INTERVIEW: Matthew Whiteside

Hi Matthew, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Really good thanks. I’ve taken a few days off after doing a run of concerts at the Edinburgh Fringe. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to do 11 concerts in 8 days, but I think I’ll try and spread them out more in the future!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Quartet No. 4: III. Spinning”?

The piece came about from a commission from the Institute of Physics for the NI Science Festival. My Great Uncle is John Stewart Bell, a physicist most well knowing for his work in quantum physics, and every year they have a lecture dedicated to his work. They wanted to create a science/arts event around that so asked me to write a piece inspired by the work of Stewart.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Not really an event just a lifelong interest in physics and thinking how that can inspire my music.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

I worked with artist Marisa Zanottti on the video. Marisa, originally a choreographer approached making the films for Entangled in the same way as she would composing a choreography. She attended rehearsals to get a sense of the physicality of the musicians, how they connected to each other and how different instruments transmit different aspects of the work to inspire her in how she might imagine the piece visually.

Marisa created three films for the three movements, of the quartet; deciding to use one main source, a 45 second clip of a couple dancing from 1908, which was also the period when the new physics was emerging. The spinning action, the tension between the dancers, the dynamics of their dance, and the flaws in the footage make for a rich visual source. She then worked in both Final Cut and Motion to treat the footage in different ways particularly paying attention to the vibrato in the score, also making some original animations in Motion and using one still of photons. The film is very closely synchronised to the score with different image layers doing different jobs, there are 10 timelines working simultaneously across the 15 minutes!

The single comes off your new album Entangled – would you call this a conceptual record?

I hadn’t thought of it that way before you asked but probably. Yea I think it is.

My first album, Dichroic Light, is very much individual pieces curated together on an album. Entangled, on the other hand, is meant to be listened through from start to finish. Each piece stands on its own but also blends together more than on Dichroic Light. So, I think it’s much more satisfying to listen to completely from start to finish. All the pieces have a deeper relationship to each other than on Dichroic Light and in the electronic Responses I’ve even sampled some of the other work on the album.

Was this always meant to be or it rather evolve into this?

Not really, it kind of evolved into this. After writing Quartet No. 4 I wanted to release it. Initially I thought as an EP but then started thinking a bit more deeply. I realised my first album was released almost five years ago so thought it was time I should release a second album. It felt right that it was focused on strings and electronics because both have been such a large part of my work over the years.

How did you come up with the idea of turning this into a film as well?

Marisa Zanotti and I met during a Magnetic North residency where we bonded over a mutual interest in Science. Since then we have collaborated on a number of different things together including a short film, an installation and a 360 film.

I thought it would be really interesting to ask her to respond to my music and the concepts within it through film, so I asked her to create a film doing just that. At the first performance at the NI Science Festival the film was shown along with the Aurea quartet performing. It was really cool!

What’s the story behind the title?

‘Entangled’ is a reference to the phenomenon in physics of quantum entanglement where particles that are created at the same time seem to interact instantly over any distance. The interaction is measured by the spin of the particle. So ‘Spinning’ is a musical interpretation of that restless weird interaction.

The other movements of Entangled are ‘Spooky Action’ which is a reference to Einstein saying entanglement is ‘spooky action at a distance’ and ‘Waves’ referring to wave/particle duality. The physics behind all of that is really interesting! Go and watch Veritasium’s video on it on YouTube, and then probably watch it a few more times to get to grips with the weirdness.

How was the recording and writing process?

The recording process for the album went really smoothly, the Aurea Quartet are great to work with. The writing process was, as ever, the hard part. I had everything booked to record in July and by May had almost everything written for the album apart from the opening piece. I knew what kind of piece I wanted but I just couldn’t think of where to start. I was in Tallinn for a week for a music festival. While there I picked up a windchime in the Air BnB I was staying in and thought ‘that’s it! There’s the piece!’. So, Quartet No. 6 was written in about two weeks, which is really fast even by my standards, partially in Estonia and partially in Scotland based on that windchime and recordings I made of it.

Would you call this a departure from your previous musical work?

Development rather than departure. For years I’ve been pushing to try and write longer, slower music that just sat with one idea, but have never quite had the guts. I finally got them with Quartet No. 5 and then No. 6. Both feel like pushing in a way I’ve been trying to go musically for a while and I’m finally getting somewhere. Quartet No. 4 however goes the other way, with parts that are a lot faster and more driving than my previous music.

So yea, overall a development rather than a departure I think.

How has John Stewart Bell influenced the writing and music on this record?

It was fascinating reading through his body of work and trying to understand it in a way that I could use to inspire music. Some of it is much more a reaction to the ideas but some of it is taking specific equations and using those to inform the music, the structure of the electronics. In Bell’s Theorem the prediction was 50% of the time you would receive a certain result. So, in Spooky Action I programmed the electronics so that 50% of the time they didn’t work. This creates a slightly lopsided and unsettling feel to the movement.

Why did you choose to focus on this particular topic?

It is a fascination that’s always been there, the weirdness of quantum physics. If I wasn’t a composer, I was either going to be a physicist or a lawyer. A few years ago, I started attending evening classes on physics with a view to doing another degree but just ran out of time with all my musical work. So I use composition as an excuse to study new areas of physics.

Watch here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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