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9 August 2011

MODART diaries 2011 - Leah Barclay

Leah Barclay Image: Leah Barclay  

This year is the 5th edition of MODART, the biennial professional development program, initiated by The Song Company and the Australian Music Centre. The participants of MODART workshops discuss their experiences in their diaries - for more MODART blog articles and information about the program and its participants, please see the MODART web page on AMC Online.

MODART is solidified as one of the most significant professional development programs for emerging composers in Australia. The privileged opportunity to work with Roland Peelman and The Song Company is underpinned by a rich workshop process of experimentation and exploration that is a rare occasion for any composer. I'm honoured to be part of the 5th iteration of this project and extremely inspired by the initial process.

I attended the Sydney workshop with a number of ideas for an experimental performance installation for six voices and multi-channel live electronics based on Shakespeare's Tempest. The text is drawn from Caliban's evocative words in Act III and has been floating around the back of my mind since Vincent Plush brought it to my attention many years ago. I had always imagined I would work with this text on a site-specific installation with voices and water; it was serendipitous to find that the 2011 MODART performance would be on Cockatoo Island.

I've been working with hydrophones (underwater) recordings for the last two years, and I've found that a number of processed marine environments sound like voices. My initial idea was to transcribe these recordings and set them with the Tempest text, layered through an electroacoustic soundscape. I started with a number of experiments, predominately using graphic notation, to gain a sense of how the singers could interact with the electronic parts. This was an invaluable process to understand the vocal qualities and capabilities of each singer.

The second sketch was drawing upon Konnakol, the sophisticated spoken rhythmic language of Carnatic (South Indian classical) music. Although I've been studying this rhythmic system for a number of years, I've barely skimmed the surface of its compositional possibilities. I wanted to use this opportunity with exceptional singers to experiment with the polyrhythmic complexities Konnakol augments. The workshop process was unparalleled in opening the possibilities for these ideas, and the suggestions from Roland and the singers have been highly influential in the creative development of the work.

The MODART composer forum was a wonderful experience, not only to work directly with The Song Company, but also hearing the sketches and ideas from the other composers in an inspiring environment. It must go without saying that Roland Peelman is phenomenal to watch in action. I was constantly in awe of his dynamic abilities to understand the compositional voice of each sketch, and constructively take it to other realms of possibility. MODART is certainly a highlight of my year, and has undoubtedly been a pivotal opportunity for many composers in Australia and beyond.

Further links

'Seven composers participate in MODART 2011 workshops' - Resonate 28 February 2011
The Song Company (www.songcompany.com.au/)

Leah Barclay is a composer, sound artist & curator born in Adelaide, South Australia. She holds a first class honours degree in composition and has studied with Stephen Leek, John Coulter, Gerardo Dirié and Alcides Lanza, among others. Her work has been commissioned and performed in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, India, China and Korea. She creates immersive performances and multi-sensory installations at the intersection of art, science, technology and the environment that have been described as 'music in a new dimension'.


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