Interview for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

This is a copy of the interview published on the HCMF just before the 2011 festival. Thought I’d put it up here as well.

London Sinfonietta’s concert at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on Saturday 19 November includes the second-ever performance of Larry GovesThings that are blue, things that are white and things that are black, an innovative piano concerto written for Sarah Nicholls that uses three different acoustic and electric keyboards. As well as composing, Goves, who recently received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation award to support his future work, also performs live electronics as part of his ensemble the house of bedlam.

hcmf//: How did you first start composing?

Larry Goves: I started composing in an embarrassing adolescent phase of trying to be creative in a disorganised, omnidirectional frenzy. I joined a lot of societies: some specimens for a youth poetry society, in particular, are completely unforgivable. Composing was the only part of this that seemed natural and comfortable.

hcmf//: What currently interests you the most in music?

LG: I’m fascinated by different composers’ attitudes towards tuning systems and complex notation and word-setting and decoration, as much as subtle changes in rhythm and pitch in classic blues recordings, far too much to list here. At the moment I’m quite excited about my immediate composer friends, where there’s enough socialising, chat and trust to feel like I have a privileged insight into the music in one way or another. Composers such as Ian Vine, Gameshow Outpatient, Anna Meredith, Matthew Sergeant, Emily Hall, Mark Bowden and many others.

hcmf//: Tell us more about Things that are blue, things that are white and things that are black and why it uses three different keyboards…

LG: Things that are blue, things that are white and things that are black is the second in three planned responses to a favourite novel, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. The first piece, for piano and keyboard triggering samples, was written for Sarah Nicolls in response to a commission to expand the piano performance environment with technology. The samples, in both pieces, are retuned piano notes and impossible-to-play-on-your-own piano chords. Things that are blue…, which is a kind of piano concerto, uses a similar setup and incorporates prepared piano into the middle movement as a homage to John Cage.

This was also intended as a kind of romantic piano concerto, or rather my memory of a romantic piano concerto from when I was a child. I think there are features of virtuosity that I perceived watching pianists then, that I’ve lost as studying music has demystified them. As I’ve incorporated so many impossible chords into the electric piano, I feel I’ve reclaimed this a little. I wrote the piece for Sarah and although this wasn’t an overtly collaborative piece I feel that she had a big impact on it.

hcmf//: If you had your way, where would your pieces be heard?

LG: In concert halls, motorway service stations, just before the news, in space, on the way to space, in big empty fields, on Dictaphones instead of something that had just been recorded, as an occasional substitute for speech, in art galleries, on fishing boats, as a regular feature on the World Service and from specialist novelty birthday mugs. Well to start with, anyway. I probably shouldn’t have my way.

hcmf//: What are the house of bedlam up to at the moment?

LG: Individually they’re scouring the UK looking for rare birds, programming extraordinary concerts on the South Bank, purchasing houses and living in them, raising families, writing/playing music and staring into space. Collectively we’ve been quiet for a long time, mainly, while I took stock of our last projects and wrote some much bigger pieces. This is the calm before the storm, though – I’m planning new music, sounds, approaches and concerts for 2012 and beyond.

hcmf//: This summer saw the conclusion of the year-long Exchange and Return project, in which you collaborated with two artists (Mira Calix and Tansy Davies) with different musical backgrounds to your own. What were the most valuable things that you took from the experience?

LG: I learnt more about live electronics and approaches to software, a history of electronic dance music, what it’s like to play at a non-classical festival and all sorts of other practical things. I learnt most from seeing Mira Calix, another, very different, composer working and starting to understand her thought process and approach. I should mention that two sections of the middle movement of Things that are blue… are closely related to the Exchange and Return project. I made a remix of an early track of Mira’s and the sections of this most removed from the original found their way into this movement. Although none of the original music is left there is, I hope, something of the spirit there.

hcmf//: What do you have planned for 2012?

LG: I’m going to write a short piece for EXAUDI (it’s their birthday!), some music for the Manchester-based Trio Atem and lots of music for the house of bedlam. More than anything else, though, I’m going to look for the kind of project which allows me to build on larger-scale projects and develop the sense of scale that’s hinted at in Things that are blue, things that are white and things that are black.

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