Canadian Composers Interview Series with Carmen Braden

In our new blog series, Canadian Composers Interview with ACNMP board member and organist Matthew Boutda, we endeavour to illuminate the artistic process of select working composers from across Canada.

Carmen Braden is WCMA-nominated composer/performer/field recordist from the Canadian sub-Arctic. Her music+sound company Black Ice Sound is based in her hometown of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

Carmen’s vocal, instrumental, and electroacoustic music is greatly tied to her soundscape. She draws from the environment by examining natural phenomena through sonic, visual, sensual and scientific ways of understanding.

Her music has been performed across Canada by many prestigious ensembles and soloists including the Toronto Symphony, James Ehnes, the Elmer Isler Singers, and the Gryphon Trio. Her work has been performed internationally at the ArtArctica festival in Finland and The Global Composition in Germany. Carmen’s debut studio album Ravens was relesed by Centrediscs in 2017.

Matthew: Would you mind sharing a few words about your personal and musical background?

Carmen: I was born in Whitehorse, Yukon in 1985, and raised in Yellowknife, and Yellowknife is where I’ve made my home and work base. I took piano lessons starting at age 5, and was a real music nerd in elementary and high school – in all the bands and choirs, learning different instruments like the flute, tuba and trumpet. I started learning about composers and began improvising and learning jazz piano, and did my first real analysis of another composer’s work (it was Debussy’s La Mer -one of my lifelong favourites!). I did my undergrad and masters degrees in music composition (BMus Acadia ’09, MMus U of Calgary ’15), and stated my own music business called Black Ice Sound. Now I compose, perform, teach, and do anything that comes up for work relating to music – and I travel across Canada and sometimes internationally to work – it’s awesome!

Matthew: What inspired you to composition?

Carmen: Watching my teachers compose in University really got me excited, especially when I saw how they were bringing their environmental surroundings into their works. That made me want to do the same with my own environment and that’s where I found my first early inspirations that still say with me.

Matthew: Are you currently working on a new composition?

Carmen: I just finished one last week for choir – it’s all about water. I have had such a busy winter with creating things that I will take a break for a few weeks before starting the next one. I find it is very necessary to renew and replenish the creative juices.

Matthew: For beginners learning how to compose, what advice do you have for them?

Carmen: Be as curious as possible . . . about everything! All kinds of music should be explored when you’re learning to play or learning to compose. For example, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn just won the Pulizter – an award that was almost always given to classical composers. There are compositional ideas that are worth checking out in that album! And curiosity should also be an everyday – even an every-moment – part of a composer’s life. It will help to expand what inspires you, as well as make you a better human. And that is essential when making music and working with other humans.

Matthew: What makes your works different from others?

Carmen: The fact that I wrote it! Every person’s compositions are unique to them. I suppose my inspirations about the sub-Arctic environment aren’t very common in other people’s works. And sometimes my style includes improvisation or finding ways to make each performance of my pieces unique each time. Many composers do this as well, and I love how it keeps the music fresh even for me – the composer.

Matthew: Why should we grow this awareness for Canadian music?

Carmen: Because Canadians are writing excellent music!

Carmen’s debut CD ‘Ravens’ was released on the Centrediscs label in 2017. Click here to listen to ‘The Raven Conspiracy: II, Waltz of Wing and Claw’ for String Quartet.