Earmark // Steven Webb

January 25, 2019

In this installment of the Earmark series we speak with CMC Associate Composer Steven Webb about childhood pianos, and those musical encounters that allow us to tread the meandering path of an artist with greater confidence.

Canadian Music Centre: What got you excited about music at a young age?

Steven Webb: As a young child I remember my family borrowing a piano from a friend for about a year. I was immediately entranced with creating sounds on it, and begged my parents for piano lessons not long after that. I then followed the predictable classical piano exam path, almost quitting in Junior High. Luckily, my mom always encouraged me to keep going, and by the end of High School, I knew that there was nothing else I’d rather be doing in the world than playing and making music.

CMC: What was the most important music event you attended?

SW: It’s really hard to nail down just one concert, as I have had the privilege of witnessing some incredible performers from around the world. In terms of the most influential on my musical growth, I remember attending a concert in a large gothic cathedral, full of the choral music of Arvo Pärt while on tour in Sweden. The immensity and sheer beauty of his music overwhelmed me, and I remember saying to myself: “I want to create something this beautiful.” Although my current style is extremely different from Pärt’s, it was really in that moment that I knew I wanted to be a composer.

CMC: What have you been listening to lately?

SW: I’m really interested in the combination of synthesized electronic music and orchestral timbres. I’ve been seeking out composers that combine these two mediums effortlessly, without making the music sound as though there are two distinct sound worlds being brought together for novelty’s sake. Nicole Lizée is a big inspiration of mine in this area. As a big fan of sci-fi and the history of video games, her piece Arcadiac combines the sounds of early arcade game sound synthesis with orchestra. It’s truly something special.

CMC: Does any of this make its way into your music?

SW: Definitely. The concept of technology’s advancement affecting the production of sound and music creation is extremely interesting to me. Our modern palette of sounds as composers has never been more expansive, and yet it seems as though there are always new sounds to discover and create. Since we live in a technology-filled world, it only makes sense to me that some of this should be brought over to contemporary classical music, in order to better reflect the world we live in.

CMC: How do you define your musical/artistic community?

SW: Geographically, I am based out of Toronto, and I love the support and excitement that I find in this city around new music. With large traditional orchestras largely eschewing new music, finding a community of people who believe that classical music didn’t end in 1950 is essential. There are still so many new, outstanding compositions being created every day! In addition, I consider artists outside of music to be part of my artistic community as well. I love collaborating with other artistic mediums and learning to communicate with each other through art.

CMC: Tell me about a project/work of yours that you are particularly proud of.

SW: A collaborative work that I’m extremely proud of is a piece entitled: Interplay, for Violin, Percussion, Live Electronics and Dancer. I collaborated with local choreographer Ming-Bo Lam on this work, with the concept being that the dancer would act as both a musician and conductor. I hooked up contact microphones to the floor allowing the dancer to create sound through her physical movements. The other musicians and the live electronics then followed the intensity/direction of her movements (and their accompanying sounds) in a semi-improvisational manner to create a piece that seamlessly interwove movement and music.