Pete Goodwin, under the pseudonym THE SWEATS, has composed for a number of shows around Australia. Paul Galloway caught up with Pete to chat about his return to MTC for Nick Payne’s Constellations
Pete Goodwin is the model of a modern theatre composer. You won’t find him sitting at a piano jotting down notes on a sheet of music paper with a hard-bitten pencil. He composes on a keyboard attached to a computer jammed with sampling and sound-editing software, surrounded by a sleek, softly-blinking array of digital do-dads: screens, interfaces, inputs, mixers, faders, recording devices, headsets and speakers.
‘I don’t have the most amazing set-up of all time,’ Pete says. ‘It is quite modest, but I can do quite a bit on it. Generally, I create the music at home, unless it’s called for to go out and record something. Sometimes you need a string section or some instrumental, so I go to a studio and lay it over a synthesized backing to get the right sound.’
Pete grew up in Mackay and studied music at the University of Queensland, majoring in composition under Colin Brumby. After an Education diploma and a couple of years teaching, he fell increasingly into composing and performing. Through mutual friends, he met director Leticia Cáceres, who invited him to collaborate with her and writer Angela Betzien in their theatre company, RealTV. He subsequently designed for QTC and other theatre companies, and after moving to Melbourne in 2005 he has worked the clubs as a DJ and written dance music, what he calls his ‘investigations into what drives people silly on the dance floor’. For MTC, he has composed music for MTC Education’s Random and Helicopter, both directed by Leticia, and soon they’ll collaborate again on Constellations. THE SWEATS is Pete’s tag for all this musical activity and collaboration.
‘You know, THE SWEATS is just me doing what composers did in the classical days, just the modern version of that,’ he says. ‘They were Renaissance men and did a little bit of everything. That’s what I like: writing music for different situations. A good composer, I believe, can write in any style. Artistically, I love being sent off in different directions. I mean, Random was a very simple, sparse design and Helicopter was completely different – like Michael Nyman meets African spirituals. I’m sure Constellations will be completely different again. That’s the challenge, the thrill of it.’
You can hear the difference between his scores for Random and Helicopter yourself, because they, along with most of his theatre compositions, are available online to listen to or download. At ease with the new media and the vibrant music culture on the net, Pete differs from past theatre composers in that his music doesn’t disappear as soon as the show closes.
‘I would hate to write all that music for a show and it never gets heard again,’ he explains. ‘Personally, I think that too often music for theatre can’t exist anywhere else; it’s stuck there. But if it’s good music you should be able to listen to it for its own sake. I want to write good music that just happens to be originally theatre music. It should be able to exist outside. And whether you have seen the show or not, you should be able to sit down and listen to it.
‘Also a lot of the work I’ve done for [Real TV] has been on the school curriculum,’ he says. ‘Schools all round the country have studied our plays. So it’s a really useful resource for teachers. While they discuss the play in the classroom, they can put the music on and have a listen. They can do activities inspired by that. The other offshoot is it’s also a passive income stream. I wrote some of this music five or more years ago, but each year the money comes in. Schools download the soundtrack. Some schools want to perform it, so they pay performance rights. This is what you do nowadays.’