TIM SOUSTER was one of the most innovative and versatile composers of his generation. Educated at Oxford and starting his career as a music producer with the BBC, he subsequently worked as a freelance writer and critic of both concert and rock music, held posts of composer-in-residence at King’s College, Cambridge and in Berlin, worked with Stockhausen as his teaching assistant,. and established the electronic studio at Keele University which now bears his name. He founded two electroacoustic groups (Intermodulation and OdB), with whom he performed widely, at the same time composing a large body of concert works, many of which employ live-electronics, and for which he received commissions from leading soloists, groups and orchestras. In 1980 he established his own electronic studio in Cambridge and became increasingly involved in writing music for television, completing scores for numerous documentary and drama series and receiving a Bafta award in 1990.
In his composition, Tim was guided by an eclectic artistic personality, which produced a subtle, sometimes challenging, blend of styles. As the journal Wire put it, ‘Had he not died tragically in mid-life, Souster might now be winning greater recognition for his saboteur assaults on the frontline separating academic electronic composition and art rock.’
Tim Souster was born in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire on 29 January 1943 and was educated at Bedford Modern School (1952-61). He read music at New College, Oxford (1961-4), studying with Bernard Rose, David Lumsden and Egon Wellesz. In 1963 he attended the summer music courses in Darmstadt given by Karlheinz Stockhausen and in 1965 took composition lessons in London with Richard Rodney Bennett. Two Choruses, settings for seven-part choir of Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins were begun in 1964 and completed in 1966.
In 1965 Souster joined the BBC Third Programme (under William Glock) as producer of chamber music programmes, specialising in contemporary music. In this capacity he worked with composers such as Boulez, Berio, Barraqu, Cardew, Feldman, Henze and Stockhausen. He left the BBC in 1967 to devote his time to composing and to writing on contemporary concert music and rock, in particular for The Listener and the London Review of Books. During this period in London he wrote several choral, vocal and instrumental pieces, including Songs of Three Seasons for soprano and viola (1965), Poem in Depression at Wei Village for soprano and instruments (1965, rev. 1985), Study for Organ, the piano duet Metropolitan Games(commissioned by Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett), Parallels for two percussionists and Piano Piece No. 1 written for Roger Smalley. He also wrote Kyrie Marchand several other pieces for childrens choir, performed at Channing School in Highgate, where his wife was Director of Music. He spent the summer of 1968 composing in Siena on an Italian Government scholarship. The work he wrote there was a massive poly-choral and orchestral work about Vietnam which has never been performed. At this time he also started experimenting with electronics and in May 1969 he wrote Titus Groan Music for wind quintet, ring modulator, amplifiers and tape, for the Stockholm Philharmonic Wind Quintet.
In August 1969 he moved to Cambridge as composer-in-residence at King’s College, where with Roger Smalley he formed the live-electronic group, Intermodulation. The other members were Robin Thompson and Andrew Powell, the latter being succeeded by Peter Britton in the autumn of 1970. Over the next six years Intermodulation toured widely in the UK, West Germany, Poland, France and Iran, playing a broad range of live-electronic compositions, in particular those written specially for the group by Souster and Smalley, but also works of Cornelius Cardew, Terry Riley, Frederick Rzewski, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Christian Wolff. Among the pieces Souster wrote at this time for Intermodulation were Waste Land Music(1970) to accompany a reading of the Eliot poem and the conceptual piece Chinese Whispers (1970). In the summer of 1970 he received a Prom commission from the BBC and wrote the large-scale Triple Music II, for three orchestras, which he subsequently revised for performance in Berlin in 1974.
In autumn 1971 Souster moved to Cologne to become teaching assistant to Stockhausen at the State Music High School, and at the end of 1973 moved on to Berlin as composer-in-residence in the West Berlin Artists’ Programme (DAAD). Further pieces for Intermodulation were written during this time in Germany: Spectral for viola, live-electronics and tape-delay system, World Music (commissioned by the WDR in 1974 and revised in 1980) and Zorna, for saxophone and drummers, commissioned by the BBC for the Proms in 1974. Song of an Average City for orchestra and tape was also commissioned by the BBC in 1974 and performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pierre Boulez.
The years in Germany were followed in 1975 by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship at Keele University, where he was responsible for creating the electronic music studio. There he also established a new performing group, OdB, with Peter Britton and Tony Greenwood. The formation of this group marked a significant change of creative direction as Greenwood was a rock drummer. Afghan Amplitudes (1976), Arcane Artefact (1976), Arboreal Antecedents (1978) and Song, based on quotations from the Beach Boys, were all written for OdB.
By 1978 Souster was in California for six months as part of a year in the States on a UK/US Bicentennial Travelling Fellowship. At Stanford University he used the computer system to make a tape piece, Driftwood Cortege, partly inspired by the Northern California beaches. The Pacific ocean was also to be an inspiration later for the vocal work Mareas (Tides), written for Electric Phoenix in 1981. Sonata, commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, was begun in California and finished in New York in early 1979.
On his return to England, Souster became once again fully freelance as a composer and set up his own electronic studio in Cambridge in 1980. From this time on he became increasingly involved in writing music for film and television. He wrote music for commercials and audio-visual shows, and scores for many television documentaries and dramas. These included Great River Journeys, Africa, Heart of the Dragon, The Great Moghuls, The Midas Touch, The Last African Flying Boat, Monsoon and Watergate, and drama series such asTraffik, The Green Man (for which he won a BAFTA award), Calling the Shots, and Circle of Deceit. One of the ‘River Journeys’, the ‘Mekong’, was to be the starting point for a piece for flute and guitar, Mekong Music (1988), while Monsoon (1992), for the group Shiva Nova, though unrelated musically, derived in concept from the television documentary of the same name.
The eighties and early nineties, spent largely in Cambridge produced many other significant concert works. A further piece was commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, Le souvenir de Maurice Ravel. Reference to Ravel appeared again in the last piece he was to complete, La marche, a quintet for the Fine Arts Brass Ensemble, in 1993. Music for brass featured prominently from 1980 on, largely through his close musical relationship with the trumpet player John Wallace. Earlier he had written The Music Room for trombone and tape (1976) andHeavy Reductions for tuba and tape (1977, revised in 1994). In 1980, for Equale Brass, he wrote the live-electronic brass quintet Equalisation, and, in 1982, The Transistor Radio of Saint Narcissus, for flugelhorn and live electronics for John Wallace. John Wallace also premiered the Concerto for Trumpet and Live Electronics, commissioned by BBC Wales and first performed in Cardiff in 1988. This was closely related to Echoes (1990), written for Besses o’th’ Barn Band and the first piece to employ electronics with brass band. Another brass quintet (also containing percussion), Rabbit Heaven (1986), and a work for the Cambridgeshire Youth Orchestra, Paws 3D (1984) both took as their starting point the soundtracks of ‘Bugs Bunny’, ‘Tom and Jerry’ and ‘Roadrunner’ cartoon scores. The 1980s also saw the composition of a piece for metal percussion Curtains of Light (1984), the string quartet,Hambledon Hill (1985), and, in the same year, the semi-theatrical piano piece Work.
When Tim died on 1 March 1994 he had just started work on a further commission for the Nash Ensemble, a vocal and instrumental piece to include settings of Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal.