Jocelyn Pook Composing Project of an Interview

Composing artist Jocelyn Pook’s distinctive style is a product of her diverse experiences in classical, commercial and world music. After graduating from London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she performed with many pop artists including The Communards and Massive Attack, and formed Electra Strings for whom she wrote original material. She has worked extensively with eminent dance companies such as DV8 and Shobana Jeyasingh, and in 2002 she was commissioned by the BBC Proms to write a work for The King’s Singers in collaboration with Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. Notable film credits include Michael Radford’s adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, Stanley Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut, and "Brick Lane". Find out what she had to say about her composing style of a career.

1. First tell us about yourself, and how you found yourself wanting to compose music?

I used to compose simple songs on the piano as a child, but it didn't occur to me to take this further, and when I went to music college it was as a performer, studying viola and piano. After I left, I began working as a professional viola player – sometimes performing in theater companies and pop bands. Seeing how untrained musicians, some of whom couldn't even read music, were able to compose, inspired me and gave me confidence, so that when small composing opportunities subsequently came my way - such as writing music for my quartet, or a friend’s video, a colleague’s dance piece, etc. - I seized the opportunity. It was something I hugely enjoyed and still do.

2. What are key tasks for a composer?

That depends what kind of project you are writing for – each project presents a different set of challenges.

3. What are top 3 skills for a composer?

To be able to write good tunes, communicate and stir the spirit.

4. What was running through your mind when you heard you were nominated BASCA British Composer Award?

I wished I could tell my mum. She passed away last year.

5. Who are some of your musical influences you look up to lately?

I have a wide range of musical influences, including Arvo Part, Meredith Monk, Serbian Gypsy music, Thomas Ades, Bach, Laurie Anderson, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Reggie Watts and Tam Dortlu Acapella.

6. Do you write your own songs if so what themes do they cover?

I write lots of vocal music, much of it wordless, or with made up words. But I do also write lyrics to some songs, or sometimes collect found texts, lists, such as ingredients from food packets in Box Story, or, in the case of my Women’s Magazine Tango from women’s magazines. I also wrote both lyrics and music for a short opera called Ingerland exploring football obsession.

7. Which of your own pieces is your favorite?

Usually the one I’m grappling with at the time!

8. What's new in the recording of your music?

My latest album is called Desh. It was written for the dancer Akram Khan’s show which is currently on tour. The project started in November 2010 when Akram took the creative team on a trip to Bangladesh. It was wonderful to experience that place bursting with vividness of life and colour. I made field recordings wherever we went, and many fragments from these found their way into the piece: bells and hoots, car horns, ship sirens, clanks and clashes of metal, calls, cries and songs of passers by. There are both instrumental and vocal pieces on the album. The singers include my usual suspects: Melanie Pappenheim, Natacha Atlas, Tanja Tzarovska, as well as Sohini Alam and Labik Kamal.

9. Can you tell me about The Jocelyn Pook Ensemble?

We started doing live concerts of my music in 2000. The line-up varies but the core players and singers have remained the same. These include the singers Melanie Pappenheim, Manickam Yogeswaren, Parvin Cox, cellist Sophie Harris, myself on viola, piano, occasional vocals. Natacha Atlas sometimes guests with us, and the line-up often includes qanun and harp. We haven’t done much in the last few years because I have been too busy with other projects, but there are plans afoot for some gigs in the not-too-distant future.

10. What are your upcoming plans?

I am currently writing a piece with the librettist Richard Thomas for a new song cycle to be performed by Lore Lixenberg and the Brodsky Quartet in the City Of London Festival.  I am also writing music for Akram Khan’s new show iTMOi, which premieres in Sadlers Wells in London in May.

11. Tell us a story about a day in your life.

Another time – I’m on a plane coming back from China and my computer battery has almost run out – it’s true!

12. What inspires you to do what you do?

Sources of inspiration are many and varied in each project, especially working in collaborative projects as I often do. But a deadline inspires one to actually get on with the work!

The DESH soundtrack is available on CD now on Pook Music (PM001) and the single ‘Hallelujah’ is available to download on iTunes.  DESH returns to Sadler’s Wells in June for a third run after a sell-out world tour.

Jocelyn Pook’s next collaboration with Akram Khan, iTMOi, will be performed at Sadler’s Wells Theater in London, Tuesday 28 May - Saturday 1 June.

The Brodsky Quartet and singer Lore Lixenberg premiere a new song cycle, which includes music by Jocelyn Pook, at Drapers' Hall on Monday 24 June as part of the City Of London Festival.

To find out more information about Jocelyn Pook, you can visit her website

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