Name: Robert Ames Of The London Contemporary Orchestra
Occupation: cofounder/ conductor
Current Project: Change Ringing on Modern Recordings
Recommendations: Peel by Kmru / Agnès Vada by The Gleaners and I
If you enjoyed this interview with Robert Ames, visit his website robertames.co.uk to find out more.
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’m a conductor and instrumentalist primarily and have spent most of my time in music interpreting other people’s work to the best of my ability. I got pretty obsessed with big symphonic sound from a very young age, I remember the feeling of being in a sound-bath, when your whole body is vibrating.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with incredible composers from Philip Glass - Pauline Oliveros - Actress - Frank Ocean - Basinski. I’ve just tried to soak in everything I can. Composition started for me with improvisation then orchestration through to writing additional music on tracks & film/tv music.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Everything we do is a reflection of who we are, I think this is probably amplified even more so in Art. It’s not something I really think about.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I’ve always been pretty carefree and thrown myself into creative endeavours. There was a short period in my early 20s when I was absolutely crippled by stage fright, it was a horrible feeling and probably came out of putting unreasonable expectations on myself. Composing by myself for the joy of creating something is pretty new for me so I’m just trying to enjoy.
Time is a variable only seldom discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
For the album Change Ringing, I actually was trying to capture moments in time of pieces of music that are conceptually infinite loops and unending. I was in the Peak District at the time of writing and walking a lot. I loved going back to the same places on different days hearing the same sounds.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
That’s a big question. It’s really hard writing about these things because I’m quite instinctive and kind of get on with composing and recording without too much preamble or deep thinking. But after the initial flurry of creativity I can tinker with certain aspects of sound forever. Sometimes to the point where my obsession with an element of sound can completely alter the structure of a composition. In that sense, I guess sound and composition aspects are pretty intertwined for me.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?
For the album, I collaborated with Nala Sinephro and Galya Bisengalieva. I gave them free reign to be creative over a skeleton track. I took what they did and put it through my process and checked that they liked what I did. Luckily, they did! That’s a great way to work. Usually I would be in Nala’s or Galya’s shoes so I really appreciate their openness to that way of collaborating.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
No fixed schedule. I only have a couple of things that are absolutely fixed for me; 8 hours sleep every night without fail (it’s a bit of an obsession) and an absolute minimum of an hour’s viola practice. As a freelance conductor, I’m spending a lot of time travelling, working with musicians and studying scores. A large orchestral project can be massively time-consuming in the most exciting way. Weekends/weekdays all bleed into each other. I try to do a little composition every day. If something feels like it is flowing nicely I will stick with it for as long as possible.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I conducted a BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Contemporary Orchestra called ‘Pioneers Of Sound’ and was really passionate about the music in the programme. It was a televised event and high pressure. The concert went really well and the audience at home and in the hall really seemed to get it and I felt really comfortable on stage. It was just a moment where I felt I had matured a little as a musician and became ready to take on some projects I had been waiting on.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think I’ve felt what it’s like to be in a flow state. On stage conducting and just completely in the moment. Also blazing through a composition just totally inspired and going for it. I think being stressed about an ideal state of mind or situation is probably the worst thing possible.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
My dad died not so long ago, almost all of the music that I loved from my childhood is connected to him in some way. Listening to it now can bring pain but it’s also incredibly healing at the same time. I think music can be incredibly good for grief.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I love live music because it gets all of the senses going. Those heavenly communal experiences where everybody is experiencing something special that’s only ever going to happen once in that way.
Art can be a purpose in its own right but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
At the moment, I’m writing music without a specific theme or message, listeners have the freedom to interpret it as they wish.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music has the ability to give lots of space for interpretation. This is something that I really appreciate, give people space to find their own truths.