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 1964 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
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.
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 March and 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
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
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
Heart of the
Great Moghuls, The Midas Touch, The Last African Flying Boat, Monsoon and Watergate, and drama series such as Traffik, 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
The eighties and early nineties, spent largely in Cambridge produced
many other significant concert works. A further piece was commissioned by the
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) and Heavy
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
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
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.
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