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6 February 2008

New Music, Clarinets and Secret Fetishes

Richard Haynes Image: Richard Haynes  
© Jake Turner

The program for clarinettist Richard Haynes’s upcoming gig with the Melbourne-based organisation Aphids is deliberately tantalising. Titled Listen my Secret Fetish, the program includes works for clarinet and operating table, leather, watersports and a 44-gallon drum.

At only 24, Haynes has already made a name for himself as freelance musician in the areas of performance, improvisation and composition. He has collaborated with ensembles and artists including Ensemble Modern, musicFabrik, ELISION and Mark Knoop, and has performed in Australia, the USA, Europe and New Zealand.

From February 7-10 Haynes will be performing Listen my Secret Fetish in Melbourne as part of the Midsumma Festival 2008. Rhiannon Cook chats to Richard about the project and his approach to learning new works.

Rhiannon Cook: Can you tell me how the idea for this concert has evolved?

Richard Haynes: It started when David Young [director of Aphids] and I began discussing an idea I’ve had about writing a series of ‘fetish’ pieces for solo instruments. I’d been thinking about how you could harness some of the characteristics of various instruments. Not in really literal or obvious ways, but beneath the surface.

In some ways I was partly inspired by a friend of mine in the United States, a cellist who plays and sings simultaneously. Listening to her and watching her, I thought that the hands, voice, movement and playing of the musician could invoke a certain ‘act of fetish’, while the musician remains somehow detached from the proceedings. I’m really interested in the theatrical aspects of pieces, and how the music functions within that.

In some ways this concert is part of the research and preparation for those self-composed works I still plan to write some time. But at the moment I’m too geographically unstable to build the connections I’d need with performers.

RC: How have you approached this performance, described in the press release as ‘part-concert, part installation, part-club experience’?

RH: In this concert I’ve taken four pieces, and submitted them all to a certain ‘fetishisation’. I’m not changing the musical material as such, but I’m enhancing the presentation. I’m not doing this to try and make it more accessible in any way, but am hopefully adding another intellectual yet captivating layer to the music.

The performance also moves away from the idea of a typical concert. It will take place in The Loft in Chapel Off Chapel and there won’t be traditional seating or a typical concert atmosphere. There will be four installations corresponding to each of the four pieces, and each creates a physical environment in which the works can be performed and interpreted.

RC: To what extent have you collaborated with the composers?

RH: Well, I haven’t, not really. In each case I had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do with the piece. But all the composers are aware of what’s happening, and two of them will be there for the performance.

The only composer with whom I’ve really collaborated is David Young, who’s written a new piece especially for this performance. In talking about the project, we discussed what kind of fetish he wanted to approach musically. I gave him the ‘instrumentation’ of clarinet, urine, 44-gallon drum and amplification, and off he went.

Also, as a result of this project one of the other composers, Chris Dench, has suggested writing a new theatrical performance piece for me.

RC: Why do you choose to perform contemporary music?

I think I’m quite rare in that I’ve actually been performing contemporary music all my life – from early high school. This is something that, through AMEB, AYO, the state youth orchestras and music programs in high schools, does seem to be slowly changing though and is less rare these days.

So it seemed, in many ways, a natural thing to do. I just don’t have a great deal of interest in rehashing pieces written centuries ago, or even those written in much of the 20th Century, and contributing to the museum of classical music. I’m more interested in the way contemporary music reflects our lives today, and in exploring connections between life and music written now.

RC: Do you feel that performing contemporary music enables you to be more creative?

RH: Yes. You can be creative when performing music of any kind; it’s just that the weight of history behind a piece limits how experimental you can be in your interpretation of it. With contemporary music there aren’t so many preconceived ideas when it comes to the staging of the work, you’re not limited by hundreds of years of history. When you’re presenting something new, or even unplayed, you can really experiment and be innovative in the way you perform the work.

RC: What is the role of the performer as you see it?

RH: I feel that the performer has a great deal of responsibility to be accurate and proactive in presenting new music. They need to make sure that every performance is 100% convincing because they share the responsibility in bringing the piece to life.

The composer also has a responsibility to be professional in meeting deadlines and in creating scores that are readable and in communicating with the performer. I’m really interested in collaborations between the two. I like sitting down with the composer and working together to create a piece.

In this project I’m trying to present the music as accurately and beautifully as possible, and I’m also adding a provocative layer to the music.

RC: How do you generally go about learning the music for a new performance?

RH: It’s a slow process, particularly in a work like Barrett’s which is intricate and quite complex. I tend to work in layers. I start very slowly, just looking at the pitch content and trying to get my head around where the sound is going. I then work on bringing the rhythm and the pitch together and then start to add in the textural elements such as articulation and extended techniques.

Richard Barrett’s work has been particularly challenging to prepare because it also has a vocal part. I’m not a vocalist, although I’m very happy exploring this area of performance. I’ve had singing lessons in preparing for the concert and have had to practise learning how to sing microtonally.

I sometimes draw up big graphs of the music on A3 sheets of paper and stick them on the wall so that I can understand the structure of the music and look at the overall shape of the work. I also deconstruct complex bars of music on them, pulling apart the irrational rhythms and coming to an understanding of how they interlock.

RC: Can you tell me a little bit about each of the four works you’re going to be performing?

RH: Interference by Richard Barrett is for voice, bass drum and clarinet. To me, it’s fraught with sexual politics. The score specifies a male performer, but the vocal part really uses the entire range of the voice; hence the idea of the transgender performer.

The next work is Chris Dench’s the sadness of detail. I think that Chris’s music would have to be some of the most beautiful contemporary music that I know. He has these beautiful organic sounding phrases, with intricate melodies and often a vibrant animalistic atmosphere. This work is being performed by a very innocent nymph-like character – perhaps a young nubile being who’s about to be experimented on. The piece is, in a way, a reverie before the event, or sex-act, that’s about to take place.

David Lang’s press release is a very masculine work with incessant slap tonguing on the bass clarinet; I’ve implied a weird ascension of a male character, perhaps out of the filth of the rest of the show...

David Young’s piece is called Breath Control and that’s pretty much exactly what it is. And that in itself is a type of fetish. It employs constant circular breathing. I don’t want to say too much about the watersports (the practice of ingesting, excreting or enjoying the presence of urine during sex) but let’s just say that they give the work an additional theatrical element…

Performance Details

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Rhiannon Cook has been involved in the new music community as a composer, teacher and writer. Now working in community development, she continues to contribute as a freelance writer.


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New Music, Clarinets and Secret Fetishes

So who in Melbourne managed to get to Richard's gig? And what did you think?


Yea, I thought it was a great way to perform a set of contemporary works.

Twas also quite interesting the way in which each piece (set of 4) was portrayed which made the audience both laugh and look away. They were all linked by the pre-recorded audio phrase "It feels like...." repeated maybe 10 times, ending usually in an adjective.

And what fantastic technique!

Star performance

I saw the final performance in Melbourne of the Aphids' mentored "Fetish" show and thought it was excellent. Richard, as is widely acknowledged, remains, one of the greatest advocates for new music, not merely because of his core abilities as a player, nor the dashing good looks, but that above all he really really wants to perform new music as much as composers want to write it. The highlight work for me was the Richard Barrett, brilliantly framed as a nude silhouette with marching girl hat and feather boa - it shouldn't work, but it really does. David Young's graphic score work was a sublime watercolour, a very effective and subtle work in Richard's hands - I admire any performer that can circular breath and urinate at the same time - and the Chris Dench piece was a lyrical and transformative aural journey, all glad wrapped, leaf strapped. The linking voice-overs for me were the only ineffective part of the experience - but on the whole, as a piece of performance art and new music, Richard, and of course the Aphid's mentors David Young and Margaret Cameron deserve highest praise.

Sorry, this sounds like a review rather than a post - but i was super-impressed with "Listen: my secret fetish" and felt compelled to comment so.