Composed at the 1984 Cambridge Summer School, Clouds over Pirongia is a short delicate piece which uses a wide variety of metallic percussion instruments. The resonant sonorities were suggested by various cloud formations over nearby Mt. Pirongia.
This work for solo piano has been described as “a haunting gem for a modern baby.” (Blanks, Sydney Morning Herald)
“In a simple arch structure of eight bar phrases, it progresses in variations from naive simplicity to what could almost amount to a nightmare in the centre, then back to slumbering innocence once again.” (Bibby, Music in New Zealand)
Pacific 3-2-1-Zero (parts 1 and 2) is a work of protest against nuclear testing and waste dumping in Oceania. The structure is based on an image of isolated islands of acitivity connected by common waters whose currents now innocently carry nuclear contamination.
The work takes place in the round, with the instruments in Part 1 arranged centrally to indicate the symbol for nuclear disarmament.
The syllables heard in the first vocal section are taken from the names of individual islands within Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. These are mirrored and inverted in the same way as the rhythms in the music are. In a later vocal section the names of contaminated islands testing sites: Mururoa (France), Fangata’ufa (France), Christmas Island (UK/USA), Johnston Island (USA), Enewetak (USA), Bikini (USA) are sung, then shouted and drummed on tins to sound both lament and warning.
Part 2, developed in 1983, expresses hope and is dedicated to the emerging force of solidarity among the people of the Pacific.
Inspired by sparkling waters of Tasman Bay Nelson, this choral work (SSAATB) was originally composed with flute accompaniment, which has been substituted in performances by the Shakuhachi (traditional Japanese flute) and also the Koauau (traditional Maori flute). There are recordings of Pounamu with each of these flutes. The piece’s choral texture uses Maori vowel sounds and a text which is a whakatauki (proverb) from the Waikato region.
Heroes are travellers who journey into uncharted regions of human experience to tame the ‘tigers’ which dwell there. Songs for Heroes is a tribute to these people, echoing their search with a journey through rhythm and melody.
The Hanging Bulb consists of a continuous movement, divided into four sections: slow, fast, slow, fast. Sections 1 and 2 are thematically related, as are sections 3 and 4, so the structure could be described as a double couplet. The work expresses particular emotional and psychological states of mind, encapsulated in the title of the work which is an image of despair. Hanging light bulbs have been associated with despair and obsession in the world of art and in the real world. They became a significant image to the composer at the time of writing this piece, which was not born in happy circumstances.
Tension in the music is created through extensive use of the octatonic scale, bi-modal effects and thickly layered chords (such as occur near the end). The xylophone and bass drum are used as symbols of cruelty, while the piano has an important ‘personal’ statement in the first section. The last section has an obsessional quality which is expressed through repeated rhythms and motifs.