Composer Spotlight Q&A: Rufus Isabel Elliot

Rufus Isabel Elliot is a Glasgow based composer and musician who we worked with in 2020 as part of our lockdown composing commission and skills development opportunity.

Rufus has been working on a number of projects recently including producing the OVER/AT series, a platform for trans and non-binary folks to speak for, with and by themselves.

Read on to find out more about Rufus and OVER/AT in our Q&A below. 

What stage are you at in your career right now? 

Hard to say without a crystal ball, I guess.

I graduated from a Masters in Music studying with David Fennessy at the RCS in 2020. Since then I’ve been lucky to get to work on a clutch of new pieces and projects, and keep learning through them.

When and what made you decide to pursue composition as a career?

I feel like this was in some ways a close shave. I got interested in composing whilst studying my A Level in music. It gradually became the main way I was thinking musically (and then just the main way I was thinking). My A Level teacher – and wonderful composer – Darren Bloom would casually throw out such gems as ‘Ah, well, yeah, I find composing hard too’, and ‘You know, you don’t have to write like this [gestures at rubbish A Level composition] if you don’t want to’, which gave me the freedom and confidence to express myself.

I studied English Literature at university, and am glad and proud that I did, but I did used to wake up every morning and think about the fact that I wasn’t studying music. 

Do you have a favourite composition you have written and why? 

I’m not sure about favourite, but I have worked on some music which has kind of shaped my voice as a musician, and maybe even opened back up the possibility of making music to me.

At the start of my Masters, I began working on something that has grown into a piece called ‘Sexual Signs for Solo Violin (this and this and this)’. It takes in three different places, and I wanted to breathe the quiet of certain experiences into the music.
I worked with text in a way that was really expressive for me, and worked with melodies that felt true and honest to my experience and imagination. When I open that score now, it’s like being transported to that place.

Have you been involved in any special musical or compositional projects during lockdown?

I have…

In March 2020, I launched something called OVER / AT – a Scottish trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse music-making world. I had put together a gig at the Glad Cafe in Glasgow, and it was a beautiful, celebratory evening of trans and non-binary music-making. Then, maybe less than a week later, gigs were all cancelled, and the first lockdown began.

During that first lockdown, I was fortunate to be appointed to Sound and Music’s Composer-Curator scheme, which allowed me to keep working on the project, and be supported by them to adapt it for our present moment. Their support gave me a springboard to get different folks involved, and grow the project into the “world” it is becoming, making folk in our world sit up and take trans music-making seriously.

Over the last year, then, I have developed the OVER / AT E.P., FOLKS’ SONGS [], imagining a kind of trans Living Tradition, with new commissions from Matthew Arthur Williams, Malin Lewis, and Harry Josephine Giles. Whilst working with this producer hat on some days, I have also been working on a new longer-form piece of vocal music inspired by the ways our experiences live in the voice. I’m looking forward to being able to share and present it in the autumn.

I’ve been working (slowly!) on an album release with composer and violinist Harry Gorski-Brown. We were able to record back in the autumn, and have been exchanging mixes online over the winter.

And a couple other pieces and projects I’m going to keep hushed on for now! Wonderful collaborations with wonderful folk.

What are your compositional aspirations post pandemic, and have they changed from before 2020?

I feel like at the moment I’m always turning over new stones in the inner world, and noticing places that need exploring. The same holds true now. Maybe the places are more vagrant, more drifter, and less domestic and small than they were a couple of years ago…

What music have you been listening to lately that you would recommend to others?

I love sending folk music. I’m a right pain about it. Here’s some…

I was listening to this whilst writing – a recent release from Quinie:

This is a beautifully made home-recording album with a pandemic context from incredible Georgian Aşıq Nargilə, a traditional musician with roots in Azerbaijan and Georgia:

This is something I started listening to in the first lockdown, and was recommending to a friend again this week:

And an amazing solo violin album – always need more strings in my life – also made during the spring in 2020. I like Eight Whiskus:
And right now I am listening to Willie Dunn daily:

Click on the links below to follow Rufus and OVER/AT: