Arapatiki was commissioned by Stephen De Pledge as one of a series of Landscape preludes, and received its first performance in the Wigmore Hall, London, in January, 2004. Arapatiki translates (from the Maori language) as ‘the way of the flounder’, and is the ancient name of the sand flats in front of my house at Harwood, near Dunedin. The piece has something to do with the advance and retreat of the tide across the flats, where many species of sea and water birds spend much of the day – an ever-varying water-scape. The opening idea is based on the song of the korimako or bellbird.
‘Generation’ is computer-generated ‘visual music’. It won the Best Original Soundtrack award at Cinanima 2004 (Animated Film Festival in Portugal) amongst other awards and has performances around the world to high acclaim.
Everyone of my generation remembers the ‘Goodnight Kiwi’ – the animation that used to signal the end of television for the night in the days when we only had two channels to choose from.
I remember the rare occasions I was allowed to stay up late enough to see the Goodnight Kiwi carry out his nightly duties. It was always way past my bedtime and therefore overwhelmingly exciting. But I always felt very melancholy afterwards. I would lie awake for hours thinking about the kiwi shutting down the power and climbing up to sleep in the sky. It seemed so final.
As I was composing this piece in 2004, my mother was approaching the end of a long illness and she and I were going through a process of looking through photographs, telling the stories that accompanied them and wondering what
lay ahead. It made me remember long summers, lawn-mowers, barbeques, pohutukawa trees at the beach and a time in life that wasn’t weighed down with responsibilities or fears for the future. This piece is an emotional landscape that tries to evoke that feeling of nostalgia, presenting childhood memories into which the future begins to creep.
I imagined my mother was setting off on the same journey as the kiwi… wandering through the building, shutting down the power and then climbing up to sleep in the sky. I wrote this piece for her.
Hinetekakara is the ancestress of Aroha Yates-Smith, the kaikaranga (singer) who provided the idea and the text of this piece. Hinetekakara lived on the shores of Lake Rotorua with Ihenga, her husband or father, an eponymous ancestor of the Te Arawa people, when the land was still being settled after the arrival of the Te Arawa canoe from central Polynesia. The four cadenzas, for bassoon, alto flute, flute, cello and bassoon, and bassoon link improvised sections, in which all the instruments participate. The singer initially invokes, accompanied by putatara (conch shell trumpet), the spirit of Hinetekakara, then addresses rituals following the death of her future father-in-law (with putorino), and then the birth of her son (with pumotomoto, an instrument used to assist at child-birth). A voiceless improvisation on pupu harakeke (flax snail), an instrument presaging danger, is followed by Ihenga’s anguished lament as he finds the murdered body of Hinetekakara by the lake, by the place named for her, Ohinemutu, meaning the end of the woman. Finally, she is farewelled as her spirit returns to the afterworld.
Nga ha o nehera, which translates from the Maori language as ‘a breath from the past’, was commissioned by and written for Ben Hoadley, with financial assistance from the Becroft Trust. Ben Hoadley gave the piece its first performance at the International Double Reed Convention in Melbourne in 2004. Nga ha o nehera is a five-movement suite, written after a taonga puoro wananga at Ohinemutu on the shores of Lake Rotorua. The first movement is ‘Nga ha o nehera’, meaning a breath from the past, the second, ‘puna wera’, describes the continual welling up of hot water from a spring at the edge of the lake, and the third, ‘Mokoia’, suggests the soundscape of Mokoia Island, which, as well as a major historical site, is also a bird sanctuary. The fourth movement He purakau, recounts a folk-story – not a specific tale, but suggesting the elements of all strong stories, and the last movement, ‘Ohinemutu’, locates the piece in place, and suggests something of the story of Hinetekakara, the ancestress of the Te Arawa people, whose untimely death gave the place its name.
In my work as a composer I have found bringing together classical and jazz musicians to be a rich and unique way of working. I have experience in both fields and my compositional talent and interest lies genuinely across the two art forms.
This piece has been specifically composed for these performers and their unique sets of skills. Each performer is of a very high calibre and each possesses something special and unique in their playing and approach to music making. Mike Kime and Reuben Derrick often have moments of freedom as they are both accomplished improvisers. Gretchen Dunsmore and Mark Le Roche are classically trained performers with excellent skills and intelligent ears and minds. I knew that each of them would bring something to the work that would be unique and exciting.
More recently my creative interest in movement and form has expanded to contemporary dance and I wanted to involve and include another artistic discipline in this work. Collaborating with Julia Milsom has been an exciting new venture for me. The nature of the sounds within the piece are highly applicable to contemporary dance and have been interpreted and expressed with considerable talent and skill by Julia.
Layers of sound in time is a theme I have developed extensively in the piece. The layers interact, evolve, contrast, compliment, and conflict with each other to create a depth of space and time between them.
The work is an exploration of the timelessness that comes in moments of deep introspection through evocative sounds and movement.
Writing Swerve began as an exercise in reading. A poem caught my ear and lulled me with its rhythm: lilting and stalling, flowing and overflowing the bounds of the line. Just as there are an infinite number of readers, so are there infinite ways of reading a poem. I wanted to capture these subtle variations of interpretation. The words which constitute poetry can be simple and familiar, but new meanings jump out unexpectedly from one reading to the next. I imagined a piece of music which travelled with the reader: pressing forward, pausing, repeating, circling back – a process of rereading in which certain images start to resound, gaining clarity with each recurrence.
Poetry doesn’t reveal itself on the first reading. It is not until we reach the end of the music that we begin to understand what captivates us.