April press

Press from ICE concert at Miller Theatre, New York

Alex Ross, Singing in Tongues, The New Yorker, 21 April 2014

Christian Carey, ICE does justice to a neglected composer. Musical America, 15 April 2014

Corinne Ramey, Australian Composer Finds Her Marbles, Wall Street Journal, 9 April 2014

Press from Six Degrees concert at Melbourne Recital Centre, Metropolis Festival

Matthew Lorenzon, Metropolis New Music Festival: Six Degrees, Garden of Earthly Desire, Partial Durations, 9 April 2014

Clive O’Connell, Six Degrees weaves a polyphonic web, The Age, 8 April 2014

Matthew Lorenzon, Making meaning as you journey, Realtime Arts RT119, Feb-March issue 2014

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April is the month for journeying

I’m very excited to be visiting the States to work with ICE, the International Contemporary Ensemble who are presenting a concert of my work at the Miller Theatre in New York on April 10th. I did a skype rehearsal a few days ago with ‘cellist Michael Nicolas who will be performing Invisibility. This is a work which Séverine Ballon has very much made her own having performed it about 50 times so it’s very interesting to hear the music being bodied forth by another player. What strikes me is how seismographic this music can be – the whole set up of the ‘cello with the retuned strings and the use of the prepared and the normal bow create conditions for the performer in which their physical presence registers in the music in very immediate ways – a shift in weight, a prioritisation of pressure, speed and a myriad qualities of touch that are judged ‘by ear’ are intimately woven into the musical texture.

Gareth Flowers on trumpet and Ross Karre on percussion will perform Ehwaz (journeying) and ICE as an ensemble of 15 musicians with soprano Tony Arnold (also playing a ‘cello with two bows!!) conducted by Karina Canellakis will perform Mother Tongue. All the pieces in the concert represent very strong turning points for me in terms of finding new paths for exploring ideas related to Indigenous culture, shamanic practices of attention and an emotional terrain around how we access the world through language and articulation.

Speaking of another piece that was very important in my formation as a composer, Garden of Earthly Desire (1988), written when I was 22, will be performed on April 5th by the Six Degrees Ensemble at the Metropolis Festival, Melbourne Recital Centre. This was originally commissioned by the ELISION Ensemble funded by the Music Board of the Australia Council for a music-theatre production with Handspan puppet theatre. It was a bit of a ‘breakthrough’ piece for me in terms of engaging with large-scale structure (it’s a 30 minute work for 11 instruments) and generated a lot of energy for an incredibly fruitful collaboration with ELISION that was to result in several installation projects, 3 operas, the song cycle Mother Tongue as well as many, many solo and chamber music explorations.

Here’s a link to an article/interview Making meaning as you journey by Matthew Lorenzon about Garden as well my work Tongue of the Invisible that appeared in Real Time #119 (Feb-March 2014).

I’m sorry not to be able to attend the Melbourne concert. Here’s a recording made in 1991 by ELISION conducted by Sandro Gorli:

I also feel incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to visit China in the first 4 days of April as a guest of the Yangzhou International Poetry Festival. (I’ll post about this later). On April 15th, I will present a talk on my recent work and compositional thinking entitled ‘Knots and other forms of entanglement’ in the Barwick Colloquium Series at Harvard University.

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vigil music for Reza Barati

'Not in our name, Mr Abbot' https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/55949

‘Not in our name, Mr Abbot’ https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/55949

Just wanted to add something to the vigils being kept for Reza Barati, the 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker killed in the Manus Island riot last week.

Thank-you Ashot Sarkissjan for the soul-music.

Philtre (1997) for solo retuned violin, performed by Ashot on Monday 17 Feb 2014 in St Paul’s Hall in Huddersfield.

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‘in raptures the world will writhe before you’

There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you. [Franz Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks, ed. Max Brod, transl. Ernest Kaiser & Eithne Wilkins, Cambridge: Exact Change, 1991, p.98.]

I’ve always loved this aphorism from Kafka ever since I first saw it in a catalogue for artist Domenico de Clario’s multi-part epic installation work ‘Machine for Contacting the dead’ (1990). Waiting and witness and rapture are absolutely key to Domenico’s work and were the basis of the various collaborations we had in the ’90s which involved long durations (all night, 7 days) with improvising musicians from ELISION and audiences moving through car and house demolition yards in country Northern NSW, a disused foundry on the outskirts of Perth, a dusty church tower in the suburbs of Melbourne and other unexpected performance spaces.

Kafka’s words came to mind again today as I watched two versions of a postcard piece ‘Love Letter’ that I originally made for Speak Percussion in 2011. Or rather, this is a work that is made by others – there is no piece by me as such, merely an invitation to a performer to enter into a creative circuit of energy with a beloved. You can see videos of quite different versions that were composed and performed by percussionists Eugene Ughetti (Australia) and Juanjo Guillem (Spain) and a brief description of the project here.

Some of the best music of ‘mine’ might be that made by others.

Domenico de Clario, Cathedral (2009), NGV Australia

Domenico de Clario, Cathedral (2009), NGV Australia

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CDs come in threes; SWR merger protest & petition

You can wait for years – for CDs, for buses – and suddenly they come in threes…

Angels CD cover

Hot off the presses is Marco Blaauw’s Angels on WERGO which follows the release of Tongue of the Invisible earlier this year on the same label. Both CDs have come in for praise from Alex Ross on his blog and in The New Yorker; Ross recently included Tongue of the Invisible as a case study in his keynote lecture for The Rest is Noise Festival at the London Southbank Centre. The CD of recent orchestral works has come out on the Swiss label Hat Art and includes performances by the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (conducted by Lothar Zagrosek & Christoph Poppen) as well as the SWR Sinfonieorchester (conducted by Rupert Huber with soloist Jeremias Schwarzer). The SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg (SO) and the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (RSO) are fighting a massive battle against their fusion. Please see the online petition and consider joining the many music lovers, conductors, composers and musicians in their protest against this act of cultural vandalism.

Angels CD coverhat(now)ART 185Tongue CD

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Knot thinking…

Susumu Nishinaga: micrograph of Easter cactus flower (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri); see: http://www.theguardian.com/science/gallery/2013/may/19/invisible-beauty-flowers-in-pictures

Susumu Nishinaga: micrograph of Easter cactus flower (Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri), see: http://www.theguardian.com/science/gallery/2013/may/19/invisible-beauty-flowers-in-pictures

Excerpt from ‘Knots and other forms of entanglement’ (Lim, 2013)

…One could think of this musical language as textilic: a music of intertwining fibres and chaotic entanglements, structures of mesh-work or of threads becoming woven textures.

A key aspect of this quality of ‘textility’[1] is the notion of sound rooted in a dynamic relationship to the physical and material conditions of its making. For me, a ‘note’ is not merely an abstract set of parameters called ‘pitch’, ‘duration’, ‘timbre’, ‘volume’ but a very particular and lively ‘world of responses’ between the body of the musician and the resistances and resonances of their instrument, the environmental conditions of the performing situation and so on. This ‘material’ is ‘emergent’ in nature, rather like in Darwin’s famous evocation of ‘an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth’. In this ecologically rich picture of ‘elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner’ (Darwin, 1872, p.429), life is fundamentally improvisational. Each ‘move’ made by plant, mineral or animal is both conditioned and unconditioned, suggesting that every moment is an interweaving of energetic factors that can never be completely predicted.

It is this kind of dynamism that I look for in music-making. I don’t mean ‘improvisation’ as a type of freedom from the constraints of notation but as an unpredictable quality within constraints in which one senses a mind-body intelligence in the responsiveness present in the total situation. The ‘entanglement’ here is an emergent property of performance in time and space and can be seen in the myriad subtle ways in which physical and audible materials play on and are played by musicians in a tactical feedback loop of information and action. In this living world, sonic materials are ‘woven’ inside performative situations rather than deployed as architectural building blocks. Sounds remain close to their physical production revealing the inherent twists and turns, torque and expanding-contracting energies of their material sources…


[1] See: Ingold, T. (2010) ‘The textility of making’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34, 91-102.

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An ‘intercultural’ education

I’ll be participating in a forum next week hosted by Cambridge University as part of the activities of the Commonwealth Creativities in Intercultural Arts Network (CIAN). One of the preparatory questions asked by Dr Brydie-Leigh Bartleet, convenor of forum 2, was
‘In your experience what is the single most important thing to take into account when documenting intercultural arts practices?’.  My perspectives arise from experiences as a creative artist rather than ethnographer so some early thoughts are as follows:

An ‘intercultural’ education

I have sometimes described my work as being ‘about’ intercultural exchange – the label is used as a kind of shorthand to describe various kinds of creative transactions ranging from collaborations with performers of Western and non-Western instruments to projects that were based on research into specific cultural practices (Chinese, Indigenous Australian, Northern European), often connected to things like shamanic possession, rites surrounding communication with the spirits and the dead, and ways of entering into liminal or threshold experiences of transformation. Yet I have often felt ambivalent about the ‘inter-‘ part of the label in that, too easily, it posits some notion of the ‘West’ versus the ‘Rest’. The attendant anxieties to that dichotomy, whether my own or projected on to me by others, concern notions of ‘authenticity’ versus ‘tourism’, issues of ownership, and the transgressions of appropriation. I want to rethink this structure with the help of recent reading of the work of anthropologist Tim Ingold who emphasises the dialogic dynamic of  ‘field-work’. He says: ‘anthropologists enter the arena of theoretical debate with far more than ‘data’. They come to it with a set of intuitions, sensibilities and orientations that have been decisively shaped by the field experience. The dialogue in the field, in short, is not just a source of ethnographic facts: for the fieldworker it is also an education.’ (Ingold, T. (2013) ‘Making’, London, Routledge, p.3)

That term ‘education’ rings true for me, and in my case it has been an education that has come about through various meetings, serendipitous and planned, with artists, academics and ritual specialists over many years. This education has taken the form of conversations, active silences, shared activities and journeys of exploration – a curriculum formulated by following hunches and inclinations, often stemming from unexpected meetings or introductions. In this way, the idea of a static or geometric logic of exchange in relation to culture starts to break down – knowledge is not so much passed from one ‘side’ to another but is generated in the engagements of the exchange. The dialogue itself is inherently ‘cultural’, that is, a situated social activity within which some processes of understanding can take place.

What I am foregrounding is not the ‘information’ level but how the process of dialogue enables capacities for action and capacities for understanding to be developed. In this way, the ‘intuitions, sensibilities and orientations’ of participants are part of the shape of new feelings, responses, evaluations and understandings that arise: that is, the dialogue shapes the intertwined capacities for response to and for engagement with meaning. In my projects, I am newly constituted in my feelings and perceptions as I am immersed in processes of learning, making, doing and knowing. In this way, the ‘education’ is about much more than the acquisition of skills and knowledge, for it is truly transformative.

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