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11 February 2009

The MODART diaries, part I

The MODART diaries, part I

The fourth edition of the Modart project - a composer development initiative by AMC and The Song Company - was set in motion in Sydney at the beginning of February. The nine participants will document their experiences on resonate by submitting short project diaries. In part one of The Modart Diaries, Lachlan Skipworth describes how the first workshop with The Song Company made him reconsider some aspects of his composition.

From the moment The Song Company began singing, it became apparent that they are not so much a company as a family. Each member knows their voice and exactly how it blends with the other individual voices within the group. The resultant sound is balanced and pure, even when sight-reading our works for the first time. This only reinforced what we felt on being selected to be a part of the MODART program – we were in for something special.

In preparation, there were two important things we had to do as composers. Firstly, we had to get to know the existing repertoire, which involved an amount of time at the library immersed in scores and recordings. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we had to choose a text. This was crucial, as it was the starting point for deciding what kind of piece we wanted to write.

I chose a text by the Japanese calligrapher Mitsuo Aida whose work had moved me during a visit to a museum dedicated to his works in Tokyo. Aida's works are almost childlike in their appearance and register, but the simplicity encapsulates a power far beyond the sum of its components. Capturing this in the music was going to be a difficult proposition, so I was a little apprehensive about trying out my collection of unfinished sketches out at the workshop.

Fortunately, we were in the capable hands of Roland Peelman, who possesses the wonderful ability to look at a score and immediately discern the composer's intention. This means that the wealth of useful ideas he airs are very well directed to the musical point we are trying to achieve.

The discussion about my work quickly came to an exploration of the true meaning of the text, causing me to rethink my approach and to search for a way in which my musical ideas could better reflect that meaning. On a technical level, the input of the singers was very helpful in regard to range and also in an instance where one part was too exposed to achieve the balanced sound I desired.

Finally, just hearing the work sung gave me the opportunity to gauge the success of the sounds and effects I used in my sketches and improve them where necessary. I'm sure the other composers and I will all use the coming weeks to forge our initial ideas into strong works, and wait in anticipation of the next round of workshops and the final performances in July.

Further links

Melbourne concert details (18 July) - AMC calendar
Sydney concert details (19 July) - AMC calendar
Modart 2009 (www.amcoz.com.au/projects/modart/modart2009.htm)
The Song Company (http://www.songcompany.com.au/)
The Modart Diaries, part II - Amy Bastow (www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/the-modart-diaries-part-ii.html)
The Modart Diaries, part III - Melody Eötvös (http://www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/the-modart-diaries-part-iii.html)
The Modart Diaries, part IV - Rae Howell (www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article/the-modart-diaries-part-iv.html)
Article on the Sounz website by the NZ participant Alex Hay (http://sounz.org.nz/news_articles/show/162)
Lachlan Skipworth - MySpace page (www.myspace.com/lachlanskipworth)


Lachlan Skipworth is a Sydney-based composer, originally from Perth. He studied composition with Roger Smalley and Anne Boyd, and spent two and a half years in Japan learning Shakuhachi with Kakizakai Kaoru and revered master Yokoyama Katsuya. Skipworth was a featured composer at the 2008 World Shakuhachi Festival in Sydney. His music has been presented by Sydney's 'Chronology Arts' organisation, with whom he has also appeared as a guest conductor. In late 2009, Skipworth will spend three months in Tokyo as part of the Asialink Arts Residency Program.


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