Given the attention he has paid to the microscopic details of sound and the mechanical or physical processes by which they are produced, it is perhaps not surprising that Richard Barrett studied genetics rather than music at university. Born in 1959 in Swansea, Wales, Barrett is one of the more well-known of the New Complexity composers hailing from Britain, along with Brian Ferneyhough and Michael Finnissy.
Barrett began composing in 1980, and by 1984 his music was being performed in London and elsewhere. A prize at the prestigious Darmstadt Summer Course for New Music in 1986 solidified his reputation as one of the leading young modernist composers in Europe. The dark creative vision of writer Samuel Beckett has been a major aesthetic influence, and between 1985-1996, Barrett composed a cycle of eleven instrumental and ensemble works in dedication, entitled Fictions. This was followed by another set, Negatives, written for the Australian ensemble, Elision. Barrett has continued to collaborate with this group, producing a large-scale staged installation, Opening of the Mouth in 1996. His single orchestral work, Vanity, written for the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1994, has garnered much attention. Since 1993, he has lived in Amsterdam, where he teaches and performs live electronic music as FURT.
Perhaps most characteristic of Barrett's music is its deconstruction of the ways in which instruments produce their sounds. His aim is to create a new sonic world in which nothing is taken for granted, least of all traditional techniques and performance styles. In Vanity, the orchestra is divided into six heterogeneous ensembles, the timbral mixtures and textural counterpoint creating myriad colors and rhythmic densities. Certainly, in Barrett's music, sonority takes precedence over pitch, gesture over phrase. ~ James Harley, Rovi