Over the next number of months I will be interviewing composers who have written works for me. The first is with Belfast composer Frank Lyons.I premiered his piece ‘Dazed by the Haze’ for amplified violin & live electronics at this years ‘Electric Spring Festival’ in Huddersfield.
D: For a piece of this nature which part if any do you conceive first?
F: On this occasion the violin part definitely came first. It’s the last in a recent series of instrument & tape works. For other composers the electronics may be where the motivation behind the work lies, however for me I prefer to think of the electronics world as a chamber orchestra in the background, providing splashes of colour to a ‘concertino’ role of the violin.

D: Tell me about Jimi Hendrix’s influence on you.
F: Before I started to read music to I learnt the guitar by ear – as Hendrix did. One Sunday evening I went to the ‘Queens Film Theatre’ in Belfast which turned out to be a life changing experience. They were showing footage from Woodstock as well as other clips from Hendrix’s life. I was totally in awe of this person and immediately thought I want to do music!

D: And what about the actual musical influence of Hendrix on‘Dazed by the Haze’?
F: Hendrix’s overall style as a performer was one that what was right on the edge of what was both technically and sonically possible on the instrument. He transformed the sound of the guitar forever, basically creating a new instrument (eg. his use of foot pedals). I tried to adhere to these thoughts as much as possible when writing the violin part for ‘Dazed’.As far as pitch material is concerned I used very little from ‘Purple Haze’ making sure I wasn’t creating a carbon copy of it.

D: Is the title purely referential or is it descriptive?
F: It’s a little tongue in cheek! You’ve got to be careful not to be to corny. It’s not a serious title because of the nature of the piece - it began as working title and just stuck.

D: Do you see yourself as an electro-acoustic composer?
F: Definitely not. I’m primarily an instrumental composer, in fact I’ve never written anything without a live instrument. In saying that however I am writing my first tape piece at the moment.

D: How do you think electro-acoustic music is evolving at the moment?
F: With the constant development of computers I think live electronics are where it’s currently heading, rather than with tape triggered in real time. That’s what I’m doing at the moment with my group, ‘The Wired Ensemble’ as part of Drake Music. On another note it seems DJs are being taken as seriously in the live field of electronic music, so who knows where to next!

D: Which other composers or schools of composition do you feel either influenced by or aligned to?
F: I really like what the American post minimalists are up to, such as John Adams and the guys from ‘Bang on a Can’. You’re always affected by what you like so I suppose they have influenced my compositional style, certainly through studying their stylistic techniques. Also jazz musicians like Chick Corea and Miles Davis have made a deep impact on me and my music.

D: How big is your compositional output to date and do you constantly learn from every new piece you write?
F: The last two pieces I’ve composed are ‘Go between’and ‘Dazed by the Haze’. I’m really happy with both of them and feel very comfortable that my own voice is coming through. I’ve never withdrawn any music and generally don’t revise works. I think it’s important to move on. To date I’ve written two orchestral pieces for the Ulster Orchestra, as well as two piano trios, works for solo guitar which have been performed in Europe and USA. I’m yet to venture into either the vocal or theatre world. Composing seems to be a continuous rolling process. You are always learning from each new work, just like when I teach composition I constantly see music differently by asking my students to question their own works – for example why like this or why not try this. Then you end up trying it yourself!

D: Who would be your dream performers or composers to work with on a new piece?
F: Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix. I also really like the musicians Mark Anthony Turnage used in his ‘Blood on the floor’– Ensemble Modern with three jazz musicians, Peter Erskin, Mark Robertson and John Scofield.
For more information on Frank Lyons please go to www.cmc.ie
Next composer interview with Joe Cutler - please e-mail to be notified, typing 'composer' in the subject field