NEXT year marks the 50th anniversary of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and, as part of their birthday celebrations they’ve created the Soundbox project, a collaborative initiative that finds them working with a number of local music-makers to create newly memorable work.

One such collaborator is Edinburgh-based producer and electronic music composer naafi. They explain more. “Soundbox is an experimental collaboration with the orchestra to come up with compositional and performance ideas that aren’t rooted in classical music or what a chamber orchestra would typically play,” naafi says.

“Alongside this, it’s a chance for me to access more of a traditional music approach and work with an orchestra which is really exciting and will help me to develop my artistry and compositional ideas.”

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This is clearly an exciting opportunity and naafi has plans for the process. “I’ve never written for an orchestra, or even live players before, so this is such a big step up from what I’ve been doing and I’ve been learning a lot so far,” they say.  “I’m very interested in understanding how the spaces and contexts in which we engage with music shape our experience of it.

I don’t have a traditional or formal background in music and I think classical music settings can feel quite awkward or alienating for a lot of people. Equally, club spaces can be a really intense and uncomfortable experience.

I want to use this project to create a more inviting way to experience classical and electronic music and play with the chamber format performing with live electronics.”  Others involved in Soundbox include folk and soul-based musician and composer Daniel Abrahams from Edinburgh and Emily Scott-Moncrieff.

Living and working as a music teacher in Glasgow, Scott-Moncrieff also fronts acclaimed chamber pop outfit Modern Studies. Abrahams was a renewable energy engineer until last year when he decided to take the leap into working in music.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s associate composer Jay Capperauld, is leading the Soundbox project’s mentoring team.

A lauded Scottish composer who has worked with the likes of BBC Proms and the BBC Philharmonic, Capperauld (below) has form in working with new talent, having nurtured young composers as part of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Notes from Scotland composition scheme, as well as helping set up the West of Scotland Schools Orchestra Trust’s first composition course in 2019.

By nature, Soundbox is an experimental project, so how does naafi’s background fit in with Jay and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s plan?  “I’ve always been a creative person, and music and sound is what I’m naturally drawn to,” they say. “I have a hard time focusing and blocking out sounds and I think that’s really how I got into music.”  

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From a young age, naafi would listen to the noises of the world and create rhythms to match them inside their head: “I loved to sing, and would make up lyrics and melodies, re-organising words from books and poems into song structures.

“I started with writing lyrics, chord structures and recording the melodies on my phone. I have ambient tendencies in my approach to writing – it tends to be focused on mood and atmosphere – but I didn’t have a lot of ways to express the ideas and sounds in my head as I couldn’t write sheet music and I didn’t play instruments particularly well.”

Then the Covid pandemic came along. “I decided to learn how to produce during lockdown,” naafi says. “Mostly through online videos and in playing around with [music composition software] Ableton, which gave me the tools to be able to properly express and record my ideas.”  SINCE early 2022, naafi has produced Affix, a regular programme on EHFM, the online community radio that broadcasts from Edinburgh’s Summerhall cultural village.

The hour-long Affix shows use naafi’s own brand of leftfield electronic dance and downtempo productions as a springboard to exploring music’s structural elements and habits.

“Through my radio show I explore the blending of genres between classical, experimental and electronic,” naafi explains. “Affix means ‘to stick, attach or fasten something to something else’ and that’s the theme of my show – I compare compositional techniques and musical ideas across these genres, as well as using it to document my musical influences and interests over time.

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“I explore this through looking at particular instruments, artist projects and interviewing other Scotland-based composers working in experimental music with classical and electronic elements such as Rylan Gleave, Harry Bongo, and Alliyah Enyo.” 

Aside from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Soundbox, naafi has more work in the pipeline: “I’m currently working on an EP to release later this year, and I’m also writing with other electronic artists and producers on some new collaborative work which is very exciting.

“And I’m performing at co:clear, an immersive new event series exploring ambient, IDM and experimental music, in Glasgow in October.”

Performances of the new Soundbox compositions will take place in 2024.