Prime Suspect: interview with Ed Bennett

April 22, 2014

In a few week’s time, Icebreaker Ensemble brings a premiere, Suspect Device, by Ed Bennett to Sounds New. Intrigued, I talked with Ed about the piece and the background to the new work.


DH: I’m intrigued by the title of your piece – it sounds potentially explosive! – from whence did the inspiration come ?

ed_bennettEB: Suspect Device recycles material from the original song of the same name by Northern Irish Punk band Stiff Little Fingers. The band who were mainly active during the height of the Northern Irish ‘troubles’ in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s provided optimistic and energetic anthems for the disaffected Northern Irish Youth culture who wanted nothing to do with the violence and political rhetoric of the time (myself included). My work attempts to capture the spirit and energy of the original music but reinvents the original musical material in my own way. When I worked in a supermarket as a teenager we had to look for ‘Suspect Devices’ at the end of a working day (I’m sure that wouldn’t be legal now ?!).

DH: How did you come to be working with Icebreaker ?

EB: Icebreaker were one of the first contemporary music groups I ever heard live (almost 20 years ago in Belfast), it was hugely inspirational and since then I’ve always fancied the idea of working with them. James, the group’s artistic director, got in touch with me saying that he’d heard my music and liked it so I proposed that I wrote them something at some point. That was a few years ago but now it has finally come to fruition.

DH: Was Icebreaker closely involved with the piece from the start, or does their involvement come after the piece is finished ?

EB: They were involved in so much, as I knew their repertoire and ethos well and I knew the context in which the piece would be featured. James had this idea of recycling material from existing work which is where Suspect Device came from. The piece later becomes refined in the rehearsal process with them, I’m very open to changing things in this process.

DH: Did you write the piece specifically for the players in Icebreaker, and if so, how did this inform the compositional process ?

EB: Yes. As above really. My music is often very pulsed and rhythmic, as an ensemble Icebreaker specialise in tackling work like this.

DH: You cite Joni Mitchell and David Byrne amongst your musical influences; what do you draw from two such disparate figures ?

EB: Well, I think I mentioned that I like their work in the context of lots of other stuff. I have very broad listening tastes and the music I write is not necessarily clearly influenced by that which I listen to; it could be in some more subtle way for example the melancholy in Mitchell or the energy in Byrne. I wasn’t thinking of either here though.

DH: Does directing your own ensemble (Decibel) have an influence on your composing ?

EB: Yes, definitely. Being outside of institutionalised ensembles and organisations allows you to be much freer in your approach. The best way to make music is with friends who completely trust and commit to your work. The way it should be.

DH: What are you up to post-Sounds New next moth ?

EB: I have new projects with the Crash Ensemble, Decibel, the pianist Xenia Pestova and I hope to finish a new CD of my work for release at the end of the year.


Find out more about Icebreaker and Suspect Device at Sounds New here.

With thanks to Ed for his time!


Composer Profile: Matthew Kaner

May 17, 2013

One of the composers who appeared at Sounds New last year, I recently caught up with composer Matthew Kaner, and asked him about what life has had in store since last May.

What have you been up to since your ‘Gauguin Sketches’ appeared at Sounds New last year?

I’ve been very busy since the Sounds New concert! In June, I had a new piece for large ensemble, Fantastical Fragments, premièred in the Aldeburgh Festival, and then quickly boarded a plane the following morning and set off for Tanglewood in Massachusetts to take up a composition fellowship for two months! As part of my fellowship, Gauguin Sketches was given its US première in July in Seiji Ozawa Hall by the New Fromm Players (here’s a live recording of the performance):

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Composer Profile: Ben Lunn

May 3, 2013

Part of Sounds New back in 2008, I talked to composer Ben Lunn about what’s been happening since.

When were you involved with Sounds New ?

My music was played in Canterbury Cathedral, on one of the nights of the Polish Connection festival back in 2008.

What have you been up to since ?

Ben Lunn

Ben Lunn

Since then, I’ve been studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama doing a composition degree, studying with Mark D. Boden, Robert Spearing and Peter Reynolds. During this time I’ve had the privilege of working with Martynas Levickis, Music Theatre Wales, Second Movement. I have also been able to have masterclasses with the likes of Michael Jarrell and Harrison Birtwistle.

What are you working on at the moment ?

I have been working on a piece for the ‘Striking Attitudes’; dance company as well as my second opera, which I am hoping to première in October.

What impact has being involved with Sounds New had on your musical life since ?

Sounds New really opened my eyes and ears to the world of contemporary music and the full potential that it has. Ever since then I have been completely hooked, and I hope some day in the future I’ll be back to Sounds New and have my own music in the festival again.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

If the work constantly surprises me, or I constantly discover new levels to it every time I listen to it. This is regardless of the time it was written. What particularly interests me about contemporary music in particular is the fact they are pushing music further along. I particularly love the fact that music in the recent fifty years or so has been daring enough to just meditate on an idea. Feldman, Scelsi, Radulescu and Jonathan Harvey do this particularly well. The final (big) reason I love contemporary music is it simply excites me, the likes of Jarrell, Radulescu, Harvey and Ferneyhough writing particularly monstrous leviathans that will always thrill me.

What should we keep an ear out for in the next twelve months from you ?

An opera in October, ‘Striking Attitudes’ production over the end of last month on to the 17th May in Aberwyswyth; other future projects are in the pipeline.

For those intrigued to hear my music my recordings are on Soundcloud.

Follow Ben on Twitter.


Composer profile: Benjamin Oliver

April 24, 2013

Going from strength to strength, I caught up with composer and conductor, Benjamin Oliver.

What have you been up to since Sounds New last year?

It’s been a quite a busy year!

Over the summer, leading up to the performances in December, I was involved in the final stage of the International Composer Pyramid, run by Sounds New and Coups de Vent. I wrote a new piece for the competition, Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. I didn’t win this time but was delighted to be voted best piece by the audiences in the UK and France and also by the musicians playing the music!

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Ben Oliver (second from right) and members of Workers Union at Sounds New in 2012

Apart from my composition work I also began a permanent position as Lectureship in Composition at the University of Southampton in October. I have worked in various roles at the University for a couple of years but it’s great to be working full-time and helping develop the new music activities within the music department.

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