Throughout his career as a composer our new Principal Lecturer Jacob Thompson-Bell has worked in marketing and communications, as well as on some great collaborative projects with artists and dancers.
After completing an 18 month residency at London's prestigious Somerset House, Jacob headed to Leeds to lead our Postgraduate students through composition and collaboration.
What was your earliest musical experience?
Not the earliest but one of the most significant: I remember discovering a CD of Michael Tippett’s Symphony No.4 when I was around 17. I was completely confused by the piece, which is quite dense and intense. I felt compelled to listen again until I could make sense of it. Discovering sounds I hadn’t previously imagined was really exciting and convinced me to be a composer.
So who motivated you to follow a career in composing?
It was my flute teacher whilst at school who initially encouraged me to think seriously about music. I haven’t become a flautist but her input got me started on the path that led me here. I remember never being quite satisfied with the flute repertoire available, which I suppose is another reason why I started writing my own music.
How has your career developed after studying?
I’ve worked for a number of years in arts marketing and communications roles alongside my creative projects, and I think this combination has really helped me grow as an artist. Learning about how other people talk about and access the kind of work I make is at least as important as knowing how to make it! As a result, I’m becoming increasingly involved in participatory and installation projects, where audiences can experience and reflect on their own creative role in shaping a work.
What is the best thing to have happened in your career to date?
A few years ago I decided to start working collaboratively with other artists. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Being a composer can be a solitary business, so having colleagues to bounce ideas off and provide surprises has been essential for me. It’s led to work with dancers, sculptors, photographers, video artists, improvisers and other composers in spaces from concert halls and art galleries to giant inflatable tents and subterranean chambers.
How would you describe your biggest challenge as a composer?
Listening – to make really exciting work, you have to avoid telling people (collaborators, students, audiences) what to think and find ways to get them talking. Plus, composers often have to disappear into their own internal musical world; I try to balance that by paying attention to and valuing my surroundings. I think of listening as a form of mindfulness.
What attracted you to coming to work at LCoM?
There’s a very progressive, open-minded atmosphere at the college, and a realistic approach to career skills that’s refreshing in comparison with lots of universities and colleges in this country. There’s also an unparalleled focus on contemporary music (of all genres) that I find very appealing as a composer!
Who would be your dream to work with?
No one person in particular but I’d like to work with a chef. For a number of years I’ve been intrigued by the possible connections between cookery and music. Heston Blumenthal, if you’re reading this…
What has been your greatest achievement?
In terms of my creative work, probably Listen/Here, my recent project at Somerset House – it’s an amazing building and full of character, plus I was lucky enough to collaborate with some very committed, inspiring musicians (CoMA, Ligeti Quartet).
Who is your greatest inspiration?
One of the artists I look up to most of all is John Cage – his work was always fresh and challenging, and his attitude so open-minded.
Where would you like to be in five years?
Watch Jacob's fascinating collaborative piece with Michael Betteridge and the London Symphony Orchestra, 'Collectives and Curiosities - Serenade'.
Read more about his work on his website, and listen to more compositions on his Soundcloud page.
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