Meet our Disruption young composers

Go Back
Meet our Disruption young composers

Carmel Smickersgill

Tell us a bit about yourself

At the moment I’m finishing an undergraduate degree in Composition at the RNCM with the help and tuition from Gary Carpenter. I've previously received awards for my music, including the 2016 Edward Hecht award, the 2015 Ludlow English song festival’s composition competition and the 2015 Terrence Greeves award for big band composition.

 

Carmel Smickersgill

I try to not to limit my writing to the classical world though. I was the musical director of the Manchester based all female big band SMUDGE, who I wrote and arranged for extensively. I also enjoy working with electronic music. Recently I was part of a project run by arts collective; Collective 31 in which sections of Handel’s Messiah were reimagined and responded to electronically. I've also been part of a Brighter Sound residency before. In 2016 I was fortunate enough to be chosen to take part in the residency at the Museum of Science and Industry with Anna Meredith. That residency was a really positive experience and led to me working with visual artist Elle Bulger on further projects. My recent work has included writing for the new music collective No Dice and Video Jam. I also still enjoy performing as well as writing. I play with the MSC big band, a band of more than 20 people playing hip hop/pop crossover.

What projects are you currently working on (aside from this commission)?

I am currently finishing a piece for the 11th concert in Larry Goves' concert series Decontamination. The piece is a collaboration with three architects and will result in an audio and visual reimagining of a site specific piece written for the Wonder Inn before it’s closure earlier this month. I am also working on an orchestral piece for an RNCM student orchestra to be performed as part of the Brand New Days held at RNCM.

What kind of music do you compose? 

I am very open with the types of music I play and listen to so try to reflect this in my composition. Like most people I go through phases of preferring a certain type of genre or media to work in. Currently I’m interested in collaboration in my work whether that be with artists from other disciplines or with other musicians.

What are you going to use this commissioning opportunity for?

To develop my own practise into areas I might not necessarily touch without the commission. There are weak areas in my skills which I think having the time and space to address will help me learn and create better pieces in future as well as for this commission. 

Can you tell us a bit about your initial ideas?

Disruption immediately struck me as having associations with the way technology disrupts our lives and the way many of the main technological companies use the word disruption to describe their disruptive impact on society. I would like to create a piece that highlights to people their lack of control on how these companies can disrupt our lives.

What are you most looking forward to about the commission?

Learning new skills. Meeting new people. Writing new music. All of these things are exciting.

 

Johnny James

Johnny James

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’ve been obsessed with music, particularly the piano, all of my life. When I was at school I loved to perform pieces by Romantic composers such as Chopin. I also loved to compose and perform neo-Romantic pieces of my own. Later I went to the University of Leeds to study Music and English.

The composition classes I attended there disrupted my whole notion of what composition could be. I quickly abandoned the traditional style and method of composition that I had hitherto clung to, and began to explore the ways in which sound could be electronically manipulated using software. After graduating with a First Class Hons degree, I moved to Manchester, a city that I now call home, and where I continue this sonic exploration.

What projects are you currently working on (aside from this commission)?

I write for, sing and play piano in an experimental rock band called Dohta. I also play in a contemporary classical ensemble: CoMA Manchester. We recently performed at RNCM as part of their New Music North West concert series. I am also a current student of Salford’s School of Electronic Music, where I study Music Production. There I am working on pieces that juxtapose rich, organic sounds with artificial ones.

What kind of music do you compose? 

I compose in a range of genres, but at the moment I have a particular interest in electroacoustic music. My electroacoustic pieces are built from short recordings of grand pianos. I apply various electronic processes to these recordings and then weave them together in Adobe Audition. The idea is to artificially endow the piano with capacities that lie outside of its usual reach. For example, I might give the instrument the ability to play microtones, to pitch bend, and even to recompose its own spectrum. I think of it as creating a kind of post-piano, whose limits I then test during the course of my pieces.

In my last piece, ‘Larmes des demain’, I took a passage from an Olivier Messiaen piano prelude and used it as the theme for a set of variations. With each new variation, the post-piano reaches a new stage of evolution. You can listen to it here:

What are you going to use this commissioning opportunity for?

I plan to use this commission as an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone. My previous electroacoustic pieces were not written to be performed live. The fact that this commission is geared towards a performance forces me to push my work into the live realm. I find this really exciting as I am sure to uncover new modes of working. Aside from the live aspect, in a general sense I plan to expand my horizons during the course of this commission. As well as pushing the idea of ‘disruption’ as far as I can take it, I plan to work in ways that really challenge me as a composer. Out of this, hopefully something new and interesting will emerge!

Can you tell us a bit about your initial ideas?

As composers we tend to work within specific parameters, cultivated over time. We get comfortable in our own specific systems of music making. I would like to use the theme of ‘disruption’ as an opportunity to totally disrupt my workflow, which has hitherto been characterized by meticulous control. My initial idea – which may well change entirely – is to invite into this piece elements of chance and chaos. Developing on my concept of the post-piano, I think it would be interesting to give the instrument equal or perhaps more control than the person who plays it. I like the idea of a performer struggling to play a piece of music on an unwieldy instrument that in some way rebels against the performer/performance. I’m really looking forward to exploring this idea further!

What are you most looking forward to about the commission?

I love learning new things, and the way I see it, this commission is a chance for me to learn as many new things as possible. I feel fortunate to be mentored by Vicky Clarke, who I really respect as an artist. She has an impressive skillset and one that is totally different from mine. I know, for example, that she works a lot with homemade electronics – something that I’ve never explored – and so her upcoming workshops are sure to be exciting. I know that in one of them I’ll be learning how to make my own modular synth! In addition to these brand new ventures, I feel grateful for the time that this commission will afford me to deepen my existing knowledge. I have a base knowledge of Ableton Live, for example, but hope to deepen my understanding of the software considerably over the coming months.