The Dialogues: Natasha Barrett

by 5:4

i’m delighted to present the latest instalment in my occasional long-form conversation series The Dialogues. My guest this time is UK-born, Norway-based composer Natasha Barrett, whose music i’ve deeply admired for at least 20 years. Barrett is both a veteran and a pioneer of electronic music, utilising a convoluted mixture of real-world and synthetic sounds to compose highly elaborate, immersive soundworlds. That word “immersive” is no hyperbole: Barrett’s work in ambisonics is at the forefront of creating an all-enclosing listening experience demonstrating intricate control of the 3-dimensional placement of sound. Partly for this reason, Barrett’s work is not often heard in the UK – at least, not often exactly as the composer intends, due to its extensive multi-channel/-speaker demands. The most authentic way to hear her music is therefore to go to Norway and experience it in situ; while the easiest way is via the increasing number of releases devoted to or featuring her work in specially-adapted stereo and binaural versions.

We met last September in Barrett’s office at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, and i want to express my heartfelt appreciation and thanks to Natasha for being so generous with her time and with the large quantity of unpublished or unavailable musical materials she put my way to help with my research and preparation. Our conversation took place toward the end of the 2021 Ultima festival, and i therefore would also like to thank Thorbjørn Tønder Hansen, artistic director of Ultima, whose invitation to the festival made this conversation possible.

For more about Barrett’s work, her website contains a wealth of information, as do the pages devoted to her on the Empreintes DIGITALes label’s website; she also has a Bandcamp site with a steadily growing quantity of material, as well as a YouTube channel featuring an assortment of works, extracts, and miscellaneous field recordings. The most recent label to start featuring Barrett’s music is the London-based Persistence of Sound, and their next release is devoted to three of her more recent compositions, Urban Melt in Park Palais Meran (2019), Speaking Spaces No. 1: Heterotopia and Growth (both 2021). Released on vinyl in July, the album is available to pre-order and buy digitally now.

As usual in these Dialogues, i’ve peppered our conversation with a liberal quantity of excerpts from Barrett’s music in order to illustrate and elaborate upon what we’re talking about, and these include two early works, Caressing Eternity and Trompe l’oeil, neither of which have ever been released or indeed heard since her postgraduate days. i’m especially grateful to Natasha for tracking down the vintage DAT tapes (stored at her parents’ house) and for allowing me to include excerpts from these early examples of her work. A list of all the excerpts and the times when they occur can be found below, together with links (where applicable) to buy the music.

List of excerpts

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[…] my extensive Dialogue with Barrett, one of the topics we discussed was the sense of hyperreality that tends to pervade much of her […]

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