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25 May 2020

Sideband: From the Depths

Sideband: From the Depths

Brad Gill writes about a new release by Sideband, featuring works by Gill, Elizabeth Younan, Peter McNamara, Sarah Elise Thompson and Kezia Yap.

I've recently been doing a lot of writing about areas of personal interest, notably a blog interview for Chloe Chung's 'In Conversation', so, it's nice to have the opportunity during this time of necessary social isolation to write about the latest offering of a collective project that has been a focus of creative energy since its beginning in 2011. Sideband began as a collegial group of three emerging composers wanting to bring together our social capital, resources, skills and connections to produce a recording project featuring our own work, emerging composers and our mentors. The project is nicely summed up in Gwen Bennett's review for the Music Trust, which highlights each composer and performer. Since then, we've programmed several themed concerts and recorded and released a second album, Sideband: The In-Between. Following this, our team changed - Tristan Coelho moved on from involvement, and Peter McNamara and I, as co-artistic directors, reconsidered our direction and goals.

Sideband's new offering From the Depths (Wirripang) emerged from this period of reorientation. Peter and I both focused energy on our own projects. For Peter, this meant realising a long-planned passion project, documented here. He has also been developing a set of Latin songs, building on our relationship with exceptional performers Chloe Lankshear (soprano voice) and Alicia Crossley (recorder). Here are excerpts from the studio recordings completed so far.

My other projects have revolved around the experimental improvisation duet Mind on Fire, collaborations with Sydney-based flautist Chloe Chung and pianist Daniel Herscovitch. The collaboration with Chloe morphed into her core involvement in Sideband's new album. Recent work by Mind on Fire can be found here; work with Daniel (and cellist Geoffrey Gartner) can be found here.

Our independent activities and genuine mutual support have re-energised our vision for Sideband. Over the past eighteen months, we've been recording tracks for our third CD release Sideband: From the Depths, and we've tried to recapture the energy and direction of Sideband's early phase. A key aspect of this is authentically representing our shared, as well as personal, artistic visions.

For Peter and me, chamber music for voice is an ongoing source of inspiration. This also links with an interest in deep time and cultural roots - here represented by my two Pali Songs and Peter's two contributions At the Melting of the Snow and Voice of the Depths.

My songs are set in the Pali language of Theravada Buddhism dominant in South-East Asia today. They deal with themes of the passing of time, struggle, and questions of identity and aging. For me, this work was the beginning of ongoing collaboration with soprano Chloe Lankshear and flautist and dizi player Chloe Chung. Peter's song At the Melting of the Snow is a setting of Banjo Patterson's poem of the same name, for me on vibraphone, Chloe Chung (alto flute) and soprano, this time Deepka Ratra. It's a beautiful work exploring themes of spring emerging from winter - poignant, given the situation we find ourselves in currently, an enforced hibernation, so to speak. It's also deeply rooted in Australian culture and history.

Voice of the Depths is the source of the album's title in modified form. It's a work exploring history, violence and loss, taking letters of Russell Keats from his time aboard the HMAS Canberra in the Savo Islands in 1942 as text. Peter also brings to bear his interest in live electronics to create a major work combining electronics, percussion and piano. We're fortunate to have had the opportunity to perform the work with Kerry Yong as well as Stephanie McCallum, who, along with me, performs this moving work which opens the album.

The interest in live electronics, particularly 'instrument and tape' combines with our interest in promoting emerging young artists. For the album, three composers have produced challenging and rewarding works for pre-recorded electronics and vibraphone - Sarah Elise Thompson's The Music Box and Kezia Yap's Orbit - or, in the case of Elizabeth Younan's Gestures, for tape, alto saxophone and vibraphone.

A final core interest brought to bear on the album is mine - a focus increasingly on improvisation, and a recurring engagement with non-Western approaches to music making. My piece Tomb explores this, with Chloe Chung now playing dizi (Chinese transverse flute). I exploit an existing connection in my work with the beginning of Anton Webern's Variations for Piano, op. 27, as a platform for the equal engagement of my composition, Chan and jazz-informed improvisation approach with traditional Chinese music making via the lens of Chloe's extraordinary musicianship. The premiere live performance, part of Sideband's Renaissance Concert from September 2019, can be found here.

We've already produced the recordings, and were unsure about when or even if to stage a launch concert, and so the evaporation of such an opportunity for the time being has actually not had a major impact in that respect for us. For me, personally, it's the loss of regular rehearsal or knowledge-sharing time with Chloe and my brother Sam which has had an impact: the week-to-week and day-to-day time growing and sharing, furthered by a physical separation from my instrument over the last two months after moving under duress. But it's an opportunity too. To focus entirely on completing post-production and booklet materials for the new CD and spend time on the personal passion projects mentioned above, which in turn we have realised, feed back into our collective pursuits.

I hope this article stimulates interest in Sideband's new album but also that readers will follow the links and check out some of the gifted collaborators and their work that I have mentioned. And perhaps some inspiration - we've produced three albums and a series of concerts without any government funding, with a combination of goodwill and gratis involvement very early on, private funding, a grant Peter was awarded and self-funding. We've made some mistakes and experimented in a number of directions and with often contradictory advice and have evolved a working friendship, fuelled by a real belief in the value of what we're doing and hope some of you may think so, too.

> Sideband: From the Depths - featuring works by Brad Gill, Elizabeth Younan, Peter McNamara, Sarah Elise Thompson and Kezia Yap (Wirripang)

> Brad Gill - AMC profile


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