Au began as a series of musical reflections on the Auroroa with pitch material based on the name of bass clarinettist Andrew Uren whose initials provide the title. This title, ‘Au’ is also the abbreviation for ‘aurum’, the Latin word for gold. As I was composing I realised that I was dealing with golden qualities not only of the sounds in the piece but also of the musicians in the ensemble 175 East who would be giving its first performance. This was particularly the case with the soloist Andrew Uren whose adventurous bass clarinet playing has revolutionised the way in which composers in New Zealand think about the instrument.
The work was commissioned by Andrew Uren with funding provided by Creative New Zealand and was first performed on 15 September 2002 at The Space, Wellington, by Andrew Uren and ‘175 East’ conducted by Hamish McKeich.
Black Sand began as an investigation of possible cello sounds and their variations, which I composed into a solo line using a devised compositional system, balancing initial conscious choices with chance elements. I also utilised an aleatory process to generate material for the rest of the ensemble by treating the possible gestural fragments in a number of categories (dynamics, articulation, instrumental technique, and orchestration). Underpinned by a rotational pitch structure, and due to the severe limitation on pitch and sonority, Black Sand unfolds as a bare and very atmospheric piece.
Instrumentation flexible, though with restrictions: the performers used must be chosen in such a way that there are sufficient instruments capable of playing in the required registers (see instructions on score for further details), and some instruments must be capable of producing quarter- and eighth-tones.