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28 April 2013

Gardens of Stone

Amanda Handel and Michael Jackson Image: Amanda Handel and Michael Jackson  

Amanda Handel writes about her Gardens of Stone project, a collaboration with didjeridu player Michael Jackson. The CD Gardens of Stone was released in 2012, and a live performance of this music will take place on 26 May in Penrith.

I have always been interested in music that explores the symbolic and contemplative aspects of sound. My Master's thesis Music of Balance: the Circle within the Square (2004) investigated this area extensively. In it I developed a method to capture time and to hold it in stasis by layering ostinato figures, pedals and drones.

The use of drones is something I find very powerful - drones create a time warp effect which evade the linear sequence of events in music. In my previous album Ghosts and Angels (2006) - a collaboration with electronic artist GL Seiler - drones determined the instrumental writing, and formed the basis of the sound design.

Like many other Australian composers, ultimately I have found myself drawn to the landscape. Living in the upper Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, I have visited some spectacular and remote places in the World Heritage Area. The physical exertion involved in walking through very high and deep country, and the reeling experience of vertigo when perched on the edge of a precipice are exhilarating and rewarding. Rough rock surfaces and smoothly flowing creeks have left an indelible impression on me which has eventually found its way into my personal world of sound.

I decided to start a new project to explore this. However, rather than painting or describing a landscape, I wanted to imbue the music with the physical sensations and timelessness encountered in these wild places. The techniques used in my previous research and recording projects seemed ideally suited for conveying these new ideas.

The didjeridu was an obvious choice of instrument - it is the perfect means to convey the timeless aspects of ancient Australian landscapes. I used the piano as I felt that this combination of instruments would create a new synergy.

I was fortunate to meet the extraordinary didjeridu player Michael Jackson, who happens to live around the corner from me. I was able freely to explore the interaction of sound through improvisation with Michael who plays didjeridus in eight different keys and the (melodic) didjeribone. This initial process enabled me to compose idiomatic music that transcended the use of the didjeridu as a novelty or token Australian instrument.

This project presented me with the challenge of writing interesting scores without the usual devices of harmonic progression and modulation. Instead, the music involves an intricate interplay between the two instruments using very specific placement of the didjeridu's natural overtones alternating with its bass fundamental, placed into the piano's chords and phrasing. The resulting harmonic structures contain many dissonant relationships to the fundamental fixed tone, which are assimilated seamlessly into the listening shape. There is a synthesis resulting from the resonant properties of each of the instruments which yields surprising textural, timbral and rhythmic effects.

My collaboration with Michael Jackson resulted in an album named after the Gardens of Stone National Park. The CD Gardens of Stone includes works similarly inspired by special places in the Blue Mountains and other natural phenomena. A performance of Gardens of Stone will take place at 3pm on Sunday 26 May at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith. Further information about the CD is available at www.gardensofstone.com.au and www.amandahandel.com.

Event details

Gardens of Stone
3 pm, 26 May at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith
Works by Amanda Handel, performed by Amanda Handel, piano, and Michael Jackson, didjeridus and didjeribone
All event details (AMC Calendar)

Further links

Amanda Handel - AMC profile
Gardens of Stone - CD details (AMC Online)
Audio: interview with Amanda Handel (Soundcloud, interviewer Jonathan Llewellyn)


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