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13 March 2013

Composing in the Wilderness

Denali National Park, summer 2012

Scott McIntyre in Alaska Image: Scott McIntyre in Alaska  

Scott McIntyre took part in the 2012 Composing in the Wilderness field seminar in Alaska. The next seminar will take place in July 2013.

After a gruelling 31 hours and four flight changes in various cattle class seats, I arrived into Fairbanks International Airport at 11.30pm. I could have been forgiven for being mistaken about the time, had I read my phone as 11.30am, as it was broad daylight with no sign of the sun setting anytime soon. It would be explained to me, later, that at this time of the year the sun would be up until about 1am, dip slightly, bathing the region in twilight, and then dipping back up at about 3am to continue another 22-hour vigil. I really felt I had arrived in the Arctic, despite being just a few degrees below the actual polar boundary, 65 degrees N was the furthest north I had ever been.

After a night in the dorms at Fairbanks University we toured the local natural history museum, where we got to see and hear an amazing sound installation by the composer John Luther Adams that reacted to physical/environmental/weather data in real-time and then processed this into a sound installation. A couple of hours drive to Glitter Gulch, and then onto the Murie Centre for Sciences located just inside the Denali National Park. My previous journey was beginning to catch up with me, and I'm afraid I slept through most of the concert that night which was presented as part of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

After a good night's sleep it was onto our camp located at the 29-mile marker of the only road through Denali National Park. We had a crash course in bear safety and then onto our first hike. It was a fairly gentle affair though spruce forest, up hills and then through soft spongey tundra.

We then finally got to do what we had all travelled across the globe to do. Nine composers (seven from the US, two from Australia, including myself) had come here to participate in a unique experiment. We would hike across the wilderness in Denali National Park, set against the backdrop of some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Allowed only pencil and paper, we explored various locations during the next four days, workshopped ideas in the yurt on those long-lit evenings, and returned exhausted and unwashed to Fairbanks University. We had only 12 hours to write our pieces and prepare our scores for our assigned performers.

Many of us burned the midnight oil that night, and all of us made the deadline. The enthusiasm and standard of musicianship from the performers (all students at the Music Department at Fairbanks University) was amazing, and the concert presented only two days later was our reward after a week of frenzied creativity. I myself don't usually write pieces for up to four players in a matter of days, but the experience of being in such a picturesque wilderness must have left its mark. I recommend to anyone thinking about this workshop to find a way and enrol. You won't regret it and you'll also get to make some good friends along the way.

Further links

Composing in the wilderness - seminar details and registrations
Scott McIntyre - homepage

Scott McIntyre completed his Master's degree in composition at the University of Melbourne in 2009, and is now doing his PhD in composition at the University of Tasmania. His music has been performed by Michael Kieran Harvey, Barrie Webb, Arditti String Quartet, Michael Lampard, Silo String Quartet and the Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras.


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