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Rob Thorne
'Ko Tō Manawa, Ko Tōku: Puritia'

KM: Tell us about your piece.

RT: Marc [Taddei] contacted Salina [Fisher] and I and asked if we would do a piece for this year. Salina was finishing her Master’s Degree in New York and felt unsure if she was able to do it, so I contacted Marc and said to him I have an idea about another work. For me it’s something that I’ve dreamed of, for a long time, the idea of a post-rock work. Post-rock fluidly defines as a genre of music made by a rock band, often with orchestral accompaniment, that is instrumental and usually conceptual and long. I think for me I became educated in post-rock through my work with Taonga Puoro and had people come to me [through my album] Whāia te Māramatanga and work that I was doing live, and they expressed, or they believed in a synergy between what I was doing and post-rock, which I found intriguing because I didn’t know much about post-rock at the time, even though I come from an alt-rock background. I think when post-rock was really coming into its own in the late 90s and the early 2000’s as a genre, I was probably in the 90’s, more focused on alt guitar rock songs, that kind of thing.

KM: Were you a guitarist?

RT: Yeah, a guitarist and a singer-songwriter and a band-maker/leader. So it was interesting to feel like I was coming to post-rock late. When I started exploring I found several artists that I really enjoyed and could understand why people were thinking this, the idea of a conceptual piece of music that was about going on a journey that had an arc, and was narrative, I guess, rather than lyrical. Also then I kind of realised around the same time I was studying at Massey and Turitea - I did a couple of music papers with Dr. Robert Hoskins - and this is where I came to have a real understanding of Lilburn. He introduced me to Lilburn via the idea of journeying, so the idea of the oceanic triptych, the Aotearoa overture, Landfall in Unknown Seas...

KM: Did you get into any of Lilburn’s electronic music as well?

RT: Well that came later, that didn’t come until I was resident [composer at NZSM] just a couple of years ago, and that is very Lilburn in the expression of a psychogeographical aspect of identity, of course, because that was his whole thing. I had been wanting to work with Tristan [Dingemans] from HDU (High Dependency Unit) for quite a while and we had met and had kind of connected. We actually applied for funding to do some recording which was denied. So I appealed to Marc with this commission with the intention of working with Tristan. I think the idea of post-rock as an established Kiwi musical form is something that a lot of people don’t realise exists. A lot of people know about [the band] Jakob and that’s about it. And they don’t look back further in regards to HDU being basically the formative Kiwi post-rock. So really, that’s kind of how it came about.

Tristan Dingemans. Photo: Diego Opatowski

I had a lot of ideas around what the work might be. There’s often a dystopian aspect to the narratives that occur in post rock. I liked that idea, I’ve always has a fascination with ‘Smith’s Dream’ and [its film adaptation] ‘Sleeping Dogs’, that occured at a very formative time in my life, in 1979 I was 10. I can remember seeing that movie and two years later there being the Springbok tour... I always liked the idea of developing a work that was maybe around that narrative. So I considered that, but the more I looked into Tristan’s work and the HDU catalogue, when I found one particular work called ‘hold on’, I realised that this is how I wanted to do it. For me the piece spoke greatly to a number of very powerful and aligned aspects in regards to all the kinds of Kiwi music that I think we love so well, which is this idea of having an arc, having a narrative, that has a particular sound which I think is very Kiwi oriented. It was released on Flying Nun even though it’s not the usual kind of Flying Nun music that people know about, but also the powerful simplicity. It predominantly revolves around 2 chords. For me it spoke greatly to being this Kiwi Post-rock 101, which I felt that I kind of have a responsibility to people in regards to growing an understanding around all different kinds of New Zealand music.

KM: What makes it seem so Kiwi to you?

RT: Well you know, there’s this undefinable thing which I think is a great, a really big part of  the whole discourse that Lilburn was talking to, and I could feel it but I couldn’t define it.  When we started of on the orchestration with Thomas Goss and his ideas around developing certain parts using certain instruments I realised that he was identifying it as well, and so I think that the answer to that is to come and see it.

KM: And feel it live...

RT: And to hear it and then you’ll go, ‘wow, this is a Kiwi work’.

KM: How was the process of actually building the orchestra part?

RT: I’m not the usual, typical composer, I don't work with sticks and dots, and I’m not highly experienced in the creation of orchestral work, so this is why I enrolled Thomas. I basically worked collaboratively with his ideas and also left a lot in his hands in regards to just working those ideas how he felt.

KM: So like texture building or sonority and things like that...

RT: I think because of the nature of the original HDU work it’s actually quite straight forward.

KM: Two chords...

RT: Well it’s more than that, but it is very much about a movement those two harmonic centres. I think that what we’ve done is we’ve shifted it into another completely different soundworld and that was the point, to create something that was a new work. So with the writing of a new guitar line upon it, and also the integration of Taonga puoro, it’s a fully new work that’s been inspired by ‘Hold On’.

KM: So it’s not like a transcription or anything like that...

RT: No, no.

KM: A complete reworking?

RT: Yeah, and there was a lot of collaboration with Thomas which I am very grateful for. He’s a fantastic orchestrator. And so, I’ve renamed the piece and it’s registered as a whole new work. Because of the pre-composition involved with the other two members of [HDU, Constantine Karlis and Neil Phillips], we’ve listed the work as a co-composition between the four of us. The composition work was actually mine and Tristan’s with collaboration with Thomas, who insisted on taking just an orchestration credit.

KM: What can the audience expect to experience or hear during your piece?

RT: They can expect to hear the ocean, and the land, the sky, the tīpuna. They can expect to hear modernity and tradition and I think also they can expect it to rock. It’s gonna rock. That’s the point, this is gonna rock.

KM: Would you like to add anything else?

I’d really like to thank Dr. Vini Olsen-Reeder, because when it came to naming the work I worked with him to develop the title. I collaborate with Vini a lot when it comes to Reo and I really love the way he thinks. He’s a musician himself, and a poet. We work really hard to dig into what it is that I’m trying to express. So with the idea of this piece of music being called ‘Hold On’, the original title is not related to what I’m perceiving, but I really liked the way these two words are an encouragement for us, the idea of dealing with differences and possibly just sometimes it’s easier to sometimes let go and give up. So with the naming of the work was this idea of taking hold of each other and hanging on. What I was looking for was this idea around reaching for your heart and holding what’s important to you close to my heart and in that process us becoming closer, not necessarily the same, just closer. And if we can be closer to what other people need and want and the problems and issues they are dealing with, we can grow and warm. Love is the key man.

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