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Interview: Genevieve Murphy about Something In This Universe


Genevieve Murphy (Scotland, 1988) studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Glasgow, Junior School, Birmingham Conservatoire for Bachelor of Music and Masters in Composition at The Royal Conservatory of The Hague. The Amsterdam based composer, combines performance art and fine art within contemporary classical music and often communicates concepts influenced by psychology and disability. She has collaborated and performed with visual artists, free improvisers, and has toured internationally with London based artist Martin Creed.

How did you start working in the performing arts?

“My mother is a visual artist and she was collaborating with scientists who were researching a genome sequence of a potato pathogen. I was sixteen and already studying piano quite seriously. The scientists and my mother were creating a visual piece, and whilst viewing the sequence they realized that the images looked like music notation. So they transcribed the image of these dots and lines, and then gave it to me asking me to make it into a composition that can be heard and be accessible in some way. So my introduction to composition was through a very visual approach, thinking ‘ok here are some patterns that create specific pitches, which patterns are most interesting and how can I make them listenable’? I’ve always integrated visual arts and music, they became a natural duo when it comes to the score itself and the performance.”

You present your work differently than other composers. Why have you chosen to present it through performing arts?

“It’s strange to answer that, because every time it feels like a natural approach for me. How I approach composition is a concept in itself, how I actually go by writing this work or thinking about what the context is and the people on the stage. My work has always included performance because I think a lot about the live elements as well. You’re using a set design but the actual approach is still very compositional from the beginning to end.”

What was the starting point to create Something in this Universe?

I listened to a podcast on BBC which was about dark matter. And it started with “hello, something in this universe is missing”. It basically says that if we can find out what dark matter is, it will solve one of the greatest mysteries in science. It’s believed that dark matter has a mass, which can’t be seen. This made me think about my work which is often about psychology or disability. A lot of challenges in life do not feel tangible but they dominate us and really have a weight to them. What is that ‘something’ that dominates and dictates our every move? I suddenly saw a relationship between that and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

How does this focus on OCD reflect in the composition?

I’m looking at OCD as a concept, so if you’re trying to grasp control of things that are not controllable, you start to develop this repetitive need to keep on grabbing on to the tangible. I would like the composition to help give an insight into the persons’ mind as they go through their OCD routines. Composition in itself is a rather obsessive thing, and it requires predictability, knowing before you get to the rehearsal that everything is going to work. The way I composed this, tries to play with predictability. So also to compose certain things that cause instability or create situations that are not controllable. I always play with this, and this is also what goes on in OCD. You’re trying so hard to be in control but the more that you try, the more you realize you can’t be in control. It’s a vicious cycle. The experience when composing for me is not so different.

What influence would you like to have on the audience?

I’m not trying to give answers. I don’t think that this subject is particularly understandable, it’s something that is very emotional and challenging. Perhaps I would like to bring awareness to the difficulty of this disorder. To show the challenge of what this person goes through. I’m trying to keep it open, relatable and positive, so people can try to find any familiarities that they might have towards what I’m trying to portray. And that’s also why I gave it a domestic setting, because its familiar for everybody.

What is your future dream?

I think throughout my work there’s really been a care for trying to allow a bigger understanding for psychological subjects and difficult emotional states or disabilities. I do hope that my work raises awareness of those things. This piece is really beginning with a blanc canvas, and just starting from there and being able to decide the context myself is something I would love to be able to do more.

Photo: Bart Grietens


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