Monday 13th September, 2021


It can be understandably difficult to find motivation at the moment. Thankfully for Robert McIntyre, who’s currently undergoing the 2021 composition program, motivation can come from somewhere as simple as a walk down a street he’s been down a thousand times before. We sat down with Robert to talk through his process, how attending an online composition course changed his process, and how to keep motivated during lockdown.

When did you start writing your own music?

I started composing my own music around 2014 (year 10 in high school) but had always improvised on the piano before that, playing around with minimalist ideas and film soundtrack chords and harmonies. I always loved playing flute to film soundtracks, like Finding Nemo by Thomas Newman, as if they were my own sound world to explore for a small moment. I more formally started writing my own music in my first year of university (2017), especially when preparing my application to specialise in composition from 2018 onwards.


What led you to the AYO Composition program?

I had originally auditioned for AYO on flute for a few years way back, but as I realised that I didn’t want to solely be a full-time flautist or performer and instead craft and create my own music, I saw that AYO also offered a national composition program. I really aspired to be a part of it, as the opportunity to work with incredible, like-minded and similar aged artists (both composers and performers) really excited me. I also see it as a staple program to experience and hone my skills as a composer, especially now being out of the Conservatorium environment since graduating last year from my Honours. If anything, the opportunity to learn from Anne Cawrse was equally as compelling, since I have long admired her music before applying for the program.


What were some of the challenges that you faced participating in the course online?

The online aspect I find would not be as impactful if I weren’t in lockdown, as the constancy of one environment has been a major challenge. I tend to really gain inspiration from exploring nature and also composing in random places such as the train, cafes, the work staff room, libraries and more—only really having my room and the suburb I’ve lived my whole life in has felt quite limiting. The flow of time has also felt quite off, where one day would feel super long, yet a week would completely fly by. Whilst I see myself as a really organised person, the stretched nature of it being online compounded by lockdown added a different type of intensity for me that I haven’t experienced since composing last year in my honours—an intensity I have not missed!


Do you think completing the course online influenced your piece?

I don’t think completing it online has influenced the musical aspects of the piece, such as harmony, motifs, or rhythm. However, my compositional process definitely felt stunted for periods of time as compared to a two-week intensive course. That being said, the flexibility provided by it was in some cases quite useful and in some ways would allow our process to “breathe” more.


How do you approach composing a new piece of music? Where do you start?

I’ve come to know myself and my process quite well now, knowing that if I don’t start at the piano, nothing really worthwhile is going to come out! I tend to really enjoy improvising solo or with a friend and creating either melodies (singing over chords) or harmonic and rhythmic structures that intrigue me. Whilst I am not a vocalist, I find that singing creates the most organic music for me, so I always trust my gut on those ideas over Sibelius-generated music. I am also the type of composer who starts title-first—I love having a concept to explore and find drawing from personal experiences, nature or important causes as potential frameworks to be the most rewarding. Lastly, a pre-compositional inspiration music playlist is ALWAYS a go-to now.


Lockdown is keeping us inside for the time being, how are you keeping motivated? Any new hobbies you’ve picked up?

Lockdown is always debilitating, but one aspect I always am grateful for is how much more active I can be. I am already an avid runner, though as I am no longer walking through the city to get to work or uni, being able to set aside dedicated time to walk around my neighbourhood is always simply enjoyable. Walking down a street I have never gone down in 23 years will never stop surprising me! Motivation can always hit an all-time low in lockdown, so I find sometimes over-scheduling my calendar with things I would normally remember or adding phone reminders to “compose for an hour” as a way to stay on it. That being said, downtime is always essential, and it is just simply okay to not be at 100% capacity. I don’t have any new hobbies this time around, although I commenced studying postgraduate law at the Melbourne Law School this year, so that is definitely keeping me busy!