Chris Benstead's blog on composing for Artificial Things
Christopher Benstead writes a few words on his time collaborating with choreographer Yoshifumi Inao for the opening scene of Stopgap’s new production Artificial Things
The process of collaborating with a new choreographer is always a challenging and interesting one. From the outset, working with Yoshi was a calm, creative journey, full of exploration and discovery. The discovery part is, naturally, finding the common language – the sound palette – the textures – that will help create the right atmosphere and satisfy the choreographer’s vision. The challenge is turning that palette into a cohesive whole that sits with the choreography.
As a composer working for many years with dance, I have always found that the most rewarding way of working with dancers and choreographer is to be present in the dance studio as much as possible. To watch, listen and absorb the working process, and to talk often and openly with the choreographer about ideas and possibilities, as well as enjoying the freedom to experiment and try out any ideas that might appear.
With Artificial Things (Scene 1), the sound palette of piano, mixed with sounds generated within the computer, soon revealed itself to be the way forward, matching and reflecting the energy and dynamics of the episodes of the piece. Adjustments had to be continually made, of course; mostly in the form of simplification and thinning out of the musical material so that it didn’t swamp the movement. The old adage of ‘less is more’ cropped up on more than one occasion; that coupled with an awareness of avoiding sentimentality, whilst allowing, where appropriate, a sense of reflection and mood.
I learnt, many years ago, the importance of not being precious about one’s material – that is, to be able to let go of any pieces of music created if they are really not felt to be working for the choreographer. Of course, there are moments where it is appropriate to ‘fight one’s corner’ – but in the final analysis, all the constituent parts of a piece – music, costume, set, lighting, choreography – have to compliment the choreographer’s/ director’s vision, so a certain sense of compromise is inevitable. I like to think that the collaboration with Yoshi has produced a truly symbiotic experience and one that will resonate with audiences everywhere.