Lola de la Mata, is a London-based French composer, artist and multi-instrumentalist who is particularly interested in how the physicality of sound can be embodied within her music. Over the next year, she’ll be writing a new work, curating a nonclassical night and appearing on our Outside the Lines release as part of our Associate Composers Scheme.
Ahead of the scheme, we caught up with Lola to discuss her influences, starting points and what it means to be a composer in the 21st century.
Tell me 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?
While on my BA in Textile design, I looked into Labanotation [a dance notation created by the contemporary choreographer Rudolf Laban] and its ability to score the body in terms of time, space and quality of movement. I made a kinetic installation in collaboration with a dancer which led to a fascination and collecting of different forms of graphical notation and musical scores. During this time I also met composers attending the conservatoire in Birmingham, who invited me to take part in Michael Wolters’ new music theatre sessions. I knew absolutely nothing of this devising approach, so I was pretty resistant. But the juxtaposition of conceptual thinking with improvisation became key to my practice. For a couple years after that, I explored improvisation on the violin, took different sound art courses, messed around on recording software, and ended up studying under Jennifer Walshe who introduced me to new music and the new discipline [works which combine the musical and the extra-musical].
You mention in your biography that you're particularly interested in the relationship between sound and space, whether that's the physical architecture of the space, the body or the visual as physical sound. What drew you to this practice?
Scale is probably what drew me to this approach. A sound emitted by the instrument requires the body. The body requires the space. And the sound reacts to and fills the space. But there is also the body of the instrument, the body of the architecture, and that of the materials. So I guess I think of it all a bit like Russian dolls. Each component having an outside, but also macro-ing on the inside, be it visible or imagined.
My piece Innerscape: Phantom Architecture would be one example of how I played with scale. It proposes the human body is a site holding unlimited unexplored spaces full of unheard acoustics and sounds. The performance had myself reading the score as a meditation in three parts, leading the audience through a relaxation in the dark, followed by an introverted journey through imagined architectures inside the human body, and back out to real time with a slow rise, and a walk around the physical performance space.
You also mention that your work also incorporates the female body, the use of female voices in corporate products and AI. Can you tell us a little more about that?
So firstly – the female body. Very simply, I have incorporated lived personal experiences into my compositions. I do not claim them to be the same for every woman, as we are all different. Some experiences were simply inspirational starting points for further research. But some of my work was made as a reaction against events, as a coping method, or as a way to communicate what I could not otherwise put into words.
I became interested in the use of female voices in corporate products and AI back in 2017, when Amazon saw its biggest growth with the arrival of their Alexa product. Coded only by men, I was not surprised by the sexist interactions with the female named and sounding bot all over youtube, which Amazon have continually said is not female. Yet, like Alexa, the Personal Assistant Cortana (Microsoft's’ version of SIRI), whose default neutral voice is white and female, answers to all of your orders without complaint, will flirt with you and live full time in your home, on your fridge, accompany you in your pocket and speak back to you in your car. I am still developing research and compositional ideas around these voice bots which perpetuate sexism, racism and classist ideologies. I will end my answer with the bots names: ALEXA = Saviour of Man. CORTANA = large sword, and also the character from HALO who presents naked with small straps covering her nipples and genitalia.
What are you plans for the Associate Composers Scheme?
I feel it’s time for my work to evolve in terms of its production, to build more ambitious multimedia projects. Curating one of nonclassical’s nights would be a unique opportunity to approach this in a collaborative way. Having the programme be a sort of unfolding of approaches. Hearing from artists who speak about class, race, gender, sexuality, and whose disciplines interact with composition to explore what LIVE is.
What does it mean to be a composer in the 21st century?
A composer in the 21st Century does not need to be a white male
A composer in the 21st Century does not exist in a vacuum
A composer in the 21st Century looks to other art forms for inspiration
A composer in the 21st Century considers their/her/his context
A composer in the 21st Century considers their/her/his compositions to be tools of communication
A composer in the 21st Century can be anyone