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27 November 2019

Ensemble Three, Tim Dargaville and Transience

Ensemble Three: Don Immel, Joel Brennan, Ken Murray Image: Ensemble Three: Don Immel, Joel Brennan, Ken Murray  

'An inspiring example of forward-thinking classical music culture in Australia' (CutCommon), the Melbourne-based Ensemble Three has, over seven years, curated a growing collection of new works distinctive for its combination of trumpet (Joel Brennan), trombone (Don Immel) and guitar (Ken Murray), with live and pre-recorded electronics. Three's guitarist Ken Murray and composer Tim Dargaville met up to talk about their recent collaboration, Transience, which will be premiered by Ensemble Three on Tuesday 10 December at the Melbourne Recital Centre in the concert event 'Wet Ink'.

TD Ken, how did Ensemble Three come into being? What is the vision of the group?

KM Ensemble Three was formed at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music by Don Immel (trombone) and Joel Brennan (trumpet) in an effort to build the chamber music repertoire for brass. I joined the group not long after, initially on a temporary basis, and have been working with them for around seven years. Originally Don and Joel were going to rotate the third member of the group with someone on a different instrument each year, but we found that there was interest from both audiences and composers in our unusual combination of instruments. From the beginning our aim was to work closely with composers and to embrace a wide range of styles and approaches to performance and creation of new music.

TD The ensemble has a very distinctive sound world. How would you explain your approach in this area?

KM I guess there's no obvious way to write for trumpet, trombone and guitar so each piece written for us has been very different. I am always aware of not wanting to simply be the accompanist in the group so I work with each composer to explain the equipment I have available and to share a few tips on writing for the guitar. We work acoustically and electronically, with each player having the potential to be amplified, also including loop pedals, reverbs, pre-recorded soundscapes and other effects as an integral part of our set-up.

TD Tell me about the range of works the group has commissioned.

KM We've collaborated with both Australian composers and also international artists. This year we premiered a new piece written for us by internationally renowned Japanese composer Dai Fujikura. We also recently travelled to Princeton University in the U.S., premiering compositions written for us including Yihan Chen, Anna Meadors, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Lawrence Wilde. All these works are for amplified ensemble featuring brass and electric guitar.

The earliest works written for us were written by well-known Australian composers Katy Abbott, Andrew Batterham and Christian O'Brien and are featured on our first recording Midnight Songs (Tall Poppies). The next group of pieces expanded our vision of what the ensemble could do, coming from James Ledger, Andrew Ford, Wally Gunn and Chinese composer Fay Wang. We've been very lucky to have worked with such wonderful composers.

KM - Tim, your turn now - tell us about your recent creative work, and in particular about the music of Transience.

TD - I'm not sure if this newly created music could best be described as the result of an idea or an exploration of a condition. Ideas can appear to be fixed - apparently concrete and well formed. Musical compositions can also appear to be like this - recorded documents that are seemingly complete and preserved. And yet, to me, the musical experience is a condition that is beautifully transient, reaching beyond to a reality we cannot permanently hold. A rare, fleeting space to be present in.

Ironwood performing excerpts from Dargaville's The Book of Memory and Forgetting

A number of my recent works explore this creative tension between notions of permanence and impermanence. My recent PhD research into music composition contains a number of original works investigating this theme. Previous projects including the Kolam cycle and The Book of Memory and Forgetting (see: filmed excerpts on Youtube) are inspired by the ethos of the mandala - ritual containers for the making of meaning. In these works there is an increasing interest in the relationship between the forming and dissolving of musical ideas. Likewise an interest in creating musical expressions that integrate recurrent patterns and forms with transient gestures - the interplay of the familiar with the fleeting.

The genesis of this new work Transience dates back to a two-month period of travel in 2018 through radically different climates, seasons and environments in South India, Northern and Central Europe. Seldom have I been on the move so much. This experience of being continually transient during this period reminded me of how quickly we can adapt to being in motion, and that being sedentary and 'fixed' can seem illusory, and in fact, problematic. These thoughts were very much present as I was sketching musical ideas for the work during this time.

KM - You also use a combination of improvisation and composed music, and some of the time our sound world is extended with technology. Could you talk a bit about this?

TD The three movements of Transience contain fleeting moments in differing states of motion - from fragile stasis to sudden outbursts of high energy. Aspects of distance and echo are explored through players being separated spatially at times. There are moments of meeting and parting. Bursts of improvisation are incorporated into extended composed passages to heighten and dissolve the moment differently each time. Sometimes the native instrumental timbres of Ensemble Three are presented unadorned and raw, at other times technology is used to transform and disguise these colours to disorient and surprise. The use of looping in particular occurs as a way of catching a moment and rendering it as memory.

I sometimes consider this music as having a cloud-like nature, with wispy, recurrent forms gently floating, subtly changing shape. Or densely hovering - dark, stormy and threatening. In that sense listening to this sonic triptych could be felt as a parallel to the beauty of cloud watching. Like three ways of observing clouds.

The funding of the composition of Transience has been supported by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music's Director's writing-up award for exceptional doctoral research.

Further links

'Wet Ink', 10 December 2019, Melbourne Recital Centre - event details in the AMC Calendar. For bookings, see: Melbourne Recital Centre website.

Tim Dargaville - AMC profile

Ensemble Three (www.ensemblethree.com.au)

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