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British Composer Award for Innovation – Trevor Wishart

Interview with composer Trevor Wishart after being awarded the British Composer Award for Innovation.

What has been the most pivotal moment in your career to date? An invitation on to the IRCAM induction course in 1981, where I learned music programming.

Your work as a free vocal improviser has pushed so many boundaries – what drew you originally to the voice? Just as a baby is especially responsive to anything resembling a human face, we all seem to have the same instinctive reaction to the human voice. Hence, using the voice as your sound source connects very immediately with audiences.

The voice is a very special sound source. Unlike other musical instruments you can change the spectrum (the sound colour) of the voice from moment to moment. In fact that’s what happens as we speak. This makes it a particular exciting (and difficult) source to work with in the computer studio.

As a founding member of the Composers Desktop Project (CDP) what drove you to develop the community? CDP has always been a cooperative venture. It grew out of a group of composers, all pupils or associates of Richard Orton at the University of York. Its chief inspiration was poverty. At the time it originated, computer music could only be made on mainframe computers, and, for various technical reasons, the only place in Europe was IRCAM in Paris.

We realised that the computer programs would run on one of the new desktop computers then emerging and decided to port lots of the software to machines we could all afford and use at home. I’ve always been committed to freely (or very cheaply) available software, as you can only develop a music-making community if you share the tools with other people.

In your opinion what are the most exciting advances in music making right now? The ability to animate and control a multidimensional space of sounds originating from anywhere at all, from conventional musical or dramatic performance, events in the real world, and purely synthetic sounds, and to move seamlessly between all of these.

What advice would you give an aspiring composer and sound designer starting out today? Stick to your artistic goals. Learn to use as many sound musical tools as you can. Then stick with them, master them.

Also, get your work performed abroad. Support for experimental work is uncommon, but at any particular time there is usually some country or region which has decided to support new work. You need to be able to move from place to place where support is forthcoming.

Where do you personally find creative inspiration? From many, many sources, but particularly from events in the real world and from pure mathematics.


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