Starting in a field close to Melbourne’s Western Ring Road, a llama lives a placid and slightly bored existence. Absent-mindedly picking at a chain-link fence, a gap appears: the animal can fit itself through and escape its confines. After a few cautious steps, it lurches forward and runs in sudden jerks. Making its way down a grassy hillside, it reaches the freeway crash barrier. Occupants of moving vehicles begin to notice the animal: “there’s a llama!” After a few tries, it successfully vaults the crash barrier and makes it onto the road itself. Vehicles whizz by and drivers honk their horns, but the llama is enjoying its freedom too much to be affected by them. Reports begin to reach news services: we hear a radio news theme and the growing noise of the Twitterverse.
The din of chatter around Melbourne becomes overwhelming and little more than indistinguishable noise, so the llama retreats into its head and to its elated thoughts: “I’m free! I’m my own animal! This is my dream, I’m no longer bound by a chain-link fence! It’s a whole new world! There’s a smile on my face for the whole…”
SQUEAL!! Its reverie is interrupted by an SUV with an absent-minded yet aggressive driver: the vehicle has to brake extremely suddenly to avoid hitting the llama, and misses it only by inches. Police have arrived on the scene and have begun to divert traffic. The llama becomes outnumbered to a greater and greater degree: there’s one last chance for escape, one tricky path to freedom, one last high-stakes roll of the “OOH TASTYTASTYLLAMATREAT ON THEGRASSYBANK!! I LIKETASTY LL… oh damn.”
Thirty minutes later, in the same field close to the Western Ring Road, the llama is once again bored. Picking at the chain-link fence, there’s no chance of escape. The fence has been repaired, the gap closed, the llama’s life restored to its former boredom.
13 was inspired by the Renaissance art I saw while studying and travelling in Italy in 2009 – 10. I was taken with the bold depictions of martyrs with the attributes of their lives and deaths.
13 is a set of 13 variations on a theme first presented by the organ. Each variation is based on one of the thirteen present at the Last Supper. The details of their lives are often sketchy, and sometimes sit somewhere between fact and legend. The order is as follows:
Theme Var. I
St Simon Zealotes – Revolutionary; went to Armenia and Persia; sawn in half. Var. II
St Thomas - Doubted Christ’s wounds; went to India; pierced with lance. Var. III
St Philip – Sober-minded; went to Greece and Phrygia; crucified upside-down. Var. IV
St Bartholomew - Honest; went to Armenia; flayed alive. Var. V
St Jude Thaddeus – Farmer; went to Syria and Armenia; clubbed to death. Var. VI
Judas Escariot – The betrayer; eternally punished; hung himself. Var. VII
St James the Great – Fiery temper; ‘Son of Thunder’; Judaea; beheaded. Var. VIII
St James the Less – Brother of Christ; Jerusalem and went to Egypt; thrown off temple. Var. IX
St Matthew – Tax collector; accompanied by an angel; Ethiopia and Persia; martyr. Var. X
St Andrew - The first-called; went to Ukraine and Black Sea; crucified on saltire. Var. XI
St John – Author of Revelations; ‘Son of Thunder’; went to Asia Minor; died of old-age. Var. XII
St Peter – Holder of the keys to the Gates of Heaven; went to Rome; crucified upside-down. Var. XIII
I’ve admired John Psathas’ music for years, for its incredible sense of energy, its ability to defy categorization, and its cultural pluralism. With 4BY4 (his first non-pitched percussion piece), John delivers on all counts … and then some. If David Weckl, Christopher Lamb, Steven Schick and Giovanni Hidalgo – all percussion virtuosi from widely different genres – were to have a jam session, I can’t help but think that it would sound something like 4BY4.
Each of the four players plays a drumset-like set-up; one player has two snare drums a hi-hat, a tambourine, and a cymbal, another has two congas and a hihat, and the remaining two have tom-based set-ups. However, what binds these four seemingly disparate voices is the kick drum, which all four drumsets have. At times, these four drums pound a relentless beat in unison, and at others they’re split into complex rhythmic counterpoint.
It is this, in part, that makes 4BY4 such a great piece and a perfect fit for this album. John manages to take culturally different instruments, each with different playing techniques, and link them together with a common element – the kick drum. It is cultural pluralism at its best, with each voice maintaining its unique sound and identity, but seamlessly integrated into a common whole. - Omar Carmenates
I did intend to sit down and compose an orchestral epic. I really, really DID, honest. Could I help it that as soon as I made that decision, the saxes started up a 1920s tea dance in my computer?! Only it’s not all sweetness and light and good ol’ days, in fact it sometimes gets a little murky in there, to say the least…
This piece was originally conceived for a mixed chamber group of 9 players, and received its first performance in 2002. It was arranged in this version for 2 pianos and 4 performers, for the Estrella Quartet, in 2011. The title refers to a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION 2010: Stop writing dishonest programme notes.
This work was conceived in the abstract and does not relate to human experience. It does not illustrate the composer’s state of mind, he having suddenly found himself awake in the middle of the night, unable to control his thoughts. While the experience of insomnia, especially when suffered over consecutive nights, can be physically and emotionally crippling, at times the abundance and insistence of multiple streams of unwanted thought (unruly Beta waves) can be, if not pleasurable, then certainly fascinating. This piece does not seek to illustrate this through music, nor does it sonically pose this question: why does the brain seize control of the consciousness and produce such a plethora of unwanted activity that sleep is made impossible and the host becomes miserable?
At times, certain thoughts seem to somehow rise above the melee of insomniac thought and become quite focused and of seeming import, however inane these might seem in the cold light of day. This is not portrayed in the music by infrequent parings-down of texture and emergence of single, insistent motivic ideas. The music doesn’t describe how such thoughts soon get swallowed up as the jumble of thoughts returns and the victim adjusts position once again, glancing desperately at his or her clock radio and resolving hopelessly to try to make yet another attempt at deep breathing and sheep counting work.
The composer could claim that the work is about these things, but that would be a lie; he no longer wishes to construct programme notes after the act of composition that conform to some conceivable extra-musical agenda.
This version of this work is the first of a number of versions, with another swapping cello for viola and another as a solo guitar piece currently projected.
The work was requested by Dylan Lardelli and is dedicated to this increasingly mythic musician.
The word abscission refers to the act of cutting off or shedding a body part, however it is most often used to describe a plant dropping one of its parts such as a fruit or a seed, or to a deciduous tree shedding its leaves in autumn. The word therefore has one meaning which could be taken to be savage and distasteful, yet in its most common usage the word conjures up a far more whimsical and melancholic association.
Structurally, the piece is made up of a series of loosely related ideas which interrupt or “cut off” each other as the work progresses, gradually moving from percussive stab chords at the beginning towards having a more serene character at the end. This work was largely influenced by George Crumb’s Eleven Echoes of Autumn and uses similar instrumentation, it is dedicated to the CHROMA ensemble.
This work for clarinet quintet in three movements was written following time spent in the north of Scotland, during which I visited the remote and desolate places that my family left behind when they emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand in the 19th Century. Although the music is not intended to be strictly descriptive, the image underpinning the work is that of an infinite shore that stretches from the line of steep cliffs at Badbea overlooking the North Sea, around the world to the rocky southern shores of Aotearoa New Zealand. The work draws on the tonal colour and extremes of pitch that are possible in the clarinet, and the extraordinary platform of sound of the string quartet.
Antonyms of Trust is a poem about water; about how our water is being stolen and degraded, about the many New Zealand rivers with signs saying “do not swim – may cause illness” or the dry riverbeds surrounded by farmland with constantly pumping pivot irrigators. “Once upon a better time, the poor man’s wine flowed beneath our feet and bubbled up between the streets…”
The worship of the Celtic Goddess Sulis and the Roman Goddess Minerva gave rise to the cult of Sul-Minerva at the ancient springs situated in Southwest England. A visit to the site summons up a variety of underground imaginings – dark, steaming pools, slowly dripping water and faster running streams, ancient supplications, sacrifice, curses and prayers, fertility and healing.