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16 September 2020

Arcadia Winds & Lachlan Skipworth: Make Wind (Peggy Glanville-Hicks Commission)

Some of the youngest 'Make Wind' contributors with their homemade reed instruments. Image: Some of the youngest 'Make Wind' contributors with their homemade reed instruments.  

Kiran Phatak writes about Arcadia Winds' project 'Make Wind', realised in collaboration with composer Lachlan Skipworth. 'Make Wind' is one of 13 special Peggy Glanville-Hicks Commissions, a project initiated by the AMC in response to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the many wonderful things about live music is the visceral, personal connection between performers and audiences. Being in the same space, breathing together, hearing and feeling the sounds and sensations of the room and of that particular performance, combine to create this unique experience. It's something we have lost during lockdown, and it's precisely what we wanted to recapture through our project, 'Make Wind'.

In order to connect audiences around Australia with the physical and creative sensations of music-making, we wanted to invite them into every step in the process. So we hit upon the idea of teaching them how to make simple wind instruments at home, then play along in a brand new piece with us! This had many additional benefits, including educating people about how sound is produced on wind instruments, connecting them with the breath (a powerful calming tool during these stressful times), and involving them directly in the creation of a new work of art.

The first thing we had to decide was which home-made contraptions best reflected the experience of playing the instruments of the wind quintet. We had a lot of fun experimenting with different combinations of household objects, and by doing so we learned a lot about our own instruments and how to explain them to others.

The flute was the easiest to replicate, with bottles and tubes of different sizes, from wine bottles to pen lids, being the perfect simulations of the real thing. The method of sound production is strikingly similar, and all sorts of different articulations, dynamics, pitches and effects can be produced with relative ease. The oboe and bassoon were also fairly simple to imitate - by cutting notches and holes into the top and sides of a straw, you can create a tiny double reed instrument that has an impressive amount of projection and buzz! The clarinet was a little bit harder, with the single reed vibrating against another surface proving tricky to reproduce. We solved that problem by constructing an instrument using a piece of paper strapped between two paddle pop sticks - a single reed that would shriek raucously at a variety of different pitches depending of how hard the lips were squeezed together. Finally, we had a lot of fun coming up with all kinds of different ways to make a French horn out of everyday materials - from cardboard tubes and funnels, to hose pipes, to cannelloni pasta links taped together!

Now that we had found the instruments and sounds we wanted to use, the next step was to give them to a composer who was skilful and imaginative enough to create a piece of music with them. We thought our good friend Lachlan Skipworth would be the perfect person for the job. We have previously worked with Lachlan on his wind quintet, Echoes and Lines, and well as a variety of other works, and we are continually impressed by his wonderfully creative and sensitive handling of wind instruments. Luckily, Lachlan was excited by the project too, and, once he had an idea of the sounds we wanted to use, created a brilliant score, adapted to all levels of musical and instrumental ability. On one level, he created fully notated parts for all home-made instruments that could be played by those with some musical experience, and on another level, he built in sections of the score which could utilise any and all sounds that participants were able to produce.

Once all of this groundwork was laid, the rest of the project flowed naturally. Members of Arcadia Winds recorded demonstration videos of how to make and play these home-made instruments, and created play-along tracks to Skipworth's score. Lachlan wrote and recorded brilliant instructions of how to take part in his piece, as well as a guided click track that participants could use to lead them through the score. We then sent these videos out into the world, hopeful that people would be excited to 'Make Wind' at home.

We got a brilliant response from all around the country. Clever, creative Australians from Perth to Bega, the Gold Coast to the South Coast, watched these videos and had an absolute blast making and playing their own wind instruments. We had people from ages of 6 to 65 discovering their breath and wind music for the very first time, as well as music students and professionals experimenting with the kaleidoscopic variety of sounds they could create. These wonderful people then recorded themselves on video, and sent those videos to us. We took all of these sounds and moving images, combined, layered and mixed them in accordance with Skipworth's score, to create the final work you can watch today.

We are overjoyed with both the final product, as well as the experience of reconnecting with audiences around Australia. This project will not end here - the videos, tools and score can and will continue to be used in the future, from the classroom to the pool room! We would like to thank Lachlan Skipworth for taking all of our crazy ideas on board and turning them into something wonderful. We would also like to thank the Australian Music Centre for their support with this commission, and for supporting Australian music and artists during these unprecedented times. It means the world and has allowed us to continue to make art and connect with our audiences in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.

> Peggy Glanville-Hicks Commissions (AMC Online)

> Arcadia Winds: Make Wind - more information, including instructional videos on how to make instruments

Kiran Phatak is the Arcadia Winds' flutist.


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