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Genevieve Murphy, composer and theatrical performer: 'I like music with rhythm, feeling and drive. Music that makes me dance.' #novembermusic

'I have a special relationship with my stuff. It has to do with certain emotional experiences in my life.' With "The Spot Where I Find Myself", Genevieve Murphy (Scotland, 1988) breaks new ground in exploring her potential as a composer, musician, but above all, a theatrical performer.

Those who have been following Murphy for a few years have already got to know her versatility well. In her work, she looks for new ways for musicians to interact with their craft. For instance, in 'Walk and Drip For 12 Hours', she had paint drops come down on a 25-metre strip of paper, which became notes played by an ensemble of musicians. It was her impressive debut at November Music in 2016. With it, she established a name for herself as a strong conceptual composer.

Since working with theatre maker Nicole Beutler, Murphy has evolved from invisible composer of sometimes very challenging work, to full-blooded performer in theatrical concerts that transcend the boundaries of any genre.

Meanwhile, a first album is also online, the fascinating audio work 'I Don't Want To Be An Individual On My Own', in which she tells a bizarre, scary and also hilarious story about her eighth birthday and the role played by a 'performance artist'. Especially listenable on headphones.

Where are we now?

In the new piece: 'At The Spot Where I Find Myself', re-created under the tutelage of theatre-maker Nicole Beutler, she envelops herself in a 50-kilo costume, largely made up of the interior of her room. This is because: 'I often see images before me of myself in literal connection with all the objects in the room, which I then also pull towards me and put on like a piece of clothing.'

That's a very theatrical image, which you don't immediately associate with a composer and her work, she acknowledges: 'With this performance, as an interdisciplinary composer and performer, I often fall into the empty space between theatre and concert. So that becomes part of my work: where are we actually? Is it a concert, then I give a concert, is it theatre, then I bring theatre.'


Codes and agreements are a common thread in Murphy's work. But in fact, her work is always about communication, and what goes wrong in it. A major source is her older brother, who has autism. 'He is a huge inspiration to me. He needs certain things that help him feel 'at control' to feel. But for me, those things are incomprehensible. They are not evil and if they help him, then I play along with him.'

'For example, if he wants to sit on a chair, I have to point to that chair in a special way to give him the confidence to sit on it. You also have to respond to him with certain words to put him at ease. Sometimes you don't manage to say it in the right way and he doesn't get that word. Then he doesn't calm down but instead gets worse. So the question for me is always: when does that one word help him, and when does it not? I had to find out all by myself what worked for him and how. That gave me a pretty unique perspective on the phenomenon of empathy.'

Need for control

Psychological and autobiographical elements play a major role in Murphy's work. For instance, she made a performance about arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, and about compulsive disorders. 'It's through my research into all these psychological states that I found out that for me it's all about the need for control. That could be through compulsive disorder, self-harm and anxiety. Now it's about disorientation. When I open a door, by pushing the latch down, is it my hand pushing the latch down, or is the latch pulling my hand down? Is the space controlling me instead of me moving through it?'

Your previous work is often about chaos. With your new work, you seem more in control to be. Is that correct?

'With this work, on the contrary, I am trying to explore again how to become less stable. The costume helps with that, because it is big and weighs 50 kilos. It's completely crazy, but I'm also exploring what it does to me. I'm trying to create situations where I can feel more unstable.'

In 2020, you released an album containing a musical narrative that also has very poppy elements. It even led to a single. That's pretty special for a composer with such solid roots in newly composed music.

'I also try to connect with people physically. In contemporary music, it's often about not moving and focusing on the concert and the music, and thinking a lot with your head. There are beautiful works that we can hear and interpret with our ears, and sometimes it's fascinating to think that we are able to experience something like music. I have a lot of respect for that, but because I'm so into psychology, I can't help but connect with people physically as well.'


'What do some melodies and harmonies do? They connect directly to a feeling. What does rhythm do? It connects us physically and makes us move. I like to connect and if they leave afterwards just admiring the technique, that is not necessarily my goal too. My goal is to give people an experience. And I also really like music with a rhythm and a feeling and a drive, pushing me forward. Music that makes me dance.'

Many of your colleagues are not so concerned with that, concentrating on their music...

'...and on their personal and musical development. I'm really interested in communication.'

Not all critics and subsidisers are keen on that, are they?

'I would have to ask why. There are so many artists with great ideas, and wonderful technique and brilliant works. Only they need to think much better about how they communicate that to the audience. Especially if you combine it with performance, you can't escape it. Musicians are not necessarily also performers. They don't assume they will be seen. So I also try to make sure that musicians become aware of their audience, or, when they don't want to, find ways to make it relevant to the here and now. 'Why are we here, who are we?'

Nice pop song

'Of course, I can make a nice pop song, which will appeal to the mainstream, but I also want it to touch people who think more conceptually. I don't need to please everyone. The most important thing for an artist is honesty towards your own needs. Once that produces something you really care about, then you really have to think about who you want to reach how.'

Was the Corona lockdown a good or bad thing for you?

'It went both ways. I could spend all the time on the album that just came out. I could also just continue composing during the lockdown. I did discover that I found the online world very confronting. It was confronting to discover that there was a whole society that was purely online, whereas I had spent my whole life with the live experience.

Instagram culture

'In the early days during the lockdown, I got very down of it, because I didn't see how I could mean anything in that online world. I got depressed by the Instagram culture where everything revolves around exciting 30-second clips, which also wouldn't be interesting if they were longer. As soon as I could again, I performed with a guitarist, after which I felt immensely happy. Then I realised: it's really about me live. I have never made work of the online world. That's just not my thing.'

'So I don't want to call the work I make now covid art, but I understand that people will associate everything I make now with covid. Of course it's playing in a flat and it will remain that way. Even now that we can go outside again, we still have our home, a place of our own. But we had that before Covid too. The stories I tell are about life and the mental health problems I have experienced all my life.'

And now you will merge with your interior, your room will become an instrument.
'In my first work, I performed in a kitchen setting. I went from an ensemble to a kitchen, but that kitchen became my orchestra. I may have been a soloist, but I could hide behind that kitchen. The kitchen was the star. Since then, I did develop. My last play was much more austere, there was almost nothing on stage, which was a big challenge.'
'Now there is a new challenge because I am working with Thomas van der Borght, who is an artist himself. How do I put my own artistry alongside that? We've been in dialogue about that for months. It is abstract and I have to give my own story a place in it. He has already created an environment, so it is already there, and what does that do to me, how does that influence me?'
'I have to learn to become a part of that.'

Good to know Good to know
At The Spot Where I Find Myself can be seen and heard during November Music. Information. Further playlist available on the site of producer Rizoom.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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