Bachtrack is asking the same six questions to many composers this month as part of its focus on contemporary music. Here’s what Anna Meredith had to say.

Anna Meredith © Owen Richards
Anna Meredith
© Owen Richards

1. What influences are important to you and your music? Do you choose them, or do they choose you?

I find I vaguely store up ideas of things I like and then rifle through them to find something that feels right when I’m writing a piece. I tend to like ideas that are quite small-scale or neutral – even if they then produce huge monstrously OTT bits of music.

It’s a bit cheesy, but equally musically influential to me is the advice and support (musically and personally) I get from a close bunch of composer pals – including Chris Mayo, Emily Hall, Mark Bowden, Charlie Piper and Matt Rogers (basically the members of the Camberwell Composers Collective). I’ll almost always run a piece or a bit I’m stuck with by one of them and even though our music is very different I know I’m a better composer because of bits of advice or encouragement I’ve received. They always encourage me to strip away the unnecessary in what I write and be confident in being musically “honest” with my own material and that’s something I’m a big believer in.

2. What (if anything) do you want listeners to take away from your music?

I used to really want to convey certain moods or energy and I do think I write with a degree of transparency of direction, colour and energy, but the older I’ve got, and the more I’m working with different fields and audiences, I’ve realised how varied people’s responses to the same thing can be. So I try to stop worrying if I can control that and just try to write what I feel works musically and dramatically and let others make their own impressions.

3. Is there a composition of yours which you are most satisfied with? What makes it successful?

It’s tricky – I like to think that the next piece I write will be a development or improvement in some aspect from the last and like to always think forward like that (I’m a rubbish reviser of scores). So if I’m still happy and excited with an “older” (say five years plus) piece of mine, there has to be something about it that still feels relevant to what I’m writing now (or I’ll just withdraw it). So right now I’m really happy with the two EPs (Black Prince Fury and Jet Black Raider – both released on Moshi Moshi Records) and, say, HandsFree (body percussion/singing/beatboxing and movement piece premièred by the National Youth Orchestra last year as part of New Music 20x12) but that’s probably because they’re relatively recent and I’d expect that to change.

4. How important is new technology to you as a composer?

I think technology can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Technology can be great and I love the self-sufficiency of working out the (nearly) finished project on my own and the power that gives, and for a while I definitely felt that gear (buying of/obsessing over/researching how to use) was the answer to writing better stuff – but nothing I bought ever seemed to really solve all the problems I thought it would.

So now I try to work outwards and try to write with what I’ve got and only get something “new” if I absolutely can’t go on without it (and that I’ll be able to use! So many bits of baffling and overcomplicated kit lying underused on my shelves). So for example I write a lot of my materiel on Sibelius before I import it into my DAW because that way I have the most control. That being said, I am a bit of a geek/magpie and will usually crack and buy anything that’s shiny and flashes.

5. What music do you enjoy listening to?

I find I don’t listen to much music when I’m writing – but that tends to be most of the time. I find that listening to music when I’m composing frequently makes me less confident; I’ll latch onto what I’m listening to and become convinced that’s what I should do in my own piece. As I think I write my best music when I’m feeling confident and focused on my own ideas, I’m more likely to have an audiobook, podcast or Radio 4 on. I go to a fair amount of gigs and concerts so will hear a mix of new music that way but when I’m not writing I tend to listen to stuff I already love or that makes me happy or energised or relaxed or whatever I’m using that downtime for. I can get quite obsessive with music so if I catch a snippet of something I like or someone recommends something to me I’ll listen to it 10000s of times until I nearly wear it out. So just now I’m obsessing over a few chords from Gerald Barry’ Lisbon, end of Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, Duran Duran, Björk’s Post, Rustie and bits of scales in Swan Lake.

6. How is composing changing, and where do you want new music to go in the future?

I’m not sure if composing is changing more than other periods of time, but it’s certainly a lot easier to hear music and make it available for others to hear. This creates its own problems but I like the idea that there’s probably a place for you (and potentially an audience too) no matter what kind of music you write and I like that kind of musical pluralism. I’m also excited about the different kinds of ways people are exploring presenting music. I would never want that replace to experience of a “straight concert” but I also really enjoy immersive or site-specific gigs, which can really add something. A good example of this might be the mix of composers and locations/experiences that Olly Coates has curated with his Harmonic Series at the Southbank Centre.

I don’t think I’d want “new music” to go in any single direction in the future. I’m basically interested in hearing music that the composer is clearly passionate and excited by and is genuine to what that composer is about, and I like that there’s a whole range of both traditional and untraditional venues and platforms where I can see and hear music at its most direct.

Anna Meredith is a composer and performer of electronic and acoustic music.

Her acoustic material has been performed around the world by many leading orchestras and ensembles. She has been composer in residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and was the 2010–11 PRS/RPS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA.

She came to public attention through her 2008 work froms for the BBC Last Night of the Proms and has since written another BBC Prom commission, her first opera (Tarantula in Petrol Blue with libretto by Philip Ridley) and collaborated with the beatboxer Shlomo – writing the acclaimed Concerto for Beatboxer and Orchestra.

Anna is also a judge for the BBC Young Musician of the Year, a mentor for Goldie for the TV show Classic Goldie, and a frequent guest and commentator for the BBC Proms and other Radio 3, 4 and 6 shows. She was the classical music representative for the 2009 South Bank Show Breakthrough Award and won the 2010 Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers.

Anna’s most recent pieces include Four Tributes to 4am for orchestra, electronics and visuals by Eleanor Meredith, arrangements of The Stranglers and Laura Marling for the 6 Music Prom 2013, and HandsFree, a PRS NewMusic20x12 Commission for the National Youth Orchestra, which has been called “mesmerising” and “exhilarating” by The Times, “a tour-de-force” by the Guardian and “wicked” by the Independent and was performed at numerous flashmob performances around the UK as well as performances at the Barbican Centre, Southbank Centre and BBC Proms.

Alongside her acoustic commissions, Anna has signed to Moshi Moshi Records who released her debut EP, Black Prince Fury in October 2012.

Black Prince Fury has been described as “playful, spirited, visceral, and smart” (Pitchfork), “simultaneously hilarious, oddly moving and deeply unsettling” (Guardian) and “quite unlike anything else you are likely to hear” (The Sunday Times Culture). Her single Nautilus was Single of the Year 2012 on Drowned in Sound.

Anna performs with her band Horsebox and has performed as part of festivals such as Latitude and Soundwave as well as broadcasts on Radio 1 and 6 Music.

Her second EP Jet Black Raider has just been released on Moshi Moshi Records and has been described as “epic” by The Fly, “brilliantly inventive, outlandish and bewitching” by Fake DIY, “hugely impressive” Clash Magazine and “smart, intrepid, admirable and rare” by Pitchfork.

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