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

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

Recently, I have found myself being drawn more and more to sounds and ideas emerging from the continent. The generation of composers born in the 70s, figures such as Simon Steen-Andersen, Stefan Prins, Johannes Kreidler, Ondej Adamek, have emerged with such strikingly original and innovative music, and it has really encouraged me to be bolder and take more risks in my own works. I guess this European influence is something I sought out myself, wanting to look beyond what I felt was a fairly conservative attitude predominant in the UK.

Talking more broadly, I would say one of the biggest influences on me as a musician is being based in Manchester. The UK is still very London-centric in many respects, maybe more than ever when it comes to contemporary music, and its nice to be detached from that attitude. Manchester is a relatively small city with its own eclectic and vibrant cultural scene, and it always feels young and upcoming with so much of the population being under 30. Being situated close to Huddersfield is an annual plus, and the fact Manchester doesn’t boast its own firmly established new music scene actually encourages those with an interest to create their own ensembles and projects. For instance, each programme we create with ACM Ensemble (a new music group I co-founded last year) feels like it is having a real impact on the culture of the city. This has encouraged me to be more proactive as a musician, seeking collaborations with other musicians and artists to expand the appreciation of new music.

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

I guess my continual and most basic aim as a composer is for my music to make a strong impression on its audience, whatever impression that is. In each piece I try to establish an original and engaging soundworld that convinces its listeners to be drawn into a musical experience for those few minutes it exists. If I succeed in that, I am happy.

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

In general, I tend to be most satisfied with my most recent piece. Presently, that work is Artificial White for soprano and ensemble, performed during Royaumont’s Voix Nouvelles composition course by Namascae Lemanic Modern Ensemble in September. I feel it takes more risks than my earlier pieces, and as such makes a stronger impression. The inclusion of the voice also aids in the work’s success, emphasising the sense of theatricality and drama that has always been an important part of my music.

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

Having not experimented too heavily with electronics during my studies, and never feeling wholly convinced by fully acousmatic music because of its lack of live presence, I have not been that interested in incorporating new technology into my own music. However, after discovering how more recent composers use technology to bring a new perspective to acoustic music, such as with contact mics to exaggerate the normally inaudible sounds of instrumental mechanics, or using electronic devices as sophisticated live instruments themselves, I have become much more open to the possibilities technology can provide. New technology will without a doubt have a significant role in the future of music, and I am looking forward to experimenting with ways it can develop my own musical language. My current project is for SABRe bass clarinet (electronically modified bass clarinet) and electronics and I am enjoying embracing the technology and writing something radically new for me.

5. What music do you enjoy listening to?

Aside from “contemporary classical music”, I do enjoy listening to other styles of music, though my tastes don’t reveal anything too unique. I am a long-term fan of bands such as Radiohead, Björk, Junip, and lesser-known names like Micachu and Portico Quartet. Living in Manchester has also given me a deeper appreciation of Joy Division – nothing beats driving through Salford to tracks like “Disorder” or “Transmission”.

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

Composers these days are working in an environment in which anything and everything is accepted. No longer being restricted by aesthetic trends and dominating figures (as in the 60s) allows a composer to freely develop his own musical voice, regardless of what his contemporaries are writing. With this in mind, it’s very difficult to judge the future of new music. Personally, the composers that are still searching for new sounds and ways of presenting music are showing the way ahead. In this age of post-everything (post-serialism, post-minimalism, post-structuralism, etc.), it’s quite easy to be complacent and rely on the ideas and techniques of the past. However, the history of Western art music has always been about discovery and pushing boundaries, and I think this attitude is as important now as it ever was to take music further.

Performed by Lontano in King’s College London, April 2013. Listen to more of Michael’s music here.


Michael Cutting is a composer currently active in both London and Manchester. He studied at the Royal Northern College of Music with Gary Carpenter, Adam Gorb and David Horne, completing his Masters with Distinction and winning the Soroptomist Award in 2011. Michael is now working towards a PhD at King’s College London, supervised by George Benjamin. He also attended Dartington Summer School 2012 and Royaumont Voix Nouvelles Composition Course 2013, studying with Brian Ferneyhough, Oscar Bianchi and Fabian Lévy.

Michael has worked closely with such groups as Namascae Lemanic Modern Ensemble, Endymion Ensemble, Manchester Camerata, Composers Ensemble, Lontano, Lancashire Sinfonietta, BBC Singers and RNCM Symphony Orchestra, as well as curators such as Park Lane Group and Nonclassical. His music has been performed all over the UK and in Europe, in venues such as Cadogan Hall, Purcell Room, The Anvil (Basingstoke), Royaumont Abbey, Dartington Hall, Zurich Hochschule, The Forge (Camden), Limewharf and RNCM Concert Hall.

Michael has been awarded numerous young composer awards, including the BBC Proms Young Composition Competition (2006), the Christopher Brooks Memorial Prize (2008) and Sound and Music’s Francis Chagrin Award (2013). Most recently he was a recipient of an RPS Composer Award, commissioning him to write a new work for players from the Philharmonia Orchestra, mentored by Unsuk Chin. The new work will be performed in April 2014 in the Royal Festival Hall.

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