and a Composer by every other spare minute I have in between. I started out as a trumpeter and drummer, but became more interested in composing in my late teens/early twenties.
SC: Can you describe the programmed works to us?
JW: Taking a Line Nowhere in Particular, commissioned by Late Music for clarinettist Jonathan Sage, was based on visual artist Paul Klee’s phrase of taking a line for a walk and moving freely without a goal. As my title suggests, I’ve written a piece which doesn’t really go anywhere, it meanders around a reduced pitch set and occasionally stops to dwell on a particular idea, as if one is taking a walk and stopping to observe a point of interest. This piece will be performed in Jonathan’s lunchtime concert.
In the evening concert curated by Dot Dash Music, you will hear Cradle Song written for soprano Anna Snow and pianist Kate Ledger. I was invited by Dot Dash Music, along with 34 other composers from different backgrounds, to write a song no more than 100 seconds, creating a patchwork of fragmentary musical miniatures. At the time of writing this piece, my daughter was almost a year old. I’m really bad at remembering words to songs, and was particularly rusty at the time of remembering words to nursery rhymes. Singing Agnes off to sleep was always an interesting mash-up of half remembered words and even mixing up melodies of different songs. I have improved slightly since then, but this formed the idea to write a cradle song. It is word-less and only uses gentle “ah’s”. The same melody is repeated with both the piano and soprano echoing each other. This melody is punctuated with chords, whereby the bass notes spell out ‘Agnes’ (bar ‘n’). Overall, the idea of this gently undulating song is to emulate the sleep state between wakefulness and deep slumber, known as hypnagogia (thank you, Google); a state where lucid dreams and hallucinations can occur.
SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
JW: I write at piano, usually through improvisation. Sometimes an idea may come to mind and then I’ll work it out at the piano and figure out how to execute it on the page. I tend to prefer handwriting the music first, rather than straight to the computer. I usually build up my music in layers, a bit like an artist might, starting with a backwash and then adding another layer of detail, then another and so on until I’m satisfied it’s enough. I find the act of composing really difficult and a bit of a dull process most of the time, it’s the inception and end product which are the exciting bits and the driver for doing it. The moment you hear your music come alive off the page is always a magical and proud moment.
SC: Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
JW: I always like to work with the performer(s) throughout the development of a piece, after all the performer knows their instrument and limitations best. It’s good to write to the performer’s strengths and consider their fragilities for potential exploitation. This isn’t always possible, even more so recently given my time to dedicate to composing is minimal, and the piece’s which will be heard in the concerts were written and passed to the players without any collaboration as such.
SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
JW: At the moment it’s very repeaty. I love the music of Bernhard Lang and Morton Feldman, so perhaps my sound sits somewhere there, or at least in my head that’s where I want my music to go and stylistical these are the sound worlds I’m most interested in. I’m particularly interested in being economical with my material and seeing how I can flesh out the smallest of ideas.
SC: What motivates you to compose?
JW: Usually the last piece of music I composed, which I didn’t feel was good enough. SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
JW: I’m very much an introvert and a bit awkward perhaps, and so I admire any composers who are confident and can sell themselves for which I’m a bit rubbish at (my answer to the previous questions is a good example I guess)
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
JW: Possibly Satie in his bowler hat years, I adore his music and he seemed as mad as a box of frogs. (I also understand he liked the beer) Can Feldman tag along too?
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
JW: Today, my choices are as follows (in no particular order): Beethoven, Piano Sonata No.4 in E-Flat Major, Op.7, Miles Davis So What, Nick Cave Into My Arms, The Divine Comedy The Certainty of Chance, Lucinda Williams Lake Charles, P!NK Cover Me In Sunshine, John Martyn May you Never & Gregory Porter No Love Dying.
To pick one…probably So What.
SC: …and a book?:
JW: Probably an anthology of Edward Hopper paintings so I could make my own stories up based on his subjects.
SC: …a film?
JW: Jurassic Park (and I also get a hit of John Williams).
SC: … and a luxury item?
JW: It’s a toss up between Amazons first suggestion when typing ‘luxury’ into the search bar which is an Aura Award Winning Candle – Luxury Massage Oil Candle, 100% Natural 170ml (pack of 1) for £33.99 (at the time of writing this); Time; or a photo of of my wife, daughter, cat Wendy and I. Although the candle is tempting, it will also need fire and I’m no Bear Grylls – the photo wins.