(photo: Jonathan Blair)
Pierre-Henri Wicomb completed a Masters Degree in composition at the University of CapeTown and Post Graduate studies at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague and is currently working on his PhD at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Africa Open.
Wicomb’s music has featured at the Festival D’Automne (Paris 2013), New York City Electronic Music Festival (2016, 2018), International Computer Music Conference (Utrecht 2016), Festivalen for Svensk Konstmusik (Stockholm 2019), Forum Wallis (Leuk, Switzerland 2013, 2014, 2021), Wilde Bloesem series (Amsterdam 2006), Infecting the City, Bowed Electron and Unyazi Festivals (Cape Town) to name a few. He has worked with groups/ensembles including Ums ‘n Jip, Ensemble Reconsil, Potage du Jour, Duo Axelsson Nilsson, L’Instant Donne, Ensemble Insomnia, Stockholm Saxophone Quartet, [X] iksa, KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and Duo InterZones.
Wicomb has been a recipient of residencies in Switzerland, Sweden and South Africa, winner of the Fleur du Cap award for best original soundtrack or score and received commission prizes for the Asko ensemble, ensemble DissonArt and South African New Music Ensemble (SANME). He was recently selected, receiving a ‘highly commended’ for the Ars Electronica Forum Wallis call for works 2021. His work for fixed media, acoustic piano and electronics was chosen for the international call for electronic works for the Ablaze Records cd project 2022/2023. Wicomb won a Safta (Golden Horn) for original soundtrack for a drama series and received a veertjie from the ATKV. His (predominantly) electronic soundtrack for the eco horror film Gaia (Neon/Decal), now enjoying worldwide distribution, was published by the Swedish record label MovieScore Media. His music is also available on record labels Leo Records, PEER Music Records, Orlando Records and Lieva Starker’s Weerspieelings.
Wicomb is currently working on an opera merging the fields psychoanalysis, improvisation and composition together with the Swiss duo InterZones (previously Potage du Jour).
He co-founded the Purpur Festival for transgressive arts (2015) hosted annually at the Young Blood gallery in Cape Town.
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Pierre-Henri Wicomb was born in Stellenbosch, South Africa in 1976. He started taking piano lessons at the age of six. His early attempts at composing started around the middle of his primary school years. He enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch in 1995 taking composition as his main subject. During this period Wicomb had lots of interaction with other art disciplines and was very interested in the theatrical aspects surrounding sound generation. This period was dictated by performance art projects.
After completing his bachelors and honors degrees he started his masters degree in composition under the guidance of Hendrik Hofmeyr at the University of Cape town. In the year the degree was awarded Wicomb received a bursary to study overseas, from a Dutch organization, NZAV. He also received the Van Ewyck Stichting bursary during this period. He was accepted at the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag and studied there for 2 years under Gilius van Bergeijk, Diderik Wagenaar and Martijn Padding. During his studies he and a few other composers started the choreographed-sound improvisation group Woof . The group explored the choreographed movement surrounding sound generation using everyday objects. This theme was later revisited in the experimental short film Sounding.
Wicomb`s music is often based upon the process of `translating` abstract and philosophical `ideas into musical structures. He is always looking for a compositional aim in his pieces, which gives rise to the movement and eventually the structure in his music. He looks for a way to explain certain physical or philosophical occurrences, oddities or just things he is drawn to (often visual stimuli). These interests are treated in a compositional manner which can be compared to a process of translation. There is always a strong narrative present in his works which unfolds via his characterization of prominent or relevant elements (in his view) of a specific issue or phenomenon.
This aspect of low quality is another element very prominent in Wicomb’s sound world and part of his compositional interests.There is always the dichotomy in his aesthetics between an unsophisticated and a delicate sound-world. Often the low quality aspect in his music is presented by a common, overused familiarity, traceable in the different elements of his music. Harmony is the musical element Wicomb is especially drawn to and is probably the most prominent signature of his style. Qualities also present in his music, but working against the more lush character of his harmony, are linearity and transparency.
In 2005 he started experimenting with Midi and specifically the notation program Sibelius. Compositions, which has such an absurd level of difficulty, are `performed` by the program in a way which is not always representative of the notation being used and therefore a different sophisticated electronic sound-world is produced. The idea of using the software /Midi as a substitution for real instruments is therefore overthrown and the first piece from these experimentations was Play.Playable.Playing. which premiered at the Korzo Theatre, Den Haag 2005.
Wicomb was chosen to work with the Asko ensemble in 2006. The piece he presented to them, Polaroid, was premiered at the Paradiso Theatre in Amsterdam and also broadcasted over the local radio station, Concert Zender. After receiving one of the highest marks in the composition department for his studies, the Royal Conservatory nominated him for the prestiges Huygens scholarship.
His music has also been broadcasted over Swedish, Swiss, French, Portuguese and South African radio stations and played in Brazil, North – America, Switserland, Germany, Austria, France and Southern Africa.
After finishing the first part of his studies Wicomb had to return to South Africa (2007) where he is currently residing. He together with other South African composers founded the new music ensemble EJNCP. Wicomb has an ongoing working relationship with the swiss pianist Petra Ronner who performed his Where Music is… for solo piano , Earthed for solo piano, “live” mini jacks and soundtrack and Eavesdrop for solo piano and soundtrack. These collaborations led to the successful Pro Helvetia artist`s residency in Switzerland in 2011. During his time there he also worked with the ensembles Ums `n Jip and Potage du Jour. He released a CD with the latter ensemble, Go South!, in the second half of 2014 under the London CD label, Leo Records.
Wicomb`s piece for trumpet and piano, Domicilium, was chosen by the South African section of the ISCM as one of two pieces to represent South Africa in 2013 at the new music festival in Austria. The Paris Autumn Festival chose Wicomb’s piece And So Began to be performed at the Paris Opera House by the ensemble L`Instant Donne in October 2013. He was invited to stay for two weeks during the festival working with the ensemble and attending the concerts. In 2013 Wicomb was selected as one of the residents in the 3rd International Crossings conference. Wicomb was the recipient of the NMSA composition competition in 2014, resulting in a commission by the South African ensemble, SANME. The same year he was also chosen to have his piece Ever After performed by the Greek ensemble DissonArt as part of their ‘miniature’ project.
The CD, Concert To, which is Wicomb’s debut album, deals with the world of digital storing. He curated 11 South African composers, including himself, to compose an electro-acoustic piece dealing musically with issues of low quality. The CD was released on his label Peer Music Records and is available for purchase by contacting the composer. Other cd releases include his piece Your Mother`s Molecules, performed by ensemble Reconsil, and recorded on the Orlando Records label as part of their ‘Exploring the World’ project. The ‘soundtrack’ to the theater piece Samsa masjien was released as an accompanying cd with the play, published by the South African publishers Protea. The latest release include his track Piece/Milieu 3 on the debut cd of the improvising duo InterZones.
Wicomb was chosen for a performance of his piece Solecism at the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF) in June 2016. The acoustic component of the piece was written for the Canadian horn player Mathew S James. His piece Me an[D] was performed later that year at the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) in Utrecht. During this period he revisited his ongoing musical collaborations with the improvising duo Interzones, while on a residency in Bern funded by Pro Helvetia.
Wicomb received the Fleur du Cap award for best original score/soundscape for his incidental music to the play Samsa masjien…………..