Name: Cat Hope
Nationality: Australian
Occupation: Composer
Current Release: Decibel
Recommendations: ‘Uaxtum’ by Giacinto Scelsi. Powerful, creepy, overwhelming music / 'Plastic Cup' by Low. Perfect harmonies, simple arrangement, enigmatic lyrics.

If you enjoyed this interview with Cat Hope and would like to know more, visit her website www.cathope.com

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I came to composing very sideways. As a performer at university, I tried composition, but didn’t do very well – I got high marks for last minute pieces and low marks when I tried hard. It confounded me, and I gave it up. Then I began improvising and songwriting, and through those things, I came to notated composition, which I have been doing the last 15 years of my life. I just had to find, and in my case, make, the right tools. As for early passions, I have also had very eclectic taste – from all eras of classical music to noise music, pop music, to avant garde and sound art practices. I was drawn to the abstract quality of music and its power to bring people together in a way not many other artforms do.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

Originality is an ongoing pursuit – that learning must continue. I don’t think emulating others is a necessary part of learning – but it does teach us to analyse others work. My development has been long and bumpy, and the transition to my own voice is defined as deciding on an approach and sticking with it.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

I am much more jovial and friendly than my music is! This confuses people sometimes. But my music speaks to who I really am, or wish I could be. I like being around other people, so I enjoy collaborations.

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

Stylistic categorisation was my main creative challenge – having to identify with a style or fit into a category or silo. I feel my musical pursuits are more conceptual than stylistic, which means I fit everywhere and nowhere at the same time. When I began, I loved punk music and classical music equally – neither group knew what to do with a mohawk-wearing classical flute player!

Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?

I spend a lot of energy contemplating time. As my music notation is animated, it moves through time whilst it is being read by musicians. This creates an interesting double flow – the notation and the sound passing through time - that I like to experiment with. Sometimes, moving images look still (for example, horizontal lines moving left to right) – and that provides interesting possibilities. I like how noise music and drone can confound our perception of time (Joanna Demers calls it ‘maximal music’) and I often attempt to create that impression. The track ‘Majority of One’ on the most recent album tries to challenge the idea of rhythmic and harmonic movement being the main drivers of music through time. I tried to create a kind of spiralling effect for listeners, like a merry-go round–you get on and off but the motion continues without you. Or harmony and time as a kind of wall.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

I often begin a piece with a sound in my head, and it starts to become a composition when I have a concept for that sound’s development or evolution. Other times I have an issue that is important to me, and I use that to look for sounds to express, or respond, to that issue via composition. Composition is a meeting of concepts with sonic possibilities, the emphasis can change depending on what you are trying to do.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?

Collaborations are so key to everything I do. Working with the Decibel New Music Ensemble has been so formative – I owe so much to the collaborations that take place in that group. I think we are all better when we work together. It transforms possibilities, extends capacities, and provides a springboard for ideas. Unacknowledged collaborations, just taking influence from films or literature is also a key part of my process.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I am a last minute and late-night person who struggles in the morning. I like to spend a lot of time thinking about something before I act. Of course that’s not always possible, and sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it. But I am not a routine orientated person, so my days are pretty variable! As a senior academic, I have a lot of meetings, so those often turn up most days. A week is a mix of teaching, supervising postgrads, admin work, concert going, writing (words and music) listening, playing music and planning.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

It took me a while to think on this. I think my opera Speechless, which premiered at the Perth Festival in 2019 was a breakthrough for me. I felt it got me out of the ‘experimental ghetto’ to some degree; people from all walks of life really responded to it. It also combined so many of my different approaches I’d developed through the years. I felt so many people behind the work, supporting it – that was very humbling. Maybe that’s more culminative than breakthrough?

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

In a busy place surround by other art and artists. Talking through ideas. Being part of the world, fighting what is unjust. Nothing happens for me in tranquillity and solitude.

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

I work with very low sound – these can hurt and break things at very loud volumes, but can heal and comfort when at the right pitch. Quite a paradox and responsibility. I see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing in its ability to bring people together. I wish there was more community music – no matter what style. Bands have operated very well in that way.

There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?

This is a very important and currently burning issue. Music should be bringing us together in discovery, not ripping away or copying elements from others. We can’t possibly know everything important and relevant about another musical culture in a few days, weeks, months, or years. Sometimes we would be better to try and understand ourselves first.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?

For me it is sound and taste. The word “budget” when spoken, makes me think of cornflakes. I’m not sure what that tells me.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

I am who I am as an artist – working in a university, making art with a link to research; and who I’d like to be – just writing and performing music. The latter comes with a lot of responsibility – a believe artists should be politically engaged because we have so much to offer.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

Music can make us feel things that we may not understand; it is more than a language, it’s a type of communion. It brings out our past and shapes our future. We can participate by making, playing, or listening – each with its own, deep rewards. It is why we live and describes how we die.