We recently chatted with composer Blasio Kavuma – one of four composers to be part of our Associate Composers Scheme. An active collaborator and curator, Blasio has worked across a number of different art forms, including film, visual art and performance art, and strives to create music that is both forward-thinking and accessible to a wider audience. We spoke to Blasio about his practice and what he hopes to achieve through our Associate Composers Scheme over the course of the year.
Tell us a little bit more about your journey as a composer. How and when did you first start getting into composition, or new music in general?
I got in to music from day one really, but I started composing small pieces before high school. My first mature piece was setting a T.S Elliot poem for voice and piano in sixth form, which I’ve still very fond memories of.
I didn’t start exploring contemporary music seriously until University; my composition tutor at the time pointed me to lots of weird and wonderful music to help me find a direction and really learn to compose. That’s when I came across composers like Michael Finnissy, Dai Fujikara and Cornelius Cardew. But, truth be told, my musical diet consisted as much of Jungle, 90’s Hip Hop, Death Metal, Congolese Rhumba and Soul/RnB as it did Classical (and not much has changed); I was encouraged to find inspiration in all these, and they’ve all fed into my musical development.
You mention in your biography that you regularly collaborate with different art forms. Could you tell us more about what artforms/artists you've collaborated with and what interests you in interdisciplinary pieces? How do you approach the collaborative process?
One of the first collaborations I did was with a mime artist in Bristol. I learned a huge amount about the challenges of collaboration, but also just how rewarding it can be, and how many new creative possibilities it opens up. I seem to draw inspiration very quickly from the themes and ideas in extra-musical material, and the compositional process feels easier as result.
I’ve since collaborated with film-makers (Jane Chapman), with visual artists exploring creative responses (Gina Southgate), and I’ve most recently collaborated with dance company Wayward Thread exploring themes of spirituality and cross-over.
When I do collaborate, I like to start the collaborative process as early as possible; I’ll meet with the artists to develop the conceptual framework, the writing process will then be a of back-and-forth of sharing ideas, with the work usually finalising late in the day.
You also mention your commitment to audience development and making new music accessible. How do you do this in your own practice?
Collaboration is one of the main ways I try to achieve this; I believe the sounds associated with new music make a lot more sense if they’re heard in some sort of extra-musical context. That said, I also try to think about the whole of the performance rather than just the score; I like to get my music performed in venues that have diverse audiences (Daylight music, Hackney Showroom), and I try to target people who are looking to hear anything new. My musical language also uses a lot of familiar rhetorical devices, so there’s something in there that people can recognise, even if the rest sounds unusual!
What are your plans for the Associate Composers Scheme?
I’m very excited to be involved with the scheme, and I want to use the opportunity to establish a clearer path forward as a composer. I’m hoping to use the nonclassical evening I curate to do something collaborative and thoroughly danceable, and eventually take a more communal approach to my curatorial work. I want to start using production software in my music, so I’m hoping to learn as much as I can from other associates and mentors. I also want to make my musical available for download and streaming, so making my first steps with nonclassical will be a big deal for me!
What does it mean to be a composer in the 21st century?
I think above all it involves finding your own path as a composer and thinking outside the box. Funding is scarce, so composers have had to put their own events on, find their own funding and take care of a whole range of tasks outside of creating music. Composers have been forced – I think gladly – to incorporate extra-classical traditions in to their music, and that has meant performing outside of the formal concert hall setting, and creating works intimately linked with those spaces. Also the culture of competition between composers is beginning to erode in favour of collaboration, and composers’ attitudes for each other are continue to change, making for a much more dynamic and accessible scene.