We caught up with composer David Roche, who for the past two months has been busy with the engineers at Dyson HQ creating a groundbreaking new piece of music.
David - first of all, congratulations! Perhaps you could start by telling us about yourself, and a bit about your musical background?
DR: I'm a British-Welsh composer based in Cambridge, and I am writing – very excitedly - a new piece for the Orion Orchestra and Dyson technologies!
As I type this I am currently heading back to South Wales to play a Christmas gig with my band System Scare. We formed 12 years ago as a boom in the music scene of South Wales was taking place. During that time (roughly 2002-2014) almost everyone I knew played guitar, drums, or something in a band - the powers that be have even made a film about it. This was what led to me becoming a musician. Music making was a huge, deeply valued form of expression and I got completely swept up in it. I spent as much time as I could playing guitar, writing music, and performing in bands – it was awesome.
I also received a lot of free education through Tredegar Town Junior Brass Band. They gave me a cornet, taught me how to read and play music, and we would put on annual concerts and play care homes at Christmas, remembrance events and the like. There were also stacks of teachers in schools – peripatetic or otherwise – that taught me to perform, write, and write about music. I was phenomenally fortunate to have had access to such an involved musical education.
Following on from these earlier experiences I read Music at Cardiff University, University of Oxford, and I’ve just submitted my PhD in Music Composition at the University of Cambridge where I was the first person to read and submit for the degree of PhD in Music Composition (my viva is next year, nerve-wracking!). In 2018 I will also be working on commissions for Hear and Now in conjunction with Psappha as well as The Vale of Glamorgan Festival. So it’s going to be an incredible year for me – I’m still reeling from even being asked to undertake these amazing projects.
"It is exceptionally rare to find projects that grant composers so much creative freedom – especially with such an incredible ensemble"
What was it that inspired you about the brief?
My primary reason for applying to this competition was to have the opportunity to make new music with instruments and sounds that had never been used before. It’s as close to an originality of timbre and expression that one can ever hope to get, and I wanted to be part of it. It is exceptionally rare to find projects that grant composers so much creative freedom – especially with such an incredible ensemble. Toby Purser and the Orion Orchestra are absolutely spectacular.
What are your interests, compositionally?
Broadly speaking I am interested in writing sociologically-concerned music, music that integrates wildly different methods of musical organisation in the context of a single piece, and music that is bright and celebratory – often consciously in opposition to the world in which it was written.
In this commission for the Orion Orchestra and Dyson I am principally interested in the concept of change; it is central and fundamental to my composition. I am currently exploring ideas relating to overcoming challenging changes, adapting to changes, musical development as a form of change, design processes as a form of change, and how this is a common ground between so many of us – not just between engineers and musicians.
What’s it been like working on a musical composition with Dyson engineers?
The engineers are so passionate, driven, and engaged. Their efforts have totally exceeded any expectations I had before beginning this project and it is extremely inspiring. For example, some of the engineers at Dyson have built entire musical instruments that may be used as part of this project. I’m not talking about small, trinket-type instruments here. The teams have created a violin, several synthesizers, a cross between a guitar and a synthesizer, a mechanical hybrid of an ukulele and a harpsichord, and an organ - one literally has to sit inside it! It is absolutely unbelievable.
On top of this, Dyson have provided me with access to phenomenally intelligent and proactive engineers working on other projects. As a result of my interactions with Dyson engineer Ben Mercer, part of my composition will be based on sounds generated by 6 different motors. These 6 different motors chart the course of development of a particular Dyson product. It is my hope that by analysing and re-synthesizing these sounds in the context of an orchestra, the audience will be able to hear and interpret them as a musical representation of the design process. The development of a Dyson technology literally creates an aspect of the musical narrative.
In order for me to be able to explore this idea, Ben gave me access to a motor auraliser. This was a computer program that allowed me listen to and manipulate the motor sounds that I wanted to use. The auraliser also provided me with details of the exact frequencies, and this meant that I could translate the sounds of the motors into pitches for a musician to perform.
Sir James Dyson even gave up a significant portion of time to discuss some of the processes and ideas behind Dyson technologies. We talked about processes of development and production and this came to be very important to the conception of the composition. As I said previously, this piece is fundamentally about change.
How do you see the role of technology in music?
Technology is inseparable from modern music production and I think the general consensus is that technological advances have benefitted music; spectralism, electroacoustic music, amplification, recordings and their archiving, online advertising, Grove Music Online, IMSLP, and online tablature libraries are just a few important creations that come to mind immediately. I think the real issue many people have is that new technologies or advances in technology take a while to reach their final form – they also have to be better than the available alternatives and they occasionally aren’t.
For me technology has always been an essential part of my day-to-day musical life. I trained as an electric guitarist and spent a lot of my youth recording music on computers – my principal instrument requires a technological device to make a sound. Furthermore, I still produce the bulk of my work at the computer or with a recording device on my phone or laptop, even when I’m writing music at the piano I like to capture the session so I can listen back to it later.
If a piece of technology helps you compose or communicate musically in a more successful manner then you should use it – keep all doors open and explore fearlessly!
Visit David's website at www.davidjohnroche.com