The Compositor [for three duos - flute, bass clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, cello] Recorded by Syzygy Ensemble in March 2013 Duration 20’
The original idea for The Compositor came from hearing an account by literary critic Denis Scheck describing a visit to Romanian/German author Herta Müller at her home in Berlin. He noticed that her desk contained a drawer full of single letters cut from a newspaper that she had entirely destroyed. Realising that she used the letters "to recombine her own literary texts", he felt he had "entered the workshop of a true poet" [The Strand for the BBC World Service, October 2009]. In a nod to Elliott Carter [“Triple Duo,” Thomas Demenga plays Bach/Carter, 1989, ECM 1391 NS.], this work took its final shape being realised for three duos and by working closely with the members of Syzygy Ensemble. The writing of the piece itself evolved from workshops that had the players “improvising” in pairs according to guidelines that I created. I distributed each letter of the alphabet in sequence, with the obvious apportioning of notes to letters as follows: Fl/Cl - A D G, Pno/Perc - B (B flat) E H (B), vln/cello - C F providing each duo with a basic harmonic identity supported by colours and directions as in the examples below.
The three groups combined as they appear in the final work
A further section consists of the six players’ initials in Morse code starting with silence and ending in chaos but never really synchronised and containing many levels of freedom. The final musical shape was constructed in the studio using recorded material from workshops, and I have tried to capture in notation the spirit of interaction that took place between the players so that it may be recreated by other groups. The score, while having a strict structure, aims to give the players enough latitude to ensure that each performance results in a different rendering.
We do not only hear sound, we visualise it. Through the buildup of acoustic images, the composition “Utøya” suggests a pursuit of form. The harmonic building blocks are a set of ten notes, presented three times by the woodwind as the initial fast section recedes. These are formed into a sequence of 11 chords with fixed voicings, over which we hear the interplay of tension and release, resignation and resolve, as well as motion and rest. Vantage point and perspective are simulated by shifting and developing amongst the instruments, but also by imitating amplification and reverberation with subtle combinations of texture, dynamic, and note length. The effect is that the exterior world vanishes altogether and the listener is positioned within the musical landscape, amid the horror and the beauty as human beings struggle to overcome great suffering. Tolstoy once said that music is the mute prayer of the soul. Thus, this piece for orchestra commiserates the victims of the shootings that took place on 22 July 2011 in Norway on the island of Utøya.
This work was recorded in a workshop by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in October 2011; they retain the broadcast rights - contact me if you would like to hear the recording.
a=bc2 introduces “modern techniques” to a community orchestra in a way that is designed to be enjoyable for the players, as well as visually and dramatically engaging for the audience. Lasting 6’30”, it consists of 3 short continuous sections: (a) all sorts of everyday “orchestra” noises are gradually converted to notes. Playing with the idea that all sound is music, we hear and see the musicians clean their strings, finish sipping their tea, checking the footy scores in the paper, and stifling a stray SMS. This gradually gives way to (b), the “tune-up”, which builds slowly with the “A” occurring at different lengths and volumes scattered around the orchestra. The work ends with a mischievous “multi-meter” ostinato (c), where sections of the orchestra try and align themselves even though they are playing rhythms in 3, 4, and 5 simultaneously. As well as having three sections (a, b, c), the piece only uses three pitches: A, B, and C.
a=bc2 duration 6'30" written May 2011 3 (PICC).3 (COR). 3 (B CLAR).2 188.8.131.52 TIMP & PERC STRINGS 184.108.40.206.2
This work was first performed on 19th June 2011 by the Preston Symphony Orchestra.
The instruments and voices of this “small big band” are arranged into three groups, each of which has a trademark set of pitches/chord. At the beckoning of the singers the two “horn” sections are pitted against one another in a friendly battle, during which each proffers a soloist, all taking place over a quirky groove.
LOCK HORNS First performed by the Defence School of Music, Melbourne on 6 November 2009
2 female vocalists 2 flutes 4 saxophones (sop, alto, ten, bari) 2 trombones (tenor, bass) marimba electric piano electric guitar drum kit