Interview with Australian Composer – Tristan Coelho

Meet Tristan Coelho, winner of a jury prize in the 2021 ‘Composing the Future’ competition. As well as a generous cash prize, Tristan’s solo piano work Ice Monuments was chosen to be performed by pianist Kristian Chong, who co-judged the ‘Composing the Future’ competition. Let’s hear more from Tristan on the inspiration behind his new work:

Composing the Future 

Tell about yourself. How did you discover the ‘Composing the Future’ competition?

I’m a Sydney-based composer and music educator. I write music for ensembles and solo instrumentalists and also love combining this with exploring the electronic manipulation of sound and amplification to create new possibilities. I’ve written quite a bit of music for student performers over the years too which I find really rewarding. I came across the ‘Composing the Future’ competition on social media through the Australian Music Centre. I’m glad I applied because it’s offered up such a great opportunity!


Is this your first-time composing works for solo piano? 

As a pianist myself, I’ve always been drawn to the instrument. There’s just something about the resonance of it and the textural possibilities that I find so inspiring. My earliest pieces as a child were for solo piano – it’s all I knew at the time! Over the years, even if not composing specifically for the instrument, the piano has been consistently used in some way to explore ideas, improvise, sketch out a rough structure of the material, or as a tool to imagine orchestration possibilities. My new work, Ice Monuments, isn’t my first solo piano work. I don’t have many published works for piano alone but do plan to correct that at some point! I write for all sorts of instrumental combinations and for voice and electronics too but have been writing a fair bit for harp currently on account of my wife, Emily Granger, being a harpist!


You have a passion for writing music inspired by a digital / data-driven world. Can you share more on that?

There are ultimately two broad influences in my music. One of them is our digital, data-driven world which I like to explore through glitch-inspired, beat-driven, “noisy” music full of sudden contrasts and hard cuts. This style is all about finding beauty and intrigue in the sounds of technological failure. I’m also drawn to legacy technology like cassettes due to their characteristic noise like hiss and warble. I’m really drawn to these lo-fi qualities and embed them in my music. The other significant influence is in direct opposition to all this: the natural world.   


What was the inspiration behind ‘Ice Monuments’?

Ice Monuments isn’t dedicated to anyone in particular – it is inspired by photos of naturally formed ice sculptures in Antarctica. These “monuments” are carved out by sea and wind but almost seem handcrafted. They’re imposing yet fragile, forever transformed by the elements. In the piece, huge crashing chords are “carved out” by repetitive, cyclic figures. It continues an interest of mine in focusing on rhythmic ideas of irregular length and rich, evolving harmony. I see this influence being clearly aligned with my interest in the natural environment, but there are also beat driven, glitchy elements linked to inspiration from the world of technology.


Where will you be when you hear it first performed live?

I’m planning on going down to Melbourne to see the premiere by Kristian Chong at the Melbourne Recital Centre and am very much looking forward to it!


How will you feel hearing it played for the first time?

Hearing a work performed for the first time is always exciting, but I still get a little nervous! The music has spent so much time in your head and in fragmented form, so it’s exhilarating hearing it come to life.


How do you see the future of composing evolving, with the influence of technology changing so fast?

What it is to compose is forever evolving. It is more accessible now than ever to create music, and I think it will only become increasingly accessible. There are so many software tools and recording technologies at our disposal which means more music is being created now than perhaps ever before. I think the traditional notion of a composer cooped up in a study, working in isolation and delivering a final score to performers for a concert setting is now just one of many modes of being a composer. We have the possibility of more collaboration than ever, and there is increasingly a grey area between artistic disciplines, so traditional concert settings are but one of many forms of presentation. As technology develops, the creative and sonic possibilities will continue to expand into worlds I can’t even imagine! 

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