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Interview with Joseph Hillyard from Immix

Tonight (7.30pm) Ben Duvall from mallet-guitar trio Ex-Easter Island Head joins forces with composer Joseph Hillyard to create musical responses to our current exhibition, The Negligent Eye.

The pair are performing as part of the new Immix Ensemble who focus on collaborations with innovative musical voices from across Liverpool and the North West. Drawing on the talents of some of the region's finest instrumentalists, Immix aims to champion the work of forward thinking composers, songwriters, bands and sound artists, and to cast a spotlight on emerging talent, with an emphasis on artists whose work slips between the cracks of style and genre.

We spoke to Joseph Hillyard to find out more about Immix.

Tell us a little about yourself: How did you get into music? Who have you collaborated with in the past? What styles and themes do you enjoy experimenting with and incorporating into your work? 

From a young age (I don’t remember quite how young, but less than ten-years-old) I attended concerts performed by Wirral Symphony Orchestra, with whom my grandpa played clarinet. He had always wanted to study music, but never had the chance and so he was keen that I learned about it. To his delight, it stuck and eighteen months ago I graduated from Cardiff University with distinction for a Masters degree in Composition.

The concert for Immix Ensemble is my first collaboration since last July’s Mersey Sound concert in Hoylake, presented by Wirral Festival of Firsts. For that concert several young, Merseyside-based composers were asked to write a work on any aspect of Merseyside they wished. This is where I first met Daniel Thorne, who has worked hard to set up this series of concerts with Immix and deserves great credit for it. Incidentally, the piece I had performed at Mersey Sound, View Across the Estuary, has been rewritten for Wednesday’s concert.

Lately, I have taken great influence from the natural world, attempting to recreate the character or atmosphere of wildlife and landscapes. The music isn’t designed to be literal, but more of an impression or snapshot and as such I enjoy creating music that evolves slowly and naturally. For instance, my piano trio Three Feathers takes on the characteristics of three of my favourite birds; hummingbird, magpie and blue heron.

I had great fun getting my teeth into The Negligent Eye. For some time I have wanted to write music for an exhibition or installation and so this opportunity was not to be missed. I enjoyed its emphasis on looking forward in its field and especially the emphasis given to emerging artists (a parallel with the idea of Immix)

What was the art-piece that resonated with you the most?

During the times I visited the exhibition, I always found myself drawn back to (The Negligent Eye’s curator) Jo Stockham’s Never Home, a bleak and blurred scanned photo of the River Thames crumpled with small tears that reveal bright orange paint. It is a work where I instantly recognised that there was music to be found. As I often do with visual stimuli, to begin writing this work I took the most striking elements of Never Home and created small, simple ideas to represent each one before weaving them together to create a larger piece of music. To me the print was particularly powerful and I hope the music reflects that.

What themes have you explored?

A general theme of The Negligent Eye is the juxtaposition of the word “scanning”. In printmaking, a scanned image may be a near-perfect replica of the original, or it may take on only its most prominent characteristics. Taking the latter idea, I have written You Get the Gist, where I ask the performers to read a “melodic” line as fast as they can. The piece doesn’t even last two minutes, yet there are over 3000 notes contained in the score!

How has technology, over the past few years, affected the way you compose and create?

A few years ago, when I first considered writing music as a career to be pursued, I had no interest in writing for anything other than acoustic ensembles and it has not been until recently that my prejudices have relaxed. Electronic music and classical music are more closely related than ever before and I intend to be writing electro-acoustic music in the near future. Seeing such diversity in the media used in The Negligent Eye has helped convince me that music must be going in a similar direction.

Do you have any upcoming events or musical projects? 

December (date TBC) this year will see Port Sunlight Orchestra celebrate the 125th anniversary of Port Sunlight and they have been kind enough to request an orchestral suite from me, to be performed at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Writing for orchestra is never an easy task, but I always enjoy challenging myself!


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