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15 March 2023

Lisa Illean: Finding Our Voice

Lisa Illean Image: Lisa Illean  

AMC Associate Artist Lisa Illean is the composer of one of eight new Australian music works commissioned by Finding Our Voice, a project supporting the creation of new works to be performed in different venues across the country.

Based in the UK, Lisa will be in Australia for the world premiere of this new work at the Melbourne Recital Centre in April. Emma McGrath (violin/director), Aura Go (piano), Tilman Robertson (sound), and musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music are set to perform Lisa's new work, arcing, stilling, bending, gathering.

Ahead of the premiere performance, we caught up with Lisa to find out more about her latest work, and upcoming projects.

Your work, arcing, stilling, bending, gathering is premiering soon at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Can you tell us about how this work came about?

arcing, stilling, bending, gathering is a commission from Finding Our Voice/UKARIA for piano, a string ensemble of 12 players and pre-recorded sounds. The concept and instrumentation grew out of work I had been making through a residency with Experimentalstudio des SWR when I first chatted with Genevieve Lacey a couple of years ago. Very happily, Finding Our Voice were up for it! The pre-recorded sounds were made with my long-time collaborators here, Explore Ensemble, and were recorded in Oxford by David Lefeber. Predominantly string quartet samples, the pre-recorded material extends string playing into the realm of the speculative. The ensemble of 12 strings players is arranged into three string quartets: two of standard instrumentation and a third with a double bass and violins/viola retuned to unique non-tempered tunings.

The title of the piece sounds like it might be allusive to instrumental gestures - is that something that is explored in the piece? What other themes and concepts do you explore in this work?

I was interested in the small, essential stuff… Of moments of unexpected kindness and tenderness; of coincidences, of perceptual minutiae - a shift in focus or hue -, and of melodies only perceived in part. Among many things I had in mind two films by Sergei Eisenstein which capture fleeting reflections in glass shop windows - they are equally mundane, intimate and mesmeric. I ask for the music to be performed with an intensely quiet focus, forming transparent sheets of sound and evoking an intermingling of distant sounds - music heard partially and far away. Formally, musical fragments surface in unfolding patterns of convergence, resembling the orbits of celestial bodies. The title grew out of contemplating curved forms, moving from the vast arcing movement of the spheres - the rising of the sun to it's setting - to the tender elliptical embrace of a mother gathering a child into her arms.

You're known for creating acoustic and acousmatic music and working with non-tempered tuning systems. How would you describe the sound world of this piece, and how does it develop from your existing body of work?

The piece is an invitation to listen to music differently - perhaps more like the way one might if they were walking and listening closely to environmental sounds.

It is all about sound in flux, and layers of sound heard only in part. It is also about the details - about a multitude of small changes in articulation and tone colour.

These are sonic ideas that I find myself returning to again and again.

An incredible list of artists is on the concert program, including pianist Aura Go and Tilman Robinson on electronics. Can you tell us about your experience collaborating with these performers in bringing this piece to life?

I'm thrilled to be working with Aura and Tilman, as well as Emma McGrath (leading) and I can't wait to be in room together in April. In arcing, stilling, bending, gathering much of the virtuosity resides in the interaction of five sub-groups within the ensemble, requiring an acute awareness of balance, timing and tuning as each group's musical fragments surface and recede. This kind of music is challenging but fantastic because it shifts the emphasis away from the page - it simply doesn't work without remarkable listening and communication.

Do you have any projects in the works or new music we can listen out for?

At the moment I'm working on a piece for orchestra and pre-recorded sound, and a work for solo piano. And new additions to the Tiding series soon.

arcing, stilling, bending, gathering is commissioned by Finding Our Voice and UKARIA, and presented by Melbourne Recital Centre as part of New Music Days 2023. More info and concert details.

Finding Our Voice is a commissioning project, supported by UKARIA, Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund, an Australian Government initiative, and the following individuals and foundations: Ulrike Klein AO, Berg Family Foundation, The Yulgilbar Foundation, The Aranday Foundation, Playking Foundation and Julie Kantor AO.

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