Interview with Robert Patterson, composer and horn player

Posted: October 8, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Robert Patterson is in the horn section of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and he is also a composer.  He has written works in a wide variety of genres, including works for orchestra that the Memphis Symphony has performed.  Robert has composed many pieces for the upcoming Opus One performance with DJ Redeye.  Learn more about Robert Patterson here.

How long have you been writing music?

I started dabbling with writing music when I was a child, but I didn’t get serious about it until I was a sophomore in college. One day I had a notion I could write better music than any of the new music I was hearing at the time, and I started studying and writing. I have since realized that “writing better music than any of the other” is a lot harder than it seemed.

Have you ever composed music to be played along with DJ tracks before?

Never. In fact, I did not really even understand the tools that a DJ uses.

Are there any particular challenges that this presents?

Sure: we are shooting in the dark! But I one thing that interested me about the project was smashing two completely different genres together without worrying too much about where the shards land. The biggest challenge may turn out to be handing off from the orchestra to the DJ, because he will have to sync his time to the orchestra, at least initially. One of my jobs was to provide enough time in the orchestra part for this to happen.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve encountered while working on this project?

I knew that a 21st century DJ is an entirely different animal from those we listened to on AM radio when I was a kid. Getting a closeup look at his gear was really fascinating.

How do or do the pieces you wrote relate to the other pieces on the program?  I see some similarities in the titles…(adjust yourself, adjustable wrench for example)

A couple of the pieces have short quotes from the other pieces on the program. I also generally incorporated a riff or a beat from a Stax song in each. But there are also a lot of classical references as well. Funky Walkabout is a Stax-flavored variation of the Promenade from Pictures at an ExhibitionRemnan contains a strong whiff of Also Sprach Zarathustra. For Get Out! I was consulting scores of Stravinsky, Wagner, and Strauss. My main concern was providing contrast so that when the next piece comes it feels fresh. Sometimes that means being as different as one can be from the piece being introduced.

What’s DJ Redeye like?

DJ Redeye is very easy-going, but he can really get into the groove. I am interested to see where he goes with what I have done. He has a free hand to go pretty much anywhere he would like.

For the other composers and computer people out there, what music software do you use and why?

I use Finale for notation, mainly because I learned it before there were any viable alternatives. At times I think about switching, but Finale is the devil I know, and I can work very fast with it. For sound editing I use Protools.

When you are beginning a composition, what’s your process?  Or is that a secret?

The first thing that happens is an idea. Some initial sketches go on paper, but I go pretty quickly to computer sketches. For longer pieces I find that I get better results if I make some plans about sections and key areas before starting on the final score. Creating the final score is an organic process with many revisions at every point. The computer allows my process to be similar that of a painter, and I go back and revise in the middle a great deal.

Do you play any instruments besides french horn?

As a child I studied cello and piano, both about 4 years each. I would not dare to pick up a cello now, and I play piano only in privacy.

Thanks so much, Robert!

– Interviewed by Heather Trussell, MSO musician

Hear Robert’s compositions on Thursday, October 18, 7:30 p.m. at 915 East McLemore.  This Opus One performance is FREE!  Please arrive early; seating is limited.


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