The Ring of Fire was commissioned in 1976 by the Music Federation of New Zealand for the visit to New Zealand of the London Sinfonietta. In 1977 the work received a Silver Scroll award for the best concert composition of that year by the Australasian Performing Rights Association.
The Ring of Fire is an expression which refers to the volcanic activity which rings the Pacific Ocean. The initial idea for this piece sprang from the desire to create an instrumental extension of the composer’s electronic piece White Island, where the sounds convey images of the island’s volcanic energy and intensity. These sounds were then refined and extended to represent an aural image of the wider area of the Pacific.
The musical material of The Ring of Fire consists of two main contrasting styles of writing. There is music which is an extension of environmental sounds, and music which has a ‘theme’ aspect in its use of specific musical ideas. The contrast of ‘sound’ and ‘theme’ is thus vital to the composition of the work.
The Ring of Fire consists of five inter-related sections, each with its own subtitle which expresses the mood of the section. The first, Volcanic Birth, presents a dramatic awakening and is scored for a small ensemble of alto flute, double bass, percussion and muted brass. The second section, Thermal Dance, is a lively rhythmic affair. The third section Whakaari (White Island) presents a play of sounds derived from the environment of this foreboding place. Then follows the main climactic section Lahar, where the musical activity rotates around the ring of players. A Lament featuring solo piccolo and small ensemble concludes the work.
This performance was recorded in 1984 as part of the Asia Pacific Festival in Wellington. The original recording was noise reduced by Wayne Laird of Atoll Records.