In Conversation with Christopher Mayo

Christopher Mayo is a Toronto-based composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal and electronic music. His music is characterised by its distinctive rhythmic language and diverse and eclectic inspirations. Christopher’s works have been commissioned and performed by leading ensembles worldwide, and now, he is bringing his work Beast to London for its European premiere on the 5 December, performed by The Riot Ensemble at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

What type of music/genre is Beast?

I like to think of Beast as a song where the singer is displaced in time and space from the audience. Beast is a setting of Canadian poet bpNichol’s sound poem of the same name, released on cassette in 1971. In my work, the ensemble acts as the accompaniment to this recording, engaging with the text and melody as would be the case in any song setting, but also using the microscopic detail of the idiosyncrasies of the recording—variation in tempo or intonation for instance—as inspiration for musical material.

What was your inspiration for creating this piece, and where do you find inspiration as a composer?

As a composer, I particularly enjoy the kind of creative problem solving that comes along with dealing with rigid constraints of one kind or another, in this case, the constraint of the recording of the poem. This was the second piece I wrote in response to an existing work by bpNichol, I had previously written an orchestral accompaniment for a projection of his computer poem First Screening.

What are your thoughts on the way that space affects music; as the piece is going to be performed in an unusual East London venue – London’s only Lighthouse?

I feel that the space in which music is performed has the ability to influence your experience as much as anything you hear. I’ve never been to Trinity Buoy Wharf and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the history, location and peculiarities of the space imprint themselves on the concert.

What excites you about The Riot Ensemble and how they will interpret your piece?

I first worked with The Riot Ensemble almost five years ago in February 2014 when I wrote them a piece for five bassoons, Youngblood II. I’m very excited to get a chance to work with them again and bring their dedication and energy to the European premiere of Beast.

Experience Beast live as part of the Spitalfields Music Festival 2018 on Wednesday 5 December, alongside Richard Reed Parry’s Music for Heart and Breath and Nicole Lizée’s Black Midi.