Feature
Q&A with composer Christopher Mayo #Objects
7 September 2015

1) What was it that drew you to the object in the Science Museum that you picked for this project?

In a room that's full of so many enormous objects – full size planes hanging from the ceiling – there was something immediately arresting about the R.J. Mitchell statue. It's life-size and stares out directly at you, and there's something about the way it's constructed out of thousands of pieces of stacked slate that pulls you in closer to try to see how it all fits together. Then when I discovered more about R.J. Mitchell and his story, I was completely sold.

2) Is there a certain musical effect/technique you have used to help bring this object/space to life?

The piece uses lots of samples of the sound of airplane engines, processed in such a way that they sound nothing like engines and become just a sort of cloud of harmony. Over the course of the piece, these harmonic samples are further processed so that they come full circle back to sounding (a bit) like an airplane engine again. There's something appealing to me about this – it's like taking a piece of wood, grinding it down to sawdust and then glueing the sawdust back together and painting it to look like a piece of wood.

3) The conspiracy theory about the death of actor Leslie Howard who played R.J. Mitchell in the 1942 film The First of the Few is interesting. In the wrong place at the wrong time or do you think the German warplane shot him down mistaking him for the Spitfire inventor?

I think the idea that German Intelligence didn't know that Mitchell had already been dead for 5 years is a bit far-fetched, but it makes a great story. It's just one of many conspiracy theories surrounding the attack on BOAC Flight 777; it was also suggested that the Germans thought that Churchill himself might have been on this flight, or that Howard was a spy returning from a secret meeting with Franco, or simply that killing such a popular British actor would be demoralising for the British public.

 

4) Your piece is going to be premiered at the Science Museum in October in a unique walk-through concert with Aurora Orchestra. What are you most looking forward to about this event?

The piece is inspired by the sound of airplanes, and it's going to be very loud. I'm really looking forward to hearing it at full volume, really filling the space, surrounded by all these actual planes and engines.

5) What is the value of a project like this linking two disciplines (science & music)? Can one enhance the appreciation of the other?

I think that music is so often linked to other disciplines, but it's not always that apparent, or at least, not always on the surface. Any project which seeks to make these connections explicit and heighten the understanding and appreciation of each through the context of the other is a really marvellous thing.

 

 

6) What bit of science/technology could you not live without?

Pentel .9mm Mechanical Pencils.

 

 

The Objects at an Exhibition concert will take place at 7:45pm at the Science Museum on Saturday 3 October 2015. Further details of the event and the complete 6-track album can be found here.

 

Christopher Mayo's science-themed playlist

 

 

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