Composer Profile: Natasha Barrett

Natasha Barrett
Natasha Barrett

Website | Soundcloud

Natasha Barrett is a freelance composer working with music, research and creative uses of sound. She studied in England for masters and doctoral degrees in electroacoustic composition, after which, in 1999, Barrett moved to Norway where she has since lived.

During her doctoral research Barrett focused on acousmatic music (electroacoustic music without a visual element) and on instrumental music with live electronics. Since 1999 Natasha’s work with sound has expanded to encompass sound-art, sound-architectural installations, interactive techniques, collaboration with experimental designers and scientists as well live performance and improvisation. Recent examples of this include the use of scientific data and geological processes in sound-art, spatial composition for hemispherical loudspeaker array and a special interested in HOA,(Higher Order Ambisonics) and her third installation project with the group Ocean Design and Research Association.

Barrett’s works are performed and commissioned throughout the world and have received significant recognition, most notably the Nordic Council Music Prize (Norden / Scandinavia, 2006), Giga-Hertz Award (Germany, 2008), Edvard Prize (2004, Norway), Noroit-Leonce Petitot (Arras, France, 2002 & 1998), Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Awards (France 2001, 1998 & 1995), Musica Nova (2001), IV CIMESP 2001, Concours Scrime, (France 2000), International Electroacoustic Creation Competition of Ciberart (Italy 2000), Concours Luigi Russolo (Italy 1995 & 1998), Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria 1998), 9th International Rostrum for electoacoustic music (2002). Her installations include a major work for the Norwegian state commission for art in public spaces.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

I remember hearing classical orchestral music playing over a small radio outdoors at the bottom of the garden. The sound would drift through the air, moving with the breeze as I lay in the sunshine at the top end of the garden. I must have been 8 years old. I would have also heard orchestral music indoors over the family’s record player, but hearing this outdoors, mixing with the summer garden experience was something magical, ‘natural’. I didn’t hear music in a concert hall until some years later. Also around this time, I guess 1980, I remember hearing Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ album, funny thinking about it now, but it was only later when I started secondary school around the age of 11 that I connected these sounds to a curiosity in how acoustic instruments or rock band instruments were only one of many possibilities. Soon after, at school I discovered a room containing a 4 track tape recorder and the first generation DX7. Spent many lunch hours figuring out how to use the gear. At this time I was playing classical guitar and cello, and wasn’t really thinking that I would be a composer.

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work? Has this changed over time?

Prior to university I was interested in Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen and Stravinsky, as well composers of larger orchestral sound-worlds such as Mahler, Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich. I found this music beautiful. I think these earlier experiences and feelings of music have stuck with me. Although you won’t find their musical influence in my own composition, the feelings of the musical effect are what’s important. Fringe popular music was there somewhere too, but no specific bands and more as listening to music that friends were into. When studying at University I had access to a much larger and diverse music collection. Varese became particularly important, as did the early works of StockhausenLuc Ferrari and Berio. I also remember listening to Ferneyhough‘s La Chute d’Icare for the nth time and suddenly feeling I understood the counterpoint and structure, where it’s dimensionality seemed to click into shape. This influence is more to do with my own understanding of the duality between intellectual and emotional listening rather than being specifically influenced by complexity.

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process? What other technology, if any, do you use?

I’m at my most creative in the mornings and this is the time I try to work on composition. Afternoons I often use for planning, administrative and less creative tasks. In all my work – whether it’s pure acousmatic, electroacoustic with instruments, multi-media or a sound installation, the first phases involve a two way process between computer sound work and sketching with pencil and paper. The sketches may be anything – graphical representations, words, notes, timescales or ideas abstract from time. If I’m composing for instruments then I’ll begin to explore and develop the sketches using computer tools, whereas for acousmatic work the two way process remains to some extent throughout.

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

A Collector’s Chest is one of my live electronics compositions from 2013, with acoustic performers and electroacoustic sound. It was commissioned by POING-FEED, a Norwegian-Swedish collaboration, with support from the Norwegian Cultural Council. The work is scored for classical guitar, percussion, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, double bass, accordion and spatialised electroacoustic sound, and combines precise notation with guided improvisation. POING-FEED are a group of great performers and personalities. Their sounds and the way they interpreted the first musical sketches influenced the direction in which the composition developed. The title ‘A Collector’s Chest’ refers to this process, reflected in the program note: 

“A collector’s chest holds many small compartments within which are organised all kinds of treasures: from a child’s stones, shells, dead insects, leaves or trinkets, to priceless type-specimens or collections from world voyages. In this composition, treasures are collected from recordings of the Norwegian ensemble POING-FEED’s interpretation of composed musical ideas. These are then transformed and organised as ‘type specimens’ in a collector’s chest of sounds. The music assembles in performance: improvisation meets notation and acousmatic sound, and a multitude of compartments are opened to let sound escape into the air.”

 [Collector’s Chest was removed from Soundcloud by the composer.  I have embedded another of her recent works. Ed.]

Flammepunkt: Reach

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