My composing began as a progression from being introduced to playing jazz and improvised music while living in Germany in the 1990s. A strong harmonic sense is present in all of my work, but this may take a variety of forms — very often I arrive at a fixed set of notes, or a couple of interesting chords, and use these restrictions to be inventive in other areas. I wish to put the responsibility for the overall sound into the hands of the performer; not to absolve myself of it but rather acknowledge that the instrumentalist is the expert. This involves choosing players specifically, and developing notation and musical language accordingly. Using techniques such as looking to an instrument's ability to sustain, amplifying one instrument with another, and simulating delays and echoes between players, has led me to discover and create new and interesting orchestrational colours. Electronics and the mapping and control of software is an integral part of my work, including attaching sensors to acoustic instruments.
Music for Ensembles
An Open Letter To Edgard for 14 improvising musicians
Open Letter To Edgard was written by following a number of compositional techniques favoured by pioneering composer Edgard Varèse (1883-1965). One of these was to emphasise the range and timbral differences between different sounds, which is the reason the players are arranged on stage in pairs of contrasting instruments. Another typical Varèsian technique was to write larger structures that were almost solely based on the gradual expansion of smaller rhythmic ideas. This technique been extended in Open Letter To Edgard by including partially and fully improvised sections. The work begins with flexibly notated horizontal events, which then grow into improvised textures and solos (flugelhorn followed by tenor saxophone), before culminating in the organised chaos of collective improvisation. There are many obvious and hidden quotes and references to Varèse and other composers in the piece, and these materials are the springboards for playful further development by the musicians.
The work is made up of seven short but connected sections, with each lasting approximately three minutes. These are based on Varèse’s fascination with visual art, geology, magic, science, open space, astronomy, technology and have the following titles:
1. Paul Klee 2. Sand Crystals 3. Paint Tins 4. Chart 5. Desert 6. Satellites 7. Integrated Circuit
The first performance of this work will be on October 13th 2017 by the Monash Art Ensemble, directed by Paul Grabowsky. More information
Children Posing for violin, clarinet, piano and film
Children Posing is a disguised set of variations on Henry Mancini’s Charade. The visual material is drawn from three films, the images of which are in the public domain: His Girl Friday (1940, dir. Howard Hawks), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, dir. Frank Capra) and Charade (1962, dir. Stanley Donen). These films were chosen because they have many scenes involving three people—often in conflict—which is intended to mirror the interactions of a trio of musicians negotiating a more free style of chamber music than they might be accustomed to. His Girl Friday and Charade both star Cary Grant and provided the added interest of having the same actor appear twice spanning different years. The sequences are edited to change often, and there is no dialogue or mouths moving. This is to discourage the viewers from becoming swept up in a visual narrative so that their attention is instead on the music and its imagined story.
In several scenes (including the one above) the film becomes the score with the musicians directed to place their notes following the movement of on-screen characters—reminiscent of the musicians of old improvising a soundtrack to a silent movie.
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.
Imagine the fragments of film looping through an old camera.
Wiped clear of sounds and picture.
We see a jittering projected light on the screen.
From the speakers just noise, the static of dust.
Though an enthusiastic believer and dedicated user of modern technology, I am nostalgic for a movie played on an actual projector. This is, of course similar to the way people become misty-eyed about the smell and tactile sensation of reading a paper book, or the reassuring crackles of vinyl! My father, at great expense, recently got his father’s Standard-8 home movies restored and transferred to hard drive. These date back to the 1930s and are wonderful to watch, but I feel that several very important atmospheric cues are missing from the viewing experience:
• finding the correct number and height of books to prop the projector up • the darkened room and sense of togetherness for the occasion (“someone look after the lights”) • the momentary disappointment at some malfunctioning or wrongly labelled spool, expired globe, or overheated component; always ending up being a false alarm (“don’t bump the projector”) • the sound
I have created soft repeating rhythmic patterns for the voices, as well as a half spoken minimalist buildup that very clearly imitates the sounds referred to. These are dispersed within a melancholic song that blurs the harmonic centre through unexpected shifts up or down a half-step, and through long sustain tails in the piano.
PROJECTION for SAB + piano duration 4'30" first performance 6 May 2012 (at Montsalvat in Melbourne) by Melbourne Chamber Choir / conducted by Mark Shiell
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.
a=bc2 duration 6'30" written May 2011 3 (PICC).3 (COR). 3 (B CLAR).2 184.108.40.206 TIMP & PERC STRINGS 220.127.116.11.2
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.
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
What has become of the old circus with its lean caged animals, creaky flooring, gaudy costumes, fried food vans and chain smoking ticket seller? Stuck in traffic, an out of work clown tweets about life’s daily annoyances to a growing audience hungry for the next distraction and amusement. Turning Luciano Berio’s Sequenza V for solo trombone (1966) on its head, the solo bass trombone is mimicked and taunted by voices, heartbeats and the crackles of an old radio.
This work came about listening to a piano work that Luciano Berio wrote as a university student - "Petite Suite". His work consists of classic Bach-like movements of Prelude, Petit Air, Gavotte, Musette and Gigue and all kinds of influences from the masters he was studying can be identified - including Bartok, Debussy, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. My version has been re-composed for violin using various techniques - contrafact, magic serialism, reversing the notes, and quotes and sampling. "Quiet Girl" comes from the book of the same title by Danish author Peter Høeg that maps the story of a violin playing clown who is wanted for tax evasion...
This work was commissioned by Sarah Curro as part of VOLUME 3 - her concert series featuring new works for the violin by local composers. It was planned and sketched directly following the dreadful bushfires in Victoria, Australia in February 2009. Looking at processes of transformation through fire, "Fire in Four Movements" suggests that fire is not only for burning but is also a source of light - visionary and spiritual. The first movement uses three pitches, the second adds another three, the third uses these plus another three, until all 12 notes are presented in the final movement. Each movement is centred around one string of the violin (A, D, G, E respectively). A score of this work is available from me.
This song dates from 1946 and Milton Babbitt’s (1916 - 2011) popular music past. It was published as one of Three Theatrical Songs, but as Babbitt himself explains “they’re not theatrical songs, they’re show tunes”. This quote, along with another 11 pairs form the structural basis of my radical re-interpretation. Babbitt’s sampled voice continues after the trombone enters, plotted to 12 different pitches, whilst I present and elaborate on fragments of the original tune squeezed through various delays, oscillators, and filters. The fragments themselves are derived from a close analysis of the work yielding two invariant pitch classes, a Tristan chord in original key and voicing, and some mysterious references to Arnold Schoenberg!
When first arriving in (West) Germany fleeing Hungary, Ligeti took refuge in Stockhausen’s Computer Studio at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne. The resulting works from 1957/58 were the only ones composed by Ligeti for electronics (tape delays), and were among the first of his works to attract widespread critical attention. “Artikulation (& Glissando)” is a tribute to Ligeti’s compositional genius and inventive playfulness. These truly analog synthesized sounds have been "liberated" and split into many smaller samples. Foot pedals allow the player to alter timing, timbre, reverberation length, and other musical parameters of the samples, which in turn influence the choice of notes, rhythms, and effects in the trombone. The reassembly and ensuing interaction of “recorded” and “played” engage the listener on a visual as well as audial level.
I initially imagined this to herald the opening of a grim theatre piece, but it ended up becoming the beginning of a larger work for brass quintet.
This is me overdubbed playing a short section that I adapted from a 12th century chant by Pérotin from Le jeu des pelerins d'Eammaus - Drame liturgique.
Farewell to old England forever,
Farewell to my rum culls as well,
Farewell to the well-known Old Bailey,
Where I used for to cut such a swell.
The listener will notice that this is a set of variations on Botany Bay, the early nineteenth-century English tune about the arrival of unfortunate convicts to the unfamiliar antipodean land. Having spent most of our careers listening to, studying, and playing European or American music, this composition seeks to explore what makes a piece of music Australian. That Australia’s convict past will give any insight into this might at first seem unlikely, but as it turns out, the environment conjured in this piece is both uniquely Australian and contemporary. Water: The first segment of this piece describes the passage from the past into the future. The ship mediates between these two worlds, preparing its passengers for what lies ahead whilst accommodating their memories of the past. Similarly, by embracing the interactive characteristics of classical chamber music with digitalised sounds, this introduction plays a bridging role between the old and the new. Far from merely providing textual background to the instruments, the sound of water responds to and pre-empts wisps of the original song. Collectively, these sounds unfold on stage like waves. Dawn: There is nothing new about composers searching for new textures, but computers have evolved to the extent that we are now allowed instant access to sounds and effects that previously required large amounts of equipment and time behind the scenes. We believe these sounds and techniques belong on the stage and should be fully integrated into the ensemble sound. Though usually not visible, insects make a terrific sound in a noiseless environment. Released digitally, they resonate where artifice meets nature. Birds: When pre-recorded sounds and samples are used in our ensemble, they are treated as other instrumental voices. The sounds of birds have been chosen on account of what they convey rhythmically and melodically. Also, the use of birds reflects the mobility of the people who have come to Australia – past and future – and the ability of music to translate feelings associated with migration.
Now all my young Dookies and Dutchesses,
Take warning from what I've to say,
Mind all is your own as you toucheses,
Or you'll find us in Botany Bay.
…With this warning ends the melancholic Botany Bay, but of course, music reminds us that not all is theft and that, indeed, a healthy creative sound depends on appropriation, exchange and movement between people, times and styles.
With this piece we look to the future and how more insight into both the acoustic and the digitalized soundscape may shape the way contemporary Australian music is composed and performed. In this work, the melodic material is derived solely from two six-note tone rows, which are played alternately over the bass figure. The composed section consists of several synchronised unison fragments that separate longer passages where note combinations from one or other of the rows are explored. As with the pieces that came before, this is a passage of sound. It expresses our hope that every new piece of recorded and performed music will open another doorway to finding new ways - and revisiting old ones - of creating sound.
Created with concern for the government’s arts policy…
Trombone through a vocoder and auto-wah with inspiration from the Statue Unveiling in Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1926) and Publio Delgado's "Harmonizator" on Jones Big Ass Truck Rentals & Storage.
Beneath a delicate bed of solo violin harmonics (original music) we hear the intermittent call of the “white-lipped foam frog”. He is formally identified as the music of Boyd Raeburn and His Orchestra playing “Tonsilectomy” comes in and out of focus. The groove is jagged and oft interrupted by piano sounds (original music) as well as an “astrophysical sonified x-ray” that has been squeezed through Soniccouture’s tube-based Novachord.
All Smithsonian Remix sounds have been made available under an “Attribution – NonCommercial” Creative Commons license.
Letters are arranged on a sheet of cardboard by a 2 year old. She has organised and placed them solely based on their shape and colour.
Recorded letters have been processed to form sounds and colours. We think we hear words being spelled and we listen for patterns. Snippets of groove may emerge, but we are reminded that the art of sound defies our imposition of order and meaning.
Electro-acoustic work that has fun with extracts from Erdenklavier (by Berio).
"...the natural harmonises with the artificial. The artist collects, on the beach of the Tasman Sea, in the markets of Paris, both the trivial and the exceptional in order to create new constellations, formations and beings. Layer upon layer, images piled on images, coats of paint, bitumen, varnish or glue rescue remains of human life..."
This is an extract of a sound design I did for a short animation where a jewel thief on the run gets into some strife with a street sweeper and a tram. The various yells and screams are me...
A mock “french” tune that was written and recorded for a short film.
A music box ballerina takes a turn for the worse.
Sound design for a paper delivered on secrecy in the rooms of American literary hotels...
Kafka’s first novel America sends its protagonist across the Atlantic to find work in a hotel as a lift-boy. Both the customers and the personnel get off at different levels at random. The claustrophobic space of the lift is pierced by foreign noises - the cacophony of chattering voices mingled with music and the bureaucracy down at the reception – as the doors open and close.
As a hangover from the Roaring Twenties, the second hotel is modelled after the great Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The enfant terrible of French literature, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, sends his destitute alter-ego up the lift in the notorious Journey to the End of the Night. But will he be able to pass the sliding doors and the reception through the haze of cigar smoke, martinis and gorgeous women?
Nabokov’s classic child heroine Lolita and how her degenerate stepfather smuggles her into a room on the road is the subject of the third piece. Amidst the roar of Chevrolets and the cautious beginnings of Rock ‘n’ Roll, literature’s most infamous seduction is about to take place.
An early attempt: reworking “It’s All Right With Me” (Porter) that was intended as a tribute...