On Saturday October 28th, 2017, TLSQ will be performing their show Video Sonic Quartet at The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre. The show includes work with video by members of the quartet and video artists Megan Evans, Sal Cooper and Anne Scott Wilson. There is also a premiere by composer Alice Humphries. Alice was the winner of the Melbourne Recital Centre 2016 Composition Commission and we were incredibly lucky and honoured to be chosen by her to perform her new piece, Nautical Twilight. In Q & A below Alice goes into detail about the writing of this piece and also gives us an insight into her life as a musician and surfer!
Get your tickets for the show here.
Find out more about Alice's music here.
When did you know that you wanted to be a musician?
I didn’t actually plan to! After high school I did a one-year course in jazz at WAAPA as a gap year, and it has just continued. I was having so much fun I just decided to keep doing it.
What was your first instrument?
My first instrument was piano, I think I was 3 when I started. Mum said I used to make things up and get really into it and drool on the piano keys. Nothing has changed.
I went on to play cello for a few years, dabbled in violin and viola and then took up saxophone in high school.
What is the strangest music gig/job that you’ve done?
I was the music director on an Australian-idol style reality tv-show that was on community tv. It was definitely strange.
What is the strangest non-music job you’ve ever done?
In my first summer after finishing school, my brother and I worked in a recycling factory sorting the glass and the paper from the general trash. It was very hot and very smelly, but it paid well. I have been very diligent about what I put in the recycling bin ever since.
Now I work in a surf shop in between my music commitments. It’s great.
Tell us about the music you have composed for TLSQ:
It’s for string quartet and fixed media. I asked TLSQ to come into the studio and individually recorded them playing a few gestures and notes and a lot of harmonics. I then manipulated those string sounds to make the fixed media part.
I’m really into writing music based on aspects of natural phenomena. I love the ocean and getting out of the city and it gives me an excuse to do that while ‘composing’. The piece is called Nautical Twilight. At twilight there is this overall sense stillness, the light changes slowly. But on a micro level there is lots of busyness and activity. Crepuscular animals and insects become active at twilight. So I took aspects of this and the concept of macro slow change with micro activity and applied it to the music. The harmony moves really slowly, but there is a lot of interaction and activity within the ensemble. I had a lot of fun making the score. There are aspects of improvisation and it really requires the ensemble to listen and interact. I wrote it especially for TLSQ as they do this kind of music so beautifully.
You work across many different styles of music, what was your first love as a listener and how did it lead to playing so many different styles?
I’ve always loved a lot of different music. I remember loving the Bach cello suits when I played them (very badly), and I also have a distinct memory of recording I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston off the radio onto a cassette tape so I could listen to it on repeat. But the first music I got really deeply into was jazz standards. I got a box set of Billie Holiday recordings when I was 16 and I just loved it. Listening to and playing standards was my musical obsession for a few years, and I still love to play them at the piano. It also got me into arranging; I loved the Ella Fitzgerald/Nelson Riddle albums and Frank Sinatra with Count Basie Live at the Sands. Those listening experiences got me thinking about orchestration and eventually composing.
I think the reason I work across many different styles is that my musical tastes haven’t really changed, it’s been more cumulative. Also I’m just curious. I hear something I like, and I want to find out how it works.
What is the next project that you are working on?
Next up I’m writing a piece for bass recorder consort. It will be played on renaissance recorders in a beautiful resonant church. I’m also writing an orchestral piece, which is always a lot of fun.
What music are you enjoying listening to right now?
At the moment I’m loving Tessellatum by the composer Donnacha Dennehey performed by violist Nadia Sirota and viola da gamba player Liam Byrne. There is an accompanying animation by Steven Mertens, It’s a 40 minute epic about the idea of man vs. nature, and it combines different tuning systems and lots of drones.
What is your favourite podcast?
I love podcasts. Lately I’ve been listening to Chat10Looks3 by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales. I’m a bit late on the bandwagon but it’s very funny. I’ve also been enjoying Modern Love from NPR and I’m a longtime fan of the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, where authors come in and read one of their favorite short stories and discuss it.
If you were not a musician or performing artist, what would be your ideal occupation?
A pastry chef or a surfer. Neither would work out very well as I would eat all the pastry and I only like surfing small waves.