Our last instalment of the Associate Composers Spotlight series is from composer and producer Dan Samsa. Growing up in the midst of South East London’s diverse music culture, Dan’s passion and engagement with music extends far beyond his classical music training. He talks to us about his varying musical interests, the use of different sound systems and his plans during his time on our Associate Composers Scheme.
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?
My mother sang to me beautifully when I was a young child, which instilled within me a deep appreciation for music and the direct intimacy of live performance. Captivated by its beauty, and the diversity and myriad purposes of music from this young age, I can remember messing around on the piano, engrossed in inventing music of my own.
Intrigued by the inner workings of music and obsessed as to why it affects us the ways it does, I have committed myself to a kind of extended apprenticeship period, immersing myself in a multitude of scenes, genres, collaborations and study. From the initial physical interactions with the tape deck, turntable or CD player; my first encounter with the rumble and spatial onslaught of the cathedral organ; or the appreciation of a well-tuned club sound system, the more experiences I have had the more bewildered I have become.
Dan Samsa is an attempt to make sense of these experiences, and to emphasise the beauty found within the surreal nature and weirdness of reality.
You mention in you biography about connecting your experience of classical music with other parts of the London music scene. Could you tell us more about how you do this?
London (but especially South East London), where I have grown up and lived for most of my life, oozes with music – Classical, Indie, Punk, Dub, Electronic, Jungle, Hip Hop, Afrobeat and much more – in all sorts of places. Seeing this local live music, and organising my own events, has served to blur the lines of what classical music is meant to be; the old-new, acoustic-electronic, practised-produced axes were drawn closer together. I feel that all of the music I have written or collaborated on has somehow fit into a spectrum encompassing my classical music training, and the types of projects I work on naturally concoct new mixes of these supposedly dichotomous ingredients.
You're also a DJ. How does your experience as a DJ relate to your compositional practice, and vice versa?
The extreme variations in people’s responses to music rely heavily on the environment in which they experience it. As a DJ in front of a room, observing people’s reactions to different kinds of music in varying visual, acoustic, and social settings is awe inspiring. The meditative quality of connecting to music can be seen so obviously in these contexts – the etiquette of reaction is made fully expressive. Considering this when playing the music of others or creating my own music is equally fascinating and important to me and they go hand in hand.
What are your plans for the Associate Composers Scheme?
Apart from the fantastic opportunity to work on commissions for professional orchestras and ensembles, this July I will be presenting music from two other artists and myself using the unique combination of a spatial surround sound system with the sub bass scoops of a South London dub system. I aim to create a bombardment of the physical and aural senses – a modern cathedral organ - and to destabilize the preconceptions of what can be achieved on a sound system. I plan to release these pieces on the Nonclassical label.
What does it mean to be a composer in the 21st century
Escape the day-to-day.
Music can create an indescribably beautiful experience, one that can momentarily take us out of the everyday madness. Being an outsider of many rather than an insider of few I am fascinated by the diverse and peculiar nature of reality and am drawn to art that highlights the beauty in the oddness of existence.
Humanity is at a decisive moment, a tipping point between catastrophe and utopia. This will be decided by our ability to unite and work together. I think because of the abstract nature of music and its ability to not be forceful with imposing opinions and beliefs, it can be the perfect medium to connect people. Ultimately, the responsibility of a composer in the 21st century is about transforming experience, both by creating music and bringing people together to hear it.