PRS for Music Foundation: What impact do you think your involvement in New Music 20×12 will have on your work?
Mark-Anthony Turnage: Any creative work I’ve done in prisons has fed directly back into work I have done. After I worked with Jackie Kay in the Scrubs I wrote Twice through the Heart. I was also both musically and emotionally influenced by many of the men I met in the prison and the stories they told about their lives, meaning that they in some small part influenced my composition as well.
As a sports fan, I know that music doesn’t often cross over into the sporting arena. Having the opportunity to work on this commission will see the music crossing over into other arenas, allowing many more people who may not have seen or heard the new work to do so. I really enjoy it when people in different spheres get to see what I do. It won’t be the usual contemporary crowd but a whole new and culturally diverse group of people. I am really proud to be on the list with other such interesting projects, such as the ones led by Howard Skempton and Julian Joseph.
PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
MAT: Back in 1992 I met Sara doing a London Sinfonietta project in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Just before this, I overheard Gillian Moore talking about working in prisons and my ears pricked up and I mentioned to her that I would love to have the opportunity to do something like that. That project remains to this day the most powerful education work I have ever done. I was completely absorbed in it and very surprised at how emotionally involved you become in the lives of prisoners when you do it. I am still shocked when people are anti this kind of work. It really surprises me as to me it is so vital. I am a patron of Music in Prisons and have been waiting for absolutely ages to work in this context again. As a patron I had seen what happened so had been aware but hadn’t had the opportunity to be as hands on as I had wanted. Every project I saw I thought ‘yes, I really want to do this’ and now I am having the chance.
PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work? What kinds of creative input will the performers and the community you are working with have on your work?
MAT: The main input I will have before we go in to the prison will be to structure the new piece. I don’t want to write down or dictate too much but am thinking of the idea in a kind of variation form; a refrain that keeps coming back which can be used by the prisoners to form their input. I don’t want to be too specific neither too loose. I want to tread the fine line to get the real essence of collaboration with them. It’s crucial that they have a big input as I want it to be a co-ownership. It’ll work like a jazz piece; I will create the head and they will create their own ideas in response to this.
PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
MAT: This is a tricky one and potentially poses a dilemma as prisons restrictions mean not as many people will be able to see it as we might like. We want it to reach as wide an audience as possible and will have to be creative as to how we go about it. It is so important to get the new piece ‘out there’ as it’s of vital important to educate people who know little about prison. People must see that music can change people – in my other prison work I saw how passionate the prisoners got about it and sometimes I felt quite humbled by this. I clearly remember composing something when I was in the Scrubs and I laughed at what I had done and was immediately pulled up on it by one of the prisoners who said, ‘you shouldn’t be so cynical about it – you have a gift and we are pleased you are sharing it with us’. This sharply taught me that you shouldn’t so easily dismiss what you have to give. I hope the audience will take away the joy we will have making it and will take a more positive view of what is quite often a very negative situation. Of course I hope the prisoners will embrace the newness and excitement of it all and remember it for the rest of their sentences and beyond.
PRSF: Where to you draw your inspiration and influences? Which creator, musical or otherwise do you most admire?
MAT: Inspiration comes from modern life; the real life situations that happen around me. I take inspiration from literature and painting too. My admirations change from day to day and week to week but the ones that have stuck with me are Miles Davis, Stravinsky and Francis Bacon.
PRSF: Which Olympic/Paralympic games will you be seeing in 2012? What was your best/favourite sport when you were growing up?
MAT: I hope to see a lot of the athletics; any kind of running really. But football is what I grew up with. Along with a bit of cricket and tennis as well.
One of Britain’s most successful composers, Mark-Anthony Turnage has achieved international stature and is commissioned and performed throughout the world. The Irene Taylor Trust ‘Music in Prisons’ is an established charity which believes in music as a powerful vehicle for change. The charity has been delivering its creative workshops in prisons since 1995. Through New Music 20×12, Music in Prisons will work in partnership with Turnage and some new composers, comprising a group of adult male prisoners. Together, they will write, orchestrate and record an exciting piece of music in celebration of Britain and its culture, employing the individual musical and cultural influences of all participants. The 2012 Olympic Games will instil a feeling of unity within the UK. In enabling prisoners to contribute positively to these events, New Music 20×12 will not only be raising their aspirations, but encouraging a sense of society in them too.