Composer Profile: Clara Maïda

Clara Maïda
© Mutesouvenir / Kai Bienert – 2010

Website | Soundcloud

Clara Maïda lives in Paris and Berlin.

She turned to music composition after studying psychology at Nice-Sophia Antipolis and Aix-Marseille 1 Universities and music at the University of Huddersfield-UK (PhD in Composition) and Paris 8-Saint-Denis University (Master 2 in Musicology, Creation, Music and Society), Marseille and Nice conservatories of music, Cefedem-Sud/Training Centre for Teaching (1st Prize in composition and piano, National Diploma for piano teaching).

She has attended the master classes and composition courses of Helmut LACHENMANN, Philippe MANOURY, Tristan MURAIL, Gérard GRISEY, Marco STROPPA in the ACANTHES Centre summer workshops and at the Paris Superior Conservatory of Music.

She was the guest of the Artists-in-Berlin programme of the DAAD for one year (2007-08).

She was the laureate of the BERLIN SENAT Composition Grant (2015) and of the HORS LES MURS programme of the French Institute (Paris, 2012). She has received various other awards such as the KOMPOSITIONSPREIS DER LANDESHAUPTSTADT STUTTGART (1st Prize, 2011), the BERLIN-RHEINSBERGER KOMPOSITIONSPREIS, a Finalist selection at MUSICA NOVA (Czech Republic), and an Honorable Mention at EARPLAY DONALD AIRD PRIZE (USA) in 2008, an Honorary Mention at PRIX ARS ELECTRONICA (Austria, 2007), the AKADEMIE DER KÜNSTE Composition Grant (Berlin, 2006), the SALVATORE MARTIRANO MEMORIAL 2nd Prize (USA, 2003), as well as commissions/residencies from CESARE, ART ZOYD, GRM, DONAUESCHINGER MUSIKTAGE, the FRENCH MINISTRY OF CULTURE (with 2E2M, ARDITTI QUARTET, L’ITINERAIRE, ACCROCHE NOTE and PROXIMA CENTAURI ensembles), the Paris International Guitar Festival, the French SACEM/Klang! festival, the Artists-in-Berlin programme of the DAAD, the AKADEMIE DER KÜNSTE and the ELECTRONIC STUDIO of the TECHNISCHE UNIVERSITÄT (Berlin), and the Marseille GMEM.

Her pieces have been performed by numerous ensembles (Arditti Quartet, Neue Vocalsolisten, KNM, Percussions de Strasbourg, Resonanz, L’Itinéraire, Accroche Note, 2E2M, EOC, NEM, Alternance, Proxima Centauri, OENM, MCME, UI New Music, Argonaut, CrossingLines, Lyon National Orchestra, Pellegrini Quartett…) within different festivals in France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Netherlands, Russia, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and the USA.

Her music has been broadcast on different radios in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Mexico, Australia and South Africa.

Several articles have come out in music journals as well as in reviews of literature and psychoanalysis.

She has given lectures, seminars, conferences and master classes in various institutions in France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Australia and New York.

She was a guest professor of composition at the Escolar Superior de Música de Catalunya (Barcelona) in 2015.

Two monographic CDs have been published, one by the DAAD and Edition RZ of Berlin (2010), the other by the Marseille GMEM and Metamkine Label (2002).

© Douglas Henderson – 2009


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

In the very beginning, my background as a pianist was very significant. After having performed classical music at the conservatory for years and years, I was shortly a pianist in a cabaret company and then, the keyboard player of an alternative female rock band. It triggered my first attempt in composition. At that time, I was composing in a very intuitive way and my fingers on the keyboard and my ears were more important tools than musical writing. On the one hand, I was influenced by early 20th Century music such as Prokoviev, Stravinsky or Bartók and the only “contemporary” composer I knew was Messiaen. On the other hand, we were in the 80’s, and I was listening to lots of rock, new wave, cold wave or punk music (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Bauhaus, Virgin Prunes, Wolfgang Press, The Sisters of Mercy, The Residents, Nina Hagen, The Cure, etc.) with also a strong interest for something completely different — Nino Rota’s music. A kind of atonal harmony and compulsive rhythms in my music were generated by these eclectic influences. 

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

Three stages are to be considered. The first one lead me to become a composer. The influences were the ones mentioned above. In a second period, I found out that I was more attracted by what seemed to me a “music of research” and I discovered contemporary music. Therefore, I was reading all kinds of scores in order to learn as much as possible. And then, in a third period, I became aware that only a few composers had deeply influenced my writing in its current specific direction. 

Three composers were really influential, even if I listen to all kinds of music which surely nourish my inspiration. 

I was impressed by the precision of Ligeti’s writing, his poly-stratified textures and the way he makes the musical matter gradually mutate. The radicalism of Xenakis’ music, the rhythmical complexity and the extra-musical sources were also very interesting for me since I had a background in psychology and psychoanalysis and I wished to incorporate this knowledge and experience into my music. Lachenmann’s search for new instrumental sounds, new modes of playing, was also very significant for me. 

And now, I listen to many younger composers online. I can be interested in lots of their sound aspects but on the formal level, I really developed my own direction. 

But visual arts, architecture, cinema, dance, etc., are also sources of influence. Moreover, I have also a sporadic visual activity (drawings and photography) and mutual repercussions between my compositions and my visual productions can occur.

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 don’t use any computer to compose (unless I compose electroacoustic music) because I think it gives a preconceived systemic framework. I prefer to feel that my mind is in direct connection with my hand on a blank notebook, where everything is potentially possible. The specific energy of the body can be better expressed by the gesture of the writing with a pencil. I use the computer only for a sound research (the transformation of sounds, for instance). 

Different processes overlap in my compositional approach. On the one hand, kinetic sound movements can cross my mind at any time, global sound shapes, ideas of timbres appear — my inner sound world –, and they will be the elements I remember and try to grasp when I start the composition work. I can also be impressed by sounds heard in the street, in the subway, urban sounds and noises which I consider to be close to my musical imaginary. 

I also did many recordings with performers to discover unusual ways of playing and enrich my library of sounds. 

On the other hand, I build a musical material (scales, aggregates or spectra, rhythms, etc.) like a painter who would prepare his colours or a chemist who would prepare his substances. Everything is on my table and I use all these elements, combining them in order to build a moving object. 

Two levels coexist, the sonic one and that of the musical writing (thinking time, the form, etc.). 

When I am composing, I feel a little like a genetician who would work at a nanoscale, manipulating tiny particles and making a kind of body by assembling them. I always think sound objects as agglomerates of dots and if I move these dots, the global shapes undergo mutations close to those of the DNA. That is why I called my music a nanomusic. 

The temporal dimension of these movements of dots in space is fundamental. 

But my research also stands at the crossroads of my double experience — composition and psychoanalysis. I always have this obsessive fantasy of a music being a bit of psyche — of my psyche.  I imagine sound networks which reflect the complexity of cerebral and psychic networks. I attempt a crossing between a psychic topology and a sound topography, the paradox of a kind of virtual materialization of what happens in our brain.  In this perspective, time is multiple, multi-layered, both fragmented and fluid, with hatches, breaches and flux. I work on temporal tears, intertwining of lines and mnemonic resonances between sound traces. 

I think that this conception of time, the constant mobility of the events, is the most significant aspect in my music.

© Clara Maïda – 1996

Please describe one of your recent compositions and provide a link to an audio clip. 

My last composition was a string quartet premiered by the Arditti Quartet at the Huddersfield music festival (United Kingdom). It is named “…, dass spinnt …” and it is the second piece of the series “www” (allusion to the World Wide Web — a ramified space with no point of centralization). 

I had already composed a first string quartet for the Arditti— “… who holds the strings …”. 

Both pieces allude to a network of threads (in German, “spinnen” means “to spin a web”).

I tried to create a mobile diagram of sound filaments which never stop intertwining and following their path. The connections circulate from one instrument to the other. The trajectories weave an ensemble of traces in all directions, with extensions, proliferations, numerous junctions and with a complex temporality. 

But in a more colloquial use, the word “spinnen” has another meaning and “du spinnst!” (“Are you crazy!”) is a reproach addressed to a person who acts in an extravagant way, with a kind of slight madness. And the word “spin”, which evokes both a revolving motion and the spider’s work, refers in quantum physics to the intrinsic kinetic momentum of particles. 

The idea of weaving an object, of craziness, and of the movement of particles converges in this title and in this piece which is completely characteristic of my music, especially my writing for strings.

(Photo taken by Clara Maïda – NYC, 2012 – © Clara Maïda)

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