Steve Crowther: Can you tell us something of your background?
Joe Cutler: I grew up in Neasden (London Borough of Brent) in a family that was interested in music but not professionally (although I have a cousin who is an avant-rock drummer). I grew up playing a wide range of music from playing in orchestras to funk bands and went to Huddersfield Polytechnic really because I wanted to compose. That’s really where it all began. From there I did a post-grad in Durham and then spent three years in Warsaw studying at the Chopin Academy of Music on a Polish Government Scholarship. Since then I’ve lived in London and Birmingham (and in between) and also work a lot in Holland.
SC: Can you describe Gaia to us?
JC: It’s a very earthy piece in which I try to imagine an archaic, imaginary folk-music. There are a lot of open strings and double-stops, and the structure is rather like a big arch.
SC: Do you write at the piano, do you pre-plan? Can you describe the compositional process?
JC: I tend to have two procedures going on at once. On one hand, I try to conceptualise the piece and get a sense of the structure, intentions, and what I’m trying to communicate (this can take some time....). But then there’s also quite a chaotic, improvisatory side to writing a piece where I play around on the piano, or violin, or with visual material, trying to generate ideas without really knowing where I’m going. Gradually, these two procedures begin to coalesce.
SC: Is it important to know the performers? Do you write with a sound in mind?
JC: Over the years, I have tended to work with a number of different groups or performers on a regular basis so I then get to really know their sound and personality. I do like this way of working, although it’s exciting too to work with someone new too. I like to be able to imagine the way a piece will “feel” and sound and that is tied quite closely to who will be performing.
SC: How would you describe your individual ‘sound world’?
JC: I think it changes from piece to piece, but I’m not looking for clean, glistening soundworlds. I am much more interested in something more raw than that. Imperfection is much more interesting than perfection.
SC: What motivates you to compose?
JC: Having fun/trying to communicate something/making things
SC: Which living composers do you identify with or simply admire?
JC: Louis Andriessen and the second generation Dutch post-minimalists have been important for me (Martijn Padding, Cornelis de Bondt, Yannis Kyriakides). Frederic Rzewski too. And my colleagues in Birmingham like Michael Wolters, Howard Skempton, Errollyn Wallen, Ed Bennett, Andrew Hamilton, Sean Clancy and Richard Ayres.
SC: If you could have a beer and a chat with any composer from the past, who would it be and why?
JC: Well Mozart I think would be fun, but I’d love to go for a Chinese with Morton Feldman, and I almost met John Cage in Huddersfield but was too shy to talk to him, so I’d like to put that right.
SC: Now for some desert island discery – please name eight pieces of music you could not be without, and then select just one.
Richard Ayres - In the Alps
Morton Feldman - Coptic Light
Howard Skempton - The Moon is Flashing
Finn Peters - Butterflies
Joni Mitchell - Don’t interrupt the sorrow
Couperin - Les barricades mysterieuses
Paul Brady - Arthur McBride
The Divine Comedy - Our Mutual Friend
If I could select just one, it would be the Couperin, as that was the piece playing whilst our son, Arthur, was being born last year.
SC: …and a book?
JC: One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
SC: …a film?
JC: Can it be TV? The six series of Breaking Bad
SC: … and a luxury item?
JC: I like playing table tennis so a table and a table tennis robot (they do exist) which hits balls at you (you can control the type of spin on the ball too).