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29 February 2016

This Will Be Our Reply - International Women's Day Concert

Samantha Wolf Image: Samantha Wolf  

When I started composing, I had incredibly lofty ideas about what my music would do. I imagined sitting in an elegant concert hall, watching an orchestra performing to a sea of beaming faces, nodding heads, and enthusiastic applause. I hoped for vigorous handshakes and gushing feedback. At my most naïve, I hoped that one day I would hear about someone being moved to tears, or given a new lease on life, by my music. I wanted to please people. I wanted to share with my listeners the joy that music gave me.

Fast forward a few years, and my latest piece could not possibly be more different from what I had envisioned. I never thought my music would purposely confront or upset people. Yet that's exactly what I've done, and it's the most important and fulfilling work I've ever 'written'.

I say 'written', because only a small part of the work involves notation. Most of it consists of speech samples taken from various sources, such as television and radio interviews, news reports, panel discussions, documentaries and YouTube videos. These samples are cut, spliced and overlaid onto an iPhone recording of myself, walking home alone at night. The catch is that almost all the speakers are warning me that that's the last thing I should be doing.

The More I Think About It, The Bigger It Gets is my response to years of being told that women should modify their behaviour to avoid sexual assault. This reached fever pitch in 2015, with the horrific murders of Masa Vukotic and Stephanie Scott; the sentencing of Scott Miller and Adrian Bayley; the Royal Commission into Family Violence; Rosie Batty's term as Australian of the Year; and the release of India's Daughter. Accompanying this were calls for women to surrender personal freedoms to prevent assault. Increasingly frustrated, I started recording and juxtaposing these statements, displaying how absurd and unhelpful they were.

This process showed me how serious and pervasive sexism is, and how it directly contributes to real acts of violence against women. I sifted through hundreds of examples of sexism and violence, ranging from seemingly harmless banter, through to homicides, and everything in between. Disturbingly, the reasons offered for minor annoyances (catcalling, for example) were the same legal defences used in murder and sexual assault cases. I found that all gendered violence is interconnected in a spectrum, which could be represented in sound.

This spectrum is difficult to explain, especially to those who don't live with its consequences, or aren't convinced that sexism exists. But music crosses barriers, including self-imposed ones. We can shut our eyes, close books, walk away from arguments, and block Facebook friends. But when you're immersed in it, the spectrum and its consequences are inescapable. Trying to explain gendered violence is one thing; hearing it unfold around you is another.

In this way, The More I Think… is an example of art reflecting life; this is the daily reality for millions of women worldwide. Every woman I know has a story about being threatened, objectified or attacked. Perhaps worse, most of them have a story about being blamed for it. I can just about guarantee that every woman you know has a similar story.

That's why I've adapted this work for live performance. I want the listener to be bombarded with the threatening messages that surround women every day. I want the listener to be shocked and appalled, because violence against women is shocking and appalling. Most importantly, I want the listener to be moved enough to want to help, because that's what me and my team are doing.

I am extremely fortunate to be a part of a vibrant community of exceptional young musicians and composers who are very passionate about this issue. Together, we have organised a special concert for International Women's Day 2016, which will showcase four newly commissioned works. Each piece responds to the occasion of International Women's Day. Lisa Cheney and Alice Humphries have used casual sexism as their springboards, but with very different outcomes. May Lyon was inspired by problematic ideals of femininity, especially in relation to motherhood. Jessica Wells's piece explores the divide between the external and internal self, and the weight of societal expectations. The More I Think… will close the concert on a sombre, albeit powerful note.

Not only will the concert showcase some incredible talent, it's also for a great cause. Entry is by donation, with 100% of proceeds going directly to the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre. Donations will help fund their vital services, including a 24/7 hotline, crisis accommodation, referral services and advocacy. Sadly, demand far exceeds available resources, so every dollar helps. For those who cannot attend the concert but would still like to donate, you can do so here.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my amazing musicians, Tamara Kohler, Aaron Klein, Kyla Matsuura-Miller, Gemma Tomlinson and Adam McMillan, who I am honoured to work with. Combined with the composers - Lisa Cheney, Alice Humphries, May Lyon and Jessica Wells - the talent in this concert is overwhelming. I am incredibly grateful to all of you.

Event details

This Will Be Our Reply - International Women's Day Concert 7 March at 7:30pm, Melba Hall, Melbourne, Victoria - event details in the AMC Calendar

Further links

Lisa Cheney - AMC profile

Alice Humphries - AMC profile

Jessica Wells - AMC profile

May Lyon - Facebook

Samantha Wolf - Soundcloud

Samantha Wolf is a Melbourne-based composer and arts administrator. A graduate of the Queensland and Melbourne Conservatoriums, Samantha’s practice encompasses solo, chamber and orchestral works, collaborations, multimedia, cross-platform arts, live performance, electronics and tape. She is fascinated with giving voice to the intangible, finding the beauty in chaos, and making sense of the illogical or contradictory. Current projects include new works for Sarah Curro, the Melbourne Women’s Choir, and the 2016 Soundscape Festival in Maccagno, Italy. 


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