20 October 2020
Our residency in Mount Wilson
Tristan Coelho writes about his and Emily Granger's recent residency in Mount Wilson, in the NSW Blue Mountains, and several new works that were planned and realised there.
Last year, harpist (and my fiancée) Emily Granger and I came across an exciting opportunity for an artist residency in Mount Wilson, NSW. We jumped at the chance to apply: what better environment for creativity than to be surrounded by the Blue Mountains wilderness? Happily, we were accepted, and were all set to go for four weeks over the 2019-2020 summer. Of course, these plans changed when that same summer saw horrific fires sweep across the Blue Mountains region. Thankfully, Mount Wilson was largely spared due to the courageous efforts of the Rural Fire Service in which most of the community serve.
The residency program forged on in 2020, and we rescheduled for September/October. Like all previous artists in residence, we stayed in the Teacher's Cottage and worked in the adjacent Old School. These buildings were the original teacher's residence and community school, built in the 1890s, and have been lovingly renovated.
As part of the application process, we outlined the scope of our planned activities: to create a music soundscape walk with specially developed works that blended soundscapes with more 'composed' elements, all inspired by specific landmarks in the Mount Wilson area; Emily to work on repertoire for her debut solo album, and for the two of us to perform for the community at the end of our stay.
In the first week, Emily and I did lots of exploring: going on bushwalks, meeting locals, hearing stories and generally taking in the beautiful surrounds. Wherever we went, I took my handheld recorder to capture the sounds of the natural environment. I quickly mapped out how the music soundscape walk could work. The idea was to design it all using ECHOES, a fantastic geolocation audio/music mobile app. It's a tool that allows creators to define areas on a map and play specific music or sounds based on a user's physical location. The music loops for as long as a person stays within a certain area, with sounds getting louder as they move to the centre. Where areas overlap, sounds meld together momentarily. I was excited about the potential here, not only by the idea of a sense of place informing compositional decisions but also the fact that individuals could chart their own trajectory through the sonic experience based on their movements.
The soundscape walk concept is new territory for me, but it feeds into a growing interest of mine in finding a balance between musical ideas that are fixed, loosely organised and completely out of my control, and exploring a sense of place through the use of sampling, field recordings and manipulation of these sounds. Such approaches can be seen in recent pieces including Daybreak for flute and live electronics, inspired by birdsong, and Rhythm City, which takes the chaotic sounds of the urban environment and rhythmicises them. Most recently, Beachscapes II for piano, harp and electronics was a structured improvisation, taking cassette-tape looped recordings of the ocean as a point of departure.
I really appreciated the time to continue experimenting with all of this while on the residency. The first piece I composed was a little harp solo inspired by the Old School; it's an imagined nursery rhyme of sorts that perhaps all the children who passed through those doors over the years could have sung. Another piece explores the solitude and stillness found at a secluded place called Pheasants Cave. I reworked a previous composition for a trail that weaves around a series of waterfalls. Recently, Emily and I have been playing more music, improvising together and finding opportunities to perform as a duo. It was in this spirit that we developed a big structured improvisation for a beautiful vantage point called Du Faurs Rocks Lookout. This place was where we spent most of our evenings: looking out over the great expanse of national park.
These and the various other pieces for the soundscape walk bring together field recordings, harp, live and sampled piano from the community hall, loops, synthesisers and guitar effects pedals. Everything was recorded in the Old School building, often straight to two-track and complete with occasional extraneous sounds which we happily embraced as part of the product. You can hear all this music on Soundcloud or in the ECHOES app (mobile device needed).
In our final concert for the community in the local church, Emily presented a number of harp solos that she is preparing for her upcoming CD, including a new work of mine, In Transit, which I managed to complete while in Mount Wilson. We also performed Du Faurs Rocks Lookout from the soundscape walk. The event was a special experience for us as it's been a really long time since fronting a live audience.
The Mount Wilson Artist Residency invites artists of all disciplines and is organised by generous, art-loving community members who make you feel welcome and at home. It's a wonderful environment to be creative with opportunities to explore breathtaking scenery on your breaks! Our time there was unforgettable and we can't wait to get back soon. Details of the Mount Wilson Artists in Residence program can be found here.
> Emily Granger - homepage (https://emilygranger.com/)
© Australian Music Centre (2020) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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