16 September 2020
“Hi, I’m Branwen Munn (sometimes known as Somatik among various other aliases!) and I live in a quiet little village near Llandysul, in Carmarthenshire. I’ve lived in west Wales since 2002, and though I had many wonderful adventures elsewhere before that, I feel that moving here was coming home at last.
Over the years I’ve explored many roles in the arts. Since moving to Wales I’ve become much more involved in theatre. In a professional context this has been primarily as a composer and sound designer. Although my skills beyond sound and music may be less supported by proper training or experience, I find having a working knowledge (however limited) of as many aspects of theatre production as possible to be invaluable while considering how best to do my specific job. I also work part time teaching A Level Music Technology at our local secondary school, I’ve enjoyed many years creating fantastic pieces of theatre and wildly ambitious pop/rock concerts with some super-talented students. Those shows have been great opportunities to try tech-related show elements which I might not have been able to try in other circumstances. Having enthusiastic and creative young minds around also helps fuel the imagination and solve problems!
I feel so excited to be part of an ever-growing wave of amazing women creatives in theatre, especially in and around Cardiff and south Wales, but also in other parts of the UK. Most of the people I worked with in my pre-theatre life in London were men, and, although I enjoyed that part of my career, it often felt like I was working for them rather than with them. I find working with other women such a collaborative experience. Women are very generous with their skills, their insight, and their support. I’ve felt so much genuine fulfilment in my theatre work here, and there is definitely a powerful sense of women building together which is incredibly inspiring. I did have inspirational times in the London music scene too, but the feeling seems more constant and unconditional while working among creative women.
My being drawn to music for theatre was, as has regularly been the case in my ever-changing career, a product of mysterious planetary alignment! Not long after moving to Wales, I got asked to DJ at an event and it turned out that one of the organisers was John Norton, who is a founding member of Give It A Name, the Cardiff based theatre production company. He asked me if I’d be interested in writing some music for their adaptation of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. It sounded like an exciting challenge, so I took the plunge and never looked back! I know he really loved the experimental and electronic styles of music I was known for, and those flavours were definitely in his vision for that production. From that starting point, I gradually came to meet some really incredible creatives and worked on a number of excellent projects as a result. It’s taken me awhile to feel as confident in the domain of theatre making as I was in the world of straight up music production – there are some radical differences between the two disciplines – but it has been a wonderful journey of exploration! I’ve discovered how much I love storytelling, and looking back I can see that in my earlier music work. It’s definitely a bonus that the stronger focus on story when composing for theatre has really informed my music writing outside of theatre.
Throughout my whole career I seem to have worked almost exclusively with innovators, artists not afraid to steer courageously off the beaten track and try something radical and new. I love this type of creativity! Emerging artists are often more likely to have that mindset, being less entrenched in tradition and habit, so working with them is definitely important to me. I thrive on learning new skills and trying new ideas, and the fresh, bright minds of emerging creatives help so much with that – it keeps my mind fresh too, even on my most exhausted days!
In a strange way, times when I’m working in my field as a composer for theatre are actually when I feel safest in my life. I’m generally surrounded by people who I respect and who respect me, which is an absolute blessing. Although I’m often out of my comfort zone creatively, the fact that I’m collaborating with such lovely artists and the fact that overall I’m doing something I feel at home with gives me a sense of peace I don’t find in many other places in my life. Most of the artists I’ve been working with in the last few years have been women, and they have always welcomed me as a trans woman with unconditional warmth and acceptance. I’m incredibly appreciative of that! The men I’ve worked with have all treated me incredibly respectfully and warmly too. I know I’ve been very lucky in that sense. Very, very occasionally I’ve sensed a slight lack of engagement, or a presumption that I don’t know what I’m talking about while coordinating with the odd member of a technical crew, which I always find bizarre as THAT’S WHERE I COME FROM! But some of that I’m sure is a result of my own glitchy communication skills. When I first began to transition back in 2007 I honestly expected my life would be doomed to disappointing work and social relationships. When it comes to the world of theatre and the arts I am ecstatic to say how the opposite has been true. However, I very much acknowledge the privilege I own at having had a relatively successful career in the music industry before transitioning. That certainly provided a solid foundation for my theatre work since. It’s not at all hard for me to imagine how different and difficult my career would’ve been if I’d been presenting as a woman (or worse, a trans woman) back during my London days. I barely met a single woman on a similar career path to me at the time, which is shocking considering how many men I worked with…
My collaborators here in Wales are definitely the most empowering aspect of my work. As I’ve already said, I’ve been so lucky to meet and work with some incredibly talented, kind and supportive women and men in the Welsh arts, and it is their faith in me that gives me a sense of my own ability and the confidence to push forwards. In Wales it feels as though artists are trying to help each other for the overall good of the arts, rather than competing for space in the industry. I love that!
Currently I’m working with August 012, I think this will be the fourth project with Mathilde – she’s been so patient with me over the years and I always learn so much just being in the room with her. I’m not sure yet what it will entail musically, but that’s the joy of composing for theatre! I’m also arranging nineteen songs for a new piece of musical theatre written by two friends of mine, one in Switzerland and one in Yorkshire. I’m in the process of producing a series of new songs with a brilliant songwriter in south west Wales. We’ve been working on them since last year, and are still in the process of developing a collection of material with which to approach publishers and artist management companies. It feels a bit like a blast from the past to be making music for something non-theatrical! In my ‘down time’ I’m currently working on the start of a series of albums, of what I’m calling “Music for Devising”. I’ve come across a lot of theatre makers who are always desperate to find good quality, evocative, instrumental music to work with when creating new work. Having music without any prior association can be really powerful when devising, and I feel there’s a bit of a gap in the market for that. With all the other projects and my teaching, it might take me awhile to get there, but the folders on my hard drive are gradually filling up. Watch this space!”