Q&A: Sam Salem

Posted on March 18, 2013

Sam SalemIn our final Q&A, we spoke to acousmatic composer Sam Salem about recording the Town Hall bells for Emily Howard’s new piece Carillon, which we will premiere on 23 March:

Can you tell me a bit about your background as an acousmatic composer?

My interest in acousmatic composition began when I went to see Francis Dhomont give a talk about his music in either 2004 or 2005. That was my first exposure to the ideas of musique concréte and the “cinema for the ear”. Recording and sculpting sound materials as an almost plastic art-form really resonated with me (no pun intended). I eventually went on to study at the University of Manchester, where I completed a PhD in 2011. 

The beauty and appeal of acousmatic music is its power to speak directly to the imagination: sounds can be recognisable, ambiguous or completely abstract. I’m really interested in the dialogue between “real” or recognisable sound and “dreamlike” or abstract sound.

What attracts you to using the sounds of cities in your music?

Each of my recent works explore the sounds of different cities: I’ve written pieces about New York (Dead Poets), Berlin (We Act With Angry Love & Poor but Sexy in Berlin) and Brussels (The Sun Warms The Memory). I was also recently commissioned by La Muse En Circuit to compose a piece based upon Paris, titled Dérive, 

There are many attractions to this method of working. The recording process involves concentrating on your immediate surroundings: it’s a very good way of being in the moment and just listening. I gather my materials and sift through them in the studio, looking for the humourous / beautiful / meaningful within the sounds of my chosen environments. So, I guess I would say that my practice is about engaging with the world, being in the moment, and finding interest in whatever comes to hand. 

The use of “real” sounds allows me to bring the external / outside world into the internal world of my music. And also, cities can be exciting places!

How did you become involved in this project?

Emily asked me to make the recordings of the Town Hall bells early last year, and my involvement grew from there. I generated a lot of material, I think in the end the amount of variation that we could get out of the recordings was surprising, even to me.

What was the process of recording the Town Hall bells like?

It was a fun process and a good experience. I was actually in a room above the bell chamber (and behind the clock face!). Jeff Brannan and a friend rang each of the 23 bells while I recorded. In the end, I opted to hang two small microphones through the floor of the room I was in and into the bell chamber.

What has it been like working with Emily and Janek?

It has been interesting, I’m looking forward to hearing the results!