Three Questions: Icebreaker

Ahead of their appearance at Sounds New, I put Three Questions to Icebreaker’s James Poke.

Tell us about your ensemble.

Icebreaker is a twelve-piece amplified ensemble that has been going since 1989 (indeed we’re celebrating our 25th birthday this weekend!). We mostly play minimalist and post-minimalist repertoire, such as Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Michael Gordon, Louis Andriessen and so on, plus some forays into non-classical territory – including Brian Eno, whose music we are playing in this concert.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

James Poke

James Poke

I’ve always been excited by the new. I think the most important thing about new art is the way it reflects and comments on the times we live in, telling us things that we otherwise couldn’t consciously know. Music of course does this in a very abstract way, and therefore it tells you the things you can’t find a way to put into words – such as, in this concert, Julia Wolfe’s extraordinary reflection on what life felt like in New York after 9/11 or Brian Eno’s evocative impression of what it feels like to go into space.

What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New

Our performance is a bit of a game of two halves really. In the second half we play our version of Brian Eno’s classic ambient album Apollo, in an arrangement by Woojun Lee, which is accompanied by emotive footage of the Apollo moon landings from Al Reinert’s film For All Mankind. For this project we have the privilege to be working with famed pedal-steel guitarist B J Cole as a featured soloist.

However the first half of the concert is all new music for us, and is the start of our new “Recycled Project” (which is being supported by Sound & Music) – which will eventually include 5 new works written specifically for it (including one by Sounds New Artistic Director Matt Wright), as well as a new arrangement. We’re premiering 3 of those 6 pieces in this concert – Ed Bennett’s Suspect Device, a piece which “recycles” material from the Stiff Little Fingers song of the same name, an intriguing new piece by Roy Carroll, which uses manipulated material Roy recorded of the band playing, which is then played back to us to re-interpret, and a new arrangement of Julia Wolfe’s Big Beautiful Dark & Scary.

This new project is a great opportunity to work with some younger composers, find new repertoire for the band, and push the band into new areas that we haven’t tried before – taking us out of our comfort zone. I think the results will be very exciting.

Find out more about the Icebreaker concert at Sounds New on Saturday 3 May here.

Thanks to James for his time!

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