Q&A with APO Rising Star Liam Pram

Where are you from?

I am from Tāmaki Makaurau (but when I speak, some people think I’m from North America).

What made you want to be a composer?

I had been writing music for a little bit before I ever considered that I was or could be a “composer”, based on what I thought the title implied. I started writing things for some friends of mine who played brass, and found I was hitting a brick wall in my ability to make my ideas into sound, and to communicate them with players. I was motivated to study composition more intensively partly from a desire to pursue something deeply at an academic level, and to expand my abilities in a field I have always been infatuated with. I think during this period of study my misconception that there is a disconnection between writing music in general and being a composer quickly fell to the wayside.

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of music?

I watch a lot of films, and thought when I was a kid that I would be involved in that world of making when I “grew up”. I also read very slowly, sometimes draw, and take photos.

What are you most looking forward to in the Rising Star programme?

It might sound strange, but I am excited by the limitations. At university writing can sometimes feel more speculative or aspirational, that you are writing to learn to write. This lets your ideas develop in a more prescient way, which can help you grow without limits, but also be intimidatingly broad.

The Rising Star programme involves a set of commissions with limitations and expectations which will drive me to engage with their particular contexts. This is especially interesting when thinking about writing for younger players in the Summer School Programme.

In short I am looking forward to thinking about how to make work that suits/fits each Rising Star commission.

What advice would you give your younger self or a young musician pursuing music studies at University?

Don’t feel constrained by what you think you should do, or even what you can do.

A thoughtful pursuit of music can let you explore almost anything that you find personally important or interesting. You do need to learn technical facilities, but don’t forget those facilities are there as a means of extending your ability to communicate, so keep that communication in mind (not to imply that it can't be a purely abstract practice, music is not really a discursive medium).

Be aware that you are not working in a vacuum. Take note of and engage with the cultural context in which you compose, and the location and means by which it will be realised.

Also, the amount of “imposter syndrome” you hear about from even very established composers should make you feel comfortable in a group of practitioners who are not working to find some transcendent endpoint, but are engaged in continual growth and self-criticism.

Are there any musicians or composers who inspire you? What qualities do you admire about them?

At the moment I’ve been listening to the latest Injury Reserve album, By the Time I get to Phoenix, and been really admiring how their work often manages to be both complex and minimal, navigating an experimental sound practice within a “popular” music space.

I’ve also been getting into No Input Mixing, a field of practice which redirects the subtle noises of the circuitry of mixers back into the mixer to create complex feedback relations. I find this interesting because it lets you have control (compositional intention) without knowing the exact results, and requires no expertise to make intricate noise, only that you follow what you hear. It becomes an instrument which is being misused to disrupt a concrete connection between what a gesture is and what the resulting sound will be.

Salvatore Sciarrino’s works have been motivating me a lot recently. The balance and interplay between sonic detail and form is always executed in this really elegant manner, and I find myself mirroring this relationship between the micro and macro in some of my own writing.

William Bolcom's Symphony no 3 has been getting me thinking about this kind of internal dialogue we have in composition with composition, and I constantly return to the compositions of Morton Feldman, who’s work with time and timbre are always somewhere in the back of my mind.

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