BY RACHEL BRUERVILLE
We would like to welcome Rachel in her first story as a CutCommon contributor.
Young composer Maja Puseljic is blurring the boundaries of genre in the 21st Century. So it’s appropriate that she’s one of the featured composers in the 2017 season of Dots+Loops – a collective working to reshape the live ‘classical’ performance.
After kicking off with Maja’s String Quartet No. 1 in Compassion (for supporters of Dots+Loops’ recent crowdfunding campaign), the collective will also premiere the composer’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in Compulsion this May 19 with Solstice Piano Trio.
Described as “neither a classical concert or a club gig”, Dots+Loops’ performances venture into the spaces that hide between – and we chat with Maja about how her artistic practice fits in with this post-genre way of thinking.
Tell us a bit about your musical background, and what led you to study composition at the University of Queensland.
I have always loved music from a young age. I started learning the violin when I was 8, followed by piano and guitar in later years, and was just obsessed with it! I always knew I wanted to be a musician and that was my only path.
Although I didn’t know which exact road to take, it seemed like a natural progression to continue studying. I hadn’t really planned to study composition. I got accepted into UQ for piano and then after the first two years, I realised that what I really wanted to do was write music. I have always felt best when I am expressing myself and I’m glad I had the opportunity to continue doing that. I wanted to make an impact by writing something new and that people have never heard of.
You currently hold a Bachelor of Music in composition with first class honours (congratulations!). What are the most important things you’ve gained from your degree? Would you consider further study?
Thank you! It’s been a while now since graduation, but it was definitely a fun time!
Firstly, I feel like I made some life-long friendships at university that are not comparable to anything else. But apart from learning about life and myself, I feel like I learnt a lot of things. I learnt about TED talks. I learnt how to explain piano concepts better and how to break the music down. I learnt that coffee was the most accepted beverage. I learnt how to analyse music and how to understand what the composer intended through specific techniques they had used within particular time periods. I would consider further study, but only when I’m about 40. I think it was an excellent time, but I feel like it was preparing me for the next stage of my life.
How did you get involved with the Dots+Loops collective? Is this your first experience with the group as a composer?
I got involved in Dots+Loops through Kieran Welch [read our interview with Kieran] and just by being a part of the UQ music community. It’s a really wonderful collective and brings a lot to the arts scene in Brisbane. This isn’t my first experience working as a composer with the group. I think this is around the third or fourth time the string quartet has been performed. I had some experience at university working with groups and it was a lot of fun!
What do you most like about working with the Dots+Loops collective?
I like that it provides a platform for young artists to perform and express themselves. It gives me as a composer the opportunity to showcase my music and also provide a safe space in which that can happen. I really like the way Kieran organises it – with the choice of venue, the program and just the people that come along. It’s really a very positive and supportive environment. What more could you want?
Dots+Loops identifies itself as ‘post-genre’. What does this mean to you, and how does this idea relate to your artistic practice?
Post-genre means ‘beyond genre’. It melds aspects of lots of genres and musical worlds. Unlike the Classical tradition, it breaks down the hierarchy and aims to emulate a more ‘rock gig’ type setting.
The entire concert series is based on deconstructing the Classical tradition by appealing to our current generation. This happens through the way the concert is run. For example, there are set times like a regular gig, of half hour sets with breaks in between. The audience doesn’t feel as distant to the performers. It aims to break those barriers down!
As a songwriter as well as a composer, this really relates to my artistic practice and how I perform most of my gigs. I feel like Dots+Loops makes it accessible for the younger audience to engage with classical music. This is really important to me and I love that everyone involved is making this change possible.
How does your piece for this gig, String Quartet No. 1, fit in with the idea of post-genre work? Tell us what the piece is all about.
String Quartet No. 1 is very minimalist in my mind. I never really think about ‘classical’ music as separate to my songwriting. For me, music always has to serve an emotional purpose. I always feel like if I can make people feel something, then I have done my job. Melody and harmony are the most important things to me. And I don’t feel like I need to overcomplicate the intent.
I was listening to a lot of Bon Iver and Nils Frahm when I was writing the quartet. I was really focusing on the idea of repetition and layered texture. I thought about how to expand on a motive and make it interesting, and build on the ideas that I had in a way that was engaging to myself and the audience.
You’ve recently moved to Melbourne from Brisbane to pursue your music career. What prompted your move, and how are you finding the Melbourne life?
Yes, I am living in Melbourne now. I had been thinking about moving since 2015 and I think I was just afraid. I didn’t feel like I had enough reason to move. At the end of last year, a lot of things happened and I realised that it was time to leave. I think it’s only in hindsight that I realised how unhappy I was. A lady once told me that ‘if one place can’t give you what you want, another place can’, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.
I love Melbourne life! I feel like I really fit in. There are a lot of creative people doing amazing things. I love that everyone has an insane amount of drive and the work-ethic to make their projects happen. It’s a wonderful place to live!
Dots+Loops will present three new programs in Brisbane this year, including the inaugural Companions festival over two nights in September. To hear more from Maja and other post-genre musicians, be sure to give the Dots+Loops Facebook page a like.
You can further support Maja by performing her music. Check out her scores, including her String Quartet No. 1, in our digital music store.
Images supplied. Credit: Savannah van der Niet.