Composition PhD partnering

by Ben Jameson, Composition PhD student.

During the summer of 2015 I was working on a piece called Construction in Metal, for electric guitar and Guitar Hero Xbox controller, that was due to be performed in November of that year. As usual during the compositional process, I was periodically sending drafts to my supervisors in order to get valuable advice and feedback on my progress and how well the piece was working. In order to get a further ‘fresh’ viewpoint on the piece, my supervisor Dr Matthew Shlomowitz suggested that he put me in touch with a PhD composer from another university, in order to exchange some of our work, with the intention of commenting on, providing feedback or questioning each others’ pieces.

The composer with whom Matthew proposed to put me in touch was Louis D’Heudieres, who currently is completing his PhD at Bath Spa University. I was already slightly familiar with Louis’ work, as I had seen (and very much enjoyed) a performance of his piece 8×6, for piano duo, at the Occupy the Pianos festival in 2014 (where my Southampton colleague Alex Glyde-Bates also had a piece played). 8×6 is a piece that explores choreographic aspects of piano performance, in a manner somewhat similar to the ideas that I was exploring (in the context of rock music) with Construction in Metal, so I was very interested to get in touch with Louis and see what he thought of my piece.

Mark Knoop (left) and Ben Jameson in action. credit: Hundred Years Gallery
Mark Knoop (left) and Ben Jameson in action. credit: Hundred Years Gallery

To start with I sent Louis a video draft of my piece, and he sent me a link to a recent performance of his for Michael, Peyee and Rodrigo on 19/04/2015. We then both responded to each other’s work with any thoughts, ideas, questions or associations that the pieces had stimulated. As we had enjoyed the first round of discussions, we also sent each other a second piece to discuss. I sent Louis another recent piece for electric guitar, while he sent me a piece called neither serious/or, I take the liberty/of not writing to you/ regarding my serious/Variations, for string quartet. Both the pieces that Louis sent me explored aspects of preparing a musical performance and rehearsing that are usually hidden from the audience, exposing the social relationships within a musical ensemble, and the inherent danger that a musical performance may ‘fail’. I really liked this concept, and the resulting performances produced some wonderfully unexpected sounds, as well as several humorous moments!

I found Louis’ comments on my pieces insightful and thought provoking, and he made me think about some ideas that I had not considered that will be useful for writing about this work in my PhD commentary. I can only hope that my contributions were as useful to him! Louis also kindly invited me to come and play Construction in Metal (with Mark Knoop playing the Guitar Hero controller) at Weisslich, a fantastic concert series in London that he co-curates with Michael Baldwin and David Pocknee. The series focuses on work that bridges the gap between experimental music and other fields of performance art, so it was an ideal venue for my piece. This opportunity was the ‘icing on the cake’ to a very interesting and fruitful experience of getting to know another composer’s work, as well as new perspectives on my own.

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