Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
My sisters used to play this track by Danny Kaye called ‘Thumbelina’, at 33 and a third, it was originally a 45 RPM recording, but they played it at a much slower speed, and consequently it used to freak me out, it used to scare me. I was only 3 or 4 years old, but it was the idea of the transformation of material. It remains very important to me and it marked a milestone, and if we’re talking a thread, that’s definitely one.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Although I have worked with Xenakis, and studied with Andriessen and Gilius Bergeijk; perhaps those composers can be viewed as more abstract.The fact that I was brought up in a household where Chopin’s music was revered, and played constantly, is a significant influence, resulting in an appreciation of lyricism and perhaps gesture. When I was living in London in the late 80s, I saw Dead Can Dance play at Sadler’s Wells, again a definite high point, showing me the possibilities of integrating pop cultural influences with a more classical music sound world. This shows itself in my practice today in the collision of styles, demonstrating a search for a deeper meaning, where eclectic diversity and temporal associations offer exceptional musical freedoms, where all sound is equally relevant and musical hierarchies are leveled, so that something more abstract, more universal, can emerge.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Although I am ambitious, being a New Zealander living in New Zealand, trying to bring my music to the world, via the UK. As I grow older and realise “who” I am; a composer, I will never stop writing music and that is the journey that I must accept and am on.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Apart from the obvious financial and emotional reward of being asked to write a commissioned work, there is no difference between a commissioned work and a non- commissioned work in terms of pleasure; they are equally pleasurable.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
The challenge of working with particular performers is an understanding of psychology (or sometimes psychiatry, ha ha). After all did not Ravel say performers are slaves?
Of which works are you most proud?
The work that I’m most proud of originates from 1985 called Dream State, an electronic work that is a precursor to Generative music, using the Japanese modular synthesizer, Roland System 700. I’m proud of it because it’s quite pioneering in a way. The instrumental work Electric (aka State of Being) is an opera dating from 2013, which had its world premiere at the Tête à Tête opera festival. The scene called ‘Love’, I find especially moving.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
My compositional language is quite eclectic, but broadly speaking folk or tonally influenced. There’s a sense of egalitarianism, as Louis Andriessen has said, I am working at a new kind of ‘world’ or ‘universal’ metaphysical musical language. Perhaps in a way, I’m trying to find the ‘truth’.
How do you work?
I use a variety of equipment to aid my compositional process, be it a computer, iPad, iPhone or pencil & paper. i use a lot of sampling techniques. there seems to be a conceptual approach that informs my technical processes.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
They tend to be mavericks, who exist outside an established or accepted system, but cross all styles, for instance whether it be pop, world or classical.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Dead Can Dance 1988 at Sadler’s Wells.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Music should have a conceptual reason behind it, for instance we don’t need another string quartet to add to the canon and history of string quartets, but a work such as my Stars, a 24 hour work, could be said to have value from its very nature; it being unique, although inspired by (Gandharva music). To have something to say, to have a point of difference, not to follow the mainstream, and to listen to all sorts of music constantly. To never give up and keep going, and to share love with the world.
Warwick Blair Ensemble, featuring musicians from both UK and New Zealand, perform at Club Inégales (1 June), offering a unique insight into the work of the ‘enfant terrible’ of contemporary Antipodean music.
Hailing from New Zealand, Warwick Blair has a reputation of one of the most eminent composers New Zealand has produced in years. Having studied under Louis Andriessen and Iannis Xenakis, Blair’s music fuses classical and indigenous traditions with electronics in a mesmerizing minimalistic soundscape. In this London residency, he will examine the concept of memory, with the ability of the mind to retain certain information and yet reject other selective memories has fascinated the composer for many years. His performances will become his personal explorations of a musical palette that draws on various seemingly opposing genres or styles, creating a compelling and challenging soundscape.
The concerts will offer two his most eminent works, Melusine (2015) and Etuden (2014), both premiered last year during his Kingston University residency. While the former demonstrates the influence of Puccini’s lyrical melodies and Wagner’s pioneering chromaticism, but also draws on serialism, the avant-garde and contemporary songwriters, such as Lorde & Rowland S Howard, Etuden is a work that combines the influences of Chopin and Billie Holiday.