Commissioned in 2000 by the NZTrio, A Feather of Blue takes its title from a phrase in a poem called A View From A Window by New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland. I have always admired the wry humour and brightness of Kevin Ireland’s writing and many years ago set three of his poems for soprano and mixed ensemble. As a kind gesture Mr Ireland sent me a copy of his book of poems Skinning A Fish, and I was particularly struck by the imagery of colours, flowers, feathers and birds in this poem, which illustrates rain pouring down a window pane and giving way to a burst of sunshine after a storm.
These twenty (mostly very brief) bagatelles were among the first pieces I wrote while on a one-month residency at the Visby International Centre for Composers in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea, in October 2005.
The musical material I use in these Bagatelles I feel relates to my being in Europe (albeit a rather far-flung part) for the first time, and my subsequent reflection on my ‘European’ classical musical upbringing on the other side of the world in New Zealand. At times the music veers into irony, such as the violin caught in a maze of its own making (bagatelle 7) or the pianist unable to stop her rapid motions at either end of the keyboard (no. 14), sometimes to a laid-back jazzy feeling (no. 11) or quasi-improvisation (no 10); there are dance-like numbers too (4 and 19). The set ends with the longest bagatelle, a chromatic meditation over the open fifths of the cello and low register of the piano.
This piece was inspired by Plato’s allegory of the cave in which he describes humankind as existing in a world where truth is merely a shadow.
…above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in from of them, over which they show the puppets. …they only see their shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite side of the cave.
I have used Plato’s allegory more as a point of departure and as an occasional reference point rather than a literal representation of the story. However, there are instances where I have deliberately tried to capture the character of the marionette players, the fire and the shadows.
The purpose of the digital effects, are twofold. Firstly, the delay and reverb should at times create a nebulous quality in which motifs become slightly blurred and imprecise. Secondly, with the aid of amplification and effects, the more intimate colours of the piano strings being stroked or violin and cello pizz are given more presence.
Notes taken from Ahi – The Ogen Trio, Atoll Records ACD108
‘blessed unrest’, was one of six short pieces commissioned by the New Zealand Trio as “attention-grabbing”, programme opening pieces. They wanted something that would start a concert “with all guns blazing”; a piece that ought to be “high-impact, dynamic and edgy”. It took a long time until I found something that I thought satisfied this demand, as I didn’t want to write an obviously motoric pulse-based piece. I wanted to create a sense of pent-up energy and its release in bursts. Many approaches were tried and rejected and while this was going on I came across the quote that gave the piece its title. I don’t think my dissatisfaction with earlier versions of the piece was either ‘queer’ or ‘divine’ and I dislike the lofty tone, but parts of Martha Graham’s statement nevertheless resonated with me: “There is vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is ever pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
burlesques mécaniques is a rather extroverted collection of grotesque miniatures whose characters are not people or animals but dances. These dances have been mechanised, electrified, and often obscured by their own rhythmic impulse. Old forms and formulaic tropes are given new identities, freed from the confines of metric stability and the expectation that they be “danceable”. The essentially mechanical, artificial aspect of music (and of art in general?) is embodied in the piano, here a brittle, seedy protagonist whose string limbs hover and flail about it. Conflicting rhythms dominate the surface, oscillating between insistent repetition and mad, angular flourishes. The generally jerky, muscular rhythmic material is periodically frozen throughout the work, most strikingly in the ninth movement (chain). Here a string of rich, impressionistic chords briefly reveals an alternative, interior world which is then rudely dismissed in an almost haphazard finale.
dirty pixels was written in response to two stimuli: an exhibition of the same name (curator, Stella Brennan) in the Adam Art Gallery featuring New Zealand artwork of a certain rough-hewn, ‘gritty’ nature; and hearing the work Jagden und Formen by German composer Wolfgang Rihm, an unremittingly wild and preposterous discourse of extremes.
These two stimuli caused something of an aesthetic dilemma: leaving behind my rather French fondness for euphonious washes of sound, I became interested in the characteristics of ‘roughness’ and ‘raggedness’, and in how a ‘pure’ conceptual scheme, such as the quite systematic construction I had formulated just prior to starting this piece, became ‘dirtied’ by intuition, by the exigencies of the material and by the reality of having it performed.
Notes taken from The NZTrio – Spark Morrison Music Trust MMT2066
This very simple work was composed for students. The name means “The Last Nakoda” and refers to the 3000 metre mountains just beside Ray’s home in Canmore. The mountain is a popular climbing peak formerly known as Chinaman’s Peak. Ray and many of his neighbourhood friends have climbed this mountain.