Interview with Andrew Staniland

Description:In this interview for the CBC National Composition Prize, composer Andrew Staniland discusses his earliest musical memories, his musical style, and his compositional process. He concludes the interview by describing his compositional style to that of modern art, with which he supposes audiences may be more familiar.
Credits:CBC National Composition Prize
Subject:Andrew Staniland | CBC National Composition Prize
Related People:Andrew StanilandAndrew Staniland

I think I’ve always been a composer. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I made a choice to be one. I have very early memories of composing actually, though I didn’t know what it was at the time.

My memories of my first encounters with contemporary music are emotional memories, actually, not… I don’t remember what kind of language was passing through the chatter in my brain when I hit it, but I remember the emotion and it was excitement and hunger. I wanted to understand more, I wanted more.

One of the most memorable reviews I had was from Alex Ross in the New Yorker. He wrote, about my piece Adventuremusic: Love her madly he remarked that it was ”beautiful and terrifying”. He really hit the nail on the head by sort of perceiving the two different sides of my voice: a very soft, meditative, calm, and undulating side of music that I frequently write, but also this sort of edgy, aggressive and terrifying sound that I like to go for sometimes.

The first part of the composition process happens all in the imagination, I just sort of think of what kind of sounds, what kind of gestures: is it fast, is it slow, is it rising, is it falling, is it melodic, is it unmelodic, is it rhythmic? And I sort of begin to get a picture of what the landscape is going to proceed like.

And then of course our technical requirement. I know there is to be a piano solo, so you need to think, well, structurally, where is that moment where we can listen to that piano solo? Where can I put it so that it’s the inevitable thing, and yet the unexpected thing, you know. I think about where all that’s going to go. And then I make a really messy visual map. You can probably see them behind me, there’ s my map, that’s the piece right there.

The material that I’m composing with is all created using prime numbers. The reason I use prime numbers, I suppose I should say that: I think that there’s something in the prime numbers that reflects the nature of reality. They appear everywhere, from small things, to behavior in mammals, to star formation... So there’s obviously something in them that is reflective of how stuff is made, I don’t know what it is… that’s why I’m interested in using them.

Everybody’s been to an art gallery. And you know when you go into the “new section” where there’s, you know, all kinds of strange stuff, strange sculptures, and bizarre shapes, and strange colours. That’s what I do, but with sound.

Created Date18 Mar 2009