Sam Salem

PRiSM Lecturer in Composition

Email: sam.salem@rncm.ac.uk

I create audiovisual works for performers, electronics and video, which challenge traditional notions of concert presentation and instrumental virtuosity. 

All of my work is intrinsically cross-disciplinary. I work with field-recordings, generative models, audio analysis and re-synthesis, amplification and objects / “devised instruments”, extended instrumental performance techniques, embedded electronic devices for DSP and sounds synthesis, and digital animation techniques and videography.

My work therefore draws upon electronic and computer music, instrumental composition, visual art, computer science, and English literature. I have a lot of interests! Fortunately, my chosen idiom allows me to combine these freely, with the aim of synthesising and exploring new languages and forms of expression. 

If I were to attempt to briefly summarise my aesthetic interests, I would say that my work is primarily concerned with ambiguity and notions of the Uncanny, i.e. the strangely familiar. I see huge potential for exploring this particular territory through the use of machine-learning and A.I. processes. It is therefore apt that my first research project as PRiSM Lecturer in Composition is to explore the use of machine-learning in audio synthesis in collaboration with PRiSM’s Research Software Engineer, Christopher Melen. 

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My electroacoustic works have been performed at festivals and concert series around the world. These works have also received several awards and nominations, including: the HearSay Prize (Winner, Best Sound Category, 2015), Prix Palma Ars Acustica (Nominated by Radio Television Suisse, 2015), Concours Luc Ferrari (Winner, La Muse En Circuit, 2012), Prize Phonologia (Finalist, 2013), Metamorphoses (Finalist, Musique et Recherches, 2012), Competition Destellos (Nominated by Grand Jury, 2012), Joensuu Soundscape Composition Contest (Third Prize, 2011), 11th Musica Viva Composition Competition (Winner, First Prize, 2011).  

My first works for live performers, my London Triptych, are based upon the lives of William Blake (Not one can pass away, 2015), Austin Osman Spare (Untitled Valley of Fear, 2016) and Nicholas Hawksmoor (The Great Inundation, 2017), and were written for Distractfold Ensemble. Not one can pass away has received 16 performances by 5 different ensembles. Untitled Valley of Fear was premiered at Darmstadt in August 2016, and has also been performed at Café OTO and HCMF. Untitled Valley of Fear was nominated for a British Composer Award (Sound Art Category) in 2017. The Great Inundation was premiered at Cut & Splice 2017 and subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3. 

In 2017, I participated in the Earle Brown Music Foundation International Summer Academy for Young Composers, one of 8 composers selected from 206 applicants, and the only successful applicant from the UK. The resulting piece, The Lovers (for string quintet, 2 object operators, performative electronics, tape and video), was premiered by Talea Ensemble as part of the Time Spans Festival in New York in August 2017. The Lovers was noted as being “impressive” and “chamber-orchestra pandemonium with accomplished video work” by the New York Times in their review of the festival. Brilliantly, and importantly, I was also described as “young”.

My most recent large-scale project, Midlands, was commissioned by The Bludenz Days of Contemporary Music Festival and the Ernst Von Siemens Foundation in 2019 and is my first concert-length piece. The work, a septet for performers, performative electronics, tape and dual video projection was described as “outside any common form and expression of a piece of music – it is a kind of staging, a Gesamtkunstwerk of light, live music and electronically embellished sound collages”. 

I am also a founding member and co-artistic director of Distractfold Ensemble. Distractfold received the Kranichstein Music Prize for Interpretation from Internationales Musikinstitute Darmstadt (IMD) in 2014, becoming the first British ensemble to receive the honour. In 2017 we curated and co- produced Cut & Splice in collaboration with SAM and BBC Radio 3, which culminated in a weekend festival in March 2017 and BBC broadcasts in April 2017.

My personal website

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