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4 August 2009

Sounding out Sounding Out

From the left: Lisa Cheney, Liam Flenady and Timothy Tate Image: From the left: Lisa Cheney, Liam Flenady and Timothy Tate  

In the 21st century, it is often difficult - and at times seemingly close to impossible - for young Australian musicians to make a break on the music scene and establish themselves as serious artists. Yet this issue has not fazed three upcoming Queensland Conservatorium students: last year, Lisa Cheney, Liam Flenady and Timothy Tate decided to organise annual concerts of their own compositions.

'It started out of a necessity,' recalls Lisa, who was a fourth-year Bachelor of Music student in 2008 and has recently graduated from the Conservatorium. 'As part of your fourth-year folio, you have to have one recording. We had to write four 15-minute works for chamber orchestra, and I looked around at Liam (the only other fourth-year student) and thought, 'This is going to be insane. How are we going to get recordings of chamber orchestra works?' So we thought we should do it together. And then we looked at Tim who was two years below us.'

Liam, also a recent graduate, agreed. 'We thought that we needed to start really doing things ourselves. In terms of getting things performed, doing our own marketing, organisation, getting all the musicians ourselves, organising rehearsals, getting the conductor to do what we wanted to do... we were already 20 or 21 and had minimal experience in that area.'

From the very beginning, they were adamant the first concert would not be their last. Tim, who is now in his third year of a Bachelor of Music, explains: 'Instead of just putting on one concert, we decided we should call it the 'Sounding Out Composers' Collective' and really start trying to put more concerts on for the students here at the Conservatorium, and of course outside the Conservatorium and around Australia - that's the aim!'

As expected, staging such a concert provided the composers with invaluable lessons. 'It was such a great experience. You actually learn about the organisational processes and organising musicians, which is a lot harder than it sounds!' Tim comments. 'It's lifelong bonds with musicians,' adds Lisa. 'Nothing is going to fall on your plate - you might get lucky, but 99% of the time it's through a contact. '

Putting on any concert has its difficulties - a major dilemma with a concert consisting entirely of new compositions is the stigma still sometimes attached to the term 'new music'. 'I'm against and for the title of new music,' debates Tim. 'New music can be music that was written 50 years ago but you're hearing for the first time. New music I suppose is a label for the "weird stuff"' I tell people, "It's not new music, it's contemporary music - it's music of our time".'

Overcoming this stigma is a major focus of the 2009 Sounding Out Composers' Collective, to be held on 6 August at the Queensland Conservatorium. 'Personally what I feel is we're trying to educate the performers about what new music is, and what contemporary music is being produced by composers. And I suppose for the audience (and the broader community), it's trying to show who we are and that we're actually serious about the music that we're presenting', Tim explains.

'This year, we're going for the number seven - I thought it was a little bit catchy, a marketing tactic - so seven instrumentalists, seven composers and works around seven minutes,' describes Lisa. The other four composers - A. Stefan Mashor, Melody Eötvös, Reilly Smethurst and Codie Childs - were determined through the call for scores as advertised by Lisa through the Australian Music Centre and the Australia Council. 'What I'm really hoping is that we can pull someone in who's not at the Con, so that we're starting to get our names and our music heard elsewhere.'

Another major change to Sounding Out in 2009 is the integration of electroacoustic music into the concert. Liam explains that the music technology composers will 'feed the previous performances straight into a laptop and program, and they'll be able to comment on it in real time - the audience can hear their reinterpretation of that piece.' 'We're trying to blend the acoustic (if you can put a label on it - the traditionally scored music with instruments) with the electroacoustic, so we can bridge music technology with composition, which I feel is very important, especially in this day and age,' says Tim. 'We hope to really introduce the audience into the world that is music technology, because it's mainly viewed as I suppose DJ-ing and "mash-ups". We're trying to encourage the audience to be open to those sounds as well as the traditionally acoustic instrumental sounds.'

Yet even these 'acoustic instrumental sounds' will be quite different from the previous year's chamber orchestra setting. 'This year we want to try a more eclectic group of instruments - more of a modern edge,' describes Liam. 'There will be a couple of woodwinds but also a saxophone (predominantly soprano saxophone), a trombone, a viola and double bass, and a percussionist. Things like alto flute will feature more - we'll have an ensemble that, by its very nature, is going to have new sounds.'

The 2009 Sounding Out concert promises a wealth of experiences and opportunities for the composers, yet their focus is centred around the benefit to others. 'We want to inject life into the Brisbane new music scene,' explains Lisa. 'As much as we learnt, I want to give that back. We haven't made it yet, so we still want to write music and get it performed, but I certainly want to encourage anyone else, no matter where they are - to give them a go as well as to learn.'

Event details

Sounding Out Composers' Collective: The New Chamber Concert
6 August 2009, 6.30pm
Ian Hanger Recital Hall, Queensland Conservatorium, Brisbane, QLD
More events details: AMC Calendar

Further links

Sounding Out Composers' Collective (http://www.soundingout.com.au)

Claire Tomlin is a Master of Music student at the Queensland Conservatorium, majoring in clarinet and researching Australian music. Last year she completed a Bachelor of Music in Advanced Performance (Honours) and earlier in 2009 participated in the Australian Youth Orchestra's Words About Music program. She hopes to pursue a career in writing about music.


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