Latent Bloom composer, Lloyd Coleman, shares his compositional process, a fascination with algorithms, and how his chameleonic writing style and varied musical tastes influenced the piece.

(Image credit: Latent Bloom by Jack Latham)

What was your starting point for Latent Bloom?

I’ve long been fascinated by algorithms and artificial intelligence and the huge influence they now have on our lives. These highly complex and invisible systems govern everything from the content we see on social media, the things we buy online and the news we consume.

Then some time ago, a Welsh photographer and good friend of mine – Jack Latham – sent me these incredible visual renderings of flowers he made at home during lockdown. I was really struck by how Jack used flower imagery to represent the beauty of algorithms in their purest form. Starting with a still image of a vase of flowers, Jack fed his photographs into an algorithmic programme to make the flowers grow, contract, explode and change form in a myriad of ways.  I found these slowly morphing and changing structures completely hypnotic and mesmerising, and hence became the starting point of my composition. Ultimately, we may not fully understand the natural world – and we definitely don’t understand the complexity of algorithms. But we can still find marvel at the beauty in these intricate, interconnected structures.

You were commissioned to write this piece for presentation alongside The Unfolding, in what ways did you consider how it might complement, contradict, or respond to Hannah Peel’s composition?

I love Hannah Peel’s approach to collaborating with other artists, and her ability to conjure a sound world for each project she takes on. Latent Bloom was commissioned as a counterpoint to The Unfolding, writing for pretty much the same forces – so I guess subconsciously I absorbed some of Hannah’s approach into Latent Bloom as well. Many of the tracks on Hannah’s album are cyclical; starting from a given point, taking you on a journey elsewhere and before returning home where we started, and that is also the case across the twenty or so minutes of my piece.

Has it turned out how you expected, or something totally different?

The same and different at the same time! I’m a bit chameleonic as a writer; in that, like Paraorchestra’s work as a whole, it draws on many different influences. Working with Paraorchestra member Steve Varden has allowed me to integrate his electronics fully into the piece, and Jonny Leitch and Harriet Riley our percussionists are the king and queen of groove, so I knew the piece would probably end up having a strong rhythmic drive in places. I’m very pleased with how the middle section of the piece has turned out too, which I think of as an oasis of calm, where Victoria Oruwari’s bewitching soprano voice can shine through in a duet with Tom Wraith’s beautiful cello solo.

How does it compare to your other compositions?

One thing I love about writing for my Paraorchestra colleagues is the unusual combinations of genres, instruments and musicians that come together in any given show to create entirely new worlds. Writing for a dozen or so Paraorchestra musicians like this means I can write a piece that is truly individual in its aesthetic. In other composing work I do I’m often at the behest of what other orchestras, directors or producers have available, or want me to do, whereas I expect (and hope!) that Latent Bloom will only ever be played by Paraorchestra, which is a satisfying thing to think as a founding member and Associate Music Director.

What did you particularly enjoy about writing this piece?

I loved drawing on new influences, such as minimalist music, prog rock, contemporary classical and electronic music. One of the players, our wonderful saxophonist and clarinettist Guy Passey, described one section as sounding like 70s jazz funk group Weather Report meets Shostakovich – I love combining influences in a way that serves the story I want to tell.

But mainly, I really enjoy composing for Paraorchestra musicians. I love their openness to trying new things, to collaborating in a joyous and supportive way. Any composer will tell you writing music can often be a lonely experience, and the transferral of ideas from page to rehearsal room is not always an easy one. But bringing the dots to life with Paraorchestra is never intimidating as Charles Hazlewood makes sure the rehearsal room is always a safe place where people can ask questions, make suggestions and bring all of themselves to the process. I also trust Charles’s instincts completely – he has worked with literally hundreds of composers and songwriters over his career, and I admire how he always strives to preserve the integrity of the vision for the finished piece or show. That’s a wonderful thing for a composer to experience.

complex, hopeful and urgent…the perfect soundtrack for these challenging times”
Phil Gibby, Arts Council England on Latent Bloom

Lloyd is Associate Music Director for Paraorchestra and clarinettist on Latent Bloom and The Unfolding. His previous commissions for Paraorchestra include Towards Harmony with Southbank Sinfonia and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and kraftwerk re:werk – an intoxicating symphonic reworking of Trans-Europe Express by Kraftwerk in co-commission with Charlotte Harding.

Latent Bloom will be performed by Paraorchestra and conducted by Charles Hazlewood at Assembly Rooms Edinburgh 5 May, Sage Gateshead 6 May, and The Barbican, London 21 May and will feature visual imagery by Jack Latham.