From pop music to dance: The Presets’ Julian Hamilton on composing ‘Forever & Ever’

09 October 2018

Julian Hamilton, one half of ARIA Award winning band The Presets, is making music with a new kind of beat.

As the composer behind Antony Hamilton‘s Forever & Ever, he’s stepped back from the pop world he usually inhabits. A “refreshing change” he says, to “explore just how much emotion and meaning I can convey by saying very little at all.”

His score for Forever & Ever has been composed with only two instruments, the sonic palette consisting of minimal techno synths which will remind the audience of a party or rave.

We chatted to him about collaborating with his brother Antony, composing for dance and his creative process:

Q. Can you share some of the inspirations behind the music you’ve composed for Forever & Ever?

Inspiration is such a funny word, I don’t know where it comes from. I am always noodling around at home making bits and pieces. And sometimes those musical ideas become pop songs for a band, or sometimes they end up going on the scrap heap. This time around, I made a bunch of things, and sent them to Antony just to show him. Like here are some acid lines, some beats and things, what do you think of this stuff? He really liked them, and he said they might be really cool for a dance work that he’s got coming up with Sydney Dance Company.

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Q. How did the music for Forever & Ever evolve from these initial experimentations?

I sent Antony a folder, mostly of acid lines and for instance he would go “I love the third one, it would be cool if we could make a half hour piece based on it.” So that’s what I did.

Antony would come back with feedback saying “I love all those things, but can it do less, because the music has to support the dancing.” Because I work in a pop music world most of the time where you only have three and a half minutes to try and say something, this is a much different process. You have half an hour to say much less and you don’t really want to compete with the dancing on the stage. So that’s a really fun practice to be able to craft some music that doesn’t do much. I really enjoyed it.

Q. What is it like working with your brother Antony in a creative context?

It’s really fun. Because we are brothers there’s been box loads of advantages. We have a shared cultural and imaginative language. We like the same stuff. We’re able to convey ideas very easily. For all the challenges we’ve faced, there’s been a lot more advantages.

Q. What kind of instruments have you used in your musical composition for Forever & Ever?

The main instrument I’m using is a famous drum machine called a Roland TR-909. This is a drum machine that has been used in all sorts of techno and house music for decades now. I have also added a Moog keyboard, they’re a famous synthesiser company that’s been around since the 1960s. They’re pretty much the only two instruments I’ve used in this piece, it has been pretty fun to work with a very limited sound world and palette to see how much I can squeeze out of those.

Q. How would you describe your compositional style?

I will make anything, whatever works. Sometimes that might be a solo piano piece, sometimes that might be a thumping techno drum machine work. For this piece, it is definitely the latter. It’s heavy drum machines and techno synths.

Q. What is the creative process like composing for contemporary dance as opposed to your work for The Presets?

Working with The Presets or any other pop music context, you only really have three and a half minutes to say everything that you want to say, and you want it to be as engaging, as explosive and interesting as you can make it. When making music for dance, you don’t want to take people’s attention away from the choreographic movement on stage. Everything that you do needs to be complementary with the lights, complementary with the dancing, complementary with the costumes.

With the dance work, the feedback I will get from Antony is “can you make it less interesting, can we have less here, can we take these parts out?” And that’s a really fun practice for me. It’s almost like meditating, like how long can I stretch something out for, how little can I say to make this work?

Q. What would you say is the most exciting or enjoyable aspect of creating a new piece of music?

It’s funny. I don’t know. The whole process is exciting. Walking into a studio or picking up an instrument and there is no music existing, and there’s just creating. That white blank page in front of you, that’s the exciting part of it.

Q. What has been your career highlight so far?

Honestly the career highlight is just being able to be in a position where I get to make music all the time and it’s my job. Everyday I get to go into the studio and be creative. It’s a thrill.

Listen to Julian Hamilton’s musical inspirations behind Forever & Ever on Spotify:

Experience Julian Hamilton’s original score for Forever & Ever in the Sydney premiere season, 16 – 27 October.


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