In conversation with: Rob Bentall

Rob Bentall is a sonic artist based in the UK. He studied in Manchester, Sheffield, and received a PhD from the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast. In 2012, Rob undertook a 3-month composer residency at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, sponsored by a Santander Mobility Award. He was a finalist for the 2013 Franz Liszt Composition Prize in Weimar, Germany, and the inaugural Oxford/Sennheiser Electronic Music Prize.

Much of your music, and indeed your doctoral dissertation, deals with ‘genre hybridsation’. What does this mean?

Genre hybridisation is a theme that runs through my creative work. I look for novel ways to integrate the varied styles of music I make and enjoy into my musical works. The idea is that these genre influences are detectable within the composition. The genres I’m trying to impart flavours of in my works are as diverse as Swedish folk, electronic dance music (EDM), contemporary classical, electroacoustic music and medieval music. For example, in 6-channel surround electronic work Summer Anthem (2013), chord sequences from EDM are played on the mandolin, and then spatialized with a loudspeaker diffusion system. Thus, we have the harmonic material of one genre, recorded on a folk instrument on which it is never performed and then presented in an electroacoustic concert piece that neither the harmonic material nor the instrument are normally heard in. My thesis examined different methods of going about hybridising musical genres through techniques such as reconstructive sampling (performing materials from other artists’ pieces, rather than sampling a record directly, and then using these live-recorded samples within a work). Despite the level of thought that all of this entails, I still believe that I feel my way into a work, and I won’t force genre hybridisation into a work if it doesn’t sound right

I like the title ‘Summer Anthem’ as it sets an expectation as to what the genre of the piece will be; something you play around with in the composition itself. Some of your other titles are very unusual e.g. Eyelash Monastary. Where do your titles come from?

I think piece titles are very important! A piece should drape naturally from its title, in the same way a coat hangs off a peg. I often find the music suggests a title, which certainly happened in Summer Anthem, with the title drawing upon the generic association of dance music with the summer season and of this genre with club ‘anthems’, this term often indicating a big hook. Eyelash Monastery was the inverse, a title that suggested music. It was an image that came to me in the wake of needless public concern / youth obsession with the illuminati and its corresponding logo. I envisaged a huge monastery covered in eyelashes whilst out for a walk. Ivory Terrace is my least successful title – the title and musical language was a reaction against the ‘Ivory Tower’ where my music doctorate was taking place. However, ivory often makes reference to the piano, which this work does not contain – it is made up solely of bass trombone samples and manipulations (most of my works are from the sounds of one instrument). Unfortunately it’s stuck with that title now; I don’t want to change it as it’s an important time-stamp of my thought processes at the time.

Have you had a favourite ‘moment’ as a composer; a significant career achievement, or some other event that’s been inspirational?

Playing my piece ‘Telian’ at the Visiones Sonoras Festival in Mexico, organised by sonic art centre CMMAS. The venue was packed to the point where people were sitting on the floor, the atmosphere was great, and the loudspeaker system sounded wicked. I felt like I was really contributing something to the world.

Are you working on anything interesting right now?

I’ve just finished a quadrophonic mix of the aforementioned piece “Telian” which will form part of an audiovisual installation titled “Nearer Future”, a collaboration with video artist Heather Lander. It’ll be exhibited as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival during August 2017. Right now, however, I’m in Belfast catching up with old friends and soaking up a rare ray of Northern Irish sunshine. I’ve just had half a packet of Ryvita and a Diet Coke.

Most people reading this are musicians just beginning their composition journey – is there any advice you’d give to those just starting out?

Make what you want to hear in your music, not what you think other people want to hear. Also, don’t be afraid for a piece of music to fail. Failure is part of the process, and if you get scared of it you’ll just make the same piece over and over again. Finally, don’t spend your time worrying about making lots of money, and don’t judge yourself harshly for having other jobs whilst being a composer. This is normal. Just keeping making music.

Image credit: British Music Collection

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