Q&A – Brahim Kerkour – Composer In Residence

Posted on January 22, 2012

Brahim Kerkour is Manchester Camerata’s first Composer in Residence.  Since the start of the season he’s been `Embedded’ with the orchestra, discovering the work it does both on and off the concert platform.  His first composition for Camerata – ‘Moment Translucent’ – is premiered in January and February 2012.

Brahim Kerkour is an Anglo-Moroccan composer currently based in London. His work explores the possibility of a musical expressivity based on the intersections of sound, movement, and space.

Current research focuses on the sculpting of sound, the notion of instruments as resonating bodies, as well as relationships between memory and the perception of musical space, energy, and temporality. Brahim joins Manchester Camerata as part of the Embedded scheme run in conjunction with Sound and Music.

How have you found the Composer in Residence experience?

Its been a terrific experience so far. Camerata and SAM have been really supportive, and along with the structure of the residency, the conditions have been ideal for pursuing a long term creative endeavor. The orchestra’s music making is inspiring, and I’ve been gaining a lot from my interactions with staff, musicians, audiences, and learning participants.

How did you decide the idea for the piece? What is it? What’s the concept?

The idea emerged from thinking about how I could complement the concert program. Having chosen to write for an octet, I thought about how I could draw on Schubert’s Octet to showcase instrumental colour in a different way than Strauss does in his arrangement of “Till Eulenspiegel” for five instruments. The concept behind my piece lies in the idea that music, of any culture or style, is fundamentally a distribution of energy over time (by energy, I’m referring to the general sensation of tension and relaxation, rather than the qualitative, or superficial, type of energy that we use to characterize a piece’s surface). With this piece, I’ve set out to expose the underlying energy of a short passage from Schubert’s Octet (the first five measures), and I’m using transformations of timbre to gradually peel away the layers of its surface, reaching a fluid movement of raw sound. So the piece is a type of excavation, and similar to those images from Geology textbooks that show the layer’s of the earth, with someone’s front yard at the top, the earth’s core at the bottom, and various materials in between.

What was hard? Easy?

None of it was easy! Working with Schubert’s music while simultaneously managing the underlying energy of my own piece was particularly challenging. As was pooling all the material into a unified sound world. Luckily, I had the chance to work with the ensemble on two occasions where we explored sounds, mixtures of instruments, and tried out some sketches. That was a massive help, and the piece I’ve composed grew directly out of those exchanges.

What do you audiences to get from the piece?

I hope it opens new perspectives on what instruments can do, and on the audience’s relationship with other music. After navigating a sound world that interacts with the foundation of a familiar passage of music, I hope audiences will be compelled to participate creatively with the rest of Schubert’s Octet in ways that are unique to their personalities.