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21 August 2009

Butterley's work included in 'Sounds of Australia'

Butterley receives his Prix Italia in 1966 Image: Butterley receives his Prix Italia in 1966  
© Image courtesy of Nigel Butterley

Nigel Butterley's work In the Head the Fire (1966) is among the ten recordings added recently to the National Film and Sound Archive's 'Sounds of Australia' registry, Arts Minister Peter Garrett announced earlier this week. The first Australian classical composition to win the Prix Italia, In the Head the Fire has been described as 'a piece of unmistakable importance both for its composer's output and for Australian music as a whole' (Elliott Gyger in his article in 2008). Butterley's musical collage, commissioned by the ABC, won the prize ahead of Luciano Berio's work Laborintus II, as Gordon Kerry points out in his recent book New Classical Music.

Butterley himself assembled texts from the Latin Mass, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Irish mystical poetry (from which the title is taken) and other passages in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. The component parts are woven into a dramatic arch form of about 30 minutes' duration. Over several months, nearly 100 separate recordings were made in Sydney and Adelaide, supervised by conductor John Hopkins and the cream of the ABC's technical engineers at the time. Although scored for vocal soloists, a small chorus and 23 instrumentalists, the effect of vast multitudes is achieved by multi-layering of tapes. The final tape comprised five separate but concurrent tracks. Although originally released in mono, the tape was re-mastered in stereo and issued for commercial release in 1968. Listen to a 30-second sample of the work (mp3 audio).

The NFSA's Sounds of Australia project was launched in 2007 with a foundation list of ten sounds, and since then the Australian public has been invited each year to add to the register. Other, new additions to the list include the 'Happy Little Vegemites' jingle, Helen Reddy's feminist anthem 'I am Woman', a recording from 1925 by the Newcastle Steelworks Band, a blues recording by Georgia Lee, and Yothu Yindi's 'Treaty' hit from 1991. To listen to samples of these and other Sounds of Australia recordings, please visit the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia website. On the same website, you can also nominate your favourite sounds to be included in 2010.

The announcement of new inclusions to the Sounds of Australia list took place during the National Film and Sound Archive's annual Sound Day on Tuesday 18 August 2009. A new, related NFSA initiative is a sound garden, created by artists William Duckworth and Nora Farrell. The garden combines sound, art and technology, and allows visitors to listen to the sounds 'planted' in the garden, to 'prune' them and even add their own sounds.

Further links

Sounds of Australia website (www.nfsa.gov.au/whats_on/soundsofaustralia/)
Nigel Butterley - AMC (www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/artist/butterley-nigel)
Nigel Butterley - personal homepage (www.nigelbutterley.info/)
Elliott Gyger's article about Nigel Butterley on Resonate

Subjects discussed by this article:

As a national service organisation, the Australian Music Centre is dedicated to increasing the profile and sustainability of Australian composers and other creative artists. The AMC facilitates the performance, awareness and appreciation of music by these artists through: composer and other creative artist representation and assistance; resonate – its online magazine; library and retail services; sheet music publishing; and the management, administration and publication of project-based initiatives. Its library collection holds over 30,000 items by more than 500 artists.


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