Composer Spotlight Q&A: Sonia Killmann

Sonia Killmann is a Glasgow based composer and multi-media artist from Belgium. Sonia is also a saxophone player and performs with her duo Failed System Test.

Sonia took part in the 2020 IpiSoundlab which is run in partnership with the International Percussion Institute and more

recently Sonia was commissioned to write a new work for local new music ensemble Any Enemy which was premiered at soundfestival 2021.

What stage are you at in your career right now? 

After graduating from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I am just starting to find my feet as a freelancer and composer. I feel like being at such an early stage in my career is a big advantage, since it allows me to really explore who I am as an artist outside of academia.  

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

My favourite classical piece I have ever written, was my final piece (Ripples) that was performed by the studio collective at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Since I am a composer who explores electronic music and audiovisual media, as well as classical music, I have always found it difficult to merge these differing sides of my practice. When writing “Ripples” I took on the challenge to transcribe electronic effects, such as delay, reverb and distortion, which were then translated into a purely acoustic environment. It was important to me that the piece remained organic and that the mimicking of electronic effects didn’t seem forced, which is why the performers received written cues that used natural imagery, mentioning water, wind and landscapes. While the piece was originally inspired by my electronic music, it became its own entity and allowed me to explore various extended techniques and new sonic worlds through string instruments. The piece was recorded and performed as part of the 2021 online PLUG festival. 

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

During lockdown I was fortunate enough to have been able to work on some online projects with the postgraduate festival organisation Sound Though, with which we organised some online concerts during 2020 and 2021. In addition, together with Aidan Lochrin, we found a way to write and record two EPs remotely online with our saxophone and bass duo “Failed System Test”. This was a great achievement for me, since it enabled me to practice new things on the saxophone during the pandemic. In addition, my piece “Them! There! Eyes?” was premiered as part of Cryptic Glasgow’s Sonic Bites series in February 2021, which has opened doors for me to perform this audiovisual piece live since lockdown has eased. 

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

I am incredibly inspired by people, such as Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. All three of these composers use quite different mediums when composing but use deep listening as a way to express themselves and create sound. Since graduating from my masters in composition, I have tried to bring deep listening into the foreground of my practice too. I do this also by transcribing field recordings and connecting with the sounds of nature through instrumentation. I hope to create a connection between the listener and the environment to create immersive and meditative experiences, as well as emphasize the importance of forming a new relationship with our environment in order to preserve it. Viewing nature as our equal, much like the way that the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser once did*, will change the way we treat it.

*For context: Hundertwasser was an architect who also created buildings that merged with trees and nature. If someone wanted to live in a building of his, they would have to sign a lease that stated that the tree growing through the living room was a tenant with equal rights to the human cohabiter. 

What would you consider to be a dream commission? 

I have always wanted to compose music for visual media and film. If I had the chance to create the sound design for a show like Twin Peaks by David Lynch it would probably be my dream come true. However, I’ve recently been given a lot of opportunities in my career that I hadn’t considered or expected before. For instance, I have started doing purely visual work for a Classical Immersion show at Sage Gateshead with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. This was a lot of fun to work on, even though I had never before considered only creating visuals. I have also collaborated with some Scottish Ballet dancers, such as Constant Vigier and Jamiel Laurence, which was equally unexpected and amazing. As a result I have been looking at the future of my career with less of a clear goal and have decided to enjoy experiencing the journey of what doors might open next for me, if that makes sense. 

What do you do to take your mind off composing?

I mainly listen to audiobooks when I’m not composing or create radio mixes from tracks that my friends created. Sometimes these get played on Clydebuilt Radio in Glasgow, which is great! 

If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be? 

Environmental Sonic Exploration

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

Again, I am going to use this question to give a little shout out to my friends who I like to bop to every once in a while!

Also, the work of my collaborators and friends Rylan Gleave and Simone Seales is amazing – please check them out!

Click the links below to follow Sonia and listen to some of her music:

Instagram: @soniakillmann_sound
Twitter: @KillmannSonia

Failed System Test: