An Interview with Rob Canning

Interview with Rob Canning (2003) clip5

RC: School... What really started me off was when I was seventeen and I joined the Irish Youth Choir. We performed Bach’s B minor Mass, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and a piece by Gerard VictoryThe Stolen Child. And that was the first time I actually saw a composer and realised that they weren’t something from a different planet. That was just before the Leaving Cert [second-level state examinations in Ireland]. So then I took up classical guitar very quickly to get up to my Grade Six for the Leaving Cert, so it was a real panic to get everything on board. And then straight off to university [the University of Wales] after that, bluffing my way into a music degree! They decided, since I’d come all the way from Dublin, that they’d give me an interview and not just their tests. I ended up getting quite an eccentric lecturer who liked to talk about Frank Zappa, so that was my way in.

MD: So that degree course -- particularly the history and the analysis of the western canon as you call it -- must have been a serious eye-opener. Everything new.

RC: Yes. I was absorbing a heck of a lot at that time and still am, really. There are still so many gaps. I feel like I’m constantly struggling to keep up to date.

MD: But you have an appetite for it?

RC: Yes, definitely. I have found myself listening to less music lately. Well, I still listen to music, but I find myself listening to Xenakis as wallpaper music by sticking it on and walking around, doing the washing-up, whatever. The actual act of sitting down and following a score and focusing is something that I don’t do as regularly as I should do. But I think it’s something... I’m not sure how healthy it is to be listening to Xenakis at full belt as you’re making the dinner!

MD: It depends who you’re feeding, I suppose! A last question: you’re still in your twenties. How do you see, generally, the future of Irish new music over the next ten, fifteen, twenty years? If you’re a lifelong composer, what do you suspect may happen in the next little while? What do you hope will happen?

RC: Oh, I can’t really talk generally about the whole. I can talk about how I see myself developing. For me, anyway, I’m quite influenced by technology. I see the way real-time processing of sound is happening now very instantaneously, and the way that that can be incorporated with real time visuals, all interacting. Systems that can run completely haywire, out of control, are something that are quite attractive to me, and bringing in a lot of other media. Obviously you’ve got to be tasteful, not to do it to the detriment of what’s going on. But I think, specifically now, there is potential for a huge new format of concert. And I think I’d like to try and go down that road.

MD: When is the premiere of your new piece with Concorde?

RC: The fifth of October, and it’s to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the double helix. So there’s lot of DNA information in there, processing, amino acids and things, which will be interpreted by the music as various ideas, and visuals of cells dividing, viruses mutating and so on. I’m not quite sure how it’s all going to come together.

MD: Will it be self-explanatory or will you give an introduction, perhaps?

RC: I think I’ll have to!

Rob Canning was interviewed on video by Michael Dungan at the Contemporary Music Centre, Dublin, on 14 July 2003.