Composer Spotlight Q&A: Ollie Hawker

Ollie Hawker is a Glasgow-based composer and improviser interested in ideas of digital nostalgia and the internet as folk culture. 

He plays in the bands Neuro Trash and Instruction Manual, the latter of which was nominated for a 2021 Scottish New Music Award for their audio visual piece The Owen Wilson Elegies. 

He also works as a music practitioner for the charities Paragon, Hear My Music and Drake Music Scotland.

Ollie first worked with sound in 2020 as part of our Lockdown Composing project and more recently took part in our annual development opportunity for composers' with Red Note Ensemble composing a piece of music for double bass and marimba which was premiered at soundfestival 2021.

What stage are you at in your career right now?

Still quite early I think, or I hope at least! I graduated from RCS with my Masters in Composition in July 2021, but my undergrad had more of a musicology focus so it's still a relatively recent decision to pursue a career in composition.

Tell us about a favourite piece of music that you have written.

Tell us about a favourite piece of music that you have written. It's probably The Owen Wilson Elegies, a project I worked on from 2017-2020 with my friend Scott Morrison. It's a half hour audio visual piece for harp, piano, accordion and live electronics that all revolves around a throwaway joke from an old Owen Wilson interview, and I think it kind of perfectly captures the combination of funny, sad and beautiful that I really love in art.

Were you involved in any special musical or compositional projects during any of the lockdowns?

I was involved in a really fun project with sound, Any Enemy and Brandon University New Music Ensemble to write a piece to be performed on Zoom. It was obviously a bit frustrating at times not being able to just write a 'normal' piece of music, but also it's definitely true that limitations breed creativity. The piece I came up with was a sort of semi-random self-generating visual score that wrote itself as the musicians were playing it, kind of like a Guitar Hero: New Music Edition.

What are your compositional aspirations?

I feel like most of the music I make is pretty decent, but every few years I come up with something where I'm like 'wow this is actually really good and worth all the stress etc., nice one Ollie'. I guess I just hope to have as many of those moments as possible.

What forces do you prefer writing for and why? (Instrumental, orchestral, chamber music, choral…?)

I'm most comfortable with solo instruments/small ensembles and live electronics, just because I've got a lot more experience with Max MSP than I do with scores and so feel like I can do more interesting stuff with it. Recently I've also enjoyed making algorithmic patches that sort of run on their own forever, because the creative process for it is quite relaxing. It usually involves sitting in my room with the patch running all day and tinkering with various aspects of it until something I like starts happening. And because of the randomness that's at the heart of a lot of these patches, I'm often as surprised as anyone with the results, which is a somewhat novel experience for a composer.

Which composer (dead or alive) has most inspired you and why?

Not exactly a composer, but I've been really inspired by Sacred Harp music for a couple of years now. The harmonies are beautiful, and there's so many really cool egalitarian aspects to the way it's organised and performed, although that's not really the right word seeing as Sacred Harp was never intended to be performed to an audience. I'm also just a big fan of any choral tradition where the number one rule isn't to hit the right notes, but to sing as loud as possible. I joined a Sacred Harp group in Glasgow but only got a few sessions in before lockdown, so hopefully they'll start up again soon!

What do you do to take your mind off composing?

I enjoy reading, and have recently been racing through all of Miranda July's books. She really nails that mix of funny, sad and beautiful that I mentioned before. I also started playing football a few years ago, which I think has been really good for keeping me sane in the sedentary and sometimes isolating world of composition. But I'm very late to the game with it, so I've had to get used to being the worst player on the pitch every week. I'm sure there's some important lesson I'm learning from this, though.

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

Max Syedtollan just put out a really good album on the GLARC label called 'Four Assignments (&Other Pieces)', and the title track is this half-sung paranoid spy novel narrative that I loved. I saw him perform it live and it was great, he preluded it with this powerpoint presentation on20th century theories of esoteric archeology that perfectly captured that academic vibe of simultaneously making a lot of a sense and not very much at all.

Listen on SoundCloud