Sounds fantastic

Introducing New Seeing, Ben Cottrell

Hi! I’m Ben and I’m delighted and very excited to have been awarded the Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission for 2016. This is an incredible opportunity for me to realise a brand new project which I’ve called New Seeing, featuring a 12-piece string ensemble alongside an expanded rhythm section, trumpet and electronics.

This is the first in a series of posts on this blog, where over the upcoming months leading up to the première performance on 27th July (get your tickets in now…). I’ll try to give an insight into the composition process and what I’m up to at different stages – if there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover feel free to get in touch through my website or on twitter and I’ll see what I can do! This first post is a quick introduction to me and my composition ‘philosophy’ (for want of a better word), all of which will of course feed into the music I’m writing for New Seeing.

Most of my previous composition has been for my own band, Beats & Pieces Big Band. Regular mjf audiences may have seen us perform at the festival in 2014 and/or 2010, or perhaps even our first ever gig which was part of mjf 2008. If you’re familiar with our stuff you’ll know that the musical influences for Beats & Pieces are extensive – everything from jazz to pop, rock, electronic, classical, free improvisation, and the many grey areas in between. Music fans of my generation (I’m 30) are lucky enough to have grown up listening to such a wide variety of different things, especially with the advent of CD-Rs and internet sharing through Napster etc when we were teenagers, so when I’m writing I’m drawing on a huge and varied pool of inspiration which often creates some interesting juxtapositions. Another benefit of this is that hopefully audiences can always find something in my writing that they are familiar with and enjoy regardless of where they’re coming from musically, even if they wouldn’t normally consider themselves a ‘jazz’ fan.

I also like the idea of using familiar instrumental combinations to do things that one wouldn’t normally expect, playing with audience preconceptions of what instruments are ‘supposed’ to sound like. Although Beats & Pieces has all the usual big band instruments and we even have the words ‘big band’ in our name, we’re about as far removed as is possible from the Duke Ellington/Count Basie/Glenn Miller sound that the majority of the population would instantly think of when imagining a band with saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section… This idea is something I’m looking forward to exploring with the strings in New Seeing, as a collection of instruments that obviously have a far greater tradition and history than that of the big band.

Keep an eye on this page for the next update in a few weeks, when I’ll talk about the inspiration behind the instrumentation choice and of course the name… And did I mention that tickets for the New Seeing première are on sale already??