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.
This work was written as part of a series of composer workshops organised by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, for works for organ and orchestra. The Auckland Town Hall organ had been restored and refurbished, returning it to its original splendour as a magnificent concert organ. Six composers were invited to write works for organ and symphony orchestra during 2012, for performance in 2013.
For this work I proposed a work that would contrast percussive sounds with the sound of the organ.
The title appealed to me through its various meanings and associations. Firstly as “a mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail”. Surely if anything could be said to be a musical embodiment of a “fire-breathing monster” it would be the pipe organ! A second definition suggests a ‘chimera’ might be seen as a “grotesque monster having disparate parts”, and also as a “vain or idle fancy”. These last two definitions perhaps relating to the disparate nature of sounds available on the instrument, and the somewhat free-form of the work.
Musically the work contrasts a syncopated one-bar rhythmic idea with more flowing melodic material presented by both the orchestra and the organ. In the final bars the two powerful forces battle for supremacy with the organ having the last word!
I was delighted to be paired with organist John Wells for this project, a musician and fellow composer who I admire greatly (and whose daughters I had taught!). His advice and support were very much appreciated.
The concerto, in one movement, begins in darkness but soon ascends into lighter worlds as the tempo increases. The personality of the cello – romantic, nostalgic, cheeky, irreverent and even wild imbues the work with a wide range of moods and characterisation.
This piece arose out of collaboration with multi instrumentalist, Adam Page. The fixed media track was composed as a “virtual ensemble” to accompany a soloist. The title “Crunch Time” is representative of the manic and stressful character of the piece.
In many ways this is a companion piece to an earlier work, Vivid for solo trumpet, which also sets a powerful, sexually charged poem by Will Christie. But where Vivid is very often overtly violent and forceful in its gestures, deepwalker is mostly much subtler, almost passive-aggressive in outlook. The opening lines of the poem – “the day is a drum that connects these vocal loops with grey traffic circles bridge after bridge” – are mirrored in the cyclical, sometimes elliptical form of the work, loops and circles that play between registers of the clarinet. Sexual tension and aggression bubble away in the background, periodically rupturing the musical surface with piercing, angular outbursts, sometimes in parallel with the rather tender, fluid lines of the low register, and with the spoken text itself. This violent interplay creates a kind of disordered internal conversation, a bizarre hermetic character opening and shutting her windows; a clarinet of many voices.
Earthquake: 22.2.11 began as a project after the September 2010 earthquakes struck Christchurch and surrounding districts. I was interested in capturing the peculiar sonic properties of the earthquakes – the unnatural preparatory calm, the low pitched boom, the change in air pressure, the accelerating rhythms, the creaks, the rattles, the cracks, the climactic shuddering of the building one was in, the decay of sound, and the silence before the cacophonous response of voices, alarms, telephones, sirens, police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and helicopters.
I successfully applied for Creative New Zealand funding to compose such a work for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and set to work late in 2010.
The earthquakes hadn’t finished though. On February 22, 2011, in New Zealand’s worst natural disaster since the 1931 Napier earthquake, a 7.2 earthquake centred on Christchurch killed 185 people and caused inestimable damage to the city’s buildings and infrastructure. Composing a dispassionate response was no longer appropriate; indeed, composing anything at all about the event seemed wrong, almost exploitative, in the face of the human tragedy.
I stumbled upon Gary McCormick’s poem Earthquake 22.2.11 shortly after he wrote it as a white-hot response to the devastation. I empathised with his anger and his railing at the randomness of the event. Even so, it took almost a year before I felt ready to set Gary’s poem to music. The catalyst was a further round of earthquakes beginning on 23 December 2011, in which further damage, including the destruction of our previous home, a beautiful Victorian dwelling I had helped restore in the 1990s, occurred to the city. Something like 10 quakes of magnitude 5 or more occurred while I was composing the score.
“I enjoyed performing and recording Eulogy very much. Such a warmth of texture and harmonies which created a sympathetic palette for Olivia Macassey’s word painting” – Kenneth Young
My decision to set this text for orchestra initially arose, not only from reading the poem and appreciating it for what it is, but also from the recent passing of a dear musician colleague with whom I had collaborated on many early jazz projects.
However, at time of writing, I have become most un-nerved by the senseless loss of young life that has been occurring with alarming regularity at a couple of schools I have recently taught at. It was with these tremendously sad, sudden passings in mind that I completed my work on the piano short score of Eulogy, before commencing work on its orchestration.
for bass clarinet in Bb, alto flute
percussion — kick-drum, snare drum, low tom-tom, low woodblock, high woodblock, medium cowbell (muted), hi-hat, high ride cymbal, medium splash cymbal, thin metal sheet, cabasa, rainstick, tibetan bowl (F if possible), vibraphone, marimba;
narrator — amplified with microphone and/or paper megaphone and power megaphone;
piano (nylon fishing line rosined), violin and violoncello
“In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.”
“But where did all the water come from?”
Throughout Thomas King’s novel the character of the trickster Coyote reappears, hopelessly bamboozled, trying to learn what really happened when the world began. Who knows the Real Story? Coyote would like to think he does, but then there’s Coyote’s Dream – “gets loose and runs around. Makes a lot of noise”. Coyote’s Dream has his own idea about things: “I’m in charge of the world”. By the end of the piece, you’ll be wondering where all that water came from…
When I think of a piano trio, I immediately think of a transparent interplay of lines. This has something to do with the fact that the instruments that make up the modern piano trio are not particularly homogeneous, unlike say, a string quartet. It’s as if somebody had strewn some line drawings of simple three dimensional objects on a photographer’s lightbox, all on top of one another, resulting in an unexpected and strangely beautiful assemblage.