A few months ago Nicolas Jaar’s new signee on Other People managed to shake – if not break – the internet. The enigmatic compositions of a 19-year-old composer named John Bence were spreading rapidly amongst various blogs and websites around the world. After we noticed the arresting cover of his début single, “Disquiet”, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the record. The more we were listening, the more hooked we were by the eeriness of the piece, which almost felt holy-esque. Bence’s intriguing ambient – classical crossover plays with harmony and cacophony, using equally both to create his disquiet compositions.
The question was one; who is this mysterious young composer named John Bence?
Little can be found around your name, all I know is that you are a young London-based composer… What is your musical background?
I come from a very musical family. My mum plays classical piano, my dad wrote electronic music in the 1990’s and my sister studies oboe at the Royal College Of Music. Music is a huge thing at home. I have grown up singing in my local church choir and this had a huge influence on me, singing Gibbons, Byrd, Howells, Purcell and then going home to listen to my dad and his electronic sounds, “Disquiet” makes sense when I look back on my past. I listen to a lot of electronic music and classical music. I am classically trained and have been studying composition for a long time.
I feel much more liberated and excited as a composer then I think I would have done 20 or 30 years ago. I live in a very exciting time to be a composer.
You have a unique sound with elements of an ambient – classical crossover. Which sort of musical movement do you think you most fit in?
Nico Mulhy sums it all up to me, the walls are falling down between everything. The internet pulls everything together. The barriers are weaker between genre more then ever before.
I feel much more liberated and excited as a composer than I think I would have been 20 or 30 years ago. I live in a very exciting time to be a composer.
Do you ever feel that age could be a barrier in the music field you’ve chosen?
I live in a world of child prodigies, so not really.
You belong in a very difficult musical genre for the “average listener”. How do you react to people unable to understand your music?
I think Disquiet is pretty accessible. I write music for people to listen to. If people are prepared to put the work in to understand my music then it will be rewarding – after a couple of listens the discords become necessary. The piece moves between harmony and disharmony but we need both to make sense of either.
“Disquiet” is a spot-on description of your aural experiments. It’s a very evocative piece, having some sort of eerie – mournful elements. Can you elaborate a bit more on the concept behind it?
The concept was to work to a strict process. The process starts with traditional score, voices and strings are recorded live, then manipulated to create something new, then scoring those manipulations you can create new material, just like a painter painting over a canvas but leaving some of the past still in view. It was a long task that I have been trying to succeed at for a large part of my life, to combine electronic manipulation with my traditional roots.
What about the breakup of the piece into three different Movements: I, II, III. Was that on purpose?
I think that it just came out of the composition process and it made sense at the time. I see it as one piece with three linear progressions. They don’t make sense apart to me.
Your creative process is very complicated. Is this technique something that defines your music?
It is a huge part of my work, it is the best of both worlds; classical composition and electronic methods of composition. I couldn’t imagine life without both. It will take some years to see if it will define my music…