Heather Roche – Composer, composer-performer – Risk-taking in Collaboration and Composition

March 31, 2015


This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing over the next couple of months, documenting the process in a three-way collaboration between two composers (Mic Spencer and Scott McLaughlin) and one performer (me!). Working simultaneously with two composers provides a unique opportunity to reassess my own views of collaborative practices, and hopefully provides an opportunity to make some general and useful comments about how collaboration works. This project is generously funded by an Ignite grant from the CCI (Creative and Cultural Industries Exchange) at the University of Leeds and more about the project in general can be found here, where Scott and Mic are hosting their own blog. 

We’ve also got a 10 minute video of the workshop, beautifully shot and edited by Angela Guyton, in which there’s a lot of (hopefully) useful discussion of the specifics of working with multiphonics — composers and clarinetists alike may find this video helpful.

In our workshop, Mic joked, in front of the students, that it might be helpful for them to see their teachers make mistakes. Scott chimed in, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.”
It isn’t making mistakes that is the important thing, of course. It’s the risk taking that may or may not lead to these mistakes. Finding situations for yourself where you have to take risks, this is the space where learning takes place, and one of the challenges of our current project.

As a performer of new music, and a reasonably adventurous one, it is not difficult to find these opportunities. Working with new composers, in different styles, in different contexts (ensembles, solos, theatre, etc.); these challenges seem to present themselves naturally.

For composers, I suspect it’s more difficult. As Scott and Mic spoke of in the workshop, it’s very easy to fall into normative patterns of composition. You have your process, methods by which you generate rhythmic and pitch material, orchestrate for different instruments, experiment with extended techniques, etc. As a student, your teachers are there to help you challenge your ways of working, to help you find a style. It used to drive me crazy that the composers I work with as students seemed to need to reinvent themselves for each new piece. This is of course, required for the development of the composer. Deciding on a method, following it through in writing a piece, testing it with live performers, analysing the performance and its perceived success or failure, and making a reassessment for the future.

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