Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
When I was growing up, my parents and brothers always played records in the house, ranging from opera and instrumental classical music through to rock and blues. I listened to the charts regularly as well as all the things my family played and started buying my own records from when I was about 5 years old.
I would spend hours with my head between the speakers of the stereo, captivated by the production and ‘sound stage’ of the recordings, and I would spend just as much time recording soundtracks from the TV and things outdoors. Although I used to enjoy making short cassette tape constructions as well as exploring the pedals and strings of the piano we had at home, it occurred to me quite late that I should attempt to develop my ideas into something more compositional, or even try and notate them.
In 1986 I went to the University of East Anglia to study languages. Once there I discovered its wonderful music department and thought that this would be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to explore music further. Inspired, quite literally, by Dave Brubeck’s example, I changed to study music and have never looked back. I have the composer Denis Smalley, my then teacher, to thank for opening my ears to so many unknown musical worlds and for setting excellent standards in both composition and performance.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
I am always influenced by the things around me, as I like to keep my ears and eyes open. I hope that that will never change and I still enjoy keeping up to date with pop music and other dance and club-oriented things, something I was able to pursue professionally as a DJ for a while. But my musical life has also been influenced by any explorations of structure, space and narrative (political, spiritual or otherwise) that I find interesting, ranging from the buildings of Zaha Hadid and Denys Lasdun, the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Seamus Heaney, to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. to name but a few.
Musically Dave Brubeck’s daring improvisations and the intensity of his voice have certainly been a big influence on me, as has, for example, Miles Davis’ stunningly adventurous conception of sound. Karlheinz Stockhausen has, however, been perhaps the biggest influence. The clarity, playfulness, and the human quality of his composed/improvised music is something I learned from enormously. I have a postcard from him on which he wrote “balance your music!”, after he listened to one of my compositions. That’s something I’ve tried to adhere to.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Of all the challenges I suppose finding new paths, being original (but never at the expense of the quality and intention of the work) and ‘remaining true to myself’ are the greatest. Of course, they could easily become frustrating but I always see them as something positive, something that helps me grow and learn.
Getting pieces heard can however be frustrating as can the sadly often conservative programming of so-called ‘experimental’ concerts and festivals. The musical landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, and so the challenge to be open to new spaces, open to the development of new musical languages but at the same to be true to oneself and to produce works of quality certainly doesn’t diminish in importance.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
I really like working on commissioned pieces for two reasons: Firstly, if the piece is either for myself to perform or simply for electro-acoustic playback, I enjoy having free reign to explore what I need to explore; secondly if the work is for someone else, I very much enjoy being influenced, even slightly, by the tastes, characteristics and abilities of the performer in question. That way, the work becomes tailor-made in some aspects. Mr Gee’s Magical Trombone Case, a suite of 3 electro-acoustic miniatures commissioned by Principal RPO trombonist Matthew Gee, contains for example many of his performance gestures and my reflections on his sense of humour. It is a lot of fun to work with him.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
I suppose very similar to the above. We are all humans and I love each player’s idiosyncrasies. Working with musicians in that way is a very human exchange and leads to an often unique experience and dynamic.
Of which works are you most proud?
‘Pride’ is a word I never use to describe my creative activities, or indeed myself as a whole. There are certainly compositions which I have feel have successfully reached the goal and expressed the message that I may have had in mind, and even though the very act of composition will sometimes take me in a new and surprising direction, I might still feel satisfied that some good work has been done, that the goal has been reached and the message successfully communicated. Such pieces might be 5 Portraits for Solo Piano (1992), Comma 02 (2006), Falling Man, Rising Woman (2015), and three very recent pieces from 2016 La Mia Coppa Trabocca for Piano & Electronics, Mr. Gee’s Magical Trombone Case and Stations of the Cross for Solo Piano.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
How do you work?
Earlier in my career, I would compose 3-4 days per week, but now, I’m experiencing a flood of ideas that I have to get out. I can’t keep myself away from the studio or away from the piano, but I am organised and work methodically, even sometimes late into the night. I also like to work in isolation.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
There have been (and still are) so many but to name just a few: Dave Brubeck; Miles Davis; Karlheinz Stockhausen; Beethoven; Bartók; Haydn; Morton Feldman; Trevor Wishart; J.S. Bach (he scares me, in a good way); Mitsuko Uchida; Julius Drake; the very sound itself of acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments, which all have their own characteristics and personalities.
In my direct circle of friends, I would have to say Roland Fidezius and Rudi Fischerlehner, both members of The Occasional Trio. They are simply a joy and always an inspiration to work with. Also Tom Arthurs, who is without doubt one of the finest musicians I know. And finally Sophie Tassignon, an artist who uses her voice to create fantastic clouds of sound.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Again, there have quite a few but to name two of them: A Brubeck concert in 1997 in Bath, where he took some breathtaking harmonic and rhythmic risks that I still remember clearly
to this day; Michael’s ‘Reise um die Erde’ from Stockhausen’s Donnerstag aus Licht which I saw performed in 2016 in Berlin. The music was so exquisite and touching, that I cried at the end of the concert and couldn’t speak for quite a few hours afterwards.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Explore, find your voice, and let no one stand in your way.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Composing and performing.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Peace and tranquility, a moment’s rest from everything, to be able to sit and watch the world. A meal together with friends. To work at the piano or in the studio and be inspired.
What is your most treasured possession?
My soul. It guides me and I treasure it dearly.
Nominated in 2014 for a Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists, Simon Vincent is a performer and composer of acoustic and electronic music, who has been challenging the boundaries of genre and musical expression with a highly personal language since the early 1990’s.
“Visionary and expressive”, “rich and surprising”, “beautiful music”, “intelligent”, “delicate”, “impressionistic”, “fresh”, “incredibly individual”, “masterful compositions”, Simon’s music has attracted praise and radio play from critics as varied as Ben Watson, Julian Cowley, Nick Luscombe, Massimo Ricci, Gilles Peterson, Mr. Scruff, Fourtet, AtJazz, and has been reviewed internationally in many publications including The Wire, De:Bug, Knowledge Magazine, Dragon Jazz, Extranormal and Kudos.
Releasing work on Erstwhile Records, EMANEM, L’innomable, Good Looking Records, as well as own label Vision of Sound, Simon’s unique work has led to appearances worldwide at the Glastonbury Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Akademie der Künste (Berlin), ICA London, London Fashion Week, Club Transmediale (Berlin), National Museum (Stockholm), Progression Sessions (London), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Darmstadt), Q-02 (Brussels), Visiones Sonoras (Mexico City), Making New Waves (Budapest), >Sync 2013, as well as on Resonance FM, BBC Radio 3, Ministry of Sound Radio, and FM4-Austria among many others.
He started Vision Of Sound Records & Publishing in 1997 to promote his contemporary classical and experimental music, and is currently recording selected solo piano compositions for release in April 2017, as well as composing new works for London-based trombonist Matthew Gee and Malmö-based pianist Jesper Olsson.