A Q&A with UK-Based Violinist and Composer Laura Cannell

  1. Laura, you have a very unique voice as a performer, composer, and an improviser. Can you elaborate on how your creative style has developed over time? Are there any major influences or role models that inspired/inspire you?

    From an early age I was obsessed with the recorder and early music, I loved it from the moment we had lessons at primary school. I was captivated by the idea that you could discover all of this history through music, travel the countries and centuries. I would imagine people from hundreds of years ago playing the same notes on the same instrument. I felt connected to something at a really young age, especially Renaissance and Baroque music.

    At age 14 I performed in a full production of Montiverdi’s 1610 Vespers. I was also into grunge and folk music as a teenager in the mid-90’s, but I felt I couldn’t quite marry these different musical styles together. I remember seeing the cellist Lori Goldston on Nirvana Unplugged on MTV; it was the first time I had seen a classical instrument in a band. I didn’t know it was her until a few years ago. I was introduced to Lori through my live agents at the time, and we got on really well and did a short UK tour together. It was so amazing to be playing with someone who had subconsciously been a massive inspiration. She is a fantastic musician/composer, and we had many interesting conversations and still talk now.

    At music college I studied performance. You had to choose between composing and performing, but in retrospect, I wasn’t only one or the other. While studying for my masters, I joined in with the lectures in Sonic Arts, which influence my current approach to composing. A major turning point was also Hildegard von Bingen and the Cantigas de Santa Maria. I would take these monophonic melodies and improvise and construct rules for myself that I could only play in the spaces between the notes and never what was written.

    When writing my first solo album ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’ (2014), I prepared a folder of music, but when I got to the session, I had forgotten it. I only had instruments and recording equipment, so I thought, ‘You have been making music your whole life, just play and see what happens’. I decided to trust that I had something to say as a composer.

  2. These Feral Lands showcases breathtaking performance and innovative writing, all of which was recorded, composed, and mixed remotely. What challenges did you face with the physical separation between yourself and your collaborator, Kate Ellis? Were there any advantages to the separation?

    It has been strangely liberating to keep discovering new ways of working with Kate on this project. We embarked on an epic adventure to document 2021 by writing, recording and releasing an EP every month. I had met Kate only once in person in London in early March 2020. I was commissioned to compose a piece for her for solo cello. Our first meeting was on the walk from Liverpool Street Station to LSO St. Luke’s in London to workshop the piece with the commissioner. 15 minutes of walking, talking, grabbing a coffee and then straight to business, this is when I realized I could work with her. She is straight talking and was immediately open, as well as responsive and generous as a collaborator, plus she’s really nice and funny!

    We have tried various ways of working remotely together, passing tracks back and forth, playing over the phone to each other, and sending 10-second fragments back and forth. It’s nice to know that someone is in a room working on something at the same time as you. A long distance, but immediate call and response.

    Over the year, we have been through so many emotions with family losses, the pandemic, yet the music is always there. I think you get a different sense of a person via phone and video. We are developing our own musical language and a trust in our writing partnership. In a way, it’s been as intense as going on tour with someone, having time to talk about a lot of subjects and experiencing something new together.

  3. Alongside your stunning collection of commissions and original work, you also have an impressive amount of film/tv credits. Do you approach your work in visual media differently than your personal compositions? If so, how?

    The music that I have made for short films has usually come about when someone has approached me because of the way that I play, for example I play the violin with an “Overbow’ technique which means taking the bow apart and looping the hairs across all four strings to create a polyphonic effect, and other extended techniques such as playing double recorders, (I do play these instruments conventionally too). For film I want to interpret and give new levels to the visual atmosphere and storyline, I try not to be too obvious or generic. I recently worked on a trailer for a short horror film, I loved creating tension with new sounds such as playing two crumhorns together, making oscillating difference tones, with essentially a pair of double reeds.

  4. How does your passion for performing influence your composition process?

    Everything begins with improvisation for me, I feel that it’s really important to be constantly trying new styles and instruments and evoking different moods. When I’m writing library music, I make up a lot of situations in my head, imagined films, and stories, I explore a lot of ideas that I don’t do in my solo work, with multi tracking, synthesizers, I am able to realize more and build bigger sound worlds. I’ve recently started making my own short films and music videos too, this is really teaching me what music does in partnership with film. Part of what I do as a solo performer/composer is try to expand and see what is possible by using my instruments in different ways without technology. For film and tv I love this approach too, seeing how much intensity you can create without a full orchestra. One of my favourite recent scores by another composer is The Mandalorian by Ludwig Göransson who uses bass recorder for the main theme, obviously I am biased because I love the recorder, but he takes it somewhere so atmospheric and otherworldly, though a very familiar world to my ears of working in experimental and medieval music.

  5. Would you like to share any current or upcoming news? Any new music/project releases we should keep an eye out for?

    I am really looking forward to mine and Kate’s first concert together at King’s Place in London in February 2022. Pre-pandemic, I would find interesting places to record my solo albums. For example: Southwold Lighthouse – Simultaneous Flight Movement, a medieval church ruin on a cliff – Beneath Swooping Talons,and in 2019 inside Wapping Hydraulic Power Station in London – The Earth with Her Crowns (2020). There is a very special acoustic at Bergen Kunsthall, that has stayed in my mind.

    I have just finished a new solo album which will be released in spring of 2022 called ‘Antiphony of the Trees’. I was thinking about the constant messages and conversations birds and people have; I am very excited to get it out there.

    The August edition of our year documented features two guest performers, Welsh Experimental Harpist Rhodri Davies, and the Writer/Comedian Stewart Lee. I have composed so much more this year and I want to expand the film and tv composition side of my work, so I am opening the doors to new musical adventures.

    Interview by Michael Van Bodegom Smith

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