James Else is a composer and filmmaker. He currently works as a lecturer in contemporary music and film at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, as well as being a TV producer creating programmes for the BBC.
James studied music at the University of Glasgow and King's College London, before completing a PhD in composition at the University of York with Nicola LeFanu. In recent years he has collaborated extensively with choreographers from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance as well as composing for Late Music and having his works performed throughout the UK and Ireland.
James’ Forgotten Notes (for Flute & Horn) will be premiered at the next LM recital (Saturday 1st September) by the wind quintet, Souza Winds.
Steve Crowther: Can you describe the new work to us?
James Else: Having tried to write a programme note, I can honestly say that I can’t describe the new work – I always try to write something that enhances the work, but seldom do I feel I achieve this. I also find that my connection to a work is very vague until after a performance. I could offer a few words – wistful, intertwining, and distant in places.
SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
JE: I am increasingly writing at the piano these days, possibly because I am getting less time to play it generally – so it’s really nice to sit down and just feel my way round the keys again.
I normally start by trying to create a fragment of music that excites or entices me, and then think about how that can work structurally. The best of my pieces, however, are probably the ones where the rules are intuitive rather than prescriptive by the end of the process
SC: Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
JE: I feel that it can work equally well both ways. I tend to write for the instruments more than the players, but I am curious to find out what a long-term relationship with a specific musician could bring.
SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
JE: I don’t think I can. In this piece I took a few month’s break and found I no longer liked the sound world I had started writing it in, and changed it accordingly.
SC: What motivates you to compose?
JE: 1000 reasons, but possibly because it is (hopefully) my best method of communication.
SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
JE: A cliché I’m afraid, but I do greatly admire Arvo Pärt, and in particular the relationship he creates between the mathematical and the spiritual.
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
JE: I don’t feel I could miss the chance to talk to J. S. Bach. Might need to brush up on my German. As in learn German.
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
JE: I actually find choosing one the easiest – it’d be the Goldberg Variations played by Glen Gould. Choosing eight – I don’t think I can do that!
SC: …and a book?
JE: The Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb – or if I’m trying to look educated, maybe Catch 22.
JE: I’m sometimes worried that as a film-maker I don’t have a favourite film. Again if I’m trying to look educated 12 Angry Men.
SC: … and a luxury item?
JE: Probably a trampoline. Bounce!