What is City University Experimental Ensemble and why did it form?
CUEE is a student led ensemble who compose and perform new, improvised, conceptual and avant-garde music. The ensemble formed through a collective desire to play music that would expand our horizons and perhaps challenge our preconceived notions of what musical performance and composition should be. It also acts as a platform to discuss and try out new ideas in a friendly and welcoming environment.
One of the great things about the ensemble is the collaborative nature that seems to exist, and especially amongst performers/composers of very different backgrounds. Was this always the intention of the ensemble and is it integral to the music you perform?
I would say it is pretty integral. Some of our members are classically trained musicians or come from jazz, latin or pop backgrounds whilst others are computer musicians and scientists. I think that this diversity makes for a richer creative environment and allows us a variety of perspectives when we approach a piece or discuss an idea. We have always been completely indiscriminate as to who can join the ensemble and for us a curious mind is more useful than an ABRSM qualification. That’s not to say that some of the music we perform isn’t challenging though, but the challenge may be learning to echolocate, keeping rhythm on a teacup or interpreting a graphic score.
You recently performed works by James Saunders with Plus-Minus and James himself, and you will be performing Saunders’ everybody do this in tomorrow’s concert. How was that experience, and what is it about his music that you are drawn to?
The concert was a great opportunity for us to work with a professional composer and ensemble as well as getting a bonus session with composer Matthew Shlomowitz. I think I was a little surprised by how friendly everyone was and how interested James was to hear our ideas on the piece and our interpretations. The performance of everybody do this was fun but pretty hectic with so many musicians on the stage so I am looking forward to performing it with a smaller group in the next concert to see how it affects the way that the piece unfolds. Perhaps people who may have been less dominant in a larger ensemble may become more confident in a smaller group or vice versa. I think I am drawn to Saunders’ work because of the experimental nature of his music and its ability to explore interesting ideas with relatively basic indeterminate structures. For example the performance instructions for everybody do this are very simple but, when performed, the piece raises interesting questions about group dynamics and social structures. I was surprised watching the performance of the last concert how much of a loudmouth I was so I guess I have learnt something about myself in the process too. Maybe I will try to keep it down a bit this time.
You can see the recent performance of everybody do this, performed by City University Experimental Ensemble, Materials and Plus Minus here.
On a more personal note, you graduate this year and begin your journey into pastures new. Where do you hope to be musically in 5 years time?
Fingers crossed I can get on a masters course and explore composition at a deeper level. I think my compositional output at the moment suffers from a lack of knowledge about existing practice, especially in new music and so over the next few years I am going to invest heavily in exploring existing works. It’s another reason why it’s so good to be a part of CUEE. I think the best way to learn about new music is to perform it. In five years I would hope to have a few pieces under my belt and have a clearer idea of how I define myself as a composer.
And finally, what’s next for CUEE?
We should be getting a new batch of recruits next year and hopefully with that will come new music and new ideas to explore. Thanks to Newton Armstrong and Diana Salazar we have been put in touch with some exciting new composers and performers so we will aim to develop these relationships as we make the transition towards becoming a professional ensemble.
City University Experimental Ensemble perform as part of City Summer Sounds festival on Wednesday 28th, 1.10pm in the Performance Space, College Building.
Admission is free
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