In Conversation: Alex Turley

In Conversation: Alex Turley

On commissioned works, forming networks and the connection between art and music. 

Alex Turley
Perth, Australia

In Conversation: Alex Turley

On commissioned works, forming networks and the connection between art and music. 

You’ve written a new work for Argo's final 2017 concert based on an incredible piece of art currently residing in the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.  Can you tell me about the process of writing the piece and how you were inspired by the space and the art itself?

I feel incredibly lucky to have become involved with Argo this year. The concerts that Connor and his team put together are always visually stunning, immersive and engaging to be a part of, no matter your musical background. For this particular gig they asked me to write a piece for two pianos, to be situated on opposite sides of an indoor lake. The lake is currently occupied by Narcissus Garden, an installation work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama involving dozens of floating reflective spheres. Due to the site-specific nature of this commission, the piece basically wrote itself, as I decided to explore Kusama’s ideas in a musical context, playing with the reflection and distortion of ideas between the two pianos. The spheres actually make noise as they gently bump into one another and I’m excited for that to blend with the sound of the piece.

 More broadly, how do visual arts and other creative disciplines influence and inspire your compositional practice?

I always try and associate my work with visual or ‘extramusical’ ideas, like specific images, patterns or words. I’ve found that this is the best way to communicate meaningfully with an audience, as it can give people something to hang on to as they listen, if they want it. I’m quite careful about not giving too much away though, as that can start limiting people’s experience. This particular gig is great as it involves projected visuals as well as Kusama’s artwork itself, so theres a huge opportunity for a lovely marriage between sound and visuals.

Does your creative method change at all when you’re writing a piece for a commission rather than working on your own project?

Commissions usually provide limitations, and limitations always end up being helpful for the creative process. It’s a bit daunting to stare at a blank piece of paper and be completely unrestricted with regards to what you can write. In many ways it’s much easier when someone just says ‘This is the kind of piece I want from you. Can you do it?’. And then you just do it.

 How do you find a good sense of balance when you’re juggling multiple projects at the one time? Do you have any favourite ways to switch off or recharge in busy times?

Balance? I’m not familiar with that word. For the last few months I’ve been absolutely slammed with music to write and recordings to complete and repertoire to sing and songs to orchestrate, and life isn’t showing signs of slowing down any time soon. But I like working in this way; by putting heaps of pressure on myself I’m able to produce a lot of good work. Coffee helps, too.

What do you wish you’d known about the industry and the life of a practising composer when you were getting started?

That nobody will know or care how good you are until you get out into the actual world and start meeting people. And also that being friendly and forming genuine relationships with people is a lot more useful than just forcibly schmoozing with people in the industry. And also that there is no way that you will please every member of an audience at once; there will always be people that think your work is too weird and there will always be people that think your work is not weird enough. You just have to be as authentic and as true to yourself as you can.

 Finally, what have you been listening to recently? Which albums have been playing on high-rotation?

Just checked my Spotify and these are the last 5 things I listened to:

Haas - String Quartets 1&2

Julius Eastman - Unjust Malaise

Saariaho - L’Amour de loin

Rautavaara - Symphonies

Takemitsu - Quotation of Dream

Alex Turley's new work 'Kusama's Garden' will be premiered on Sunday 10th September at 7pm. More information and tickets here. Photo by Bohdan Warchomij