Commissioned by Georgia Iaokimidis-MacDougall as a gift for Callum G’Froerer
Premiere by Callum G’Froerer
There is some kiss we want with our whole lives,
the touch of spirit on the body.
Seawater begs the pearl to break it’s shell.
And the lily,
how passionately it needs some wild darling!
At night I open the window and ask the moon to come and press its face
Breathe into me.
Close the language-door and open the love-window.
The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.
Commissioned by Ensemble musikFabrik through the Ministry of Culture NRW.
Dedicated to Alban Wesly with whom I collaborated to develop the techniques and notational approaches used in the score. Premiere 4 March 2013, Cologne, MusikFabrik studio concert, Alban Wesly; Premiere rev. version, 1 Oct 2014, Strasbourg
Duration: 10 minutes
Images came to me in a dream: I saw a dead tree with dessicated bark and as I watched, the cracks and hollows filled with insects and larvae. Birds began feeding and breeding until the whole tree was a singing mass of fluttering creatures.
The symbol of the ‘Axis Mundi’ as a central pole extending between Heaven and Earth can be found in many cultures and religions. One of the best known of these is Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree of Norse mythology, whose roots, trunk and branches connect multiple realms of existence. Similarly, in Siberian shamanic cultures, the world tree represents a kind of ladder between lower, middle and upper worlds. Symbolic representations of the tree in the form of a ceremonial staff, a column of smoke or the vibrations of a drum, act as a ritual axis enabling the shaman to enter into states of non-ordinary reality to communicate with animal spirits and other sources of power.
Alban Wesly visited me in Manchester on 23 March 2012 to demonstrate the bassoon: the instrument is a long wooden tube that doubles back on itself, punctuated by a great number of holes and keys. The keys might be thought of as a quite complex ‘management system’ to resolve a natural out-of-tuneness but it was precisely the irregularities of intonation and colour in the bassoon that attracted my attention. Alban and I found a way of organising sounds which takes an ‘inside out’ view of the instrument: in thinking about each hole as a venting point governing the cycles of vibration inside the instrument, and then subtly changing the interaction of these vibrations by opening and closing parts of the acoustic chamber below the open hole, we arrived at a series of irregular scales. These scales are made up of differently sized microtonal intervals and changing ‘behaviours’. There are tones expressed in distinct timbres from bright to dark to fuzzy, and complex multiphonics ranging from highly dissonant rolling tones and roaring frictions to consonant harmonies. Some of the sounds are highly localised, gloriously emerging from the bell at the top of the bassoon or circulating in quite specific regions of the tube. These sonic ‘knots’ inside the vibrating hollow tube of the instrument form the musical material of Axis Mundi. The breath of the musician travelling the hidden pathways across and through these knots activates the many voices of a ‘singing tree’.
Commissioned by Ensemble musikFabrik with the assistance of the Ministry of Culture NRW and dedicated to Melvyn Poore. Premiere: 21 September 2014, Melvyn Poore, Warsaw Autumn Festival
Duration: approx. 7 minutes
The Green Lion Eats the Sun was written especially for Melvyn Poore and the double-bell euphonium that he developed in collaboration with the instrument builder Gottfried Büchel during 2011-12. ‘The Green Lion Devouring the Sun’ is one of the classic images of alchemy with a great variety of interpretations as to its possible meaning. The green lion usually represents a powerfully volatile corrosive agent (aqua regis) which swallows seven metals, even dissolving gold in a process of purification.
The solo work explores the sonic worlds of the two bells of the instrument: a muted bell is used to filter fragments of a carnival of sound that are played through the open bell. The muted echoes represent the level of our conscious knowledge that barely catches hold of a riot of activity arising and falling away at the pre-conscious level. Every now and then a more intense communication between the two sides occurs as the bells flutter open and closed.
Cikada Ensemble play Winding Bodies hcmf//2014_photo Maria Fonnelop
Winding Bodies: 3 knots (2014) for alto flute, bass clarinet, piano, percussion, Norwegian hardingfele (hardanger fiddle), violin, viola, ‘cello, double bass.
Dedicated to the Cikada Ensemble
Commissioned by the Cikada Ensemble with the generous assistance of the Norwegian Arts Council.
Premiere: 11 September 2014, Ultima Festival Oslo, Cikada Ensemble conducted by Christian Eggen. Other performances in 2014: Krakow, Klangspuren Schwaz, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
A knot is the magical image of time turned back on itself – think of a knot and you start thinking of the actions and process of tying it! The place where you were first finds itself next to where you will be next as you interlace a strand and pull it tight. A knot is a material technology for binding and unbinding through friction and tension and is also one of our oldest patterns for story-telling, memory-work, divination and magic. The properties that make a knot ‘knotty’, somehow also appeal to our story-telling instincts when we’re faced with paradoxes and problems intervening in a life of desires, curses, memory and loss. Winding Bodies: 3 Knots looks at the old Nordic tale of sailors ‘buying the wind’ tied in knots – untying the first knot would release a breeze, the second a strong wind and the third contained a hurricane which should never be untied… I would like to make a music that is similarly intertwining in nature, a music made up of a circulating meshwork of lines of activity in which one finds knots of stable coherence and knots that puzzle and confound; a music where knotting describes a poetics of bewilderment as much as of clarity, and where forms grow out of an attention to and fascination with the hurricane of waywardness that sits at the edge of where you think things are going, barely contained by a knot in a rope.
For 8 solo strings (3Vln, 2Vla, 2Vc, D bass)
Commissioned by Australian Chamber Orchestra/ANZ Bank
Written whilst composer-in-residence at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks House, Sydney
Premiere: 20 June 1996, Sydney, SCEGGS Hall
Australian Chamber Orchestra, conductor John Harding
Score (137405), Ricordi Milano
For baritone and percussion
Text by Li Shang yin (in Chinese)
Commissioned by Darmstardt Ferienkurse 1998
Premiere: 22 July 1998, Darmstadt, Orangerie
Kurt Widmer, baritone, Mircea Ardeleanu, percussion
Score (138286), Ricordi Milano
Li Shang yin (1993)
For Coloratura Soprano and 15 instruments
Text by Li Shang yin (in Chinese)
Ob, Cor Ang, Bsn, Cbsn, Sop Sax, Hn, slide Tpt, Tbn, Tuba, Harp, Vln, 2 Vla, 2 Vc
Commissioned by the Ensemble Intercontemporain
Premiere: 25 February 1994, Paris, Centre G. Pompidou
Ensemble Intercontemporain, soprano Françoise Kubler, conductor James Wood
Score (136298), Ricordi Milano
Touching on the shamanistic origins of performance (significantly an earlier work by Lim was based on a classical piece of mythic Greek theatre, the Oresteia), Moon Spirit Feasting is a frenetic helter skelter ride of anima-driven, procreative and mystical proportions. Mezzo soprano Melissa Madden Gray (as Queen Mother of the West and Demon Goddess) and the baritone Orren Tanabe (the Archer Hou Yi and Monkey King) contest differing versions of the legend of the Moon Goddess Chang-O (soprano Deborah Kayser). The performers seem possessed: vocal and physical virtuosi. The extravagantly kitsch, super-sensible realm of these vexatious gods makes us feel richly, positively, contradictorily human. And these are not just 9 musicians being conducted by the man 3 seats along, they are monks, ghosts and humans crying out in another and necessary voice. In contemporary chamber music style, the compelling, hybrid musical score uses Eastern and Western instrumentation to transport us from the bustling street to the stillness of the stars. The final, cosmic image of the Moon Goddess Chang-O brings us full circle back via Constance to Nora embodying a similarly solitary, ambivalent freedom.
Chinese ritual street opera in 7 parts For 3 singers, 9 instruments and live electronics.
Fl/Picc/Bass Fl, Cl/Bass Cl, Alto Sax/Bar Sax, Tpt/Flugel Hn, 2 Perc, Koto, Er-hu, Vc
Libretto by Beth Yahp (in English and Chinese).
Characters: Chang-O, soprano Queen Mother of the West, mezzo soprano, Hou Yi/Monkey King, baritone
Duration: 75′, Score (138448) Ricordi Milano
Jointly Commissioned by the Adelaide and Melbourne Festivals with support from the Major Festivals Initiative, the Australia Council and Arts Queensland
Premiere: 15 March 2000, Adelaide Festival, Torrens River barge
ELISION Ensemble, conductor Simon Hewett
Singers: Deborah Kayser, Melissa Madden Gray, Orren Tanabe,
Directed by Michael Kantor, stage designer Dorotka Sapinska,
choreographer Melissa Madden Gray
Adelaide Festival, 2000
Melbourne Festival, 2002
Hebbel Theatre Berlin, 2002
Zurich Theatre Spektakel, 2002
Saitama Arts Centre, Tokyo, 2002
Brisbane Festival, 2006
Memory theatre (opera) in 7 parts after Aeschylus
For 6 voices, 11 instruments and dancer
Libretto by Liza Lim and Barrie Kosky after Aeschylus, Sappho and Tony Harrison (in English)
For soprano, 2 mezzo soprano, counter tenor, tenor, baritone (mezzo soprano 2 also plays stage ‘cello) dancer (also vocalising), Fl/Picc, Ob/Cor Ang, Cl/Bass Cl, Tpt/Picc Tpt, Tbn. Turkish Baglama Saz (played by mandolinist) Electric Guitar, Perc, Vla/Vla d’amore, Vc, D bass
Duration: 75′, Score (136022), Ricordi Milano
Commissioned by ELISION; Premiere: 16 May 1993, Theatreworks, Melbourne
ELISION Ensemble and Treason of Images, conductor Sandro Gorli. singers: Jeannie van de Velde, Julie Edwardson, Deborah Kayser, Andrew Muscat Clark, Tyrone Landau, Grant Smith, dancer, Shelley Lasica. Directed by Barry Kosky, stage designer Peter Corrigan, choreographer Shelley Lasica
1. 7 Positions Of A Memory Theatre (Cassandra’s Dream Song)
2. Memory Spills From The Split Skulls Of Clytemnestra And Agamemnon
3. Cassandra-The Banquet
4. The Furies
5. Clytemnestra’s Ghost
6. Apollo’s Masque (The Missing ‘Satyr Play’)
7. Athena’s Trumpet