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14 March 2013

Listening to wheelbarrows

MODART diaries 2013

Listening to wheelbarrows

Dylan Sheridan took part in the first stage of MODART13 composer development program in Annandale, Sydney on 25-28 February. His blog article continues our series of MODART diaries on Resonate. For more information about the program and its participants, and for more blogs, please see the MODART subpage.

My initial proposal for the Modart piece went something like this:

When I push a wheelbarrow around the garden I often feel that, amongst the squeaks and groans, I can hear the sound of some far-off song or melody. I can't actually hear a song of course, but I feel that it is there just on the edge of perception, and if I could hear it, it might be the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. The piece that I propose for Modart will be inspired by the quiet and austere sound world of the wheelbarrow, with delicate moments of harmony and melody which suddenly appear and then vanish just as quickly.

To be honest, I was quite unsure how the ensemble would respond to this sort of idea. It had, I thought, the potential to be quite beautiful, but at the same time there is perhaps an element of the absurd: something a little ridiculous about humans singing like squeaking wheelbarrows, and I was unsure if that would be appealing to them.

I was happy to find that the ensemble was very receptive to the idea, and a lot of time was spent (with my piece but also with the other pieces) engaging in conversations about the ideas. It was very important to the ensemble to know where the music was coming from and what it was trying to do. Once that was established, it was possible to talk about how the sounds worked to achieve that.

I came to realise, over the course of the week, what a luxury it was to be able to workshop the music we had all brought along. There were instances in my sketches where things were not quite working as they were written. Rather than dismissing the section altogether, Roland and the ensemble would try to uncover the musical idea, and often it was just a matter of making a few minor adjustments, such as swapping parts amongst the voices, changing register etc. There were also a lot of opportunities to try things various ways.

I was very glad that I hadn't been too set on any one idea before the workshops as I came away with a lot of new thoughts and ideas from both conversations with ensemble members as well as insights from the other composers. I also got as much out of observing the other composers' pieces being workshopped as I did during the session which focused on my work.

In the next stage of MODART it will be really interesting to see how the pieces have changed and developed in response to these initial workshops. I'm actually also very much looking forward to seeing what people come up with for the children's choir, which has a completely different set of challenges and expectations.

Further links

MODART composer development program (AMC Online)
The Song Company - MODART (www.songcompany.com.au)
'First week of MODART: what is in store?' - blog article by The Song Company's Clive Birch (www.songcompany.com.au)

Dylan Sheridan is a composer and sound artist from Tasmania.


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