Starting in a field close to Melbourne’s Western Ring Road, a llama lives a placid and slightly bored existence. Absent-mindedly picking at a chain-link fence, a gap appears: the animal can fit itself through and escape its confines. After a few cautious steps, it lurches forward and runs in sudden jerks. Making its way down a grassy hillside, it reaches the freeway crash barrier. Occupants of moving vehicles begin to notice the animal: “there’s a llama!” After a few tries, it successfully vaults the crash barrier and makes it onto the road itself. Vehicles whizz by and drivers honk their horns, but the llama is enjoying its freedom too much to be affected by them. Reports begin to reach news services: we hear a radio news theme and the growing noise of the Twitterverse.
The din of chatter around Melbourne becomes overwhelming and little more than indistinguishable noise, so the llama retreats into its head and to its elated thoughts: “I’m free! I’m my own animal! This is my dream, I’m no longer bound by a chain-link fence! It’s a whole new world! There’s a smile on my face for the whole…”
SQUEAL!! Its reverie is interrupted by an SUV with an absent-minded yet aggressive driver: the vehicle has to brake extremely suddenly to avoid hitting the llama, and misses it only by inches. Police have arrived on the scene and have begun to divert traffic. The llama becomes outnumbered to a greater and greater degree: there’s one last chance for escape, one tricky path to freedom, one last high-stakes roll of the “OOH TASTYTASTYLLAMATREAT ON THEGRASSYBANK!! I LIKETASTY LL… oh damn.”
Thirty minutes later, in the same field close to the Western Ring Road, the llama is once again bored. Picking at the chain-link fence, there’s no chance of escape. The fence has been repaired, the gap closed, the llama’s life restored to its former boredom.
Antonyms of Trust is a poem about water; about how our water is being stolen and degraded, about the many New Zealand rivers with signs saying “do not swim – may cause illness” or the dry riverbeds surrounded by farmland with constantly pumping pivot irrigators. “Once upon a better time, the poor man’s wine flowed beneath our feet and bubbled up between the streets…”
Since enjoying 2007 as the Ursula Bethell writer-in-residence at the English Department of the University of Canterbury, I had wanted to thank the University in kind by setting one of Ursula Bethell’s poems. On receiving an invitation from the Christchurch City Choir to compose a work to celebrate the choir’s 20th anniversary I immediately thought of Bethell’s ‘At the Lighting of the Lamps’, which carries the subtitle in brackets ‘(For Music)’. In the first three cantos of this she describes, in an extended musical metaphor, the setting of the sun over the Southern Alps, the beginnings of a symphony of light as lamps are lit across the Canterbury Plains, and the heavenly effects of ‘the music of the spheres’ as starlight illuminates the night sky.
Bethell, one of the pioneers of modern New Zealand poetry, was a long-time resident of Cashmere until her death in 1945 and recorded in verse many such sights, and associated reflections, from her elevated vantage point on the hills.
With the tragedy of the 2011 earthquakes and the postponement of many cultural activities, the Christchurch City Choir’s anniversary for celebration passed from the 20th to the 21st. As a result of the earthquakes, Ursula Bethell’s words have assumed new meaning – the lighting of the lamps can now symbolise hope, signs of a city and its surrounds in renewal: ‘from the deepening dark, sudden a new song springs…’.
I have dedicated this work to my muse, Alison, on the occasion of our thirtieth wedding anniversary.
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.
“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.
‘eye-glitter out of black air 1’ is part of a cycle of pieces written for the players of the Slovene wind quintet Slowind. To date, the cycle includes solo pieces for all of the instruments of the standard wind quintet, two wind quintets and a piece for wind quintet and orchestra.
‘eye-glitter out of black air 2’ is the second version of a wind quintet that forms part of a cycle of pieces written for the players of the Slovene wind quintet Slowind. To date, the cycle includes solo pieces for all of the instruments of the standard wind quintet, two wind quintets and a piece for wind quintet and orchestra.