YCP Featured Composer 2021: Natalie Roe

Photo by Laura Malmivaara

Natalie is a composer, pianist and flautist based in Cardiff where she studies both acoustic and electronic composition at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She has just finished a year of studying abroad at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland as part of the Erasmus Exchange scheme where she was studying Music Technology with a focus on composition and performance with electronic instruments. With a passion for experimental electronic dance music Natalie performed her 30-minute live set for modular synthesiser, controller and laptop titled ‘INCREASE’ at festivals including the 2020 MuTe Festival and Äänen Lumo’s Sonic Art Festival. She has also recently composed a piece called ‘Below The Surface’ for a 16-speaker dome structure which will be exhibited in Helsinki later this year. Natalie has had music performed by The Berkeley Ensemble; members of the London Sinfonietta and BBC NOWNewCelf and was a composer and sound designer for The Richard Burton Company and The Royal Court Theatre’s ‘NEW: 2020’ play ‘Half Full’. Continuing her musical career in the Midlands she was Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s ‘Young Composers Project’ composer in residence in 2019/20. She is also the composer for The Flying Bedroom Company who performed their newly commissioned actor-musician play in November 2020.

‘Capture The Headlines’ is a work for string trio, alto saxophone, soprano voice and live electronics which takes the listener on a journey through some of the major news headlines from 2000 to 2010. Please note this was written in 2019/2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting the piece with a recording of London’s New Year’s Eve Firework countdown I then interweave samples of headlines which have been edited and sound designed. Working in the software Max MSP the samples are programmed to be triggered by a launchpad in the first and third movements. In the second movement a contact microphone is attached to the alto saxophone and different samples are triggered depending on the volume at which the performer plays. 

Can you tell us a bit about what the piece is about?

‘Capture The Headlines’ is a work for string trio, alto saxophone, soprano voice and live electronics which takes the listener on a journey through some of the major news headlines from 2000 to 2010. Please note this was written in 2019/2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The electronic element interweaves samples of headlines which have been edited and sound designed. Working in the software Max MSP the samples are programmed to be triggered by a launchpad in the first and third movements. In the second movement a contact microphone is attached to the alto saxophone and different samples are triggered depending on the volume at which the performer plays. 

It was a pleasure to work with the performers on this piece and to workshop the piece back at the start of 2020 before the lockdown. I was also lucky enough to have Judith Weir (Master of the Queen’s music) listen to my rehearsal and received feedback from her on my piece.

Photo by Susanna Kekkonen

What is the process of working with electronics for you like? What aspects do you believe electronics contribute to your compositions? 

I thoroughly enjoy working with electronics in my work and particularly focusing on making the electronics and acoustic instruments have an equal role in the work. When living in a what is being described as ‘The Digital Age’ I want to use technology to my advantage when making music and explore this innovative area when composing contemporary music. I only started to learn about and work with electronics in my compositions when I started studying at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (three years ago), so I am still developing my skills in this area. So far, I have particularly enjoyed composing and performing live electronics focusing on programming hardware instruments to create a tactile experience for myself or another performer which has the same or a similar experience as someone playing an acoustic instrument.

Through using live electronics in this work, I was able to include recordings from historical events such as the countdown to London’s New Year’s Eve firework display which for obvious reasons could not be recreated in a live performance. This is the same principle for all of the ‘Breaking News’ headlines which can be heard throughout.

I hear that you’re currently doing a year abroad in Helsinki – can you tell us a bit about your experiences so far?

Yes, I was fortunate enough to carry out a yearlong Erasmus exchange at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. I have been studying Music Technology with a focus on composition and performing with electronic instruments. I was lucky enough to be involved in many exciting projects including composing a piece for a 16-speaker dome structure, performing at the MuTe Festival, coding and building an instrument, writing lots of film and game music and writing for piano trio and live electronics.

I have had a fantastic year living in and exploring Finland and have learnt so much musically whilst gaining so many life skills and making friends with people from all over the world. To anyone who may be considering studying abroad I could not recommend it more as for me it has been such a memorable and enriching life experience which has developed me artistically.

Whilst in Finland I kept a travel blog if you would like to find out more about what I got up to: https://natalieroemusic.weebly.com/travel-blog.html 

‘INCREASE’ performance at MuTe Festival (starts at 31 minutes): https://youtu.be/ljRcbH-QCWw?t=1860 

What have been some of your other recent composition endeavours? 

Recently I have been coding a granular synthesiser in SuperCollider which I am in the process of building the hardware for now. With this instrument I will compose pieces for myself to perform alongside other electronic or acoustic instruments. I am now also writing a piece for a Marching Band as part of a competition, composing for the Welsh Guards before returning back to Cardiff for my final year at Royal Welsh.

Photo by Rob Lainchbury

How has YCP helped with your compositional journey?

YCP is the perfect environment for young composers to explore musical ideas and learn how to push the boundaries of music creation. As well as learning an incredible amount about music whether that be music theory, listening to new and old pieces or developing different composing processes I think the most important part of my journey was building up the confidence to compose. Because I experienced composing and working with musicians at YCP I realised how much I wanted to be a composer which led me to studying composition at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

What was your favourite moment from YCP?

I have always loved performance day at YCP, hearing your music come to life when played by real life performers. One of my favourite moments of YCP (there’s been a lot!) would probably be the concert of my first ever YCP piece in the 2016 creative weekend when I alongside nine singers performed a song which I wrote about dementia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZqmde3hJCQ).  I think that was the first time I realised that I wanted to be a composer. 

What tip would you give to young composers?

To young composers I would say write the music you love writing and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t write, perform or listen to certain types or genres of music! If you enjoy composing music then carry on doing so and keep pushing the boundaries of creating music!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s