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30 October 2011

MODART 2011: seven composers with remarkable stories to tell

MODART 2011: seven composers with remarkable stories to tell

The MODART11 program, with its workshops, rehearsals and final concerts, has been brought to a successful conclusion, with seven new works premiered in two concerts at Cockatoo Island in the beginning of October, followed by a studio recording at the ABC. Upholding the high standards established during previous instalments of MODART, some 'very outstanding work' was produced, according to the artistic director of The Song Company, Roland Peelman.

'Each of these composers, all under 30, already has a remarkable story to tell and has arrived at their craft from a different perspective', Peelman says. 'Leah Barclay abandoned traditional score composition years ago for electroacoustic work. Alex Van den Broek's background is jazz. Ekrem Mülayim is equally at home in theatre and music. Timothy Tate, Demian Galindo, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh and Tristan Coelho are more traditional composers developing their craft through dots on the page'.

Melbourne-based Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, an associate artist with the Australian Music Centre was attracted to the program because of glowing reports from MODART alumni, and arrived at the first workshop expecting 'an exhilarating, enriching, and perhaps information-overwhelming ride' - which is precisely what she got.

The idea behind her work /iu/ had been circling in her mind for a few years. 'It was a piece that was waiting to be written', she says. Attempts to turn the idea into a piece of instrumental music had been unsuccessful, however. A human voice and a meaningful text were needed to realise her idea of 'smooth, gradual transformation and "morphing"'.

'When I arrived in Sydney for the first session of the workshop in February, my drafts, if they could be considered as such, were more in the forms of "thoughts", than any musical sketches worth developing further. With help from the ensemble and Roland, I had the opportunity to re-examine these premature bits and pieces. I was at all times being encouraged to find ways to execute them, and ultimately to compose all of these "intentions" into one piece of work.'

Incorporating text into her composition is, according to the composer, a challenge. In /iu/, she chose not to work with an existing text but to construct her own by selecting sounds and working them into a meaningful context. She feels she also got a great deal out of observing how her fellow MODART participants set their texts, and how each of these works was rehearsed and developed.

'My general feeling towards working with text is one that is complicated (in a love/hate -kind-of way) and, more often than not, a situation of power struggle. A great text, when set to music, to me can easily become the "foreground" in which the composer's response is to draw inspiration, support the words and reiterate the meanings. It is for the composer to add, elaborate, partner, accommodate, and strengthen the words, and, ideally, not to overcast, or oppose or fight against them. Why would you go through so much work just to disagree?' she asks.

'Through MODART, I have definitely looked closer into setting texts than ever before, at both the macro- and microscopic levels.'

This kind of exposure is precisely what MODART is about. It assists composers at an important stage of their careers, and it also keeps the The Song Company well connected when it comes to the up-and-coming composer generation, according to Peelman.

'What matters to me is whether the experience can assist the composers in moving to the next stage as a composer/musician and whether there will be some long-term benefit to their careers, the health and sophistication of vocal writing and the industry as a whole, and of course also the Song Company's connection with the composer community.'

The different and informal venue at Cockatoo Island was a useful addition. 'I like a more informal venue for this project, just to leaven the "pressure" that can easily build up when you are doing a whole lot of new work at once. I think it is important that the experience is a positive one for all composers, and that all are taken equally seriously, regardless of whether they have produced a masterpiece or a colossal failure. I believe that emerging composers ought to be allowed a failure, if you want to call it that. There is a lot to be learnt from that!' he claims.

While MODART doesn't exactly aim at generating work that will stay in the repertoire, previous editions of the program have all acted as catalysts for new things, he points out.

'We have just made a studio recording of Katy Abbott's Words Of Wisdom - a work that was started as part of MODART03. It proved really successful as an idea. It received subsequent performances and now will appear on CD and through other media. Samson Young, from MODART05, is now established in Hong Kong as a composer/media artist of great promise, and we now talking about a new project. MODART07 triggered Chronology Arts; several participants from MODART09 moved on to international ventures or postgraduate study overseas - we remain in touch and I am sure that at some point we can work with them again.'

AMC resources

Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh - AMC profile
MODART diaries (Resonate blog): Leah Barclay, Tristan Coelho, Demian Galindo, Annie Hsieh, Ekrem Mülayim, Timothy Tate and Alex Van den Broeck.

Further links

The Song Company (www.songcompany.com.au)
Samson Young (www.thismusicisfalse.com)
Chronology Arts (www.chronologyarts.net)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Anni Heino is a Finnish-born journalist and musicologist, and the editor of Resonate magazine.


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