Ruby Colley

Ahead of her debut album release, violin virtuoso Ruby Colley talks about her training, composing and influences. Click Play Audio for podcast interview and selection of tracks from the album

Click for Ruby_Colley_Podcast.mp3 (MP3 Audio File, 15.4 MB)

‘I’ve just added another couple of pedals to the mix and it is starting to feel like I’m more of an organ player than a violinist now!’

Ruby Colley is joking about how she must look performing alone on stage, with her electric violin hooked up to a series of gadgets such as loopstation, delay, and octave foot pedals to create an array of interesting noises.

‘The loopstation I initially used as a compositional tool. I was having trouble with expanding upon ideas, so I used it to force myself out of a corner. It was like a happy accident - I used it at a gig and it went very well. I wanted to see how many textures I could get out of the violin, to prove that it doesn’t have to be pigeonholed into that one area. That was my main experiment, to see what I could get out of the instrument.’

As evident on the soloist’s debut Murmurations, the instrumental soundscapes created are far beyond the realm of traditional playing, with the complex web of sound more akin to an electric orchestra.

Although a simple concept, Ruby admits the techniques she employs to build up distinct layers are far from easy to get right when performed live. 'You can’t afford to get confused on stage because it would just fall apart. Using the loopstation where timing is absolutely essential, you have got to know what you’re doing.’

Picking up the violin at the tender age of three ‘by accident’, the young Ruby was taught by Suzuki method, in which she aurally absorbed the music she was learning to play. Nine years later, the talented teenager went on to study at the Royal Academy, London. 'That’s when I got seriously whipped into shape by a crazy Russian teacher – she really sorted me out!’

Further intensive study at Dartington College of Arts opened the doors to a new world of sonic exploration.

'I got to stretch my legs compositionally, experimenting with different styles of playing like Eastern European folk and jazz. Although I loved playing classical music and other people’s compositions, I wanted to do my own as well.'

Although her playing has deep roots in her classical training, when writing Murmurations, Ruby found inspiration through minimalism.

'Steve Reich is a huge influence, he is able to create very forward thinking progressive music which is still very emotive and speaks fluently to all types of people, which I think is really important. Also Eastern European folk, Gypsy and Romani styles of playing - it’s an equal blend of that at the moment.'

It’s perhaps the unusual combination styles which result in the dark and melancholic themes of Ruby’s work - anyone unfamiliar with the violinist shouldn’t expect any feel-good anthems.

'I don’t think it’s deliberately sad, but I guess maybe that’s just what naturally comes out of me when I play. I do like dark textures though, it’s just something which comes naturally. I’ve tried to write happy, light stuff and it just doesn’t sound right or doesn’t feel right anyway.'

Ruby's other musical outlet, folk band Cava took a break last year after releasing their own debut at a difficult time during recession but are hoping to bounce back with a follow-up. ‘We made use of our time anyway - we’ll be getting back into the studio in a few months time to record the second album.’

Colley has also been keen to get writing for theatre and film, last year being commissioned to write a soundtrack for the Tinderbox production Bruised, which she performed live. 'The process was interesting because rather than me fitting the music around an existing production we made it together - so the writing influenced the music and vice-versa, so it was a collective project and a really good experience’

With influences ranging from Bach, to Bulgarian folk and progressive rock, the composer’s appeal outside of classical music circles is unsurprising.

'I think the assumption that certain types of music belonging in certain places is quite an outmoded idea ... The fact that what I do in Belfast is so well received in all sorts of venues just goes to show that audiences are perfectly capable of experiencing different stuff in different places. I think it’s important not to patronise one's audience.'

Murmurations is due for release at an intimate show at the King's Head, Belfast, on February 4, with exclusive new pieces played alongside tracks from the album. Check out her MySpace here.

Eddie Mullan