Composing in the Age of Zoom

Part of PRiSM Future Music #2

15 June 2020


Zoom call with 4 people

Composing in the Age of Zoom – Ellen Sargen, Sam Salem, Bofan Ma and Fraz Ireland (clockwise from top left)

PRiSM Lecturer Sam Salem introduces three new works by RNCM Composition students Ellen Sargen, Fraz Ireland and Bofan Ma, as part of PRiSM Future Music #2. Live Twitter Q&A runs alongside this event with @_SamSalem and the composers @ellensargen @InfallibleFraz @bofantheone.

The students were mentored by Jennifer Walshe. The World Premiere of ‘People & Things‘, written by Jennifer Walshe, was also live streamed as part of Future Music #2.

Sync — outside the box?

Fraz Ireland @InfallibleFraz

A person hitting cardboard boxes like drums

Fraz Ireland performing ‘Sync — outside the box?’

The frame accounts for everything. That fine line around the edge of the picture: a digital horizon dividing what is seen from what is not. The edges are the walls between us | the thousands of miles that separate—but then annex us temporarily in a video call. They are vast distances, but a handful of pixels. Containing everything and nothing.

This piece is not complicated—it is inspired by our rectangular frames…

by zoom conversations and multitracked performances

by a child’s drawing of a window—and the logo of Windows 8;

by the ending of Love Actually and the split-screen scene of Mean Girls;

by computers and shoeboxes and the tables in the RNCM refectory.

by a single jumbled face on a Rubiks cube—

…it is about the presentation of performance, and it raises the question:

Is one person who is filmed from 4 different angles really one person?


Bofan Ma @bofantheone

A person performing music online

Bofan Ma performing #outtakes

#outtakes is a short video piece that poses an array of questions. It is an audio-visual monologue, contemplating the uncanny, the claustrophobic, and a breakout room between the inside and the outside. It perhaps is a commentary. It perhaps is meant to be a commentary. A commentary is however the last thing it asks to be. It could even be an orange inside a mesh bag amongst a sea of bags. It is about the self and a biographical lens through which the self is mirrored. It is about making a statement without making a statement. It is what it is despite what is out there, not because of it. It is about acceptance.

As in mirrors

Ellen Sargen @ellensargen

Singer and the number 6

Ellen Sargen performing ‘As in mirrors’

Prompted by my PhD (which explores performative identity through composer-performer collaboration), I have used lockdown to explore both my digital identity and to question my relationship to my instrument. Both seemed changed by the current situation – I never seem to leave Zoom; and playing has become a very different thing. A creative exploration of this was perhaps inevitable where I had already been challenging my relationship to my flute prior to the crisis. Since January I have been developing a new physical vocabulary, as well as exploring posture and movement. This language avoids anything delicate or fragile, using fricative phonetics as the basis for sound. Working in mirrors, I had aimed to displace myself from the ‘me’ I have always been as a flautist.

The unique digital space we inhabit in lockdown has offered me new ways to explore the displacement I had been toying with earlier in the year. As in mirrors imitates parts of YouTube culture (ASMR and its associated identities) to create a digital mask and new identity for me ‘on screen’. This is juxtaposed with the vocabulary I had begun to develop earlier in the year and overall, uses different ‘digital’ mirrors to explore displacement and identity. The piece is conceived as an ASMR remix. The audience is invited to listen through headphones to capture the full experience of audio recorded from within the flute.