Jessica Curry writes classically-spirited compositions for games, virtual worlds and unusual real-world spaces. After exploring the idea of ‘second death’ in Second Life, she has since written the score to Dear Esther and a Requiem for performance in decommissioned nuclear sites.
You’ve collaborated with games developer and researcher Dr. Dan Pinchbeck since 2003, how did that come about?
Dan and I first collaborated on a Wellcome Trust commission and found that we work together incredibly well. He is a massively intelligent, creatively very generous person to work with and he gives me a lot of freedom to experiment. He loves music and intrinsically understands that it works better if you don’t come in and say ‘can you make it sound like so and so’. He is always forging new paths in his work, and his innovative use of narrative in games is already being heralded as groundbreaking. Games as a medium are in their infancy and there’s everything to play for. It’s really exciting to be involved in such an emergent scene. Dan is a very important part of that journey and it’s just a privilege to be working with him.
This year the PRS for Music Foundation (PRSF) chose you to participate in the PRSF New Music Incubator in Sweden, how did that come about?
It was as simple as seeing it in the Opportunities section of the Sound and Music website and putting an application in.
I think I was a bit of a wild card as I don’t come from the classical tradition and I’m really pleased that the PRS for Music Foundation took a chance on me. Most of the others who were on the residency knew each other and had performed each other’s work so it was quite intimidating on the first day. The modern classical scene is pretty small and I felt very much like the new kid on the block. In a way I think it ended up being an advantage as I didn’t have a reputation to ruin since none of them knew who I was!
So I just threw myself into the whole week and found it incredibly productive. It forced me to push way past the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with.
In Sweden we were making a new piece of work with a different group every day which was then performed each evening. As an artist of any kind I believe that it’s vital to be given the opportunity to push yourself as hard and as far as possible if you want to grow and improve. It was a profound and wonderful experience and I know that many of the other participants felt that way too.
The Swedes are coming to London in September and we’ll be performing a concert of our work at Cafe Oto on 5 September 2010.
How important to you is the support of organisations like the PRS for Music Foundation (PRSF)?
Having the support of the PRSF is vital: Perpetual Light simply wouldn’t be happening without it. But it’s not just the financial support that is so crucial. I would never have experienced the amazing highs and lows of Sweden or been given the opportunity to be involved with Adopt a Composer scheme without the PRSF.
I was really shocked by the recent news about the Film Council and I feel passionately that we as artists are going to have to fight to protect our cultural organisations. I could go on and on about this but artists need to become advocates who are equipped with the knowledge to explain why these organisations are so vital to culture in the UK.
Can you tell us about your latest work, Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth?
I’ve been working on Perpetual Light for the last two years and it is an all consuming passion.
It is a Requiem for those who died in Nagasaki and Hiroshima but it’s also very much about hope and humans’ extraordinary will to survive. It’s going to be performed in decommissioned nuclear sites later this year. They are extraordinary spaces, ones that have never been used for the purpose for which they were designed. To me this is what makes them perhaps even more profound structures.
There is a real hope in the fact that these bunkers, designed for the end of the world, are now seen as belonging in our past. Nuclear war is an incredibly resonant topic and it feels like the right time to be presenting this work.
We’re in rehearsals at the moment and I think that it’s going to be a really powerful and beautiful experience. I am normally hugely critical about my own work but I just have a good feeling about this one, maybe because it wasn’t in response to a brief or a commission. I had the idea and then worked really hard to make it happen.
It feels like the culmination of everything I’ve learned so far in my career – it pulls together all these diverse elements that I’ve been exploring and merges them to form one heart-wrenching hour of music. I want the audience to leave feeling subtly changed, having had an experience that will stay with them for a long time.
What have you got planned for 2011?
2011 is shaping up to be a very busy year.
I’m delighted to say that I’ve just been accepted onto the Adopt a Composer scheme. This is where I will be paired up with an amateur ensemble who I then write a new piece of music for which is then recorded for Radio 3. I can’t wait to get my teeth into it and hope I prove to be a good and well-behaved adoptee.
I’m also re-working the music that I wrote for Dear Esther, one of the computer games that I scored for Dan last year. It was hugely successful, more so than we’d ever envisaged and the game is currently being redesigned by the amazingly talented Robert Briscoe for a re-release in the near future. The new visuals are extraordinary and the music really deserves revisiting – it means I can do all the things that time and budget didn’t allow for in the first version.
There are a couple of great residencies in the pipeline and I’m also working on a new computer game… but that’s all I can say at the moment!
Performance dates for Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth
Sat 11 and Sun 12 September
Greenham Common Control Tower, Newbury
6.45pm and 8.30pm
Tickets £12/ £8 concession
Available from Corn Exchange Newbury tel: 01635 522733
Sat 2 and Sun 3 October
Gravesend Cold War Bunker, Gravesend
6.30pm and 8.30pm
Tickets £12.75/ £8.50 concession
Available from Woodville Halls Theatre tel: 01474 337774