Friday, 8 November 2013

Tansy Davies - "The present day composers refuse to die"

Tansy Davies © Maurice Foxall

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"The human tension in my music is often a sexual

 tension. I like the idea of using instruments as

 restricted vehicles of expression. The player has to

 pour more and more expression into this

 spectacularly imperfect instrument to make it 

expressive. There are a lot of whips and 

twanging sounds, like S&M, in my music.

The performance is always an altered 

version of the original."


Her music is abrasive, propulsive, abrupt and at times jagged - like broken glass shattering onto concrete or like a river running hard over smashed boulders. As with Ralph Vaughan Williams or Igor Stravinsky, she has her influences. For them it was folk and Jazz; for her, naturally enough, it is rock and the avant-garde, techno and funk. But there is nothing of the smart arse intellectual about her compositions, no shoegazing, no navel contemplating of odd French philosophers. Its has been described as inhabiting the same urban landscape as industrial techno and electronica. There is prog here, there is fusion, there is slap bass-synth and there is a drive.It is in other words music of the now, of the 21st century. It is music even a germ like me can enjoy and understand and yet it still gets classified as 'classical.'


Like Portishead and Massive Attack, Tansy hails from Bristol. Just like both groups, she is experimental. Her use of classical acoustic instruments mixed with electronics is thrilling. She was born on 29th May 1973. She has won numerous awards including the BBC Young Composers Competition in 1996. She studied the French Horn and composition at the Colchester Institute, also studied with Simon Bainbridge at the Guildhall School of Music. Since then, and in between composing various pieces, she has been a composer in residence at Royal Holloway, University of London and currently teaches at the Royal Academy. She has a B.A an MMus, a Ph.D. and D.Univ (whatever they are) and she in only just 40.

'This conflict between the human and the natural, the bodily and the geological – between Prince and Xenakis – is at the heart of her music.' The Guardian


"Davies tells us in her programme note that she’s always been fascinated by allegorical figures of the Tarot, and this piece is a whirling parade of 17 of them. The composer helpfully gave us a checklist: the Moon and Sun were opaque metallic sounds; the Lovers were two sinuous lines; Justice starts mercurially but soon develops a “grinding groove”. - Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

"But this music dances as well as shines. Its energy is infectious, achieved Stravinsky-fashion by insistent repetition, crisp rhythmic unisons and deep, sudden contrasts of perspective. Iris forms rainbow bridges (this is the composer’s description) between an antique string chorale-gone-wonky and vibrant episodes for the whole ensemble, linked by a soprano saxophone and signalled by sharp percussion strokes. The sense of space is almost tangible, the pace jolting but exhilarating. I loved both works and look forward to hearing other things by this gifted composer. - Steven Walsh, The Arts Desk

""The present day composers refuse to die. They have realised the necessity of banding together and fighting for the right of each individual to secure a fair and free presentation of his work"  - Edgar Varése

"Like a lot of my music, it's built up layer by layer, a bit like funk. But, whereas funk is incredibly tight, I make something very baggy. I like to keep people guessing by suggesting a pulse, and then showing that actually the true pulse is somewhere else." - Tansy Davies


Tansy's output is impressive...

The Void in This Colour (2001) - chamber ensemble of 13 players
Inside Out ii (2003)[
Genome (2003)[
Spiral House (2004) - trumpet and orchestra
neon (2004) - chamber ensemble of 7 players
Iris (2004) - soprano saxophone and chamber ensemble of 15 players
Tilting (2005) - orchestra
Falling Angel (2006) - chamber ensemble of 17 players
Streamlines (2006) - orchestra
grind show (electric) - chamber ensemble of 5 players plus electronics
kingpin (2007) - chamber orchestra
Adorned (2008) - strings, bass clarinet, cimbalom and harmonium
Hinterland (2008) - chamber ensemble
Rift (2008) - orchestra
Leaf Springs (2008)
grind show (unplugged) - (2008)
Destroying Beauty (2008) - voice and piano
This Love (2009) - tenor and piano 
Static (2009) - tenor and piano 
Troubairitz (2010) - soprano and percussion 
Wild Card (2010) - orchestra[
Greenhouses (2011) - female voice, alto flute, percussion and double bass 
Christmas Eve (2011) - mixed voice
Aquatic (2011) - duet cor anglais and percussion
Nature (2012) - concerto for piano and 10 players 

Delphic Bee (2012) - wind nonet 

What excites me is that she fulfills the Varése quote perfectly but goes one stage further - she is female. She is not the only one of course, not the first either but an addition to what for so long has been, I am positive Fanny Mendelssohn would agree, a male dominated platform. Her quality of music is superb and surely must be welcomed as orchestral music continues to evolve. 

Beyond this, beyond her obvious talent is her 'feet on the ground' approach. When her album 'Troubairitz’ was first released and the business of playing it live, of promoting it became important, Tansy chose to perform at London's Cargo club. It is a nightclub in what once was the rough arse end of London. She has taken back composed music to where it first began - to the people.

The music has all the prerequisite bits even if to some it will sound, as Eric Morecambe once said, to contain all the right notes but necessarily in the right order. There is the melody, there is passion, there is rhythmic energy. Yes, it is modern but what would you expect of someone young? A repeat of the previous generations sound would be unworthy and pointless. What has been composed can be heard again, interpreted over for as long as people wish to listen but having new approaches, new input is vital for music to survive, to grow and to replenish itself. This lady ably does that.

More power to her elbow.


Tansy Davies

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers and lets those notes blow where ere they will,

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