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17 June 2016

Five questions to Andrew Aronowicz

Five questions to Andrew Aronowicz

In the final weekend of June, the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne will play host to a musical garden. Forest Collective presents Blackbird in the Garden, a collaborative work bringing together music and dance around Andrew Aronowicz's flute miniature series Following the Blackbird. In the lead-up to their performances, flautist Naomi Johnson sat down with Andrew to chat about music, collaboration and unlikely opportunities.

Andrew's work Strange Alchemy was one of three Australian works selected for the prestigious International Composers Rostrum in May 2016 - the work is currently available for listening on ABC Classic FM's New Waves podcast.

Naomi Johnson: One of the striking things about your pieces is that they always come with such beautiful titles and elegant ideas. What comes first in your compositional process, the music or the concept?

Andrew Aronowicz: I'll admit that my music is usually very concept-driven. I'm highly motivated by extra-musical source materials - art, literature, poetry, philosophy, even architecture and space. But also less cultivated stimuli, like basic conversations, and the natural world.

I find that titles either come at the beginning of the compositional process and drive the work, or I'll be agonising over them at the end when the piece is nearly complete and ready to hand to the performers. With Following the Blackbird, which is the work being explored in this upcoming project, the idea for the title really came from you, Naomi!

NJ: It did! The title just seemed to draw together so many creative ideas we'd discussed. In Blackbird in the Garden, we're returning to a 2014 miniature series for flute and live electronics. What were the seeds of this concept?

AA: Back in 2014, you and I had been hoping to collaborate for some time, and you asked me to compose a series of miniatures. At some point along the way, I developed this idea of a musical garden, where each miniature would represent some feature, or some floral specimen, that you might be able to explore in a less-confined space than a concert stage. I liked the idea of you moving throughout the space, as you progressed from one miniature to another.

You'll remember that, to inspire the miniatures, I asked you for pieces of writing and artworks that you held dear to you so that I might be able to develop a short work for flute based on each of them. The hope was to make the piece very personal and specific to you.

The idea to incorporate electronics came from a performance you gave of Kaija Saariaho's flute and electronics work, Laconisme de l'aile. The processing of the flute in that piece was absolutely beautiful, and something I really wanted to explore in Following the Blackbird. I'm really pleased that I've invited composer Elliott Hughes to help realise the electronics in this project - he's bringing some wonderful ideas to the table, and has really helped to transform my ideas about the sound into a programmable reality.

NJ: Both the process of writing this piece back in 2014, as well as preparations for the upcoming concerts, have been highly focused on collaboration. Why is this process important for modern composers?

AA: I'm realising more and more just how important collaboration is, and not just for contemporary composers but contemporary art makers in general. I spend a lot of my time on my own in my private studio. This kind of working is obviously necessary and important, but I think tricks you into believing that you need to be completely self-sufficient as an artist and not rely on others for assistance or ideas. Really, the opposite is true. After a while, I think you need to trust in your own craft that you've cultivated in isolation, and then be comfortable experimenting with it in a collaborative environment. I've learnt so much about my music seeing it danced to - about the lines and the gestures that I use. It's been a joy watching it transform as well, which one art form seems to do when it's combined with another.

NJ: Following the Blackbird as an idea is incredibly flexible - you could adapt it for a whole range of different performance situations. Do you have any idea where we might take the piece next?

AA: I suppose I'm really keen to work with an installation artist, at some point. I would love to be able to work towards creating a space that our audience, as well as the performers, could explore. There's possibly even scope to perform the work outside, in an actual garden. Those are just my ideas though - I'd love to hear what you've got in mind!

Budgets and timelines being what they are, we've had to keep the project a bit more limited this time around. I suppose there's also a risk in overloading the senses with too many stimuli. In our piece, we're relying a lot on the music and dance triggering our audience's imagination, which in many ways is enough to make a really interesting piece.

NJ: Your orchestral work Strange Alchemy, was recently selected as the Under 30s Australian contribution to the International Rostrum of Composers in Poland. Could you tell us a little about the piece and what it felt like to be part of such a prestigious forum?

AA: I composed Strange Alchemy as part of the 2013-2014 MSO Cybec 21st Century Composers Program. The piece is an exploration of orchestral transformations, and how they might be imagined as chemical, or alchemical, reactions. In the piece, thread-like melodies emerge from dreamy, gas-like atmospheres, and eventually collect together to form solid masses of orchestral sound.

I was very pleased with the work when it was composed, and very chuffed when it was chosen to be performed in the 2014 Metropolis Festival at the Melbourne Recital Centre. I suppose the Rostrum selection was just the cherry on top. I was so pleased to have my music considered, let alone chosen as the Under 30 entry. It's such a wonderful opportunity, to have one's music shared with radio broadcasters from around the world - I feel very blessed.

Forest Collective presents Blackbird in the Garden at the Oratory, Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne from June 24th to 26th. Blackbird in the Garden is supported by Creative Partnerships Australia through MATCH.

Further links

Event details and ticket information (24-26 June, AMC Calendar)

Andrew Aronowicz - homepage (www.andrewaronowicz.com)

Naomi Johnson - homepage (naomijohnson.com.au)

Forest Collective - homepage (www.forestcollective.com.au)


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