Joby Talbot has had a busy year. The former member and string arranger for Neil Hannon's arch-pop classicists The Divine Comedy has scored four film soundtracks and worked in New York, Hungary and Los Angeles, while he continues to collaborate with choreographer Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera House.

With much of this year's Edinburgh International Festival programme consistently mixing and matching art forms, it is fitting that such a renaissance man as Talbot should be one of four composers scoring pieces for Optical Identity, Theatre Cryptic's collaboration with Singapore's T'Ang Quartet.

Alongside works by Kevin Volans, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh and Rolf Wallin, Talbot's piece, Manual Override, is the only new commission for a piece of music theatre, which explores synaesthesia, the relationship between visual and aural stimuli.

"As somebody who grew up playing in bands as well as playing classical music, I've always railed against the rather boring way in which classical music is presented," Talbot says. "I had a long time to think about this when I played a concert of Mozart's Idomineo once and my heart almost stopped from boredom and I nearly sank into a coma. I just thought, there's got to be a way that you can present music in the concert hall in a way that can engage on something other than just a sonic level.

"It's the most obvious thing in the world from playing in bands that people pay their money and expect some kind of light show and dialogue to go on between the audience and performers, and that it will be some kind of event that'll take them out of their everyday lives, does something with their heads and takes them out the other side.

"I've always tried that with my own group Billiardman, and found people really get off on that, and the sort of visual worlds Theatre Cryptic created were absolutely beautiful and exactly the sort of thing I'd been banging on about."

Talbot's publisher suggested him to Cryptic's producer and director Cathie Boyd after a composer was forced to drop out of the project. Boyd had heard Motion Detector, a piece by Talbot involving sampled lutes, an idea he has expanded on in Manual Override.

As one of a younger generation of composers, his work straddles the pop mainstream and film and theatre soundtracks while retaining a stand-alone integrity. It could be argued it was Michael Nyman who set the template for this, and there are resemblances in Talbot's work.

"A lot of classical music has suffered by being part of a museum culture," Talbot observes. "It's shocking just how little music by living composers is actually heard. It's only been that way in the past 50 years or so, and it isn't natural.

"If you were living in Haydn's time and you wanted to hear some music, you'd go to church and hear a mass that had been written the week before. Now you can buy Mozart CDs, while the new stuff gets ignored."

Born in Wimbledon, Talbot studied composition at the Guildhall of Music and Drama. He first met Hannon in 1993 and was soon dividing his time between The Divine Comedy and his own projects, such as Billiardman. His growing reputation led to big-screen work including themes for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The League of Gentlemen Apocalypse.

In 2004, Talbot's first Proms commission, Sneaker Wave, premiered at the Royal Albert Hall and Classic FM appointed him as composer-in-residence. An album, Once Around the Sun, grew out of this, and a year later he premiered Path of Miracles, a major choral work for Nigel Short's Tenebrae ensemble.

Later this year Talbot will debut a new electronic score for Wayne McGregor's new work, Genus, and will become composer-in-residence for the Australian Youth Orchestra. If Talbot wasn't in the major league before, he certainly is now.

Talbot likens T'Ang to the Kronos Quartet, who are global stars of the contemporary classical world. "They constantly try out new ways of working and attempt to re-define what a string quartet can become," he says.

"They play with the idea of a string quartet being the rock band of its day. That's everything that Optical Identity's about as well.

"Instead of just having four chairs on a stage, the musicians are moving about in specially designed costumes. There's lighting used, film sequences, everything arranged to make it more interesting as an event. Each piece of music blends seamlessly into the next, so it becomes some kind of profound journey.

"If you strip everything away it's actually a pretty hardcore classical concert, but presented in this way lends it a context that will give people a far more rewarding and exciting experience."

  • Optical Identity, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 31-September 1.