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28 September 2020

One idea over and over - an Echo kit on composing for loops

(Peggy Glanville-Hicks Commission)

Leah Blankendaal Image: Leah Blankendaal  

Leah Blankendaal's Peggy Glanville-Hicks Commission One idea over and over is an education resource about composing for solo instrument and loops. This resource is available on the Australian Music Centre's Echo online learning platform.

For the last 18 months I've been working on a series of solo pieces for flute and loop pedal. These pieces took life in a very different world: the first one was devised at Make It Up Club in Fitzroy, Victoria, the second at praxisARTSPACE in Thebarton, SA. At the time, travelling and creating site-specific works seemed a normal process. In 2020, these complementary pieces would be near impossible to imagine creating.

Without the impact of COVID-19, I had planned to keep touring, creating, and performing this suite of works until I had developed a full repertoire of site-specific pieces that responded to interesting spaces and places across the country. It was a wonderfully liberating experience to create works by myself, with nothing but my flute and a very simple piece of technology. It felt validating, as if I'd found a piece of my compositional voice that I'd been seeking for years.

It is true that our industry has faced shutdown in more ways than one in 2020. But, also, there has been some interesting analysis of the new music world as being remarkably adaptive and resilient. Without wanting to minimise the very real hardship that we have faced, I feel like this assessment also holds truth. The Australian new music community is one that knows how to adapt, to change, and to work with what is in front of it. To coin an overused term from the business community in 2020, we are capable of a successful pivot.

The Peggy Glanville-Hicks Commissions have allowed me to do precisely that. Rather than travelling to share and create, I've been able to share elements of what I do through the Australian Music Centre's Echo education platform. Equally, I've been able explore the work of my very esteemed colleagues Adam Page and Xani Kolac, which has been an intensely rewarding experience.

The existence of the Echo platform in and of itself is a remarkable endeavour: it provides equal access to information about contemporary Australian art music to students and teachers of all backgrounds. This is no small feature of the work that the Australian Music Centre does. As a student in a rural public high school in coastal South-Western Australia, I know I would have spent hours absorbing its content.

When I was creating these resources it was with that younger version of myself in mind. I wanted to introduce teenagers interested in composition to a method of writing that could be interesting and complex, and layered without needing big or extensive resources. Fast-forward now to my adult career, working regionally in the Barossa, and COVID-19 has opened up some really important conversations between me and my metro counterparts about accessibility and art for regional makers, creators, and audiences. For this I am very thankful.

I've been incredibly fortunate, this year, to also receive funding from the Music Development Office SA to turn these pieces, as well as some works improvised in studio, into my first studio album. Alongside, Amongst, Against considers what it is to make site-specific work: work that sits alongside a space, against it, or amongst it. It blends my two worlds of sound art and composition, which feels incredibly natural. With lockdown time on my side I even found capacity to notate one of the works, Amongst, for the AMC music library.

I mourn the loss of touring and performing and sharing with our community in person. It's incredibly difficult to lose that part of my identity. However, I am optimistic for the future, and grateful for the opportunity to talk about ways that art can be made accessible to broader groups of creators and audiences. I'm truly thankful to the Australian Music Centre for this opportunity, and I hope that the resources can open up new ideas for students who might not otherwise have access to traditional pathways for composition.

> Leah Blankendaal - AMC profile

> One idea, over and over - a digital music education resource on the AMC's Echo learning platform.

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