Interview with Claudia Molitor

Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Claudia Molitor (b. 1974) is a London-based composer whose work interests me because of its lack of boundaries. As she mentions below, Claudia doesn’t perceive traditional divisions between disciplines and mediums. I find this a relative rarity and quite refreshing.

When line upon line was in England in 2014, we visited the University of Kent, Chatham, where Claudia taught at the time (she now teaches at City University, London). Besides being a fantastic hostess, Claudia was a joy to be around and a walking reminder that the artist’s job is one of the absolute best jobs one could have.

Here’s a short interview with Claudia Molitor, whose work Entangled we commissioned and will premiere February 2-4, 2017 in Austin, TX.


MT: How did your relationship with music begin? 

CM: Very early I suppose, there was always music in the house, both live and on records, and everything from Stockhausen, over Carla Bley and Stevie Wonder to Vivaldi… and apparently I was desperate to learn the piano, though I think once I realised I had to practice it didn’t really take off until I was a little older :)

MT: At what point did you feel you became a composer? Were you ever inclined toward another career, musically or otherwise? 

CM: That wasn’t until university really, although, a few years ago, I did find a little “composition” of mine from when I was about 5 or 6 which consisted of a series of rather large middle Cs… not particularly promising I know! I’d been concentrating on piano playing and then improvising before university, but it wasn’t until then that I found joy in playing around with sonic ideas on paper… I think to some extent that was because I didn’t have easy access to a grand piano at university, so I had to find another way to get sonic ideas out. 

MT: I was drawn to your work in large part because of its incorporation of extra-sonic elements. When did you first begin working extra-sonically, and how do you feel you’ve developed your practice?

CM: I don’t actually think of these elements as extra-sonic. Obviously I know they are, but to me it is all part of the same practice… everything comes from a ‘composerly’ obsession with sound, so even a work like zuhanden, which is a series of photographs is completely about sound. And I think I’m very lucky to live in a time where interdisciplinary ways of thinking and working are becoming more the norm, where it’s ok to pick up a zoom recorder or pencil and paper or a videocamera or sit at the piano and still be essentially a composer.

MT: Could you share a bit about arriving at the concept for Entangled?

CM: Well, you started it off when you mentioned that you where looking for a piece that was adventurous and easily transportable, and I immediately understood that the three of you would be up for anything, which is a fantastically freeing place to be as a composer…. I could let my imagination run wild! For a long time I’ve been interested in exploring ways in which I can make the score manifest in space, make it part of a performance. Another interest of mine is to introduce the haptic more obviously into the score and performances. For me music is touch, it touches us physically through vibration, but it also touches us emotionally, so it sits ‘precariously' between materiality and concept, and I enjoy playing with that in my work. 

MT: Which works would you choose to program on a Claudia Molitor portrait concert? And, if you care to elaborate, why? 

CM: Oh dear, that’s a difficult question, particularly as much of my recent work is often rather long and sometimes site specific, so we’d have to get the audience to travel to various sites and maybe give a whole day to it…  or we could make Entangled longer, maybe 200 meter long ropes :) but actually I think it’s best to leave that to someone who is a little more objective and might find interesting frictions or relationships between various works.

MT: Right now, who are the composers that interest you the most? 

CM: Another difficult question! There are so many excellent composers out there with a huge variety of approaches to making music… but maybe I can give you a few names of UK based composers to check out who might not be very well known in the US. There is Amber Priestley (she was actually born in Nevada, but has been based in the UK for many years) and makes very interesting ‘open’ works, there are Tullis Rennie, and excellent improvisor and sound artist, and Angus Carlyle and Cathy Lane, both of whom are exciting sound artists often working with field recordings. Kathy Hind makes fantastic sound installations and Thor Magnusson uses live coding to create brilliant instant composition/improvisation scenarios. There are so many more of course, but I’d have to write far too much for a blog.

MT: It’s a stock interview closer, but I’m genuinely interested—what do you do for fun?

CM: Listening to/looking at and making music and art… the thing is, if you are lucky enough to be a composer, and I think it is a huge privilege, what you’re doing, at least in my case, is working very hard to remain curious and playful. And you can follow all your interests to flow into the research that underpins your composing, so when I was making Sonorama I could do lots of research in the map department of the British Library, or when I was making The Singing Bridge I could indulge in looking at modernist concrete architecture… though I do like walking a lot, during which I’m mostly thinking about a project… that sounds terribly boring doesn’t it… maybe you could suggest a hobby!!

Matthew Teodori