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Joe Cutler

Joe Cutler, commission by Coull String Quartet


PRS for Music Foundation: What impact do you think your in New Music 20×12 will have on your work?

Joe Cutler: Participating in ‘Ping!’ offers the opportunity to step outside my normal working environment and to engage with audiences who have little or no experience of contemporary non-mainstream music. It also presents the possibility for a collaborative approach to the realisation of a commission in a way that is quite unusual. Throughout the piece’s development there will be collaboration with the performers, with the table tennis players and club, with the visual artist Tom Dale and with the venues involved.

As a team of participants (rather like a theatre company) we are aiming to create a bold and dynamic piece that works on different levels, that tells a story about table tennis and its participants whilst connecting the sport to music and to the stories of the musicians performing. The piece is site-specific and therefore designed to use the spaces in which it will be performed in effective and imaginative ways. This in itself offers many possibilities, particularly as the piece has a strong mixed-media element.

PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
I grew up playing competitive table tennis and my brother is a leading England-ranked player. Table tennis is a very aural sport, full of its own rhythms and sounds, so developing a piece that combined the soundworlds of music and table tennis seemed a very natural idea. My brother is a coach at a club called Fusion, based in South-East London and it seemed a good idea to involve his club. Fusion is one of the UK’s leading table tennis clubs with members of a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

String quartet seemed a medium that could combine particularly well with table tennis as there are sounds, like richochet, that are common to both. My wife is a member of the Coull Quartet and I am very familiar with their playing and also their openness to new ideas so they emerged as very natural partners for this collaboration. I also thought it would be a good idea to involve a visual artist and to use image as a means to help find further areas of commonality between sport and music. I have collaborated a number of times with the artist Tom Dale (including projects with the London Sinfonietta) so it seemed a perfect opportunity to collaborate again.

PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work? What kinds of creative input will the performers and community you are working with have on your work?
I will be collaborating closely with the performers and with the community of Fusion Table Tennis Club throughout all parts of the development of Ping! Initially in April 2011, we had an introductory day at Warwick Arts Centre where the table tennis players demonstrated some of their training routines and the Coull String Quartet performed excerpts from some of their repertoire. We developed some basic exercises where we tried putting both mediums together. Over the next year, artist Tom Dale and myself will be frequently going to Fusion Table Tennis Club where Tom will film the club “in action” and I will generate sound material from their training sessions.

PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
We want to create a piece that the members of Fusion Table Tennis Club will feel is part of them, that tells both the story of table tennis and also in some way their own story. We intend Ping! to be a very human piece, and by that very nature, a piece that can resonate with a very wide and diverse audience from all walks of life.

PRSF: Where do you draw your inspiration and influences? Which creator – musical or otherwise – do you most admire?
The creators I most admire are those who aren’t restricted by boundaries and who create something new through their own honesty and openess, e.g Stravinsky, Miles Davis, Bach, Ligeti, Joni Mitchell, Morton Feldman, Richard Ayres, Louis Andriessen, Prince, John Cage,  Beethoven, Britten. Among my favourite table tennis players are Jan Ove Waldner, Jurgen Persson and Andrzej Grubba. Other favourite sports persons would include John McEnroe, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall (and most of the West Indies Team from the 80s), Shane Warne.

PRSF: Which Olympic and/or Paralympic Games will you be seeing in 2012? What was your best/favourite sport when you were growing up?
I would love to see the table tennis event at the Olympics naturally but would be happy with tickets for any of the track and field, tennis, football!! Growing up my favourite sports were table tennis, tennis, cricket and football.

A message from commissioning organisation Coull String Quartet

Ping! is a collaboration between the Coull String Quartet, composer Joe Cutler, artist Tom Dale, Fusion Table Tennis Club, English Table Tennis Association, Ping London, Warwick Arts Centre and Birmingham Conservatoire. Table tennis is a sport which has strong and distinct sonic qualities and top players can create tightly controlled rhythms in their practice drills. Ping! will explore this, creating intricate cross-rhythms between table tennis players, string quartet and soundtrack exploiting sudden changes of speed and character whilst exploiting areas of commonality. Two versions will be made, one with live table tennis players and the other featuring the table tennis players on film. This makes Ping! performable in a variety of different situations, from concert hall to sport arena.