Who or what inspired you to take up composing?
There was a piano at home, and at first I was simply entranced by the endless possibilities of the 12 notes and 88 keys. In the 80’s and 90’s I got into new wave and electronic music and started writing with sequencers and synthesizers in bands. I then took a 10-year break from writing music to make artwork – sculpture, video and installation. I’ve now come full circle and am currently obsessed with composing for solo piano.
I’m continually inspired by the endless possibilities and the joy of communicating ideas non-verbally.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Back in my teens, an ethos of DIY and experimentation prevailed. It helped to cover over what I then lacked in compositional skills, and enabled so much musical freedom. A favourite was Public Image Limited’s album Flowers Of Romance. More recently, Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring, and piano works such as Philip Glass’s Etudes, Chilly Gonzales’s Solo Piano, Nils Frahm’s Spaces and Hauschka’s Different Forest – all of these really speak to me with their rhythm, energy, playfulness and sometimes calmness.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
‘From The Library’ has been a challenging journey. The reconciling of extremely diverse musical influences to develop a compositional style has been really difficult, though ultimately hugely rewarding.
What are the challenges and pleasures of working on a new piece?
Arvo Pärt’s comment springs to mind – it’s along the lines “the first note is easy, it’s the second note that’s difficult”. For example with Heart of Darkness I immersed myself inMarlow’s journey and wanted to create a piece that took the listener to that place in the same way that Scott Walker’s Seventh Seal does with Bergman’s film. The start was really enjoyable – pulling together musical ideas and all the endless possibilities. The discarding of ideas, though necessary, was painful. Hearing the piece emerge and the process of refining was exciting. Finally, deciding that it’s finished the best I can say is it’s finished for now.
What are the challenges and pleasures of collaborating with musicians?
The process of collaboration has been amazing once I’ve let my attachment to the piece subside. For this project I worked with a brilliant concert pianist, and the interpretations, refinements and improvements we made prior to recording really was a joy. Every player has a different take on it and allows something new to be discovered in the works.
Of which works are you most proud?
Three pieces from From The Library – Tale Of Two Cities, Heart Of Darkness and Snows Of Kilimanjaro come to mind. There’s a Laurie Anderson lyric: “life is lived forward but only understood backwards”. For each of these pieces I really struggled, but after a timethere was a breakthrough in understanding and everything fell into place.
How would you characterise your compositional style?
I’m drawn to journeys of hope, conflict, transformation and resolution, and evoking these feelings in a filmic way. Currently I emphasise rhythm and harmony more than melody.The joy is that as I study and write my style keeps evolving.
How do you work?
I work mainly in my studio, alternating between piano and score. The process was at first very haphazard – too many competing musical ideas. Some pieces took forever to complete. I learned a painful lesson, and now I focus first on getting clarity about what I’m going to do, and then I start writing – the first note, then the second note…
As a composer, what is your definition of success?
It’s pretty simple. Completion of a piece, learning in the process, hearing it performed by a great musician and as an added bonus hearing that someone enjoyed the piece or that it inspired someone to start learning music.
What do you consider to be the most important advice to impart to aspiring musicians?
Persist. Keep learning. Take risks. Follow your bliss.
What is your present state of mind?
Extremely focused – From The Library is released on 31st January
Listen on Spotify: https://sptfy.com/jamespaulwhite
Music & Art : www.jamespaulwhite.com
Music Video: https://www.jamespaulwhite.com/music-video
James Paul White is an inventive contemporary classical composer and irreverent conceptual visual artist. Brought up in Swansea, James moved to London in 1987.
James has performed and composed since his teenage years in a variety of new wave and electronic music bands including Run CND. Since 2011 he has studied piano with Stefania Passamonte (Concert Pianist) and composition with Luis Mota (Royal College of Music) ultimately leading to the creation of his debut album From The Library.