This year’s Manchester International Festival showcased the new ballet Tree of Codes, directed and choreographed by Wayne McGregor and featuring a score supported by PRS for Music Foundation and written by Jamie xx from Mercury Prize winning band The xx. Jamie talks to us about the whole experience and what his highlights have been this year…
PRSF: We’re really proud to have supported your composition for contemporary ballet Tree of Codes at Manchester International Festival. What particularly attracted you to this project?
JXX: Alex [Poots, Artistic Director] commissioned The xx to do a residency at MIF13 which then played at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. That was when where I met Wayne and started talking about ideas for a new show. I get a lot of random offers from people but what attracted me to this one was how exciting it sounded; how everyone was super into it and super enthusiastic about it.
PRSF: The ballet is inspired by the book ‘Tree of Codes’ by Jonathan Safran Foer. Can you talk us through the creative process from your perspective? Did you work closely with Wayne McGregor and Olafur Eliasson throughout?
JXX: When Alex gave me a copy of the book it was the physicality rather than the content that interested me. The reaction I had to it was really visceral. Olafur and Wayne are both very inspiring people, inspirational artists. The collaboration started with the three of us just discussing ideas, passing demos and plans back and forth between us. I went to a company rehearsal to watch the dancers before I really had much music – just ideas. Initially we thought about using vocals but I knew I wanted to do something different to my work with Oli and Romy. So I worked with Okay-Kaya who sings and plays guitar on parts of the score. She’s great. Coming back to dance rehearsals later, with the music more advanced, it was so different. Time passes so differently in space when you add the movement, so then my approach was to make things a lot longer that would build with tension. Musically it’s been liberating; I’ve been allowed to do whatever I want, things you could never do if you were making an album. I only finished mixing the music a few days before the get-in in Manchester. That was exciting.
PRSF: Did you have an existing interest in dance before this project?
JXX: To be honest, I didn’t know anything about ballet before this. I knew Olafur’s work pretty well before we were introduced. I didn’t know Wayne’s as well until after I’d met him, but now I have a real appreciation for it.
PRSF: How has taking part in this project helped you develop as a composer?
JXX: It’s fascinating to meet and work with people from outside your field who are just as passionate as you are about what they do. This project and making my solo album have changed things. As a composer in The xx, I would make music, occasionally play it to the guys and if it sparked something, great. Working on my own I’ve allowed myself to be a lot freer which sparked things for the album as well as the next xx record. Before that I think there were preconceptions about what an xx song was, about what the process was, but now it’s all up for grabs…we’ve been playing together for 10 years, it’s the right time to change band dynamics.
PRSF: What have been your highlights of 2015 so far?
JXX: It’s been a very different year for me; getting to a place where I feel comfortable on my own on stage – it’s weird not having Oli and Romy with me – but touring my album and some of the places I’ve visited…I’ve loved it.