The poem is a reflection of the transient nature of love and life. The gamelan, being an intergral part of a traditional which sees life as cyclic, maybe offers a balance. I have endeavoured to express this polarity by using traditional materials in non-traditional ways.
The state of humankind and the ecology of our planet are inseparably mirrored by each other. Paradoxically, we destroy natural homes to construct our own. What else are we to do? Time and the eco-cycle continue their relentless advance.
A scene from childhood, remembered as a half peaceful, half eerie dream sequence. Deep in the bush where there were no cicadas singing, the moist smell of soil, a small stream, dark ferns. Occasional streaks of sunlight struck the water. The middle of the ponga fern looked as if it would be a perfect bed to curl up in. I half believed that there were bush-dwelling creatures that did live and sleep there, watching me from the shadows.
The mamaku is the black tree ferns and is the tallest tree fern of New Zealand. Like other ferns, its fronds open out, forming the koru. Off one shape, more of the same shapes unravel, and then off these in turn, tiny parts of the frond unravel, and so on. From the moment of ‘birth’, the gradual cycle continues until the magnificent tree fern is towers, quite different from its original form and the koru is still present. In this piece I’ve explored slow metamorphosis, with the aim to grow sounds out of each other with contrasting results. Diatonic chords out of chromatic clusters, beauty out of chaos. All of this begins from a single note, f, at the start which is born out of string harmonics and imperceptible pitches, and concludes with hint that the cycle an ongoing one.
This song originally appeared in From the Southern Marches by Ritchie, and has been re-arranged for solo mezzo soprano and piano. It is a lyrical song, describing a rural scene in Otago, using Ruth Dallas’ iconic poem.
I had conceived the ideas for Moth long before it was written down on paper, having been kept awake on many occasions during the summer nights by the sounds of these fluttering insects. The sounds were fragmented by intervals of long silence, but they came so suddenly even the heaviest of sleepers would be irritated.
Moths are beautiful and eerie nocturnal creatures; they use a celestial navigation system which keeps them flying in a straight line, but however are unable to resist bright objects nearby.
In Moth, by using two violins, I have juxtaposed the serene attraction of the bright light, with the nervous and agitated behaviour of a single moth. Placing the violin parts closely together – both striving for a common goal, yet always in conflict with each other – I have attempted to portray the struggle of the poor creature who is forever trying to reach the moon.
Puhake ki te rangi, which translates as spouting to the skies is a celebration of whales, and was written late in 2006 for the New Zealand String Quartet and Richard Nunns as a project undertaken while I was the CNZ/NZSM composer-in-residence, living in the Lilburn House in Wellington.
Although one section is based on a transcription of whale song, there is no programme to the piece – no confrontation with humanity, for instance. The guiding principles were the extreme range of whale song, the changing patterns of their song, and the image, given to me by the late Tungia Baker, of a whale in Campbell Island waters allowing seal pups at play to slide down her flanks over and over again until, tiring of the game, she flipped them gently away.
The taonga puoro (Maori instruments) used in this piece are all made from whale bone or the bone from the albatross, the whale’s avian counterpart. In the order they are played, the taonga are, the percussive tumutumu, made from the jaw of a pilot whale washed up on Farewell Spit, a karanga manu (bird caller) made from an orca tooth, two nguru (flutes) made from the teeth of sperm whales that stranded one in Tory channel and one at Paekakariki, two putorino koiwi toroa (instruments made here from albatross bones, which have two different voices, being played as flute or trumpet), made here from the wingbones of a wandering albatross from the sub-Antarctic islands and a young royal albatross from the Chatham Islands, a nguru made from the cochlea of a hump-backed whale and finally a putorino koiwi toroa, especially made for this piece from the rib of a right whale that beached at Cable Bay. Members of the Quartet play percussive instruments – whalebone tumutumu and tokere (castanets). All these instruments were made by Brian Flintoff.
In the score, the taonga puoro sections are improvised; mostly the quartet parts are notated, but sometimes the players are required to improvise.