Before the notes appear
Born in London, Tom Hodge always enjoyed playing music but never thought it would be a career choice until his flair and feracity for composition burst through with enough intensity to fuel a blazing career in media. Tom Hodge went from making tea in a post-production studio, to being a composer responsible for over 200 TV commercials for almost every major brand in the world, three films, various TV themes, theatre pieces, fashion shows and ballet. But these days, while he might still make tea, it's for himself, and he's trying to shift the balance from media composition to solo artist. With laptop artist and long-time collaborator Franz Kirmann, Hodge has released albums and plays live as Piano Interrupted, but is set to release his solo debut later this year.
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I did a tiny bit of composing at school as part of my music exams, but didn’t really start composing regularly until I fell into a job making tea in a sound post-production studio specialising in commercials, and I discovered that I was able to write both reasonably fast and to order.
Early influences and passions were playing Bartok and Chopin on the piano, harmonising Bach chorales, singing in choirs and listening to and playing Gershwin.
What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your work and/or career?
Choosing to give a career in music a go, admittedly at the time, I was thinking more record producer than composer, even though I took a degree in Social & Political Sciences.
Choosing to take some formal music study. I did a Masters in Composition for the Screen, having been writing media music for four years. I had over 100 advert credits at the time and the easy option would have been to carry on the way I was going.
In 2007, my girlfriend and now wife was on the young artists’ programme at the Zürich Opera House. I was ‘commuting’ between there and London and when I was in London I worked on media music, but in Zürich, I had more creative space. My girlfriend encouraged me to look a bit harder at my music. I discovered a number of processes and a certain depth that I still draw on today.
This year needs to be one of those incisive moments too! I have an 80-minute full orchestral ballet to write, which will also form the basis for a debut solo record.
What are currently your main compositional challenges?
Anything long! I started my compositional life writing pieces of less than a minute in duration and now I am about to embark on this 80-minute ballet commission.
What do you usually start with when composing?
The piano, and some harmony.
How do you see the relationship between timbre and composition?
Often I would only consider timbre once some of the cells of a composition were in place, however with my work with Franz Kirmann, I have found that the timbre of a sonic element that has been digitally manipulated can quickly, and from the outset, inform a composition. And in an orchestral setting too, you might often have the timbre of a combination of instruments in your head before any notes have actually appeared.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I see them as practically interchangeable. Composition is merely when you are allowed to correct and/or improve an improvisation! One of the reasons I have placed improvisation at the heart of my current live project is I firmly believe it is vital in keeping my composition fresh.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
No I don’t think this is important at all. I strongly believe in the first instance that music should just speak for itself on an emotional level, regardless of concept, regardless of process, regardless of programme notes. I am delighted if the listener has an interest in the process, especially if this is going to enhance their listening experience, but I see this as a bonus more than anything else. I am immediately suspicious of projects that start with an explanation or somehow wear this too heavily on their sleeves (says he with Piano Interrupted as a band name!) - the implication is that the music will be unlistenable and that it needs justifying.
The relationship between music and other forms of art – such as painting, video art and cinema - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
The relationship between music and other art forms is absolutely central to my music making. Much of the music I make is designed to be ‘applied’ to something else- a film, a ballet, a fashion show, an advert.
I’m not sure I would say music has anything directly to do with the other senses except hearing, unless you have synaesthesia of course. But music certainly is crucial in helping to define the emotional response to something visual.
How would you define the term “interpretation”? How important is it for you to closely work together with the artists performing your work?
Bringing a piece to life, bringing the dots off the page and finding a musical whole that is greater than the sum of the parts… something like that.
I love bringing my music to other people, to other musical personalities and sharing the experience. To have that opportunity is always a great privilege. That’s really what music-making is all about and the music always gets better as a result.