For our very first interview, we have invited Oliver Buckland to talk to us about his music. We already have introduced his discography to you, and talked in lenght about his awesome composition "Pendent". We are glad to give you a chance to better understand his music. This was thought to be more like a conversation than a classical interview, from our non-specialists points of view. Hope you enjoy it !
Oliver : Hello, hi Alex hi Etienne
Alex : How are you ? We are very thrilled to talk to you about your music
Etienne : Okay, first, can you just present yourself, the music that you listen growing up as a child and the music that your parents listened?
Oliver : I started composition when I was 15 years old, I’m currently 20, and I’m from the south-west of England, in the middle of nowhere basically. I sang in choirs from the age of seven until the age of 14, so I grew up with a lot of choral music. And my dad, who is a very musical person, has been playing the piano since I was very young. Considering the music that I listen myself, I used to listen a lot of choral music, but right now I don’t have any type of music that I’m listening to, it’s very eclectic and I genuinely listen to random things on Spotify and on soundcloud and taking suggestions.
Alex : When you talk about choir music, do you intend more classical pieces or also more gospel-oriented stuff ? Or maybe both?
Oliver : When I talk about choir music, it’s very classical, very like deeply religious choir music but not gospel, even though it’s cool and fun. I was singing pieces by Bach or modern choir composers like Benjamin Britten. But that’s just kind of my musical background, I don’t know if it had a huge influence on what I do right now.
Bach - Chorals BWV 253-301
Benjamin Britten : Five Flower Songs, op.47
Etienne : You note on your soundcloud that you are studying in the Royal College Of Music…
Oliver : Yeah ! I’ve just finished my second year!
Etienne : Congratulations ! Can you just present this institution? Is it a school where there is only classical music or is it open to various music areas ?
Oliver : I’m very happy to say that the composition department allows me to write in whatever way I like, teachers are here to make you develop any style that you have rather than make you write in a particular way. They don’t restrain you creatively; they give you a lot of room to grow. They look at the way I write, and then there’s a little conversation, as a little dialog, perhaps to improve but not to make you write in a specific way. That’s something I’m very happy about, because without naming them, there are certain places where you learn to compose in a certain way, and I specifically chose the Royal College Of Music because of the freedom it gives.
Alex : About yourself, and the way you compose music : do you have a method ? Do you like hear it in your head and then write everything? Do you improvise some bits? Or do you program some parts and then play it later?
Oliver : Sure, that is quite a difficult question because I have to think about the way I compose myself and that’s quite changeable. My general method to write acoustic music is to figure out an idea in terms of what I’d like the music to achieve, and to give you an example an old piece of mine is called “This New Sea” and before writing any music whatsoever I wanted to figure out what the music had to achieve and so this particular piece is about space and historical events to do with space. It started by writing a text about what I had to achieve, and when I had this text-based planning, I thought about small musical phrases or pieces, starting really really small, and trying to expand this musical ideas. This is kinda what I do right now, but there have been occasions where I completely improvised. For instance, the piece “Pendent” was almost completely improvised in electronically on my computer, and then I expanded the ideas that came up with it into an eight minutes-long piece. I’m not being very helpful, if I wanted to give you a very short answer I’d say “start from little ideas, grow them from there”.
Alex : No, that was pretty clear, you start with a kind of scenario and then expand this little musical ideas
Oliver : It’s like a slow grow from one idea. But there are occasions, like on my more electronic music, where I just sit down and improvise completely.
Alex : It’s kind of funny because Etienne had kind of guessed that about the way you composed and improvised “Pendent”, because he said that some parts sounded like samples but re-played and some short motifs on piano especially sounded played and reversed.
Etienne : I listen to a lot of electronic music, and to me “Pendent” sounded like it was composed with electronic music techniques but then given a “classical” form.
Oliver : That’s exactly what I was after for that piece. When I write electronic music I tried to introduce acoustic music and the techniques I learned from composing acoustic pieces. And vice versa, when I compose acoustic music I try to incorporate little things coming from electronic music.
Alex : We just saw a little documentary with Etienne about that. It starred Robert Glasper, don’t know if you know him, a jazz and hip-hop musician, and he said that J Dilla beats made him want to play piano like it can be heard in his beats : slowed down, cut and pasted, chopped… The way Dilla beats felt organic to Glasper made him want to play them like that. And it’s funny cause in fact they are jazz pieces but modified electronically.
Jazz Is The Mother Of Hip-Hop
Documentary starring Robert Glasper
Oliver : I can see the parallels you’re drawing. We’ll, I don’t know what my compositional voice is actually, but that’s part of the journey!
Alexandre : In “Pendent”, we noticed a very interesting use of silence in music. And that’s a kind of thing that means something when we hear it. How do you use silence in your compositions ?
Oliver : I think I use it as it comes to me. Silence is very important sometimes, but in “Pendent” I wanted to keep the momentum going for the whole way, as if it’s a machine taking over, sometimes getting loud and sometimes getting quieter. But, if that piece is loud for all way through it’s exhausting for the listener cause there’s a tension all along the piece. So if it’s always loud it can sound cheesy or not very interesting or too dramatic. But silence can also be used in very dramatic, aggressive kind of ways. Like the end of each movement in “This New Sea”, I asked the performers to pause for a specific amount of time, to show people something was over and something else was about to start. And in the little piece called “Cycle”, I thought it was too “in-your-face”, there was too much energy, so I selected two points for unexpected pauses, and let the silence just rain as such, which made the audience sit up and think “Wow, what’s happening ?”. But often it’s not thought about, silence is used the way it comes to me.
Etienne : Silence might be for music the “off-screen” of the cinema, a way to desire what will happen, what comes next.
Oliver : Yes, silence can underline in a very powerful manner some pieces of music or film.
Alex : Would you like some day to realize a soundtrack for a movie ?
Oliver : Absolutely ! Scoring for films is very difficult, but very rewarding. I did a little bit of scoring for films, but it’s not on my soundcloud. I really enjoyed it a lot, but it requires a lot of skills, passion and time. But that’s certainly something I wanna do more and hopefully show on my channel soon.
Alex : You said that, in the way you compose, you write a little scenario. Do you think about pictures also ?
Oliver : I have something called synesthesia. Textures, colours and sounds are connected, when I hear music I see colours for example. This is called chromesthesia. In terms of visuals, when I hear a certain key, I see a colour. So I enjoy changing key a lot cause I see a very colourful thing in my head.
Alex : And how do you chose your visuals ? Do you collaborate with someone, do it yourself ?
Oliver : Almost all of the times I pick and edit myself the pictures from the internet. Only for the album covers of Ten and Twenty I asked a friend to do them… I don’t know why, I thought it would be great to let some of my creative control to someone else for these projects.
Etienne : What about your soundcloud picture ? It’s a kind of cubist picture, is it a metaphor of your music ? Like, we can see the borders of it but we have to guess what’s inside ?
Oliver : I did the profile picture myself. My mom hates it, she says it’s creepy, she says “Change it for a nice one !”, and I say “No!”. To me, you know that it’s a human, it’s probably me but it’s slightly alien, slightly odd. A bit like my music, you are likely to get some of it but not everything about it, just like that picture. It is distorted, it’s not what you expect, it’s a little strange, and that’s what I was after.
Etienne : Pendent is in a way a repetitive piece, do you have some influences from contemporary music or ambient music, and composers like Steve Reich ? Because I feel like there’s a link with your music and with the electronic music culture, when you can use the same sample over and over and stretch it to create a piece lasting hours. Do you feel a connection with Steve Reich or other “modern” composers?
Oliver : I wouldn’t say I’m “linked” to anybody, but Philip Glass and Steve Reich are big influences on me. I like quite a lot of their music, not all of it, but there are some of there pieces that really resonate in me. There is a Steve Reich piece called Three Tales, where he’s using the pitch of different people’s voices and turning it into a piece of music. I did the same thing in one of my pieces called This New Sea, as a sort of tribute. It doesn’t sound like Three Tales, but it has some elements from Reich’s music.
Steve Reich - Three Tales
Etienne : I feel like your music in “Pendent” is even richer. You have all this classical music background, with tonal music, with more melody than contemporary music. Some parts even sound like Piazzola. I have played your song to three different people, independently, and they all said “ Oh, this part sounds like Piazzola” !
Astor Piazzola - Les Quatre Saisons de Buenos Aires - L'automne
Oliver : (laughs) Oh really ? It’s interesting, I wrote this piece very quickly, within a month. When I was composing it in school, in was hearing it in my head and to me the piece was gonna be a funny piece. In my mind, it was like joking but when I heard the performance, the piece was a lot more serious piece. And my parents, when they heard this piece, thought that I was very moody, whereas when I write it I was kind of smiling all of the way, finding musical jokes I could put in just for myself.
Alex : That’s kind of funny, because even so the overall mood of the song is serious or sad, some tiny piano pieces, especially the piano, are like hope in the despair, it’s not all grey. It’s kind of cliché but there’s light in the dark (laughs).
Oliver : I wasn’t thinking of darkness at all, I was thinking in terms of chord changes, adding the violins there etc… The violins themselves were part of a joke because I wrote the main part and added all these very difficult notes… I deliberately wrote it so it was inconvenient to play because I hope that they’d get slightly out of tune, that almost nobody noticed but they did, and that’s one of the musical jokes I put in for myself. For the last part, I was beginning with a very insistent idea like the beginning of the piece, but I chose to improvise not very long before I had to give the scores, and that’s how it came, without any plan. So when I gave the scores to the performers, they had only one week to train before the performance. So it was kind of short but they did it really, really well.
Alexandre : About the performance in itself, it was kind of brutal, it has emergency in it, maybe that’s why people find it serious. Do you personally give very detailed instructions with the score or do you let them a lot of freedom for the interpretation ? And when you listen to the performance, what do you feel when you hear your piece played by different people ?
Oliver : For “Pendent”, and in general, I give almost no instructions at all, just the music. I had kinda under-notated it to make the performance play their interpretation of the piece, cause I like it when I hear someone else’s interpretation of something I’ve written, cause usually they do a very creative work. The only possible complaint about the performance is that the piano is using a little bit too much pedal at the beginning, but in general I was very pleased with the way they played.
Alex : This performance of the Coniston Trio, which took place in March, included compositions from another very young british composer. What is it like to have classical concerts based on what you composed at such a young age ? How was this performance organized ?
Oliver : I feel very lucky and grateful ! It was completely unrelated to the College and to the Royal Northern College of Manchester. It was just a friend from Manchester who contacted me and asked me “Do you have a piece ?” and I said yes because they guaranteed a performance.
Etienne : You wrote on soundcloud that “Pendent” is post-minimalist music. What is post-minimalism in classical music and to you ?
Oliver : I don’t know… (laughts) Ok, post-minimalism is a pretentious word that kinda means something, but also doesn’t (laughts). I wouldn’t classify it as minimalism exactly, because it is in part but not exactly. Post-minimalism is the movement that occurred after composers like Philip Glass, Terry Riley and Steve Reich, that has a lot of elements from their music, but also other elements like changing keys, musical returning or incoherent structures… What I mean when I put this word is that it is minimalism but it also is something else.
Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air
Alexandre : You acknowledge minimalism and you also build on it, you’re not a minimalism purist. You take it and bring it somewhere else.
Oliver : Yeah it’s a good way to put it, but it makes me sound pretentious (laughts).
Alexandre : Another track from you that we loved, in a totally different style, is “Pinkover”.
Oliver : (laughts) Well that’s a fun one !
Alexandre : We liked it because we can hear that you’re young and not restricted to one genre of music, like you previously said. Concerning electronic music, do you have some specific electronic music influences, popular or more academic, or do you improvise and create your own style ?
Oliver : I’m not very familiar with a lot of popular music. I take it and try to figure it out by myself and I try to make my own sound through improvisation. So, “Pinkover” was done by thinking about a very inconvenient chord sequence and then seeing how much I could mess around with it and put it into a very unmemorable electronic piece with over-the-top everything. And yeah, I don’t want to be limited in a specific style and I want to convey a certain sense of non-seriousness, of fun. Give people completely different emotions from different musics.
Etienne : That’s why I was attracted by your soundcloud, by this kind of electronic music made with acoustic instruments.
Alexandre : And it’s not a purist thing, it’s not only exercises of style, there is always something emotional beneath the tracks.
Oliver : Thank you. Yes, I don’t do electronic music because I can, I want to convey some sort of emotions, even if it’s a personal, strange and difficult to identify emotion I want the listener to feel something.
Alexandre : Some musicians from classical background can collaborate with pop musicians, jazzmen, electronic musicians or rappers. Would any of these collaboration be interesting to you and which ones ?
Oliver : All of it. Right now I’d be a lot into collaborating with a jazz musician, but I’d also like to be able to fuse different genres to bring people enjoying either one to discover and like the other style. So I’d like to do all of it ! I say bring them all !
Alexandre : That’s what we liked about you, because tracks like “Pinkover” are more accessible and can bring more people to listen to your music. Then, they like you and they discover you other stuff and they start liking different styles.
Oliver : That’s definitely what I want to achieve musically. Because I think lots of music are not well understood, and I want to be able to introduce people to ways of writing that they don’t know but in a way that they would understand and enjoy. I think that’s the purpose of my channel at the moment, make people listen to music they wouldn’t listen to and prepare them for wackier thing to come.
Alexandre : That’s what we try to do too, bring people to styles they wouldn’t listen on their own.
Etienne : Like, we’ll write an article about the last Drake and then about the last Oliver Buckland track (laughts). To bring you all Drake’s fans. You have two albums on your soundcloud, Ten and Twenty, that are very different from you other stuff. And that have a lot of humor in it, we can hear video games music for example.
Drake - Hotline Bling
Oliver : I like to surprise people, to make them think : “what’s next ?”
Alexandre : And you manage to do it perfectly !
Etienne : Hearing those albums, we also thought about people like Wendy Carlos, playing classical music but using some electronic techniques and synthesizers.
Alexandre : Yes, classical music, richly composed but played on cheesy and goofy synths.
Oliver : Exactly !
Etienne : Yeah, it shows classical music can be fun ! Do you think you have lots of fun in your music?
Oliver : Completely. Quite a lot of my music has this British, satirical and parodic thing underneath.
The Monty Pythons
Alex : I don’t know if you have this reference, but with your more electronic-focused works we thought about guys like Mr Oizo ?
Mr Oizo - Flat Beat
Oliver : Oh yeah I know him ! I love this guy ! You’re referring to “Microchip” [from Twenty] right ? By the way, I’ll release Thirty next month, so get ready for it !
Etienne : We’ll be ready ! To come back to Mr Oizo, he’s like a huge musical joke, but with depth and irony.
Alex : And I don’t know if you know the Canadian musician Chilly Gonzales ?
Oliver : No !
Chilly Gonzales Solo Piano
Alex : He has solo piano albums, but he also did electronic music, collaborated with the indie-pop singer Feist, made beats for Drake, was on the last Daft Punk album, does podcasts where he explains how are made pop, rap, jazz, electronic and classical music…. He’s a very opened classical musician too. He even organized a goofy piano battle, he’s a showman. He tries to bring people to classical music by any means. And he says that if people don’t listen to classical music, it’s the fault of the classical music composers and players because they haven’t done the efforts to bring people to it. They are mostly purists, elitist, and they don’t try to crossover with popular culture or to talk to people, in general.
Oliver : I’m 80% in agreement with that sentence. I’d say yeah, absolutely, I’m gonna try to write in a way that can bring a huge amount of people to be at least slightly interested in the music that I like. Perhaps classical music is also very different from popular music. They are not made for the same purposes. You often listen to popular music for consumption, you get in the bus, you listen to it, you get off the bus and you put off your headphones. That’s the way most people listen to music. Whereas classical music takes time, you have to sit, do nothing but listen to it, and digest the music. If there’s a way to create music that balances between these two things, then you can bring more people to classical music.
Alexandre : Like crossover tracks.
Oliver : Exactly. Rather than saying “Oh, this is my classical music and I don’t want to change it”.
Alexandre : Does some pop, rock, rap, etc… make you feel the same thing than classical music ? Which pop artists make you wanna stop everything, sit down and just listen to them.
Oliver : Certainly there are, I’m just struggling right now to find which examples. That’s a difficult question… Oh, there’s a pop group I’ve always admired. It can sound bizarre, but surprisingly it’s ABBA. I can sit down, listen to ABBA and think “That’s a very well composed piece !”. I can enjoy it for what it is. But it’s more from a compositional point of view, it’s written with extreme care, the sort of care that any classical composer puts into a piece, clinical care that I can appreciate.
ABBA - The Winner Takes It All
Etienne : To end this interview, can you suggest some piece of music than can interest our readers ?
Oliver : I’d pick three choices :
La Pop d’Alexandre & Etienne : Great ! Thank you very much !
Etienne & Alex