Jessica Curry (part one)

Composition for physical and virtual spaces

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 10 Aug 2010
  • min read
Jessica Curry writes classically-spirited compositions for games, virtual worlds and unusual real-world spaces. After exploring the idea of 'second death' in Second Life, she has since written the score to Dear Esther and a Requiem for performance in decommissioned nuclear sites.

What made you want to pursue music as a career?

For as long as I can remember I have loved music. My mum is a writer and when I was young she wrote a play for Radio 4 called But Robert, nobody dies for love anymore and she used Elgar's Cello Concerto as the soundtrack. I can still remember the feeling of hearing that music for the first time - it was such a powerful mixture of elation and sadness that just soared through the air. That was the moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Music enables us to feel like someone else has been through the heartbreak, loneliness, joy, love and despair, that as humans, we all feel at one time or another. I think I would have gone mad a long time ago if it weren't for music. So music is my chosen career, but it also runs deeper than that - it's who I am.

Do you have a particular approach to composition?

I read English Literature and Language as my first degree and I think that that academic training has had a lasting effect on my approach to composition.

My latest work, Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth, is about nuclear warfare and I did a huge amount of reading about the Cold War, about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and about the bunkers themselves (the work is being performed in nuclear bunkers in September of this year).

Often I find that when I actually sit down to write, a lot of that compositional process has actually already been done in my head, almost subconsciously. Perpetual Light was the first project where I have dreamed the music in my sleep. I would then rush to turn the computer on before I forgot it. This was very strange and I think it shows how deeply embedded into my psyche this project is. There is definitely a level of obsession that is quite possibly rather unhealthy!

How would you describe your work?

It's very hard to step outside my experience of writing the music to describe the work. It has been described by others as having a deep sense of yearning. It is unashamedly passionate and usually melancholy. Audience members often become very emotional when they hear my pieces and the music just seems to reach in and touch a nerve. Mendelssohn said that 'music is too precise to express in words'; a beautiful statement that is absolutely true, so I'll leave it at that!

What drew you to create music for video games, are you a gamer yourself?

This came about very organically. In 2008 I saw a commission advertised to make a piece of work in Second Life (an online virtual world.)  I was fascinated by the whole concept of having a second life (though I can hardly manage my first one to be honest). Dan and I applied, were successful and we made The Second Death of Caspar Helendale. This remains one of my favourite pieces of work to date.

We created
an avatar called Caspar and then we deliberately and publicly killed him off - the first time that this had happened in Second Life. Before this act of suicide/murder Caspar presided at his own funeral service.

The piece was then picked up by The Royal Opera House and was performed simultaneously to a real life audience and to a Second Life audience.

The first life audience could see the Second Life audience on a giant projection screen and the Second Life audience could hear my music that was being performed live at the Opera House as it was streamed live into Second Life. People felt as though they were attending a real funeral and on an creative level, that level of emotional investment was both fascinating and gratifying.

I don't often play games myself - I prefer to listen to music or read a book - but in some ways that's been a strength. When I started out writing music for games I had no idea what the protocols were and so it meant that the score was radically different to other ones. As a result the music got a lot of attention from the gaming press and community.

Tomorrow - Part two - on collaboration and Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth