Interview: Ben Taaffe Sound Designer for Reflect

Posted by Thom Smyth, May 7th, 2013

Ben Taaffe is known around town for co-hosting The Underground Solution program on RTRFM 92.1 and DJing, promoting and partying with the M.O.V.E Foundation for Musical Health and Well-Being. What people don’t really know is that Ben also designs soundscapes for dance. He’s currently working with choreographer Sue Peacock on Reflecta new work showing at The State Theatre Centre of WA Studio Underground until Sat 11 May. 

Interview: Sarah Rowbottam (SR) and Ben Taaffe (BT)

SR. If you were to describe your job to a stranger, what would you say?
BT. Which one!? Juggling multiple jobs / personalities at the moment. With Reflect, I have been designing soundscapes and a musical score for contemporary dance performance.

SR. How did you get into creating sound scores for dance?
BT. I’m a DJ and record collector first and foremost. It grew naturally from there. Friends would ask me to help them find songs to use in their performances or workshops.

SR. What is the difference between mixing a live set at a {MOVE} gig and mixing live music for a dance performance?
BT. Music and sound for dance performance can serve any number of functions. Sometimes it is about complementing, or even shifting, the tone and emotional atmosphere of the work. It can be used to evoke a sense of time or place. Or it can become part of the conceptual substance of a performance.

Music at a {MOVE} party is something quite different. We try to use music as a way of bringing like-minded people together, to create an atmosphere of escape, freedom and celebration where one can connect to others and oneself in a shared physical and emotional experience.

I guess the difference is not so much in the music but in the dancing.

SR. What has been your process for selecting music for Reflect?
BT. It’s been a highly collaborative and intuitive process. Sue Peacock, the choreographer, was already working with some music. I took this as a starting point and tried to build upon her selections, offering alternatives and trialing numerous songs in the studio to see how it shifted or enhanced the work. Something that changed the work or unsettled the feeling of the space was often taken up by Sue with great enthusiasm.

SR. The music in Reflect spans different generations, from Albatros by Fleetwood Mac to The Godfather (for William Basinski and Snoop Dogg) by Klimek and Husak. How do you marry different music so it flows together?
BT. Finding a common thread or a logical connection / progression through the feeling the songs evoke. Sampling pieces and building musical bridges between two contrasting songs is another way.

SR. On a philosophical level, music is one of the strongest triggers for memory. What are your thoughts surrounding the synergy between music and memory?
BT. Some people have suggested that music is as old as language itself, or older – that communicating emotions with our voice and bodies as sound was evolutionally prior to communicating any specific or practical meanings. It makes sense I guess, it is built into us. We remember emotions more powerfully than we do specific experiences or events I think. Music can certainly be a part of this process, even new music that you have not ever heard before.

SR. Do you remember the first music artist you listened to?
BT. No, but I have very strong memories of listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland Album and The Travelling Wilburys turned up very loud in the family car as my dad sang along. I must have been four or five at the time.

SR. Is there a point in the performance that sparks a distinct memory or feeling for you?
BT. No nothing distinct, but plenty of vaguely familiar feelings that allow the mind to wonder backwards.

SR. How would you describe what memory sounds like?
BT. I wouldn’t.

SR. Through your work with {MOVE}, you’ve brought over some pretty great artists. Ghostpoet, Flying Lotus and TOKiMONSTA to name few. If you could bring any music artist to Perth, who would it be?
BT. Right now, probably Sir David Rodigan…

Ben Taaffe is the Sound Designer for Reflect 3 – 11 May 2013 at the State Theatre Centre of WA Studio Underground.
Click here for tickets and info