Wacky, kooky and transparent: the music of Sky Macklay has an unusual lightness, while at the same time it reveals a fascination with black and white contrasts. ‘Subtlety is not what I’m best at. I like my music to be spicy and intense.’
Macklay’s world of sound can feel like a cartoon world where sonic opposites clash. Her piece White/Waves is a push-and-pull tussle between shorts bursts of high shrieking sounds and long stretches of noisy waves. In Fly’s Eye, the contrast is even dramatized, with the same musical material recurring, as seen from the perspective of various animals, such as the mouse and the whale. ‘I have an obsession with binaries. I’m really into exploring the very highest and lowest registers or the very fastest and slowest versions of a texture or a sound object.’
Thanks to the way in which Macklay applies these extremes, her music shows something that is not always a given in contemporary composed music: a sense of humor. With a history of writing ‘parody-type songs, funny music’ in her teenage years, Macklay still strives to find a place for humor in her music.
‘Naturally, it’s a part of my personality, but humor is also a place that my music can exist in that is needed in the landscape of contemporary music. There are not enough composers that are engaging with levity and humor. I’m really inspired by Simon Stein Anderson’s music: it can be really wacky. You can hear the experimentation and the sonic results of the actions, it’s almost so heart-on-its-sleeve transparent that it’s joyful. Doing experimental music is fun sometimes and I want to show that to my audience.’
‘I tend to strive for the same kind of transparency of form and concept. I want my music to be clear about what it’s doing. It just gets me excited when I hear music where I know what it’s doing – I can follow it. Because then of course it opens up a lot of possibilities to follow and not follow the expectations. That delicate dance of creating predictability and unpredictability and countering the audience’s expectations or confirming them.’
Macklay applies the same playfulness to the content of her works, some of which have subtle political messages. Her piece Many Many Cadences, for example, is a sneer at the white male hegemony in the history of classical music. ‘When I have a political message in a piece, I want it to be clear and present, but not to just bang the audience on the head with it. Maybe because most of the audience for my music is already probably politically conscious. So if I write with a very heartstring-tuggy message it can make people feel manipulated.’
Macklay’s artistic evolution so far has been primarily one of getting ever closer to the core. ‘I think I’ve always had similar artistic impulses and obsessions with humor, clarity and binaries.These are things that I’m always thinking about, but it does take a long time to just figure them out and work them out musically. And at the same time, I don’t want them to become too crystallized because who knows what I’ll be into next?’
Photo © Anna van Kooij