What was winning the Spitfire Audio Recompose competition like?
After graduating from NYU in 2020, I was putting myself out there and applying to different composition and music-related things - calls for scores, commissioning opportunities, etc. A friend sent me a link to the first SA Recordings’ Recompose competition, where SA Recordings, a UK-based label, invited anyone to recompose one of the tracks on an album they released in 2019 called ‘3’ by Alev Lenz. I was drawn to Alev Lenz’s music. Some of her songs have been featured on series including Black Mirror on Netflix.
Recomposing someone else's work seemed like a fun idea, so I decided to send something in, and I ended up winning. This is how I was introduced to the label that released my debut EP, peace places: kenyan memories.
Your new EP, peace places: kenyan memories was released in February 2022. Tell me about it.
Each track on the EP is based on a place, which was meaningful to me growing up. I grew up in Kenya and then moved to the United States to pursue my undergrad degree at NYU.
The idea was the percussionist was supposed to play it live, along with fixed electronics. I had a friend record the drum kit for one of the tracks and he had only one microphone.
He mentioned it was okay, but posed a question that changed how I approached the process of writing the work. “Why don’t you mix it in the medium? If this is going to be heard electronically, then it doesn’t need to sound the exact way live drums would sound.” After this conversation, I realized I could finally throw out all logistics around live performance. I was able to get into experimenting with how electronics can yield interesting musical results.
One of the tracks, “A Walk Through My Cũcũ’s Farm” won an award at a radio art festival called The Hearsay International Audio Festival. I heard from audio makers who were interested in my work. It was mind blowing getting to meet and hear works by other people who interact with sound in ways other than music.
I completed the EP in October of last year, and it was released in February both digitally and on vinyl. Each track has field recordings from different places in Kenya and the sounds of my family: my mom, my dad, my grandmothers, and places that are special to me.
How did your EP lead you to performing with the Cello Octet Amsterdam at the 2022 Gaudeamus Festival?
After I released peace places, kenyan memories, I was invited to the Gaudeamus Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands to perform the music from the EP.
It was an interesting challenge to go about, because I had stopped thinking about how it would be performed live very early on in the creative process. And now I suddenly had to. I had a vision to perform it with a string ensemble, and the director of the Gaudeamus Festival sent me a list of some Netherlands-based ensembles. I knew I had to go with Cello Octet Amsterdam. There were other good options, but writing for these 8 cello players was so cool. It was so much fun working with them. The entire festival took place over the course of one week, and there were more than 70 concerts all over Utrecht. The festival was amazing.