If you’ve not already checked out Anna Meredith’s mischievous 2016 Scottish album of the year winning Varmints and you’ve at least a passing interest in your ears then give it a whirl. It’s a mind and body stimulating, bracingly fearless mix of pop, classical, techno and genres undefined.
There’s new ideas popping their heads round every crooked corner. It’s easy to imagine album opener ‘Nautilus’ in a horrific trip/dream sequence from a 40’s Disney movie (poor Dumbo) while ‘R-Type’ leads with it’s Red era Dave Clarke kick and dark synth whirls before giving way to galloping rhythms and intense 80’s arcade style arpeggios.
Her music has been played everywhere from the BBC Last Night of the Proms to flashmob body-percussion performances in the M6 services and she’s constantly innovating and pushing boundaries in sound and space. Definitely one not to miss at this year’s Electric Fields festival.
With Varmints being a move away from your purely classical previous work to a more pop like sound and incorporating electronic instruments did you approach writing it in a different way?
I’m not thinking too much about it being electronic or pop. The way that I write all the music is kinda the same, I use the same harmonic and musical building blocks no matter what kind of music I’m writing.
I was just using a different set of materials, using electronic instruments instead of just exclusively acoustic instruments. With using electronics as well, it’s not solely that, but in terms of how the materials are approached it’s the same way I’d approach writing something for orchestra or choir or whatever.
Increasingly I’m starting to perform more. I did a piece for the Scottish Ensemble last year that was an orchestra but also electronics and visuals so that kind of mix is increasingly becoming part of what I do.
Do you tend to tailor your performances to the space?
Initially it was a surprise to me that I would be able to do the same gig each night. I’d basically shaped it before, obviously you’d want to know how long the set was what type of day it is, what kind of gig it is, I’ll have a think about what the options are.
A few times we’ve changed things during the gig and added things and taken things away but there’s generally shape that I think works pretty well that I don’t like to mess about with too much because I think it takes you through the variety of different types of energy.
I was reading a bit about a new piece you’ve been working on called Hum?
Yeah it’s finished now but that was an installation at the Barbican’s Curve gallery which is a blacked out space that runs round the back of the Barbican hall. It has 20 students from the Junior Guild Hall school all with these UV lit tubes called whirly tubes that I adapted to different lengths so that they played different chord structures.
I’m doing quite a lot of installation pieces just now, I’m quite enjoying these site specific pieces just now where I have to work around a particular space and think in quite broad brush stokes about what’s going to work in a particular environment.
Your approach to writing electronic music seems to be quite different from the way that most people approach it.
Yeah well I write the music in Sibelius initially which is classical notation software and that’s where I make sure the actual nuts and bolts work on their own terms and then take the MIDI information out of that and into Ableton and shake it up from there.
Also I work a lot with my band to make sure it works and they write their own parts so it’s a multi layered process that we go through which still keeps me in control right the way through. It’s collaborative in that we work on their parts together, I’ll do the main sound but when working out the drum part or the guitar part we’ll work together on their part from a demo I’ve made.
Looking forward from Varmints, what’s next? Will we see a follow-up?
Starting to think about the new album just now which is a wee bit terrifying but it’s really early stages, working out the musical starting points so that means for me kind of cutting myself off from distractions and focus on what ideas are going to work.