29 May 2014
Ablaze - inspired by fire and art
Work, pregnancy, new motherhood: life got very busy, and suddenly two years had passed since my last composition. I was very excited to pick up the pen again, in 2014, at the request of Cameron Lam, for an upcoming concert 'Ablaze' (6 June 2014). Celebrating five years of the concert/arts company Kammerklang, Ablaze will feature five composers - Sam Gillespie, Lucy Kong, Cameron Lam, myself, and Chris Williams - each paired with a visual artist. One past work and one new work will be presented by each contributor: the composers are basing their new pieces on past artworks, and the artists are basing their new pieces on past compositions.
I have been matched with artist Keith Chidzey. Chidzey is a sculptor, performance and installation artist who works with fire. I was offered his past Kammerklang fire/video artwork Phlogiston I (2009) as inspiration. This was originally shown at the first Kammerklang concert in conjunction with Cameron Lam's The Colour of Woods (2009) for marimba.
Lam's The Colour of Woods will be revisited at the upcoming concert, matched with a new artwork. Meanwhile, I've written Phlogiston (2014) for flute, clarinet and string quartet to complement Chidzey's work. I've based the music very closely on the visual structure of Chidzey's video artwork: the motif of a horizontal band from which flames emanate, above and below.
Chidzey and I met to discuss our work. I was floored by the apparatus he used to create the visual in the Phlogiston series, the Ruben's Tube: I hadn't seen this use of sound to shape fire before. The 'Phlogiston' theme is a happy coincidence: I had stumbled upon this debunked scientific theory randomly a few years ago and filed it away as a theme to visit some day in my music.
Chidzey's new fire-themed work for Ablaze is inspired by my past work Electro Fractal Gamelan (2011) for vibraphone and electronics. This is a 3-minute piece that was written in 2011 for a Kammerklang development project, Worship the Machine, which paired music with trapeze. Worship the Machine visited the idea of androids playing nostalgic music in some kind of wasteland, a theme which strongly influenced the sound world of this piece.
The electronic backing track to this work is based entirely on sine wave blips revolving around the harmonic series on A. There are eight lines, each cycling randomly through different octaves at double the rate of the previous, creating the effect of a very simple binary fractal.
To me, the binary rhythms and continuity of notes in the backing track evoke the sound of kotekan in Balinese gamelan, where two parts play interlocking patterns to produce a very rapid constant line. Even though the sound of the sine-blips is continuous, one begins to hear phantom rhythms, or 'resultant patterns' in the track. I wrote the vibraphone part by selecting a few such rhythms and allowing the player some choice in the pitches used to explore these growing rhythmic cells. While the backing track is fixed, each performance of this work on the vibraphone is likely to be unique.
Cameron Lam always brings energy, vision, generosity and warm hospitality - including delicious home-baked goodies - to his Kammerklang projects, and I'm really enjoying rehearsals so far, and looking forward to the complete showing of 10 compositions and 10 artworks on 6 June 2014.
© Australian Music Centre (2014) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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