Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
My mother is a contemporary dancer and choreographer who has always been very keen on classical music, so there was a lot of music in our house when I was a child. I took piano and violin lessons, but when I got into my teens I got really interested in song-writing because of the alternative rock music I was listening to. I started looking for parallels between the two wherever I could – even if in hindsight they were pretty tenuous, it turned out to be a pretty useful starting point. In my mind I was always doing things like comparing different open string guitar tunings to the harmonies of early 20th century French music, ambient electronic production techniques to piano pedalling techniques, starting to use the inside of the piano – all that sort of thing. By the time I went to university to study music, the Sonic Arts Research Centre was officially opened as part of the music department. While I was there I properly discovered electronic music (even if I was making much at the time) and it totally changed the way I listened to music and knew I wanted to be making music and not just performing. It’s a mystery to most people how music is made and I wanted to be part of that secret process.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Discovering electronic music and hearing it ‘performed’ live completely changed my listening habits. But while I was at university I studied instrumental composition and didn’t actually work with electronics beyond my first year, so it was actually the bands I worked with after studying where I made that breakthrough and copious effects pedals were eventually replaced with a laptop. But working with bands also had a deep impact on my music-making that I’m still working through today: the importance of collaborative work and authorship, questioning the authority of scores, open rehearsal methods, working with smaller, more intimate groups.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Mostly mental challenges – learning to have confidence in my intuitions and not fall into the trap of over-intellectualising, having the confidence to change the paradigm of how I present my music.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
That really depends! I’m working on a piece with the Swiss composer, Benoit Moreau for Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain at the moment and it’s basically going to be a co-authored work – ‘Mise en Abyme’. We have some way to go yet before the premiere in May but since last year we’ve been sharing materials with each other, allowing each other to challenge and alter the others ideas. So in some senses its going to be much deeper than co-authorship, because it’s possible that neither author might make it out alive in the new piece and something else will be born entirely! That’s a challenge of any restriction – it always forces some new element into existence, and as an artist you have to have confidence that you can manage it and even revel in it.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
My ideal working method would be: small group, strong concept or structure, fragmented score, lots of experimental playing and discussion. Maybe that’s possible with a sinfonietta or larger group, but I haven’t had that opportunity yet. I love it when instrumentalists find new ways of expressing what’s happening in the music or sounds, which happens a lot when using live electronics for the first time – people find a new kind of poetry when they express something they’ve never heard before.
Of which works are you most proud?
‘Pearly’, for piano and fixed electronics – this is a deeply personal and intuitive piece, and I’m always touched by people’s heartfelt reactions.
‘(W)Edge’, for piano trio and live electronics – one of the simplest pieces I’ve ever written but cuts right to the heart of things that matter to me when I’m listening to music. It’s essentially a long diminuendo and rallentando that calms you physically while drawing you into a deeper mode of listening. It also relates to the ‘Wedgeworks’ series of the American light artist, James Turrell, who is a big inspiration in my ‘composed’ music.
‘Hommage without permission’ – this is my piano and live electronics project with the Swiss pianist, Antoine Francoise, my long-time collaborator and a dear friend. We recently released our debut LP (http://hommagewithoutpermission.bandcamp.com) and it’s an absolute pleasure to work with someone as talented and insightful as Antoine.
‘I am Rhino and Ruin’ – my growing experimental electronica side-project.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I want to create artificial environments for my audience – a sort of audio space within a real space. Pieces are usually a blend of electronic and acoustic sounds that shadow each other, characterised by a very immersive type of texture and timbre – and because of my working process, the timbre usually informs the harmonic language. Resonant textures usually breed drones and consonance, while the more idiosyncratic timbral elements bring out their own special kind of dissonance and tension that is magnified by the acoustic instruments.
How do you work?
As a listener, really – mostly with electronics, visualising a performance setup or minimalist structural concept and then translating heard ideas (electronics) into scored ideas. I use different software to generate notations out of electronics sounds, and then use that as my material for creating scores that relate to fixed sounds. I also improvise a lot, working with solo instrumentalists with custom live electronic setups to create a kind of symbiosis.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Aphex Twin – FKA Twigs – Bjork – Jean Sibelius – Burial – Luigi Nono – Radiohead – Fausto Romitelli – Flying Lotus – David Bowie – The Smashing Pumpkins – Bernard Parmegiani
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I saw DJ Shadow a few months ago in Brixton on his The Mountain Will Fall tour. It was spectacular.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Don’t just do music!
Have other serious interests – take risks – don’t follow the path you think you should but the one you want (it’s the one you’ll take more seriously) – be able to talk to all sorts of people – listen and learn.
Rúaidhrí Mannion (b.1985) is an Irish composer and electronic music performer based in London. Drawing on wide range of interdisciplinary artistic influences, his work often combines live instruments and electronics to explore the liminal spaces between different experimental music practices. He also releases music under the alias ‘I AM RHINO AND RUIN’.