violin, cello, piano (some preparation required); all performers required to speak
Piano preparation: the strings between c’’’ and a’’’ need to have a flat metal object laid on top to achieve a bright, jangly ringing sonority (especially from mm 26-37). This/these to be removed by the pianist in the section from m 45.
The three strings F, G, A flat, should have firm rubber wedges between them to create a dull thuddy sonority (for the section at m42), but with a still discernible pitch
At water’s birth is a meditative, ritualistic work, whose sonic palette includes prepared piano sonorities and some vocalising from the players, including whispering, spoken words and whistling.
The pushing out of the boundaries of the conventional instrumental sounds is something I have employed in other works such as the whistling and knocking on the piano lid in small blue for piano and the bell and tamtam playing in Ring True. The meandering sections of the music suggest a relationship with the forces of water, its depth, currents and undercurrents and there is a sense of ritual in some of the chant-like rhythms.
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.
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
Entering the stream
as if a point of no return has been reached
as light illuminating a moment of darkness
or sound log passed into silence
no trace remains, no desire or need
the stream holds life in its sway
constant flow, forever in a state of
flux, of uncertainty, our thoughts
and senses grasp the music
our craving devours beauty
yet the moment of realisation
is when time receds
as fast as we think
we have possessed it.
So, enter the stream
for you will never
be the same again
you were never
Grateful thanks to NZTrio for commissioning this work, to Creative NZ for the funding to make that possible, and to Jack Body for being part of the process.
For Violin, Violoncello and Piano was completed in 1999 for the final year of my Masters degree. It was first performed at the Nelson Composers Workshop that year by Mark Menzies, Katherine Hebley and Donald Nicholson. Here it received the Workshop prize, and later in the year the work also received the main prize in the Victoria University School of Music Composition Competition.
The piece follows no programmatic ‘storyline’ but moves rather within shifting emotional sound-worlds. The opening is very ‘inward’, and the intensity eventually builds and explodes into areas of anger or yearning, or maybe something far more subconscious and indefinable. Moments of beauty surface above the intensity, and the journey ends having come full circle – introspective, transcendent, resigned.
Notes taken from NZTrio – Spark, Morrison Music Trust MMT2066
‘Intaglio’ is a printmaking technique in which an image is etched or engraved on the surface of a plate. Ink would then be applied to the plate and removed from the surface, leaving ink only in the incisions. The title refers less to the work itself than to the process of composing it, a small insight into my ideas about how material manifests in musical shape. This piece is written in three uninterrupted movements.