18 August, 2008

Interview with Neil O'Connor of Somadrone

You've had an extensive musical education. Can you tell me more about that and your career?

Extensive being in that academically my training is extensive, but I am self taught mostly. I am currently finishing my PhD in Composition at Trinity College. I also lecturer in Music and Sound design in 3 different universitys. It’s been a cruel, amazing, numbing, exciting and life changing experience, all at the same time. The musical process and experience has changed me, for better or worse I am yet to find out. As part of the PhD, I have written two pieces for 19 musicians and electronics. They are 25mins each so its quite substantial. Would be great to have them performed, but its hard and expensive. Maybe when I die they might have a retrospective and play them. Not bloody likely.

As someone who has had experience with both , what to you think is the main difference between electronic in art music and popular music?

Well popular music is standardized . Its like a clock, or fridge. It has certain element which make it work, and make it marketable. the same element applies to pop music. I teach a class called “Music and Popular Culture”. Within this we look at the writings of Theodor Adorno. He suggested that culture industries churn out a debased mass of unsophisticated, sentimental products that have replaced the more 'difficult' and critical art forms that might lead people to actually question social life. False needs are cultivated in people by the culture industries. These are needs which can be both created and satisfied by the capitalist system, and which replace people's 'true' needs - freedom, full expression of human potential and creativity, genuine creative happiness. Thus, those who are trapped in the false notions of beauty according to a capitalist mode of thinking, are only capable of hearing beauty in dishonest terms. So basically , he HATED pop music.

Do you think Adorno's "critical theory" should be applied more to pop music by journalists? Would this change anything about pop music?

Yes, I think it can be applied to music, but pop music will never change because it's a formula: break it and it stops working. It's hard to be critical if it's a generic product; would be like reviewing the same album over again.

As a composer, particularly as someone who has written for pure electronics as well as instruments, what is the difference for you?

I have been writing for instruments for years now, my last album “Of Pattern and Purpose” was 75% live instruments and my new one is even more so. Personally, I think pop music is important in that it reflects our culture, but “highbrow" music takes a more significant reflection, puts a little more thought into it. I mean pop music is standardized; verse chorus verse ect. With art music, there are centuries of historical development, a history not only rich in developments of harmony, melody and rhythm but also in instrument design. In jazz or classical, the time signature (rhythm) can change from 5/4 to 2/2 to 4/6 in an instant. Pop music is 4/4, that’s pretty much all.

You mentioned a new album...any more info on that?

I am half-way through a new album, hope to get it out Jan/Feb 09. I recorded pieces of it in Hamburg and here. There's lots of piano, harpischord, vocal and electronics. Its a lot more organic than Of Pattern and Purpose.

Would you have a favourite composer within the electronic medium?

That’s hard to say because there are a lot I respect, but can never put my fingers on the ones who inspire me. Well, my all time favorite electronic act are Kraftwerk. I mean not only were they 20 years ahead of their time, they established a form of music that has never been imitated. They built there own drum pads and predicted that the personal computer would dominate the future world. When you listen to their songs, if you imagine if all the instruments were played by acoustic ones (a group called the balanescu quartet cover their songs on string quartet). I mean it might as well be Bach!

Anna Murray