In He Gives What He Likes, I explore musical ideas I heard in mbira music. He Gives What He Likes was composed for Columbia University’s Music Department’s centennial celebrations in 1996/97. The material is derived from a soundtrack I composed for a Theatre at Large production of King Lear in New Zealand August 1996. It is also featured in an hour-long tape piece for Pina Bausch’s dance company at the Folkwang Hochschulle in Essen in 1998. He Gives What He Likes was realized at the Composition Studios at Auckland University and at the Computer Music Center at Columbia University in New York City.
I think of computer technology finessing a special relationship between a composer and his or her music through the privilege of being able to create a performance. In He Gives What He Likes, I let myself be seduced by performance impossibilities, while at the same time hoping to express musical ideas — especially those I heard in mbira music — that would seem evocative of an actual performance. He Gives What He Likes was composed for Columbia University’s Music Department’s centennial celebrations in 1996. The material is derived from a soundtrack I composed for a production of King Lear in New Zealand August 1996.
Literally, ‘Horizon in the Ear’. A title intended to gently direct attention towards the possibility of a soundscape in which the organism, listening and/or embodied in the sounding materials of the work, is positioned in labile relationship to a horizon. ‘There would appear to be a landscape whenever the mind is transported from one sensible matter to another, but retains the sensorial organisation of the first, or at least a memory of it. The earth seen from the moon for a terrestrial; the city for a farmer. ESTRANGEMENT would appear to be a necessary precondition for landscape’. (Jean Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. Polity Press: Cambridge, 1991, p.183). Horizont im Ohr was composed in the Electroacoustic Music Studios of the University of Birmingham, and is dedicated to BEAST.
‘Inner’ extends out of the sound and sensation of human breath from a visceral and magnified perspective. The starting point was concentrated listening to some straightforward electroacoustic transformations of breath sound. Because the spectrum of the sound is rich and noisy, as well as capable of being articulated with seemingly infinite variety, it felt almost as though a whole world of new sound identities might be heard ‘within’ a single breath sound itself. So following that idea I tried to draw attention to the way vowel-like colourations and the rhythmic contours of the breath can be developed and related across a range of noise-based gestures and textures. In seeking to anchor the sound transformations against recognisable sound, the gesture of the opening intake of breath became a key figure, hinting at a surface of realism during some of the more abstract extensions of the material. But perhaps one of the most important motivations for me as composer was the innate potential of the electroacoustic medium to exaggerate the apparent physical scale and presence of such a very intimate and personal sound. Along with ‘Virtual’, and ‘Time, Motion and Memory’, this work forms an integrated sequence of three electroacoustic works exploring movement between sound sources which are ‘internal’ and ‘external’ to human sensibility. ‘Inner’ was realised in the Electroacoustic Music Studios of Victoria University of Wellington and premiered at Concordia University, Montreal in February 1996. The work was awarded first prize in the 1996 Stockholm Electronic Arts Award.
This piece is dedicated to my grandmother, Phyllis Collier, whose voice and stories form its core. She talks about her experience of the Second World War from the distance of New Zealand, and her relationship to her older brother, David. We become aware that this is a retelling, a memory, which has been reconstructed many times (and once more by the composer in the studio). It has the obliqueness, the fragmentary quality of distant remembering; the meaning is carried as much by what is not said as by what is. The ambiguous relationship between the sonic and the semantic strata underlines this, as do the shifts between real and imaginary environments. The self conscious artifacts of the recording and editing process – background noise and tape hiss – remind us that this is a construct. Still it is one that touches on one person’s particular experience, and ultimately it is the person, more than the story, that is brought into focus.