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8 August 2018

Five questions to Connor D'Netto

Connor D'Netto Image: Connor D'Netto  

Composer and 2018 Art Music Awards finalist Connor D'Netto is about to embark on a tour with his new duo called We Are Breathing, together with American cellist Ben Baker. In this Q & A, Connor gives us a little update about this, as well as his other recent activities. Projects currently on his composing desk include a string quartet, funded through APRA's Art Music Fund. You can catch Connor and Ben on 10 and 14 August in Brisbane, 18 August in Melbourne, and 25 August in Sydney as part of the Extended Play festival.

Q You're about to start your tour - what do you play?

A A bit of everything! In We Are Breathing I'm mostly on synths and electronics, but I also do some percussion and singing - in one concert, at Made Now Music in Brisbane on 10 August, we'll be doing a semi-improvised show with percussionist Caleb Colledge, and I might even be picking up the cello for a bit! (I used to play, kinda.)

Q Why does a composer perform, is it important for your work as a composer, or not really?

A I think it's super important that a composer performs, or has performed, or has a performance background of some variety. It grounds you in the actual practice of music making, and helps you to be in the mind of the performer that will interpret your music. It makes you aware of the difficulties of performance, rehearsing, performability and everything else that comes with live music making - through your own personal experience.

On the other hand, I totally wasn't thinking about being a 'composer' and being a 'performer' with We Are Breathing. We are thinking like a band. In most bands, everyone composes, everyone performs - one guy comes up with a riff, you jam on it for a while, another guy writes a beat that fits with it, everyone goes away after rehearsal and comes back with ideas the next day - it's super collaborative. In We Are Breathing, both Ben and I write the music, and we both perform it together. I love it. The best way to learn about composing is to learn from the process of others from the inside. You learn not only new ideas and techniques but new perspectives on music and art. Those are the things that change the way you think about your music.

Q You're a finalist for this year's Art Music Awards, in the 'Excellence by an Individual' category. Why do you think you made the shortlist?

A First off, I'm so honoured to have been nominated and to make the shortlist, and I could not have done it without all the amazing collaborators that worked with me on Argo in 2017 - the Australian composers, the performers, the visual/film/video artists, the venues, the festivals and presenting partners. I think that's maybe why I, or Argo, made the shortlist - because that project brought together so many different creative minds and personalities, with a particular focus on young Australian artists. The project was curated to focus around different overall ideas/experiences, so it was altogether cohesive, but left as much room as possible for the individuals to bring their own voices into it. It was a real privilege, to get to work with all these fantastic artists.

Q You've recently spent a year in London, can you tell us about that?

A Yes! I'm studying my Master's at the Royal College of Music, half-way through now and have another year to go. It's been really fun, and hugely eye-opening. Just being able to experience so much of what's going on all across the world, every day of the week. Especially to experience and learn from so much of the contemporary European music scene. It's something I didn't know much about before; I knew a good deal about the American music scene (and Australian obviously), but Europe was more of an uncharted territory to me.

Studying composition in London has likewise been very eye-opening and hugely challenging, in a good way. It has put my music up against very different thoughts, opinions and ideals to what I had experienced before, which has been a great learning experience - it made me come to terms with why I write the way I write, I learnt new things I wanted to incorporate into my language and rework them to fit organically, and it made me learn which things didn't fit.

Q What's happening with your composition at the moment?

Well, for the past two months, We Are Breathing is what's been happening! I've spent time in the US, hanging out with Ben at his place in Boston and up at his parents' place on a lake in Maine since early June. In that time we wrote all the music for our tour, over an hour's worth of music.

Looking forward, my next big piece to work on is a new string quartet, which will be premiered by the Goldner String Quartet at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music next year, then given its USA and UK premieres by the Mivos and Modulus Quartets respectively in 2020. There's a few other special things on the horizon, so stay tuned!

AMC resources

Connor D'Netto - AMC profile

'2018 Art Music Awards - finalists announced' - Resonate (17 July 2018)

'2018 Art Music Fund recipients announced' - Resonate (26 April 2018)

'ARGO - Journeying to the Sky' - a blog article by Connor D'Netto on Resonate (30 June 2017)

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