Composer-Curator 2020 Q&A: Rufus Isabel Elliot

To celebrate the selection of this year's Composer-Curator cohort, we caught up with all the selected artists, composers and creators for a quick chat about we can expect from this year's projects. We also talked musical influences, plans for reshaping events in light of COVID-19, and lockdown listening!

Here, we speak to Composer-Curator Rufus Isabel Elliot, a trans musician based in Govanhill, Glasgow who hosts the OVER/AT series: a platform for trans and non-binary folks to speak for, with and by themselves.

So, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a trans musician based in Govanhill, Glasgow, whose output spans everything from funerary music for doomed spaceships to orchestral music about rotting seaweed! In the past, I've worked as composer-in-residence with Scotland’s street orchestra, the Nevis Ensemble, and my current projects include a new recording project with violinist Harry Gorski-Brown, and a remix of Fergus Hall’s Shores.

 I began the OVER/AT series to make a platform for trans and non-binary folks to speak for/with/by ourselves, not through and for the eyes of the cisgender arts and media. 

I’ve been lucky to get to think about gender, the body, and the ways in which we speak out — especially as trans folks — in some of my music the last few years, including imagining the instruments as characters and speakers, and working with trans singers to seek gender euphoria through the voice.

Could you tell us a little more about your project, OVER/AT?

OVER / AT is a new music night based in Scotland, focussing on the voices of trans and non-binary folks. We want to make our voices heard on our own terms, and speak for ourselves, pushing the conversation forwards. We will ask our allies to learn, and be witnesses. We will be working with local musicians and local community music groups to workshop our approach to the trans voice, and will be commissioning new trans and non-binary ditties for this purpose. We’re looking forward to bringing this music to the Southside of Glasgow, Dundee, and the North West of Scotland.

How have your original project and plans been affected by COVID-19?

We were very lucky to get to put on the very first OVER/AT gig quite soon before the C19 crisis reached Scotland. It was the last live gig I attended, and something I’m treasuring just now. Our second night, which was due to take place at Category Is Books a few weeks ago, was to include solo sets by composer/performers Rylan Gleave and Patrick Shand. New date tbc!

Going forward, C19 has caused us to think in terms of the kind of one-to-one collaboration that can work effectively even via digital communication, in terms of solo recordings, remixes, and printed work. For trans folks, this situation may present particular challenges of isolation and invisibility, and keeping those folks in mind is important.

And has it enabled you to develop your work in any unexpected directions?

Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with concentrated writing lately. To compensate, I’ve been getting overly involved with my scales practice, and with restringing and practicing instruments I’ve barely touched in years. I’ve been enjoying drawing, another focused physical action, and incorporating drawings and hand notation into my scores.

Last week things got serious when I built a janky spike fiddle with some junk I dragged out the cupboard. Solos for spike violin forthcoming.

What should we expect to see and hear?

OVER/AT calls for a mix of genres and mediums, including new commissions, audiovisual work, and live sets from improvisers and singers. There will be angry trans percussion music, live vocal performances, creation myths, and intersectional verbatim stage-music.

What else is exciting you in the UK new music community at the moment?

There’s a lot of exciting music happening in Scotland at the moment, especially in the intersections of traditional music and classical music. Musicians such as Brighde Chaimbeul are making really exciting recordings, and performers who are crossing practices in jazz, contemporary music, and traditional music are cutting new ground here.

And lastly, what have you been listening to during lockdown?

I started listening to this recording of Feldman’s For John Cage quite soon after the UK lockdown was introduced, which made me feel unexpectedly hopeful and open.

Some trans punk music from Glasgow which returns to the idea of not being interested in how cis people see you.

And some fishing-line fiddle music from the Caucasus, performed by a traditional musician recorded at home, rather than a professional stage performer of Abkhazian music. You can hear the conversations taking place in the background over the course of the recordings.

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