5 Questions | Olivia Davies
For this edition of 5 Questions I collaborated with Natasja Kremers, Photographer and Olivia Davies, Composer/Photographer
Natasja photographed Olivia against the brutalist architecture of the Perth Concert Hall, a nod to Olivia’s association with that building through her music. Natasja's striking images portray Olivia as she saw her in that moment, but also draw on her knowledge of Olivia (they are friends), as the woman and as the artist. Olivia Davies is a Composer. Her work spans multiple genres including classical minimalism, experimental and ambient.
She has worked with Australia’s leading ensembles, including the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Australian Chamber Orchestra Collective with whom she recorded her piece ‘Crystalline’ for the 2018 Hush Foundation album Collective Wisdom.
Olivia has received some prestigious awards over the years and in 2020 was the recipient of the Art Music Fund to support the development of a large scale, six-hour immersive audiovisual installation piece titled Gradient.
As both a composer and a photographer I was intrigued with how Olivia balances her two very different forms of creative expression. How does she actually go about creating music and how did it all begin? What are your earliest memories of music? What instrument did you first learn to play? Is it still a favourite?
Some of my earliest memories of music is of my Dad playing guitar. He’s classically trained and I remember he would just sit and play for hours. So the guitar is a really nostalgic sound for me. I started piano lessons when I was six and went on to also learn the flute from age eleven. The piano is still a favourite instrument of mine. Sitting down, pressing a key and sound coming out—I loved it, and honestly the novelty hasn’t worn off. Although I’ll admit, I’ve not practiced for a while and I miss just sitting down and playing. That’s something I’ve reflected on recently.
How do you go about composing music? Is it something you are always thinking about or do you designate time in your day to specifically work on your music? Are there any particular rituals you follow?
I wish I were more disciplined in terms of having a routine. I’m much better when I have a project with a deadline. Nothing more effective than a deadline to get motivated. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I spend a lot of time thinking about a piece before I start notating it. I’ll often write my ideas down, draw things, listen to other works or look to the visual arts for inspiration. If there’s a specific ensemble that I’m writing for, that will be where I start. I think about the instruments that I’m writing for, the colour and character of their sound, and how that can potentially change over the course of a work. This tends to result in music that is more minimal and/or ambient in nature, where the form is something that gradually unfolds.
Are you currently working on a piece (personally or professionally)? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I’m currently working on a 6-hour performance installation titled Gradient. It features large projected images, pre-recorded surround sound and a live double-bell trumpet. When the soloist plays, his sound will trigger new images to emerge and overlay with existing layers creating an ever-changing artwork. It’s an abstract work—exploring the liminal space between composer/performer, stasis/flow, control/indeterminacy. It’s quite a big project and it’s the first time I’ve properly combined the two worlds that I play in—the visual and the sonic—so it’s pretty exciting for me.
Any words of wisdom that resonate with you? Or that aid your mindset when you are composing?
With regards to composing, there was one piece of advice that I was given from a mentor at the time that has always been helpful. I don’t remember the exact words, but he talked about composing as being a series of decisions that you have to make. When you get overwhelmed (as I often do and was at the time when given this advice), step back and breakdown the issue into questions; identify/ask yourself what it is that you’re stuck on, then lay out the possible paths/solutions for it (it helps to write it down). Sometimes it’s technical and other times it’s aesthetic, either way, it helps me to see (or hear) with more clarity, and more often than not, the decision is quite easy once I’ve done this. It’s pretty much "How To Make A Decision 101", but for someone who gets easily bogged down in detail, it’s helpful to stop and ask these basic questions in a matter-of-fact way. It really just takes the emotion out of it in that moment.It was so fun seeing how you styled KM pieces for our shoot – how would you describe your personal style? Are there any considerations (such as sustainability) that influence what you choose to wear?
I’m not exactly sure how I’d describe my style. Perhaps minimal? I love a loose blouse and slightly oversized or relaxed fits. Most of my clothes are pretty neutral as well. Having said that, I do also love a good statement piece. And this doesn’t necessarily mean fancy. One of my favourite knits was made by my Nan which she designed and made herself. It has sheep and trees on it. I love it because it’s completely unique.
I think what I choose to wear reflects a lot of things. In terms of style, I’m of the philosophy that less is more. That just works for me. It also reflects how I shop—or don’t shop! I’m most proud of the pieces that I’ve bought second hand or have been given—like a floral jacket that I found in a Flohmarkt in Berlin, or my Nan’s knit. The older I get, the more careful I am with how and where I spend my money as well. I try to be more sustainable by not buying a lot of things—for me that makes it more exciting when I do come across something super special or one-of-a-kind.
Shop Olivia's looks here
Photography | Natasja Kremers
Location | Perth Concert Hall