Hello and welcome to TL Life: Crosscurrent. I’m your host Will Howarth.
We’ll be hearing from MFA student Kayla McClellan about the trajectory of the relatively new field of Dance Science research, as well as being introduced to new music from BMus1 harpist Rebecca Morée Galian.
But first, I caught up with composition alumnus Cassie Kinoshi over Skype to find out about her upcoming album release.
Interview: Cassie Kinoshi (Part 1)
WH: Cassie Kinoshi graduated from Trinity Laban‘s BMus Composition course in 2015 and has since gone from strength to strength. Besides participating in LSO’s Panufnik Composer Scheme, she’s been performing with Nérija, 2016 winners of the JazzFM Breakthrough Act of the Year, Afrobeat octet Kokoroko and her ten-piece group SEED Ensemble which will be releasing its debut album Driftglass with the Jazz re:Freshed label. The new album will include the track Afronaut which netted Cassie a BASCA 2018 British Composer Award in December last year, putting her name in lights alongside the likes of Judith Weir and Harrison Birtwistle.
Hello Cassie. Thank you for joining us on TL Life: Crosscurrent.
CK: Hi! Thank you for having me on the podcast.
WH: To start off with, tell me about your musical background; when you started playing; where you grew up.
CK: OK. I grew up in Hertfordshire, in Welwyn Garden City, and studied composition at Trinity Laban from 2011 to 2015. I started classical piano lessons when I was 6 but even before I started playing, I grew up in a household where music was very important so I grew up listening to jazz, soul, orchestral music. After piano I started clarinet when I was 11 and then moved on to saxophone when I was 13.
In regards to composition, I started off writing pop songs and showing them to friends at school before moving on to transcribing. I would transcribe what I heard an orchestra play or try and copy the sound of a composer and write it out into Garageband before I knew how to notate properly, which is a skill I learnt at Trinity Laban.
WH: I wonder if you could name a couple of bands or a couple of artists who would be your favourites to listen to – your go-to.
CK: My go-to saxophonist is Jackie McClean because how he improvises is just so honest and pure. In regards to large ensemble writing, I really am a fan of Maria Schneider who I saw at Cadogan Hall in 2015. Yeah, classical – anything. Yeah.
WH: I’m really excited to hear the new album, Driftglass. I think there’s only one track at the moment that’s up on Soundcloud on Jazz re:Freshed’s page which is the competition-winner, Afronaut which I’ve been enjoying. Really exciting spoken word passages; across-the-barline rhymes and that beat – not quite square 4/4, never quite what I’m expecting.
I’d like you to tell me about how SEED Ensemble formed and the kind of music you play.
CK: We formed in March 2016 after I saw Yaz Ahmed and she had an all-female ensemble perform at Southbank Centre. It was a ten-piece and I thought I loved that you can achieve such a large, deep sound with lots of colour, with just 10 people rather than perhaps 19 or 20 like a traditional jazz big band might have.
The players: I grew up with a lot of them and love to write for people that I know.
The type of music we play I guess is just an amalgamation of everything that I listen to or grew up listening to and enjoy creating. I’m hoping that eventually it can hold more of the stuff that I listen to like electronic music as well.
WH: Are there any Trinity Laban alumni involved besides yourself?
CK: The lineup’s actually quite different from what it was when I was at Trinity Laban. There was one piece we had to write for our final and I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to write for a large jazz ensemble.’ So the two trumpets, the six horns and the four people in the rhythm section – that started in 2015. There are some Trinity Laban alumni in the band: Joe Armon-Jones on piano who was on the jazz course; Sheila Maurice-Grey, who studied a Masters in jazz; Chelsea Carmichael on tenor saxophone and flute who was on the jazz course as well. Everyone else went to various conservatoires across London.
WH: The title of the new album is Driftglass. I wonder what the story is behind that title.
CK: I’m really into the writing of novelist Samuel R. Delany who is an African-American sci-fi writer. I love how poetic his writing is and how creative it is. It really stretches your imagination, how he writes. He’s got a collection of stories he wrote in 1971 which is entitled Driftglass. At the beginning of the story, he talks about what driftglass is. It’s pieces of glass that’s been swept through the sea and has changed what it looks like and it looks different inside of the water and changes colour outside. I thought that was, in a way, like a metaphor for improvised music, how improvised music changes depending on its atmosphere and the mood of the people in the room, both audience and on-stage.
WH: Well actually, when I first read it, I didn’t realise it was an extract from Delany. It could very easily be referring to music.
CK: Just to point out, XANA uses the pronouns ‘they’ or ‘them’. Yeah, I met XANA through an Afro-futurist theatre project that was happening at the Barbican Centre. We were both involved in creating the music. They created a track with beats and then put their words over and it and just had the most amazing flow. From that point, I knew I had to work with XANA. They wrote their own lyrics for Afronaut because I just trusted XANA to be able to do it.
WH: Were there any other special guests featured on the album?
CK: Yes: Cherise Adams-Burnett who also studied at Trinity Laban on the jazz course features on two of the tracks, The Dream Keeper and Wake for Grenfell, and another spoken word artist called Mr Ekow also features on the last track, Interplanetary Migration.
Thank you Cassie Kinoshi. We’ll catch up with her again a little later to hear about her time at Trinity Laban and her future plans.
Next up, a quick reminder that the Trinity Laban Soloists’ Competition Final will be taking place at 7:30pm on Wednesday 6th February at Blackheath Halls. The winner of this showcase of some of our most talented performers will have the opportunity to perform their chosen concerto with one of Trinity Laban‘s orchestras. Admission is free but you will require a ticket which you can book on the What’s On page of our website. Follow the link in the podcast transcript at tl-life.com .
Now, let me introduce you to 2nd year MFA student Kayla McClellan who I met in the Laban cafe to discuss Dance Science research.
Interview: Kayla McClellan (Part 1)
KM: My name is Kayla McClellan. I’m a 2nd year MFA Dance Science candidate and I am originally from Florida. I did my undergrad in Dance Performance back in the States at Florida State University and there I was introduced to Dance Science. Trinity Laban is a huge name in the field of Dance Science. There’s definitely no Masters in the Dance Science in the US so you do have to travel abroad if you want a Masters in it.
WH: My impression is that a lot of the students at Trinity Laban – including, I think, some of the dancers – aren’t really aware of what happens on the Dance Science course.
KM: You can either do an MSc in Dance Science, or more recently they introduced the MFA degree in Dance Science which is a 2-year degree and that’s what I’m doing. But for your first year, the MScs and the MFAs are all together and it’s an intense 9 months of coursework. We do physiology, biomechanics, psychology and an embodied practice module.
WH: Is this a science degree or is this an arts degree?
KM: So it’s super-tricky. If you graduate with the MSc, you have a Master of Science and that is very clear to jobs and other schools. For me and some of my other peers doing the MFA, which is a Master of FIne Arts, we did the MSc and are doing a year-long scientific research project. There is no performance required of this degree. So that’s the thing. We are getting a science degree, but we’re actually on paper getting a Fine Arts degree. That’s going to be something that we have to navigate in terms of jobs.
WH: What kind of jobs would you expect this degree to lead on to?
KM: The typical expectation would be to continue doing research. For me, I would love to be a lecturer or a professor. That would be great. Some other routes would be to tack onto a company and be somebody that does research just for them, whether it be around injury or just around the environment that they create. So there are a few options, I think.
WH: Could you tell me a little bit about Dr Emma Redding?
KM: So Dr Emma Redding: she has really started this programme from the ground up. She is constantly involved in research and sometimes I just look at her and I’m like, ‘how are you doing all this?’ And I think that she’s the quintessential icon of what Dance Science can be because she plays these roles of artist and scientist and researcher so well and so fluidly.
WH: In October, there were students, alumni and staff from Trinity Laban in attendance at the International Association of Dance, Medicine and Science Conference in Helsinki. Did you attend?
KM: Why yes, I did attend. The conference is a whole conglomeration of different kinds of researchers. So, there are practising dancers or artists ; there are people there who just identify as physiotherapists or scientists or researchers or psychologists but they want to specialise in dance; and then you’ve got people like most of us at Trinity Laban who are kind of in that grey area of being an artist and also being a researcher and wanting to bring the two fields together.
The conference itself was 4 days and it’s just absolutely insane how much they pack in to each day. I saw somebody who was doing a research comparison of the development of an embryo to the developing dance styles like Bartenev. It was really a huge range of research.
WH: Current MSc student Julie Ferrell said of the conference, ‘it was very eye-opening as to where the field is heading, what it’s still lacking and the opportunities that await. I wonder if you could comment on where you think the field is heading and then perhaps also where it’s lacking.
KM: There’s a lot more happening on mental health and psychological research. I’m seeing a lot more given to cognition and things of the brain, rather than just the physical aspects of dance. And that kind of brings my attention to what’s lacking in the field still. There’s still so little qualitative research. Examples of qualitative research would be doing interviews or annotations and then you would do analyses like content analysis or thematic analysis. So the qualitative research is definitely lacking still in Dance Science and why I think it’s a disservice in this field is because so much of dance has to do with the body and then people’s perceptions of what’s going on.
Thank you Kayla McClellan. We’ll return to that interview in not too long to hear more about how Dance Science is changing.
Coming soon to Blackheath Halls is the Shapeshifter Ensemble concert on Friday 8th February which will include works from Beethoven and Dvořák alongside composition tutor Deirde Gribbin‘s violin concerto Venus Blazing with soloist Lana Trotovšek and a new commission from BMus4 composer James Layton. That’s at 7:30pm and there is one free ticket available per student or staff member – simply use the promo code sent to your Trinity Laban webmail when booking.
Next we have BMus1 harpist Rebecca Morée Galian who’s going to introduce some new music she’s been working on.
Interview: Rebecca Morée Galian
RMG: My name is Rebecca and I play the harp. I grew up in the South of France, on the coast and I started playing when I was 5. I started studying in England when I was 15 at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. I just wanted to come to Trinity Laban because it’s an amazing school. I love the harp teacher here – she’s my favourite person in the world.
I love Gabriella Dall’Olio mostly because she’s really supportive and open-minded. I explained to her my crazy project which is to try and include the harp in many different styles of music, not just classical, and she was like, ‘yes! Such a great idea! I want to help you doing that.’
I haven’t really found exactly what I’m looking for which is why I want to make it happen myself. I’m trying to start my own rock band here at Trinity Laban as well.
WH: What are your favourite kinds of music to listen to?
RMG: I love Nirvana; I love the Sex Pistols; Hole. Surprisingly, I’ve really been into Britpop lately.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I wanted to ask you for a listening recommendation – hidden gem tracks. So this is the sort of thing that maybe you love but you think no-one else has ever come across.
RMG: There’s this band that is really cool. Not many people know about them but they’re called Widowspeak and it’s an indie band. They’re quite chill, like acoustic guitar, nice and relaxing. They’ve got a really interesting sound. They remind me a bit of Fleetwood Mac. Gun Shy is a good one.
In the Pines is a good one as well.
WH: What is the context for Moonlight’s Jewellers? Is it in a wider body of work that you’ve produced?
RMG: Even myself, I don’t really know where this is going. Basically, I just wanted to experiment and I just thought I should try and do something I’ve never done before so I started creating some beats and it turned out to be really chill which was really surprising. I really wasn’t expecting that because it’s so radically different from everything I’ve ever done so far but it was a good surprise. I like the way it turned out and I guess I’m just trying to create more diverse things.
WH: So, the track that you’ve sent me, Moonlight’s Jewellers, is the first experimentation into something you’re looking to take further. Where did you get the French spoken word sample from and what are they saying? My French is a bit rusty.
RMG: It’s OK, no worries. The samples are from interviews of Brigitte Bardot. She is a French actress – really really popular in the 60s and she’s talking about fame – how it affected her life. You know, she was called the most beautiful woman in the whole world but back then she was really sad and I don’t think fame was what she was after, really. She’s basically saying that she became really successful really quickly and she wasn’t prepared for that and she compares it to drowning. The very last thing that she says is that her life looks like a prison cell – a really comfortable prison cell. I think it’s really relatable because everybody, at least once in their life, feels like they’ve got everything they’ve always wanted but still it doesn’t feel quite right.
WH: Besides being in a prison cell, it almost becomes like an addiction. A few years ago I was in Los Angeles. We went to a club that was owned by Johnny Depp. He went to this club a couple of times a week, pretty much just so he could be recognised and fawned over by people. I find it upsetting, really, to imagine being in a situation where you felt you needed that kind of adulation from people so frequently.
RMG: It is really true, like there is a whole paradox about fame.
WH: Are you familiar with Fame, the David Bowie song?
RMG: Yes! I love David Bowie. I love it.
WH: One more question about the track: the kind of rotary fan sound in the background – which I love, it gives a real atmosphere to it, it gives it a kind of vintage feel – what was your thinking behind that?
RMG: Well, this sound is actually the sound of an old movie projector and the beeping that you hear in the beginning is the countdown, the countdown at the beginning of films.
I just would like to thank my friend Sam Hugh who helped me with mixing for that track.
My name is Rebecca Morée Galian, I study harp and this is my track Moonlight’s Jewellers.
I’m always on the hunt for new stories, projects and ideas to include in TL Life: Crosscurrent so if you have something you’d like to contribute, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I want to hear about your performance projects, new music, poetry, artwork and film, local tips, tricks and recommendations or ideas you think we should be discussing.
Let’s return now to my Skype interview with composition alumnus Cassie Kinoshi.
Interview: Cassie Kinoshi (Part 2)
WH: This academic year, you’ve been participating in LSO’s Panufnik Composer Scheme. How have you found this experience.
CK: It’s been very eye-opening, a really really inspirational experience so far. The LSO Panufnik Scheme is the London Symphony Orchestra’s annual composition professional development scheme which allows you to write for the orchestra. It’s 6 of us. We all come from very different backgrounds so for me it’s been really intriguing to see how other composers approach writing for orchestra. Also the mentors we’ve had have been really really helpful. One of the mentors that I asked if I could be put in contact with was composer Shirley Thompson who’s been really great as well.
For me it’s been a very great learning experience and it’s really pushed me to work on aspects of my compositional skill set, primarily notation and how important it is to be able to clearly write your ideas on a page so that if you are not there, it can be read instantly. Maybe because I’m used to working with jazz ensembles where there’s a bit more freedom and you’re usually in the room so you are able to direct how things go or change things on the spot, I’ve got used to that way of working, whereas obviously working with the LSO in a 1-hour time slot, everything has to be written out absolutely perfectly.
WH: A lot of your work has involved writing music for the stage and you’ve scored music for a number of productions at London’s Old Vic theatre.
CK: I’ve always loved to create multi-disciplinary performances. So even in Trinity Laban, I was trying to do this through CoLab week. From day one I would try and create projects where it involved people from different artistic backgrounds and that’s where, I guess, it’s led to – working in the theatre.
So the first thing was the Old Vic 12. I was the composer on that from 2016-17 which last year led to writing for some monologues there. The latest thing that I’ve just done was at Battersea Arts Centre where I wrote for the play Superblackman and I just finished writing for a virtual reality thing at the National Theatre and I might be doing something else there as well.
WH: That sounds really intriguing. Are you able to tell us anything more about virtual reality at the National Theatre?
CK: It’s just a prototype at the moment. I’m working with the director Sharifa Ali who’s based in New York City. It’s called Un-African and it focusses on the re-telling of a traditional Kenyan story through dance and virtual reality and my electronic score.
WH: You’ve been selected as part of the Cameron Mackintosh Composer Scheme to be this year’s composer-in-residence at Dundee Rep Theatre in Scotland. How did this come about and what are your plans for the residency?
CK: The Cameron Mackintosh Scheme. That was through application – very difficult application where you have to write about yourself but also they ask you to write some snippets to brief so they can judge on that. There’s only one every year and it changes theatre every year and this is the first Scottish placement.
It’s been really great to chat to the Artistic Director Andrew Panton of Dundee Rep. They’ve been very supportive and I’ll be writing for the Scottish National Dance Troupe who are based there and a few other projects that they really want to involve me in.
WH: I’d like to talk about your time at Trinity Laban. Did you have a favourite tutor?
CK: Yeah, my favourite tutor on the composition course was Andrew Poppy. I would show him some R&B soul thing and he’d laugh but we’d talk about it and talk about why I liked it and he really encouraged me and he’s continued to be encouraging up until now, coming down to some gigs with SEED when we just started and involving me on his latest release as well.
WH: He’s actually no longer on the composition staff but it’s really good to hear that he’s still interested in his former pupils and supporting you. Looking back, what part of your Trinity Laban experience was most important in helping you become the successful musician you are today?
CK: I think it was the people that I met – some of which are still friends of mine today – really pushed me by introducing me to new music, really shaped who I am. And I think being surrounded by creatives who push forward your way of thinking and introduce you to new things is very important and integral to becoming a great creative in any field.
WH: And of course there are people that you met here who you are still playing and working with.
WH: You can make connections whilst at Trinity Laban which will give you a starting point for your career. Do you have a piece of advice that you would give to student composers?
CK: Yeah, I have a few things that I could think of. Listen as much as you can to as many different types of music as possible without forming too harsh of an opinion. I think being open-minded as a composer is quite important to your development.
And also the importance of meeting people. I think, as composers, we often get caught up in staying in our rooms and just writing the music and creating this world of our own but forming connections with other people and having that support group behind you as well is really important.
And the last thing I would say is not being afraid to express music in your own way. Often, especially as composers, there might be a box that people expect you to be in. But I think just going for what you feel is right and what you feel represents your voice.
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I have been asking people for their hidden gem listening recommendations – pieces of music that you love to listen to that most other people have probably not come across. Do you have anything in mind?
CK: Something that I was listening to for quite a while was the Trondheim Voices album Improvoicing. I just found it amazing how the human voice can come up with so many sounds and just sound so pure and beautiful just on its own. Lots of extended techniques alongside beautiful harmonies and beautiful, drawn-out melodies as well. I think it’s really interesting writing and arranging for vocals and, yeah, it’s taught me a lot. I would say that album is definitely worth a listen.
WH: Regarding the new album, Driftglass: it’s out on 1st February, is that right?
CK: The album launch is on 1st February at Kings Place with music starting from 8pm and there will be two 45-minute sets with DJ sets in between. But it’s released on digital and vinyl on 8th February.
WH: Where can we buy or download it?
CK: Pre-orders are actually up now and I would have a look on the Jazz re:Freshed website at the moment.
WH: Thank you very much for your time, Cassie. I really appreciate it.
CK: No problem and thank you for asking me to be involved.
Finally for this episode, we return to MFA student Kayla McClellan. We were also joined by fellow MFA student Emi Matsushita who we met in the second episode of the podcast.
Interview: Kayla McClellan (Part 2)
WH: I’m wondering whether there’s an element in what you do of nutritional science – about diet and what we eat.
KM: Nutritional research is difficult, mostly ethics-wise. There could be disordered eating and things like that. With nutrition, it is so individual and then with the participation, you need to be looking at what people are in-taking daily and it is just so hard to get people to continue to log on nutrition forms. And then you also don’t know if they’re telling the truth.
WH: I read an article in The Guardian which Dr Redding was quoted in. Something that struck me in it, which was quite encouraging really – they were talking about one of the big ballet companies who had an in-house dietician. It used to be that you’d only go and see the dietician if you became ill. But now there seems to be this shift towards all of the dancers wanting to go and see them all the time to work out what they should be eating just to stay on top of their own energy in-take.
KM: Yes. I’m seeing a shift in the field from this focus on how to help dancers after there’s already a problem to preventative methods and research that helps dancers before anything happens. And dancers seem to be responding to that really well because they’re now starting to become more aware of the work that we’re doing and they are starting to get more involved.
EM: In addition to raising awareness for the dancers here at Trinity Laban as far nutrition is concerned, what other things does the Dance Science department bring to the Trinity Laban community?
KM: One of our projects, called the Whole Dancer Study, where we’re assigned a dancer who agrees to participate in our module, and what we do is we spend time observing them and conducting interviews and collecting data from the lab if they do anything physical and at the end of that, we can debrief our dancers on things that we were seeing, things that they might benefit from improving and ways that we might be able to help them do that and just recommendations of where to go next. So that’s something really beneficial to them and it’s all free!
Hidden Gem Listening Recommendations
WH: I’ve been asking people I’ve interviewed to give me their hidden gem listening recommendations.
KM: I’m a super underground concert-goer – that’s where most of my money goes to. Probably the artist that I would want everyone to listen to is Mitski. She’s a singer-songwriter. Love her – we have the same birthday. We’re connected. Mitski produces very raw, visceral, emotional songs. What she’s done is a really cool juxtaposition of her bitter-sweet, emotional lyrics with this truly poppy sound.
And then Screaming Females. It actually is a band that only has one female in it. They’re incredible. It’s a punk rock-ish sound. Actually the lead singer – she has a really crazy operatic voice. She might be secretly really well-trained. She shreds on the guitar like no other.
Many thanks to Kayla McClellan and Emi Matsushita. That’s a wrap for this episode of TL Life: Crosscurrent.
Next time will be a little different. I’m mentoring a CoLab project in which we’ll be producing a shorter podcast for every day of the fortnight, with on-the-spot interviews, snippets of projects and details on when and where to see the performances you won’t want to miss.
10 podcasts in 12 days? Wish me luck…
I’m your host Will Howarth. Until next time!
If you have a project, a piece or an idea you would like to share on the podcast, please do get in touch with me via my email: email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the Trinity Laban student body and do not necessarily represent those of the institution as a whole.