Hi Alex! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us ahead of our performance of your piece, Restoration, at Turner Sims on 3rd December. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a Southampton-based composer and tuba/sousaphone player who grew up in north Cambridgeshire, moving down to Southampton in 2007 to start my undergraduate and have failed to escape ever since (despite a few attempts). Compositionally, I tend focus on interdisciplinarity, or, more accurately, how I can use theories and devices from non-musical art forms to disrupt and defamiliarize the musically commonplace. This was effectively the focus of my recently completed PhD. (Available online for those seeking a cure to their insomnia.)
We asked you to write us a piece back in 2015 and are super excited to be performing it back in Southampton where you studied with our baritone player, Stephen. Had you written for the saxophone before at all? What did you enjoy about writing for saxophone quartet and what did you find challenging?
I don’t think I’d written for saxophone before, certainly not a saxophone quartet. I’ve always had a bit of a blind spot for wind instruments in general, so that was certainly a bit of a challenge as I didn’t feel as confident with them as I did with other instrumental groups. Also I’ve generally been drawn to combining and juxtaposing diverse sounds and timbres, so working out how I could draw out diverse timbres for the relatively homogenous sound of a saxophone quartet was my biggest personal challenge. That all said, challenges are why I compose — if someone doesn’t challenge me I do tend to lose interest quite quickly.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you as a composer?
My interests and influences have always been stronger from non-musical sources — particularly art and film. The Conceptual artists of the mid and late 60s — the Art and Language Group and Joseph Kosuth especially. The latter of whom introduced me to the work of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and how that could potentially be applied to art and music. The east-London based filmmaker John Smith is another massive influence on me. His work blends structuralism language and humour in ingenious and powerful ways. Everyone who hasn’t seen it should check out his Girl Chewing Gum on YouTube.
You’re quite active as a performer too, playing with contemporary ensemble ‘Out-Take Ensemble’ and pop horn sensations ‘Tuba Libres’ (of which we are huge fans!) Do you feel it helps you as a composer to be actively performing too?
Glad to hear your fans of Tuba Libres, makes being forced to dress up as the Cookie Monster a little more tolerable. But, yes I do. It something that one of my supervisors — Michael Finnissy — was always very strong on. He didn’t necessarily mean being a world-class virtuoso (which he is), but being able to have a certain kind of ‘musical empathy’ for the performers who you are writing for, to understand that they are people with certain skills and preferences and weaknesses not machines. That said, I have seen a number of composer-performers who struggle to understand that other instruments don’t work the way theirs do, so it can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
Without giving too much away… where does the inspiration for the piece come from?
Art Galleries, basically. You first commissioned me to write a piece for a concert you were doing in a specific room of The National Gallery. I’ve always been uncomfortable with pieces that try to ‘interpret’ paintings musically, so rather than engaging with a directly with a single painting I decided to try and look at how I could use music to critique the role of the museum-style gallery which The National Gallery is the epitome of. Essentially engaging with the institutional space, rather than its contents.
If you could only take one piece of music to a desert island what would you take?
Michael Tippett’s ‘A Child of Our Time’. I generally get jaded quite quickly as a person, but that piece blows me away every time I hear it.
Some quick fire questions now
- Cats or Dogs? Dogs.
- Popcorn; sweet or salty? Sweet
- Beer or wine? Beer
- Rugby or football (or neither!)? I should say football as Southampton FC kept me financially afloat in the last year of my PhD, but I’d have to say rugby…
- Tea or coffee? Coffee, 100% Tea is vile and I will brook no arguments
- Game of Thrones; Yay or Nay? Yay. Although I do hold the unpopular opinion that the later series are often better than the latter books, which do have a tendency to go on unnecessary detours for hundreds of pages at a time. But I digress…
Finally have you got any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about/what’s next for you?
Tuba Libres have our second album out soon around the new year. OUT-TAKE are just coming to the end of a mini tour of the South, and any Bristol residents can catch our final date at Café Kino on Friday 7th December, where Joe Manghan will be playing my piece, Snare Dance. I also have a lot of stuff in the pipeline for 2019 as both a composer and performer, so watch this space.
The Laefer Quartet will be performing Alexander Glyde-Bates Restoration as part of a celebration of 21st Century Saxophone Music at the Turner Sims on Monday 3rd December at 1pm.