Your Call: Interview with composer Kevin Jones

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Kevin Jones is the composer and director of a new opera, Your Call, which premières at Tête-a-Tête opera festival this week. The work stems from a research project Kevin carried out with CreST (Creative Speech Technology) Network in 2013 at the University of York. With his expertise in synthetic voices, recognition technology and sound art, this New-York-based composer has devised an opera that delves into humanity’s indispensable relationship with technology. Rehearsals are in full swing, and Mary Grace Nguyen stops by for a chat with Kevin to find out about this innovative and topical piece.

How are the rehearsals going for Your Call?

It’s been wonderful, and very intense! Working with an incredible group of people makes the rehearsal experience a lot of fun, especially as everybody contributes. We have a new cast member this year, Hai-Ting Chinn, who fits in seamlessly because we have the same sense of humour.

How does it feel to go back to London, to Tête-a-Tête, and perform the full-scale version of Your Call for the first time?

Tête-a-Tête is such a large, seamless festival and my experience last year had no bumps on the road – it went the way I wanted it to. Artistic director Bill Bankes-Jones and I have spent a lot of time talking about the piece and I am so thrilled to have its première there.

It seems you wear many hats, so what are you: composer, librettist, sound artist…?

I try not to label myself. I really feel that composing, writing, directing, and designing the work are all extensions of the same thing. They’re ways of dealing with a set of ideas and modes of expression. Particularly with writing and composing there’s really no difference. One with words the other with notes. They require different skill sets, offer different challenges and opportunities and I struggle with both equally.

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Actress Hai-Ting Chinn and mezzo-soprano Lisa J. Coates in rehearsal for ‘Your Call’

Where did your interest in recognition technology come from?

It actually started at York, with CreST. I’ve composed works for singing voice, speaking voice, electric acoustic, live voices, and works that have derived from an individual’s voice. The voice has been central to the practice as a composer so it was a natural step to go into synthetic voices.

With Your Call – an opera about our relationship with technology – what’s the kind of message you would like audiences to take home?

To me, the piece is about the fact that our relationship with technology that has become a ‘real’ relationship with devices, synthetic voices and interactive systems. This is how our life is changing. It’s not at all dystopian. I’m trying to say ‘pay attention!’ It’s not a linear narrative. People will make up their own mind and take what they want from it.

When did you start writing music?

I think I was 10 or 11 years old. It seemed like a thing I needed to do. I grew up in St. Louis in the middle of the USA, where there’s a lot of RnB, soul and jazz music. That’s what I started getting involved in. I played in bands at school, and when I went to the University of North Texas I focused on my passion for composing. I listened and worked with electronic music, synthesizers, analogue tape decks and tapes with razor blades – the type I could cut my teeth on.

Which composers inspire you the most?

Bach, Mahler, Schoenberg, Frank Zappa, and John Coltrane, to name just a few!

Kevin Jones’ Your Call will be showing at 7.45pm on Saturday 8th August and 3.45pm on Sunday 9th August, at King’s Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG. Click here to watch the video trailer, and click here to book tickets (£7.50).

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