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Q & A with UBC School of Music’s Keith Hamel

Keith Hamel is a professor at the UBC School of Music, an associate researcher at the Insitute for Computing, Information and Cognative Science (ICICS), a researcher at the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre (MAGIC) and Director of the Computer Music Studio at UBC. Hamel is an award-winning composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. His works have been performed by many of the finest soloists and ensembles both in Canada and abroad.  His latest piece, “Heroes in the Seaweed”, is being performed by the Nu:BC Collective as part of the Radius series in the Telus Studio Theatre.

How did you get into writing music? Do you remember the first piece you ever composed?

KH: I actually got into composition through studying music theory. While I played various instruments growing up I didn’t start music seriously until I was 16 and I started taking classic guitar lessons and studying music theory.  After doing all the RCM [Royal Conservatory of Music] theory, form and counterpoint courses, I started writing compositions based on the tonal models I had studied. The first piece I remember writing (which I probably called Opus 1) was a fugue for classical guitar and piano which my mother and I played together.


What inspires you to write music?

KH: I am inspired by many different things these days, and different pieces come from completely different influences.  Many of my recent pieces are inspired by sound itself, and I use spectral analysis techniques to extract compositional material from these sounds.  I have found that when you look inside sound you find a gold mind of interesting sonic elements that you can use compositionally.  I usually use electronics in my compositions and that allows me to transform sounds in ways that extend the sonic possibilities of traditional instruments.  I am also inspired by beautiful things such as the chant of Hildegard von Bingen, the timbre of bells, and poetry, prose or music that moves me.


Tell us about this new piece you have written for Nu:BC.

KH: My new composition for Nu:BC is entitled “Heroes in the Seaweed” and this title is a line from Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne”, which I first remember playing when I first started learning guitar at age 16.  This composition is probably more about Leonard Cohen than it is about me, and the electroacoustic part includes quotations of Cohen’s poetry, his prose (Beautiful Losers in particular) and a couple of fragments of his music.  The acoustic instruments of the ensemble are all transformed through electroacoustic processing and they create a colourful counterpoint to the recited text.  The piece is probably best described as a collage of sound where layers of Cohen and Hamel are intermixed in strange and unexpected ways.

Thu Apr 2, 2015