Composer Neo Muyanga on the art of the soundtrack

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Neo Muyanga is building up an impressive body of work as a composer for theatrical productions. Born in Soweto, he studied “the Italian madrigal tradition with choral maestro, Piero Poclen, in Trieste, Italy” before founding the ground-breaking acoustic folk duo Blk Sonshine.

Neo has composed soundtracks for The Royal Shakespeare Company (The Tempest), contemporary dance company, Jazzart as well as for “Memory Of How It Feels”, the highly-acclaimed show which he created.

Just days away from the opening of Ouroboros, his collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company Neo spoke to us about how he works.

BaxterBlog: How did your collaboration with Ouroboros come about?
Neo Muyanga: Janni asked me to compose the score to ‘Ouroboros’ after we’d developed a rapport while working on ‘The Tempest’ (Baxter/RSC production) together a few years ago.

The biggest hurdle is always the first five bars of a new piece.

BB: Did you have a singular idea in mind when you began composing?
NM: I began by making two contrasting themes: One for Andre (the poet) which was classically-bent and the other for Nokubonisa (the dancer) which was Jazzfrican.

Take a listen to the two contrasting themes:
Nokubonisa\'s Theme
Andre\'s Theme

BB: What is your process when you compose for a production (i.e someone else’s vision)?
NM: This usually depends on the director and their articulated vision. Sometimes a director comes with a script asking if I would respond to the text musically. Others, like Janni, get me to come in to rehearsals and to create a sound to frame or inhabit the visual universe they are inventing. I always carry a notebook where all my musical sketches begin, then I go back to my writing cave where I expand and shape the ideas into fuller musical narratives.

BB: Is there much collaboration with the artistic team or, as composer, do you have free run?
NM: I generally compose alone and usually away from the team, but only once I have spent time taking in the influence of the creative team on the rehearsal floor.

BB: What’s the hardest part of creating a musical score?
NM: For me, the biggest hurdle is always the first five bars of a new piece. I usually know at the end of bar five if an idea I have is crap or not. Once I know I decide whether (a) to continue, (b) scrap and start again or (c) massage the pile of rubbish into a tray of silver with fruit.

BB: What can audiences expect to take away from Ouroboros?
NM: The story is beautifully told and I think Janni has made a stunning set of puppets and projection visuals.

BB: Is there a CD of the soundtrack available?
NM: No, I’m afraid not.

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Billy Collins: The poet who inspired ‘Ouroboros’

A simple sentence in the marketing material from the Handspring Puppet Company reads “Ouroboros is inspired by the poetry of Billy Collins.” But who is he, and what does he say to inspire such a creative outpouring from our gifted artists?

Collins is a 70-year old American poet, born in March of 1941. He was the poet laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He was raised in New York City and has worked at CUNY, the City University of New York, for almost 30 years.

His poetry is simply delightful. Utterly accessible, with a lightness and magic that connects to the reader and invites you to experience the world in a whole new way.

Listen as Collins reads one of his best-known poems “The Best Cigarette”.

It is not only the Handspring Puppet Company who have been inspired by Collins’ work. Artists and animators have been reading and interpreting his work Continue reading