Arapatiki was commissioned by Stephen De Pledge as one of a series of Landscape preludes, and received its first performance in the Wigmore Hall, London, in January, 2004. Arapatiki translates (from the Maori language) as ‘the way of the flounder’, and is the ancient name of the sand flats in front of my house at Harwood, near Dunedin. The piece has something to do with the advance and retreat of the tide across the flats, where many species of sea and water birds spend much of the day – an ever-varying water-scape. The opening idea is based on the song of the korimako or bellbird.
The title is taken from the poem Spring Drift Kawhia by New Zealand poet Denys Trussell and refers to the shallow tidal harbour of Kawhia on the western coast of the North Island:
“Now hills half-stripped of gods rim this liquid drift of light, and the sea-eye flashes mosaic beneath a nest of cliffs startling the shag in its pine-black tower.”
The evocative phrase provided the inspiration for this ‘landscape prelude’, written with gratitude to its commissioner, the wonderfully poetic pianist Stephen De Pledge. It was premiered by him in the Wigmore Hall, London, on 23rd January 2004.
‘Terrain vague’ is marginalised urban space often ignored in traditional architectural discourse. Terrain vague is underused or misused. It is liminal space, transitional, under construction, in process. Terrain vague presents problems and offers resistance.
In the book Consciousness Explained Daniel Dennett convincingly argues that there is nothing about human consciousness, emotion or experience that cannot be encompassed by a purely physical, biological and mechanical explanation. We do not need to refer to some ‘soul’ or ’mind’s eye’ to describe our experiences. We are, in short, machines – just very clever machines.
These three short miniatures push the performer to the limits, yet, paradoxically, a ‘human’ reading of the score still brings to the surface a more energetic, compelling and arguably musical performance than a merely mechanical rendition.
Everyone of my generation remembers the ‘Goodnight Kiwi’ – the animation that used to signal the end of television for the night in the days when we only had two channels to choose from.
I remember the rare occasions I was allowed to stay up late enough to see the Goodnight Kiwi carry out his nightly duties. It was always way past my bedtime and therefore overwhelmingly exciting. But I always felt very melancholy afterwards. I would lie awake for hours thinking about the kiwi shutting down the power and climbing up to sleep in the sky. It seemed so final.
As I was composing this piece in 2004, my mother was approaching the end of a long illness and she and I were going through a process of looking through photographs, telling the stories that accompanied them and wondering what
lay ahead. It made me remember long summers, lawn-mowers, barbeques, pohutukawa trees at the beach and a time in life that wasn’t weighed down with responsibilities or fears for the future. This piece is an emotional landscape that tries to evoke that feeling of nostalgia, presenting childhood memories into which the future begins to creep.
I imagined my mother was setting off on the same journey as the kiwi… wandering through the building, shutting down the power and then climbing up to sleep in the sky. I wrote this piece for her.
Chiaroscuro is a method used in the visual arts applying light and shadow to create the illusion of three-dimensional objects. If light comes from only one source, and therefore from one direction, then all light and shadow will be determined by the rules that this implies. ‘Chiaroscuro’ was commissioned by Stephen De Pledge in 2005.
I welcomed this commission to write a small piece for Stephen De Pledge, but baulked a little at the idea it that should be related to landscape, a concept that can easily fall into cliché. But then all physical places are in fact landscape, including the street where I have lived for the last 35 years (echoes of My Fair Lady), in the city I love.
This work creates a counterpoint between my own voice and its ‘musical analogue’, as played on the piano.