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Reuben Jelleyman
SOUNZ Contemporary Award Finalist 2022

Reuben Jelleyman is a finalist for the 2022 SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha for his orchestral work 'Catalogue'. We caught up with Reuben to find out more about the piece.

How did Catalogue come about?

I wrote Catalogue in the final year of my master's at the Paris Conservatory. The piece was performed by Multilatérale, directed by Léo Warynski, on the 23rd of September 2021.

The work has an unusual name – Catalogue – what does it mean, and how does it relate to the work as a whole?

The title came about because I wanted to present the work to the audience almost as a musical treatise – a logical sequence of my ideas about music. The «catalogue» is really only the first page of music: there is a sine wave, square wave, triangle wave, and noise – the four-unit generators of additive synthesis / the four basic tools I use to create my musical universe. The rest, I suppose, is a «catalogue» of musical universes…

The first page of the score 'Catalogue'. © Copyright Reuben Jelleyman

Was there anything unusual in your approach to composing this work?  Did it pose any specific challenges?

I think one of the most unusual aspects of composing the piece was a drafting process I did. I actually took some excepts from Bruckner and Mozart symphonies and composed over the top of them, as if I was adding sound design. I removed the underlying music and was left with the new layers I had created.

Yes, some of the challenges in writing the piece were creating idiomatic parts from sound materials that I was manipulating electronically and transcribing. I relied greatly on the help of expert performers to navigate the best solutions to some of the things I wanted them to play.

You describe Catalogue as “quite a chaotic collision of my musical explorations during my studies, and yet, it’s hardly the conclusion to anything.  It’s more of an explosive start: there are things in the piece that are a little out of control, and struggling to find their place.”  Can you tell us some more about what you mean by that?

Yes!  When I hear the piece, I hear beginnings. For me, I hear a new possibility of «technomorphism» in instrumental music (transcription of electronic music processes). I find this new direction compelling because it resolves many of my dissatisfactions with contemporary music. It also feels rather «primordial»… as if the clocks of these musical universes are only just getting assembled.

Can you describe your feelings when you heard your work lifted from the page and performed?

The ultimate thrill of this project was working with one of the very best contemporary music ensembles in the world.  Multilatérale is comprised of some of the most dedicated contemporary music performers I know. Léo Warynski has the ability to push the music beyond even the imagination of the composer.

I am always nervous in the first rehearsal. I work hard beforehand with the players of the ensemble individually; that gives us all a head start in bringing the music to life, but still, nothing quite prepares you!

What does it mean to you being a finalist for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award this year?

Kia ora e te Toi te Arapūoru!  I am extremely honoured.

I think that the judging panel will have recognised that the piece is ambitious and singular. I am greatly encouraged to know that my contributions to contemporary music in Aotearoa have some resonance in the community.