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Mozart Fellow Jeremy Mayall

The University of Otago Mozart Fellow for 2014 and 2015 Jeremy Mayall has been involved in a number of exciting projects during his time in Dunedin. We caught up with his to find out what has been occupying his time, and what musical life in Dunedin is like.



  How was the transition from Hamilton to Dunedin? What do you think are the relative musical strengths of both places?

Physically, the transition from Hamilton to Dunedin was not too bad. It forced us to have a clear out of clutter etc, as we placed everything into a storage unit and only brought what could fit in the cars! And I quite enjoy the cold most of the time.

In terms of my work, it was quite a change. Going from working a range of "day jobs" and completing any musical work late at night, or on the weekends, to being able to focus on composition for the '9-5' and then have some free-time during nights and weekends has been great. This kind of work-life balance has been quite refreshing, and has allowed me to really focus in on the creative work, and take on a wide range of projects.


Both Hamilton and Dunedin are filled with interesting, creative and inspiring people - if you know where to find them! I guess having lived in Hamilton for most of my life, the musical strength of that place for me lies in the relationships I have developed with people over the years. A range of great performers and collaborators - many of whom I have still been working with from here in Dunedin. I also think that Hamilton benefits from not having a specific 'sound' associated with it, so there is a lot of freedom in the work that you can do there.

Likewise, the musical strengths in Dunedin, for me, have been the relationships with performers and collaborators. There are a number of brilliant open-minded performers amongst the staff and students here, and it has been great to be able to work with them. Also, that there is a broad focus on both 'classical' and 'popular' musics is interesting to me. Outside of the university music scene, I am less aware of what is going on… being here for a relatively short period of time, and having a young child means that I spend less of my time going out at night in search of the music scenes.

How many and what kind of projects have you been working on during your time as Mozart Fellow? What ones are you most proud of?

I have worked on a huge variety of projects during my time as the Mozart Fellow. Some of the main projects were collaborations with the other Otago Arts Fellows: With Louise Potiki Bryant (the Caroline Plummer Community Dance Fellow) I worked on an experimental dance film Whakaika Nei - based some of her work in the fellowship. It also involved words by Rua McCallum and taonga puoro by Horomona Horo; with Melinda Szymanik (the University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writers in Residence) I composed a musical adaptation of her book The Song of Kauri; and, with Majella Cullinane (the Robert Burns Fellow) we created a song cycle Cut Away the Masts, inspired by The McIlrath Letters, a series of letters which were written by two brothers, who emigrated from Northern Ireland to New Zealand in 1860, and wrote back to their family there for over fifty years. This piece was written for, and premiered by, soprano Julia Booth.

Aside from these collaborations, I composed Late Song (based on a poem by Lauris Dorothy Edmond) - a multi-media, multi-disciplinary work for the Waikato University Sir Edmund Hillary Performing Arts Scholars. convoluted is a piece for orchestra that was selected as part of the NZSO-RNZ Concert-SOUNZ Recordings for 2015. 'L.O.Q.Shun' is a piece for recorded voices based on the work of Alexander Melville Bell, and was premiered on Radio NZ November 2014.

Musica in cerebro is a collaborative project with the Otago University Brain Health Research Centre on the effect of music on the brain. The piece was composed to specifically cause certain spikes in brain function that would be visible on an EEG machine - then for the premiere a listener was hooked up to an EEG and the brain waves were visible on a big screen to see how the brain reacted to this music. 

"...there is a risk of repeating what has come before when being inspired by other music, but I believe that as we don't live in a cultural vacuum, it is impossible to not draw something from the music that you have heard..."
  Flutter was probably the biggest piece I created last year. It is a site-specific, multi-media, multi-sensory work created for, and inspired by, the Otago Museum Tropical Rainforest - a three story butterfly enclosure. The work was created to involve all five senses: sight (dancers, musicians, lighting, video projection, and hundreds of butterflies); sound (live musicians and electronics, plus a waterfall); feel (the audience would move around the space, and it is also quite humid so you can feel the air); smell (this room has a distinct 'rainforesty' smell); taste (working in collaboration with The Tart Tin boutique bakehouse to create three custom flavoured macarons to correspond with the three main sections of the piece). This work was premiered in the Otago Museum on November 29th 2014.


Along with this work, I recorded an album of music - Imaginary Communication - for piano and electronics; composed a few soundscape pieces for contemporary dance works, and art installations; I worked on the score for 8 short films (3 of which are still showing in international festivals); wrote a number of short chamber pieces; and finished another album of minimalist fusion with Rob Burns (bass) and Robbie Craigie (drums). 

  How do you find time for all these projects?

I guess I have always been quite productive, and a bit of a workaholic… so I just manage to find ways to make it all work. It can be handy in keeping ideas fresh to have more than one project on the go at once - because when I am lacking inspiration or ideas on one project, I can divert my attention to the other thing. And often those two or more projects are quite musically and sonically different, so it can be quite refreshing to have breaks and come back to each with fresh ears.
Where do you think you draw inspiration from? life experiences? the natural world? Other music? If music, are you worried about repeating what has come before?

I draw inspiration from a range of places - and it is typically different for each project. Pieces like 'Flutter' are very much inspired by a physical place, and the creatures that live inside it. Other works are inspired by things I've read or seen. Definitely the natural world is an inspiration to my music. The Long White Cloud is inspired by the landscape of NZ, as is Imaginary Communication


I think it is hard to not be inspired by life - often the best ideas for pieces come to me unexpected in response to something I am doing that is un-related to my composing practice. Whether it is going for a walk, or visiting a new place, or hearing something new, or seeing other people do something new, ideas can come from anywhere - and certainly seem to! There are times when other music will inspire my work. Usually it is either a general mood or 'feel' that inspires the work, rather than specific musical ideas… but on occasion, it may be a specific short gestural idea that might inform an element of the new work. I know that there is a risk of repeating what has come before when being inspired by other music, but I believe that as we don't live in a cultural vacuum, it is impossible to not draw something from the music that you have heard. Even if it is in deciding what not to do, the things we have heard will influence what you compose - or at least, for me that is the case. But I trust that because I don't have the ability to create exact duplicates of things, that by virtue of this older music being manipulated through my mind, and then composed, hopefully it is adding something to the work that comes before it, rather than just being a duplicate.
All photos by Dan Inglis.